2020 Triumph Rocket 3 R And GT Review First Ride

Bigger and better with less weight and worry.

Triumph’s Rocket
Triumph’s Rocket R and GT get more power, better handling, and modern styling for 2020. Is more always better when the previous model already had the most?Triumph Motorcycles

“Rocket.” What pops into your head when that word registers in your cerebrum? If you’re reading this, you most likely think of speed and acceleration, delivered with a satisfying kind of violence. If you were to ride a rocket, it would most likely be terrifying. Noise, vibration, flames. On an overcast day on the volcanic island of Tenerife, Spain, I rode a Rocket, and there was no terror, violence, or flames. There was, however, speed, acceleration, and satisfaction. This is the 2020 Rocket 3 R.

What’s New For The 2020 Rocket 3?

Totally redesigned for 2020, Triumph’s Rocket 3 R bumps up the cubes, firmly cementing it as the largest-displacement production motorcycle in the world—not that it had any competition before. With the engine change comes a new chassis, and more modern and aggressive styling. Gone are the traditional American cruiser lines with fat, swooping fenders and massive chromed exhaust pipe. This new Rocket is truly a roadster, sleeker and more refined but still commanding in presence. Fit and finish is improved, especially on the engine. No longer does the longitudinally mounted engine look as if it was ripped from a tractor and wedged into a cruiser. The Rocket is easy on the eyes, and many an “Ooh, that’s nice” was heard uttered by passersby at the launch’s multiple stops.

Rocket 3 R
The Rocket 3 R is all-new, including the styling that moves away from American cruiser lines and leans into a roadster aesthetic.Triumph Motorcycles

So it looks great, but the Rocket 3 has always hung its hat on massive power and torque thrusting the rider forward with authority. Its ferocity is sort of a motorcycling urban legend—it was quick for a cruiser-style motorcycle. But was it really a beast? It certainly has beastly qualities. Now with an all-new 2,458cc triple (Triumph rounds up to 2,500cc in marketing materials; that’s only a 2 percent number fudge, so I’m good with it), claimed horsepower is 165—an impressive number. But the torque number is where eyeballs bulge with surprise: 163 pound-feet. Even with a claimed dry weight of 642 pounds, that much oomph seems ludicrous. Monstrous really.

Not only were the displacement and power increased, but Triumph shaved—no, hacked—weight from the engine. The new crankcase is 24 pounds lighter; new balancer shafts cut 8 more pounds; and a new dry-sump lubrication system with an integrated oil tank removes nearly another 9 pounds from the engine.

The frame is 50 percent lighter—an all-new aluminum design that is constructed of cast and forged components. Not only has the mass been reduced, but the physical size has also shrunk as the frame now employs a backbone-type layout rather than the old twin-spar configuration. It is also shorter in both length and height. To the left and the right of the headstock integrated air intakes feed Rocket’s airbox, and allow for some extra growl to reach the rider.

Rocket 3 R
Nearly 90 pounds has been dropped from the Rocket 3 R thanks to a new engine and chassis.Triumph Motorcycles

In all, the 2020 Rocket 3 R carries 88 pounds less than the previous model.

Fully adjustable Showa suspension complements the new frame. A 47mm fork is adjustable for compression and rebound while a piggyback monoshock adjustable for compression, rebound, and preload controls the movement of the single-sided, shaft drive-integrated swingarm. At the ends of both are all-new multi-spoke aluminum wheels: 17 inches in diameter in the front, and 16 at the rear. When asked why not a 17-inch wheel at the rear, Rocket’s chief engineer said a 17-inch wheel didn’t give the right look and stance. But he was adamant to point out that performance was not compromised for the sake of style. And the fat Avon Cobra Chrome tires specially developed for Triumph are imposing, with a tall sidewall that gives the Rocket a musclebound look.

