There are some opportunities that you just don’t turn down. The opportunity to ride up the famous Goodwood Hill Climb during the Festival of Speed is one such chance. Especially when the invitation comes from Triumph. Particularly when that invitation involves the most powerful production motorcycle ever made: the Triumph Rocket 3.
For someone with relatively little motorbike experience on the road, let alone climbing a hill at a speed, it was a particularly daunting prospect. I had, for years, watched skilled drivers and riders catapult themselves up this particularly pretty part of Sussex with reckless abandon. I would stand next to my dad and marvel at Sir Stirling Moss in his Mercedes 300 SLR, or Juan Pablo Montoya in his Williams BMW F1 car. More recently, I saw Valentino Rossi ride into Goodwood House itself. These people are heroes and legends of motorsport. I am not. So, when I found myself queuing up at the start line, mounted on what is essentially a car engine with two wheels, hideously underqualified, a wave of terror consumed me.
To understand the Triumph Rocket 3, you first need to consider the numbers. Its inline three-cylinder engine is the largest ever made for a production motorcycle, with a 2,458 cc capacity, and it’s the torquiest ever too, producing 221 Nm at 4,000 rpm. This bike, the 221 edition, is named to celebrate the latter. The engine pumps out 165 bhp, propelling it from 0-60 mph in just 2.73 seconds, the fastest time ever recorded for a road bike, and a feat that would eclipse most supercars.
The bike is pure hyperbole. The rear tyre is the widest I’ve seen on two wheels, while the front Brembo discs demand their own gravity, indicating the stopping power needed to slow 291kg of pure muscle. Rev the bike in neutral and the engine physically moves you, darting the entire frame to one side with each flex. Twist the throttle on the move and you’ll see why.
When attempting something for the first time it doesn’t help to watch professionals do it first. Ahead of me in the queue at Goodwood was Martin Craven, the motorcycle stuntman from No Time to Die, who wheelied off the start line with the precision of an expert marksman. As I approached for my own slot I considered a wheelie of my own, then I thought of the 200,000 plus people that attend the Goodwood festival each year, and their glee at watching a man in a too-tight leather suit drop a 2.5-litre bike before even getting going.
So, as the marshall gestured for me to begin my run, I engaged first gear, let out the clutch and edged forward in what was likely the slowest start of the day. Yet, such is the engineering prowess of the bike, once on the move, its size and weight is largely forgotten. It’s a testament to the confidence the Rocket inspires that I accelerated hard under the bridge in second and third, feeling the full force of the bike’s record-breaking engine.
It has a blistering, relentless pace that feels like it will go on forever. It has six gears but it’s difficult to imagine the Rocket ever running out of steam. I crossed the finish line in what felt like 10 seconds of pure adrenaline – a buzz, I am convinced, that would be difficult to replicate on, or in, any other vehicle.
In the automotive world, it’s common practice for bikes, and cars, to fall short of their names. But the Rocket is pure Ronseal. It’s big, brash, powerful, expensive and everything else an over-the-top muscle bike should be. It feels special, and while it’s dominated by that engine, it’s a well-rounded performer in every other sense. You snap through the gears in a way that would please mechanical purists; the brakes surprise you with their sharpness; and it tackles corners effortlessly, providing that you commit.
There’s also no shortage of impressive tech, from keyless starting to multiple driver modes, a trick digital display and hill hold control, which handily prevents you from rolling backward on inclines.
And that’s before you get to the looks. Every inch of the bike is so full and purposeful, from the huge engine block to the sweeping triple header exhausts, from the drag-strip tyres to the cavernous radiator. In full ‘221’ spec, complete with blood-red paint job, its brutish, dominant looks turn heads. People hear you coming, and continue to look until you’ve ridden past. Park up and they stop and stare, marvelling at the engineering, the sheer size of the thing. For some, it seems, the allure of the Rocket is simply too much.
I know this because upon Triumph loaning me the bike for a post-Goodwood follow-up ride, it took less than 24 hours for the Rocket to be stolen from a motorcycle bay in central London. I guess the intention was for the thieves to sell the bike on. Yet I suspect the high-minded individuals will have a hard time saying goodbye to the Rocket once they’ve ridden it. You see, once you’ve experienced the thing, it’s a very difficult bike to bid farewell to. Poor them.
From £21,500, triumphmotorcycles.co.uk