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Best Cruiser/Bagger Motorcycle of 2020: Triumph Rocket 3
There was a lot of racket in the cruiser/bagger world this year, and this thing could’ve gone several ways. But we like a little performance with our cruisers, and it was Triumph’s audacious Rocket 3 that blasted off to the win. The previous version was a hoot to ride, but the new one’s less like the world’s biggest-engined production motorcycle, and more like the world’s biggest Speed Triple. It likes to party. From the 2294 cubic centimeters of the original Rocket 3, to 2458 cc, now there are three 4.3-inch pistons producing a claimed 163 ft-lbs of torque and 167 horses at 6000 rpm. More to the point is the additional lightness; Triumph says the new Rocket’s 88 pounds lighter than the outgoing model, at just 642 pounds (claimed dry weight). It definitely looks way more svelte than the old bike; the new seamless gas tank doesn’t hurt in the looks department. Neither do the brushed alloy intake and hydroformed exhaust header balancing the left and right sides of that big engine, totally reminiscent of a Supermarine Spitfire.
Triumph seems incapable of building a motorcycle that doesn’t handle really well, and the Rocket got the usual treatment in development. A huge 47mm fully-adjustable inverted fork carries the gigantic, 150/80-R17 front tire, and a fully adjustable Showa shock with a manual preload adjuster is tucked just out of sight under the left sidecover. Putting a 240-section tire on back can make for unique handling, but the front custom-built Avon’s well-matched to the rear: You won’t mistake it for a sportbike quite, but a lot of the Rocket’s weight melts away in the curves. Alternatively, you can just flick on the cruise control and cruise the boulevard.
In fact, there are two Rocket 3s: the Sportier Rocket 3R with a flat handlebar and midmount footpegs, and the GT with forward footpegs and a pullback bar. Both are the Best Cruisers of 2020.
Best Cruiser/Bagger of 2020 Runner-Up: Indian ChallengerEvans Brasfield
After John Burns attended the introduction for the 2020 Indian Challenger, he asked the following question at the beginning of his First Ride Review: Is it the Ultimate American Bagger? Just before Christmas last year we answered the question by pairing the Challenger with the Harley-Davidson Road Glide Special, a battle in which the Challenger came out on top. So, it’s no surprise to see the Indian bagger here in the limelight in our Cruiser/Bagger MOBO, ever so slightly edged out for the win by the Triumph Rocket 3. Since Burns has told you why we chose the Triumph, let’s take a look at what there is to love about the Challenger.
We have to start with the 108 cubic-inch 60° V-Twin liquid-cooled engine, which is the biggest strength. With a SOHC and four valves per cylinder, the Power Pulse engine spins up higher to keep churning out power where other V-Twins begin to lose steam. When the rider runs the rpm up to the 5,500 rpm redline, they are rewarded with 95 hp at 5,000 rpm. However, that extra horsepower doesn’t come at the expense of the bottom end. The 111.9 lb-ft torque peak hits at 3,300 rpm and is above 100 lb-ft from 2,100-4,500 rpm – both figures that bested the Milwaukee 8 in the shootout with the Road Glide.
The Challenger also addresses one of the complaints about baggers, where low seat height is extremely important. Even with a 26-inch seat height, the Indian manages 4.5 inches of travel – which is pretty dang good for this class. The Challenger benefits from a comfortable ride in cruise-mode or playing on winding roads regardless of pavement condition. Too many other baggers run out of travel and send impacts straight up our spines.
Finally, there is the Challenger’s fit and finish, which is top notch. The list of amenities starts with an electrically-adjustable windshield and carries over to the impressive infotainment system. When looking for a bagger for a day’s ride or a cross-country tour, you’d be hard pressed to find one better than the 2020 Indian Challenger.
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