Bigger is always better in America. It makes sense then that the first motorcycle to break the 2-liter barrier comes from England. At least it does if you consider that the source is Triumph Motorcycles, the reborn British company that has made a business of delivering outsized bikes to Yanks. Triumph was clearly looking to the American market again when it designed the largest displacement production motorcycle currently built, the 2.3-liter 2005 Rocket III.
When the Rocket III was first envisioned, in 1998, the biggest mass-produced cruiser on the market checked in at 1,500cc. To make an undisputed claim to the title, Triumph engineers decided to produce an engine that would decimate any conceivable increases in displacement that other manufacturers might have up their sleeves. Consequently, what hits the showroom floors this summer is a longitudinally mounted, 2,294 cc, 3-cylinder monster with pistons the same size as those in a Dodge Viper. This translates into 140 brake horsepower at the top end, but the real motivator is 147 foot-pounds of torque—90 percent of which is available right off the line at 1,800 rpm. Just what you need to claim victory in the stoplight grand prix.
Even the Rocket III's styling oozes authority while still carrying the relaxed riding position and chrome touches you'd expect in a top-notch cruiser. The iconic dual headlights are matched with a fat 240/50-16 rear tire and a naked, hulking engine hanging unobstructed from the frame. The entire package will inform even those who don't know the difference between cubic centimeters and cheese spread that they are in the presence of greatness.
The pedigree of prominence is a long one. Triumph rolled its first motorcycle out the factory doors in 1902 (one year before Harley Davidson). By the 1960s, Triumph had become the best-selling, big-bore motorcycle brand in the world. With 80 percent of those bikes going to the United States, Triumph captured the affection not only of the general public, but of celebrities such as Marlon Brando, Steve McQueen and James Dean. The company fell on hard times in the late '70s, and closed its doors in 1983, but returned to production in 1990, shipping bikes stateside by 1995. Perhaps the best-known bike to wear the Triumph marque was the Bonneville, which was named to honor land-speed records set on the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.
The voracious taste for velocity remains. After pulling yourself away from the admiring crowds, the view from the saddle will most likely be blurred. How does 1.2 g in thrust strike you? Don't worry, when you stop accelerating, your internal organs will catch up. As will all the other two-wheeled traffic you left in your exhaust, including even the hottest aerodynamic sport bikes. So if you have $15,990 and the need for a bare-knuckled bruiser as opposed to a plastic-wrapped Buck Rogers bike, Triumph's Rocket III is the missile of the moment.