Avon Cobra Chrome tires
Avon Cobra Chrome tires have been specially developed for the Rocket 3 R and GT; despite the massive sizing and tall profile grip, handling is exceptional.Triumph Motorcycles

A stripped-down roadster appearance showcases the centerpiece of the Rocket 3: the engine. On the right side, three hydroformed and hand-welded exhaust headers are masterfully crafted and finished. Tucked neatly underneath the bike, a triple outlet exhaust (two in the right, one on the left) finishes the exhaust system with a more aggressive, short style that speaks to a performance motorcycle rather than a cruiser. Stubby fenders and high rear subframe also are sleek and modern. One carryover, however, is the iconic twin headlight setup—now LED with Triumph’s signature shaped daytime running lights. Behind the lights sits a bright and easy-to-read color TFT dash. Each feature is well-finished and more polished than the next.

hydroformed exhaust headers
The three hydroformed exhaust headers on the right side of the 2,458cc triple are hand welded because of the complex shape.Triumph Motorcycles

All of those features are second fiddle to the engine, and it’s a fiddle that can be tuned to suit the rider. The horsepower and torque numbers mentioned earlier are impressive, but with so much on tap Triumph has wisely equipped the Rocket 3 with a host of electronic aids to manage traction and stability. Using the illuminated and intuitive switch cubes on the left handlebar the rider can easily select Sport, Road, and Rain modes, each with their own throttle mapping and traction control settings. Dig a little deeper in the menu system to set up the rider mode that allows for independent adjustment of the TC (including the option for off) and throttle response for a personalized setting.

TFT dash
A bright and clear TFT dash makes it easy to select ride modes, and in the near future will control your GoPro and give turn-by-turn navigation.Triumph Motorcycles

Personalization can be taken a step further in hard parts. While we spent most of the day riding the Rocket 3 R, the Rocket 3 GT was also on hand. Where the Rocket 3 R has a flat sporty handlebar and mid-ship pegs, the GT gets a swept-back and taller handlebar for a more upright seating position. Pegs on the GT are set forward and can be adjusted for reach fore and aft by 25mm. The roadster’s pegs can be lowered 15mm from the standard position. The GT also rocks a brushed aluminum backrest, heated grips, and cushier rider and pillion seats. Triumph was able to create two distinct rider ergonomic layouts from just a handful of parts. I’d personally mix and match for the ultimate setup. More on that later.

How Does The New Rocket 3 Ride?

I was able to test each of the ride modes as we ascended the volcanic center of Tenerife, moving from cool yet dry pavement to warm, grippy corners, and then into the wet and less maintained bends of the rainy side of the island. Right out the gate, I began with the Road mode. Even in this mode you feel the surplus of power and torque emanating from the big triple, but it’s not overwhelming. Fueling was spot-on without any hint of jerkiness, just smooth roll-on with authority.

Rocket 3
Gone is a less-than-refined feel on the Rocket 3 and with it goes a little bit of character.Triumph Motorcycles

Even so, pin the throttle and take a look at the speedo spin through numbers like the national debt clock and you get a sense of the quickness. The long 66-inch wheelbase and low 30.4-inch seat height combined with a fairly lax 27.9-degree rake and 5.31-inch trail launches and accelerates like, well, a rocket. It’s just too easy. Maybe. Turn the TC off and you will quickly find the rear tire overwhelmed by the torque, spinning easily at the drop of the hydraulic torque-assist clutch. And then a boiling, rolling spin-up after the shift to second followed squirmy chirp into third. Fun, no doubt, but ineffective. Modern engineering is your friend, just not the wild one in this instance.

2020 Triumph Rocket 3 R
Torque! The 2020 Triumph Rocket 3 R and GT have it in bucketfuls.Triumph Motorcycles

It goes like hell in a straight line, as one would expect, but when the road bends, that’s where the real surprise comes. Tipping into a corner takes little effort despite the bulbous 150mm front and 240mm rear tires. Cornering clearance is ample and stability is unshakable with a composed suspension action that followed the road well and doesn’t come unglued when the road is less than perfect. I did notice a bounce or chattery feel at very low rpm while turning that is imparted by the torque pulses of the engine, but this is an extreme case with the tach registering below 1,500 rpm. Coming out of the corner, a moderate amount of effort is needed to change your path and stand the bike up. This is one of the only times you will feel the 642 pound claimed dry weight. In short, it goes around the corner much better than a quarter-ton-plus, 2,500cc, fat-tired motorcycle should have a right to.

