Triumph Rocket R review: does a crazy 2,500cc bike work?

By topgear, 18 September 2020

What in the name of suck, squeeze, bang, blow is that?

Behold the Triumph Rocket R. And that’s not some namby-pamby marketing name, either. It’s actually incredibly relevant. Namely, because this two-wheeled whopper currently holds the 0-100kph production bike record, completing the sprint in less than 3 seconds.

But that’s just the start of an incredible CV. Because, just like the Dodge Demon, this is the bike full of ‘firsts’, ‘mosts’, ‘biggests’ and ‘fastests’ – making it the most sought after card in pub Top Trumps.

See, as well as being the fastest two-wheeled sprinter in the world, having a 2,500cc motor also means it’s the largest-capacity production bike in the world. As well as also being the torquiest production motorbike you can buy, so it’s a bit of a monster.

And one imposing mother-clucker, to boot, especially as it weighs 291kg dry, and over 320kg when full of fluids. A lot for a bike

Two and a half litres! That’s bigger than most car engines.

Yep. Where the public’s perception of a big bike is the hefty watermark of a 1,000cc sportsbike, the Triumph looks at that lot, shrugs and says ‘that’s cute’ before bulldozing through with an inline three-cylinder with the capacity one and a half times the size. For context, 2.5-litres is the same capacity that you get in a Porsche Cayman S. And this is a motorbike. Let that marinate in your brain for a minute.


When did this madness begin?

The idea of putting big engines in small things dates back to the existence of humankind. In fact, there’s probably a cave painting somewhere in Australia with someone ‘hot rodding’ a shrub or something. The kernel for the idea of the Rocket dates back to 1998. However, it was only in 2004 when a production version arrived; a 2,294cc cruiser that snatched the crown of the largest-capacity production bike in the world.

It was caught between two markets. So for the Rocket 3, Triumph made it more powerful, faster, 40kg lighter and – crucially – made two versions: the ‘R’, a naked roadster model aimed head-on at Ducati’s Diavel, and the ‘GT’, a touring version with a more relaxed riding position (the handlebars are pulled back by 125mm, while the foot controls are set further forward), a 23mm lower seat, a screen, heated grips and a back brace for whoever you want to plonk on the back. Trust us, they’ll need it.

Triumph Rocket 3 R
Triumph Rocket 3 R
Triumph Rocket 3 GT
Triumph Rocket 3 GT

Looks cool.

Sure does. It has a sort of industrial chic to it – with everything being big, brutalist and muscular but also softened off thanks to swooping curves and those sculpted triple-header exhausts. Fitted with specially developed Avon Cobra Chrome tyres, the 240mm rear wheel width shows people you mean business and have oodles of torque to try and get down. Then there’s a single-sided swing-arm with monoshock suspension and fantastic aluminium detailing littering the whole bike.

What’s it like to ride?

Intimidating at first, mainly because there’s so much of it. The fuel tank is the size of a Barbadian twerking champion, the engine is hot and heavy and the wheelbase long. Being such a heffer, low-speed manoeuvring is a chore. And scary. Because if you’re anything but Popeye, if you drop this thing you’ll need a small army of helpers to help you get it back up. Which is even more people to point and laugh at you for dropping it in the first place.

But the almost magical element is that as soon as the tyres start rolling, it shrinks in size and its imposing nature falls away. A bit like when a gym hardo has a gin and tonic and watches a rom-com. This is largely thanks to clever weight distribution and my lack of understanding of physics. But Triumph worked hard on it, giving the Rocket 3 an all-new frame made from two aluminium sections that are bolted around the engine, rather than welded so the central core is hollow, which allows Triumph to use the central spine of the bike as an airbox.

It’s keener to turn than you’d think, too. Looking at that engine you’d assume it’d be a straight-line torpedo that just wanted to fire itself at the horizon while you clung on and cried for help. But it’s not. It wants to hit the twisties and move around. Again, this is helped by the fact Triumph lopped off a load of lard from the old engine, shedding 18kg and reducing the circulation mass, allowing for 7,000rpm to be unlocked and a new peak power figure of 164.7bhp – an 11 per cent increase over its forefather. But it’s the 221Nm of torque that blows you away…

It’s a wild ride that never gets any less hilarious.

Why’s that?

Well, if you’ve ever been in an electric car that’s gunned it away from the lights, you’ve felt the curdling force of torque. Now imagine that ultra-responsive force being unleashed with a crack of throttle while you clutch your thighs around a tank completely exposed to the elements, while the induction noise underneath your gussets intensifies.

It’s a wild ride that never gets any less hilarious.

Numbers just start to roll around on the TFT speedo like you’ve won the jackpot. Then you quickly realise you don’t want to be thrown in jail. Or be dead. So you wind it down a notch. We just wish it’d sound better at all speeds. Because with an engine this size you want it to throb and scream, but it’s docile and soft. You can blame the EU and their emissions regs for that.

But the Rocket – even in R form – is no one-trick pony. It’s actually incredibly comfortable to cruise on. You just select one of the less aggressive riding modes, and given it’s got all the torque, you can select any of the top cogs in the six-speed gearbox and it effortlessly pulls through them. It’s even got cruise control if you’re feeling really lazy.

How much is it?

A lot. In the UK, the figure reads £19,500 for the Rocket 3 ‘R’, with the sledgehammer GT cruiser retailing at £20,200. Launched locally earlier this year, Triumph Motorcycles Malaysia have set base sticker prices at RM130,900 for the Rocket 3 R, and at RM136,900 for the Rocket 3 GT.

And you’ll need to save some pennies for fuel too, as it’ll down whatever fuel is in the 18-litre tank quickly if you’re liberal with the throttle. But if you want to be the king of Top Trumps in the pub, this is the price you’ll have to pay. Which to some is all the reason they need.

Score: 8/10

Words: Rowan Horncastle