Once in a while a motor vehicle appears that is so outrageous that it makes history. This is one of them. The Triumph Rocket 3 is arguably the most exciting motorcycle to come out of the Triumph factory. It is categorised as a ‘Muscle Roadster’, in the same genre as the Harley-Davidson and the Honda Gold Wing.
The history of this bike’s development can be traced back to 1969, when Triumph and BSA started a joint venture to compete with the world’s first real superbike, the Honda CB750 Four. The design offered by Triumph and BSA had three cylinders and was produced in two versions: the Triumph Trident and the BSA Rocket 3. The cylinders were air-cooled and mounted across the frame. Three cylinders were unique at the time, but the most remarkable features were the slightly mad “Ray Gun” or “Flash Gordon” exhausts, with three small pipes exiting from the rear of each silencer. Considered laughable at the time, they are highly prized by collectors today.
It took until 2004 before an all-new bike was introduced with the Rocket 3 name – but this was an entirely different animal. Development started way back in 1988, when Triumph wanted to create a big cruiser to compete with the Harley-Davidson Ultra Glide and Honda Gold Wing GL1000. Initially the intention was to build a bike bigger than 1600cc, but Yamaha and Honda both launched big cruisers with just over 1600cc so the goal was upped to 2294cc.
The Triumph Rocket 3 was unveiled in 2003 in San Antonio, Texas followed by a European launch in 2004 at the International Motorcycle Show, Milan. It was met with praise and astonishment, and was a hit around the world – even in Australia, with deposits being taken before any bikes had landed on those shores.
Initially, the Triumph Rocket 3 couldn’t quite find a place in the market, neither being accepted by Harley fans as a true competitor nor by other bikers as a muscle bike. Now, it is highly respected as a cruiser and as a great touring bike. Over the years the Triumph Rocket 3 has evolved to keep it at the forefront of the cruiser market – not least by an increase in capacity to 2,458cc and an output of over 160bhp. The 3 R in our Snapshot is the more sporting ‘roadster’ version (sold alongside the more ‘touring’ 3 GT).
In 2018, Mark Holmes rode his Triumph Rocket 3 around the world covering 39,000 miles, as testament to both him and his machine.