Ask most motorcyclists what the ultimate Triumph model of the 1960s was and the answer will be the Bonneville. Ask them what they thought of the Triumph Trident or it’s sister machine, the BSA Rocket 3 and they probably won’t know what you are talking about. The sad truth is that, due to bad timing and unattractive styling, history has kept Triumph’s flagship performance triple in the shadow of the twin cylinder Bonnie.
BSA Rocket 3
As early as 1962 Triumph started developing a new, three cylinder 750cc engine for the Triumph and BSA motorcycles. By 1965 they had a prototype running and were on track to be in production by 1967. If this had happened, it might have changed the fortunes of the company. The original prototype looked like a Bonneville and would probably have been a big seller. A decision was made to appoint Ogle Design to redesign the motorcycle’s cosmetics to be more modern. The cylinders of the BSA engines were also sloped forward in line with BSA tradition. These decisions delayed production by 18 months. The new look was a heavier motorcycle with squared off looks unlike any Triumph or BSA made previously.
The delays in production meant that the new Triumph Trident and BSA Rocket 3 were launched into the target USA market only four weeks before the Honda CB750. The better looking Honda had a four cylinder overhead cam engine, a five speed gearbox, electric start and a front disc brake – none of which was on the Brit bikes. The Americans bought Hondas. Although by the 1970s the motorcycles had been restyled to be more in line with their traditional looks, the technological gap was never bridged. Although 27000 of these motorcycles were sold in seven years, they could have meant so much more for the Triumph/BSA brands if launched earlier with the right looks.
Mike Lang built this Rocket 3 cafe racer back in 1993. He has been supplying British motorcycle spares to South African enthusiasts for decades. The reason he decided to build the cafe racer was because he found the original styling to be awkward and ugly. The original square sided tank was retained but the seat, tail section and other components were created to give the motorcycle it’s aggressive lines. Clubman handlebars complete the racer look.
Unlike many of the cafe racers being built today which look the part but are mechanically standard, the Rocket 3 has been modified for optimum performance. A hot cam was installed, carbs tuned and the short 3 into 1 open exhaust fitted to help release all the extra ponies. This is one mean sounding motorcycle. A later model Triumph five speed gearbox replaced the original poorly matched four speed unit. This BSA has been clocked at 190kmh over the quarter mile and is capable of speeds in excess of 200 kmh.
The original rear wheel was replaced with a good looking conical hub wheel off a later model Bonneville. Mike is critical of BSA for using old stock parts when creating these machines instead of developing new parts to compliment the new triple engines. Rear shocks are made by Koni.
Mike had to buy a complete Yamaha TD racing machine to get his hands on the front wheel with the four leading shoe front brakes. This work of art is capable of stopping the BSA as effectively as a disc brake would.
This valuable motorcycle now belongs to Jack, who does not believe he will ever sell it. Mike would like to buy it back but has made peace with the fact that this probably won’t happen. Mike built a second Rocket 3 cafe racer at this time which now lives on display in a bar in Swaziland. I bet you all hoping that one is for sale!