Taking TRIUMPH’s raucous new ROCKET 3 R for the ride of a lifetime in Portugal…
Through the smoke, we’re playing a very c ompetitive game of crazy eights. We are an Indian American, two African Americans, and an Englishman in New York, at a French Algerian hookah bar, in the Algarve. Laying down the heaviest of card hands, while pondering the lore of Triumph Motorcycles Ltd. The combination of legends and whispers that define the DNA of this most revered of British brands.
Marlon Brando in The Wild One. The first 100-mph production-class bike lap at the Isle of Man TT, the ultimate road race, by the appropriately-named Malcolm Uphill on a Bonneville Thruxton. Or the scene from The Great Escape, in which Steve McQueen — or rather, his stunt double — jumps the barbed wire fence in a scramble for freedom, on a specially prepped Triumph TR6 dressed up to look like a German army BMW.
“Trumpets,” as they’re known to the faithful, have a special place in my heart. I’ve been faster, scared myself more, and reached further into the internal void while riding them than almost any other brand of motorcycle. And I’ve owned a few over the years. From jittery meth-head Speed Triples to poised, regal Daytona T595s. Each had its own personality, and distinct character. A soul. Instilling a feeling of trust as you put your life in its hands and forcefully twisted the “go” grip until it hit the stop. Take the motorcycle to pieces and you will not find it — but it is the thing that makes the difference between a mode of transport, and a passionate love affair.
After an e-mail arrived earlier this year asking if I’d like to reignite my Triumph love affair, I couldn’t say no. A quick transatlantic hop followed by some Sleazyjet to Faro, Portugal, and I arrived in situ only partially broken and jet lagged. One muscle-rejuvenating massage later, I was ready to swing a leg over a Trumpet for the first time in a while. And hoping that all that rubbish about learning to ride a bike was true.
Even if it was a bike with a bigger engine capacity and more power and torque than the first car I owned. It was, of course, the all-new Rocket 3 R. If these things have souls, perhaps its spirit animal is the silverback gorilla. Looking large and docile and slow — until it rips your arms clean out of their sockets and disappears into the mist.
The Rocket 3 R features the world’s biggest production motorcycle engine at 2,500cc, and delivers the highest torque of any production bike on the road today. Weighing in at a whopping 163 lb-ft / 221Nm at 4,000 rpm, this thing makes Anthony Joshua look as if he lacks punch. In October 2019, past TT winner Gary Johnson strapped into the hot seat and piloted one to a new Triumph production motorcycle record of 0-60 mph in 2.73 seconds on a track in Cartagena, Spain.
“It was great to experience this truly incredible acceleration,” Johnson says. “It’s hard to describe just what this motorcycle is capable of. The Rocket 3 R was well prepared and I felt very confident — even in this racetrack set-up. As early as the first attempt we made, I felt that the acceleration was so strong and that we would be successful. The Rocket 3 R ran perfectly and the track and weather conditions were ideal. The whole team did a fantastic job.”
I woke up on Sunday morning with the taste of döner kebab sweating out of my pores. Extra chile sauce. Extra garlic sauce. An almost foray into the packed dance floor of the Irish pub we had stumbled upon in our quest for post-hookah eats. Crazy eights over, this was about to get serious. A day spent relearning the history and provenance of Triumph, which first started making two-wheeled machines more than a century ago. Then dinner out with entertainment courtesy of Gary and his stories of derring-do at the TT and beyond. Trying to figure out which piece of the motorcycle was the “ring piece” he mentioned.
Accompanied by endless banter between him and record-holding racer Maria Costello, who when not giving Gary as good as she got was offering to make me her copilot in the next TT. And amusement at the statistical chance of bumping into friends from Monaco in a random restaurant in the Algarve, with hugs and hellos before I went off to battle the gorilla.
And then to it. Monday AM. Strapping into the Triumph safety gear. Jeans lined with PEKEV (sort of like Kevlar) along with D3O impactabsorbing knee protectors. Arms into a protective upper body condom with more PEKEV. Back protection, elbow protection, shoulder protection, kidney protection. New Triumph gloves to abate the road rash potential of taking a face-plant onto the tarmac and gravel. Or that ditch which has been known to jump up at you unannounced. A new pair of DQ boots, with an extra layer of cowhide on the left for gear-change wear. And finally a Shoei helmet to keep what was left of the addled, kebab-infused grey matter in one piece should anything go badly wrong and the gorilla really throw me across the road.
I survived. But the foot pegs didn’t. Which always strikes me as scary and remarkable on a bike. Leaning over so far that the sides start scraping the tarmac, as a Joker-like grin fuelled by adrenaline and fear and joy spreads across your face. I wasn’t pulling rolling burnouts like the guy I was following, Joe Akroyd, also of TT fame. Or popping wheelies on a bike that weighs more than a baby elephant. But holy shit, was I having fun. And way more fun than should be reasonably possible.
I was riding the silverback. And not getting spat off. Or my arms pulled out of their sockets. But simply observing from that quiet place inside me how damned fast this thing was. And how the power was endless. And as brutal as you wanted it to be.
When it wasn’t sitting quietly in reserve. Calm and knowing. Like the professional MMA fighter at the bar when the angry small guy decides to pick a fight with him for no reason. Most surprising of all, it went around corners. Fast. At angles which belie belief. And at least with my riding technique, making me think of the Batman Tumbler throwing out an anchor at 90 degrees to swing around the corner faster and tighter than such a solid beast should.
The Rocket 3 R is simply fantastic. Ridiculous. Unimaginable — but fantastic. Superman you may not be, but with the right leathers, on the right day, on the right road, in the right light, you may just convince a few innocent bystanders that you are… if they can even discern what you are as you blur past from 0 to 60 in 2.73 seconds, riding a silverback gorilla through the mist. ■
By DUNCAN QUINN