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Used Triumph Rocket III review

Published: 24 January 2019

Big, bold and bonkers but should you buy one used? MCN explores the 2004-2016 machine.

With Triumph revealing a new Rocket late last year and a new TFC (Triumph Factory Custom) version earlier this week, it seems only right that we make this week's revisited test a 2004-2016 Rocket III. Read how our former Consumer Editor, Tony Hoare, got on with the bike here.

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Original Rocket III review

'The Rocket III is perfectly happy to trickle through the traffic and pose meekly in the High Street. But - and it is a big but – it buggers off with the force of a raging rhino when you want it to. By blending an outrageous engine with benign manners the Rocket III has broken the mould for bikes in its class.' MCN launch report, June 16, 2004.


But what is it like now?

The Triumph Rocket III static

There's no feeling in motorcycling like riding a Rocket III. Arms wide, heaving on the bars and persuading biking's biggest behemoth that it would be for the best if it deviated from the straight line path on which it's so intent.

This example, with just 6000 miles on the clock in six years, is a perfect demonstration of the bruising breed. Within yards of leaving the dealership the engine is growling its approval as the throttle bodies draw their fuel-charged breath and Dodge Viper-sized pistons stomp mightily towards 3000rpm.

It's 10 years since I last rode a Rocket III, when I spent a jolly month building up muscles and cruising as far as the Assen MotoGP race. But it all floods back quickly, especially at the first roundabout.

Steering is a matter of persuasion rather than on-demand thanks to the weight and monstrous torque - 147ftlb at just 2000rpm means the slightest crack of throttle brings plentiful shove.

There's a great soundtrack from the Rocket III exhausts

But adapt to its ways and the Rocket III is a smile machine. Forward thinking is crucial along with a right foot that’s poised over the back brake to settle matters down, but that roar as the engine reaches 5000rpm or so is a treat.

Handling is more machete than scalpel, but it gets the job done and is surprisingly capable for a lump that can create its own solar eclipse. This one is from 2010 and rides beautifully, as you might expect for something with such low mileage.

A Rocket III like this would be a brilliant addition to any garage for sunny acceleration-fests. Only trouble is, there wouldn’t be any garage room left for anything else.


Any obvious faults?

All is present and correct with this beautiful example, which was being sold by Webbs Peterborough on behalf of a customer. The ignition is robust and can't be disrupted, while the tyres and brakes at the back are in good order. I just about find the courage to pull a hard acceleration test in each gear to check the gearbox, with no dramas (excepting suspension-disrupting bumps in the road). All seems good with this one.


Or worthwhile extras?

What, 367kg of Rocket III isn’t enough for you? As far as our eye can see, the extras are restricted to an official Triumph alarm. Handy, as the only way to nick one of these is to ride it away (from experience, I can report that it takes six blokes to heave one into a van).


Our verdict

Triumph have stopped production of this Rocket now, but this bike is assured of its place in biking folklore. Everyone with a licence should find a way of riding one at least once. And this example is a belter.


The mechanic: Adrian Clancy, Head Mechanic at Total Triumph in Taunton, Somerset

We get quite a few Rocket IIIs in, but they’re only really ever visiting for tyres, brake pads and services. The early bikes had a silver engine and I think it was 2006 or 2007 that they went to black engines and the colour change coincided with a lot of upgrades to the engine and gearbox to keep engine noise and harshness down and to make them a bit more refined.

There are some things to watch out for on them, and the biggest issue I’ve seen over the years is dodgy ignition switches. You turn the ignition on and if you fiddle with the key the ignition can cut out – we’ve had to change quite a few barrels over the years.

Look out for ignition issues on the Triumph Rocket III

They’re also heavy on rear brake pads, which is to be expected, and heavy on rear tyres, which probably goes without saying. Some riders complained about clutch slip on really early models, but I remember the clutch springs being upgraded on later bikes.

There were also customers complaining about an oil leak coming from the side of the engine. It turned out to be a preservative that was sprayed on the bike while it was stored. It was cleaned off before sale, but some of it would get trapped behind the side-mounted oil tank.

When the engine got up to temperature the preservative would melt and drip down the side of the engine and look like an oil leak. If you see one that’s been sitting up over winter or in a showroom for a long time you might see fork seals starting to leak.

But more often than not, all it takes to sort it is to dry it off and go for a road test. The seal isn't damaged, it just relaxes and allows a tiny weep of oil out, so going for a spin will make it good again.

Look for weeping forks on the Rocket III

I’ve never felt a bike so susceptible to tyre pressures. Every bike reacts badly to soft tyres, but on a Rocket III it feels like the wheels are going to fall off. They should be 34psi front and 42psi rear. They’re a problem when the rear tyres are squared off too. Anything wrong with the tyres, the bike will feel horrible.

Overall it's a pretty trouble-free bike. The later you can buy the better. If you stick to the black engines you’ll be alright and if I had to narrow it down I’d say one from 2009 on is the one to go for.

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