2020 Rocket 3 R
Hustling through the corners on the 2020 Rocket 3 R uncovers a finely tuned and balanced motorcycle despite its massive size.Triumph Motorcycles

With so much go on tap, the stop needs to be equally impressive, and a pair of Brembo M4.30 four-piston radial-mounted Stylema front calipers squeezing 320mm discs are epic in their ability to do so. The initial bite is quick and strong, and the power put through the lever is assertive with exceptional feedback. The Rocket 3 can stop much quicker than you would expect. Not once did I bump up against the lean-sensitive ABS in the front, but I did find it in the rear. The rear pedal is less than epic, bordering on disappointing. The power is there, but the feel and modulation is mushy and less communicative. When searching for the limits of the rear brake system, the ABS came on but without any drama or heavy pedal surging.

Brembo four-piston Stylema front calipers
Brembo four-piston Stylema front calipers haul the Rocket 3 down from speed with authority and excellent feel.Triumph Motorcycles

What’s Better, The Rocket 3 R Or GT?

After three-quarters of a day bounding to and fro on the Spanish island territory and swapping between the R and GT model, I was torn between the two in terms of comfort. The midship-mounted foot controls of the R gave more control and comfort, but the flatter handlebars had my 5-foot-10-inch frame feeling stretched over the tank. The GT’s handlebar, on the other hand, was comfortable and allowed for easier steering inputs, but the forward controls scraped the pavement easier and had me dragging my heels. If I were buying, I’d get the R and put the GT bars on it. Best of both models.

Rocket 3 GT
Additional equipment of the Rocket 3 GT give more comfort to the rider with a more relaxed riding position, but the forward foot controls take away a small bit of performance.Triumph Motorcycles

2020 Rocket 3 R And GT Verdict

Excellent fit and finish, impressive performance and handling, and an imposing look all come together to make the Rocket 3 an impressive motorcycle—one with nary a flaw. And that is my biggest complaint. Triumph has constructed a motorcycle that is expected to be unhinged and bordering on unmanageable, or at least it should feel like it, but instead it’s easy as pie to ride. It’s phenomenal in its ability to accelerate and turn and stop. Would I give away any of the good for a little more character? Absolutely not, the Rocket 3 R and GT are exceptional motorcycles with a flaw of being too damn good.

2020 Rocket 3 R And GT Price And Specifications

MSRP: $21,900 (Rocket 3 R), $22,600 (Rocket 3 GT)
ENGINE: 2,458cc, DOHC, water-cooled inline 3-cylinder, 4 valves/cyl.
BORE x STROKE: 110.2 x 85.9mm
TRANSMISSION/FINAL DRIVE: 6-speed/shaft
CLAIMED HORSEPOWER: 165 hp @ 6,000 rpm
CLAIMED TORQUE: 163 lb.-ft. @ 4,000 rpm
FUEL SYSTEM: Fuel injection; ride by wire
CLUTCH: Wet, multiplate hydraulically operated, torque-assist
FRAME: Full aluminum frame
FRONT SUSPENSION: 47mm Showa USD fork adjustable for compression and rebound damping; 4.7-in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION: Piggyback Showa monoshock adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping; 4.2-in. travel
FRONT BRAKE: Brembo M4.30 Stylema 4-piston radial Monoblock calipers, dual 320mm discs w/ Cornering ABS
REAR BRAKE: Brembo M4.32 4-piston Monoblock caliper, 300mm disc w/ Cornering ABS
WHEELS, FRONT/REAR: Cast aluminum; 17 x 3.5 in. / 16 x 7.5 in.
TIRES, FRONT/REAR: 150/80R-17 V / 240/50R-16 V
RAKE/TRAIL: 27.9°/5.3 in.
WHEELBASE: 66.0 in.
SEAT HEIGHT: 30.4 in. (Rocket 3 R); 29.5 in. (Rocket 3 GT)
FUEL CAPACITY: 4.8 gal.
CLAIMED DRY WEIGHT: 642 lb. (Rocket 3 R); 648 lb. (Rocket 3 GT)
AVAILABILITY: January 2020
CONTACT: triumphmotorcycles.com

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