Home » I Made My 18 Year Old Triumph Rocket III Feel Like A Far Newer Motorcycle With Some Cheap Mods

I Made My 18 Year Old Triumph Rocket III Feel Like A Far Newer Motorcycle With Some Cheap Mods

Rockettop42
ADVERTISEMENT

Recently, a 2005 Triumph Rocket III joined my stable, and after adding some miles to the odometer of the 2,300cc beast, I’m convinced this is a forever bike. It’s been such a fun ride that for the first time ever, I’ve decided to mod one of my motorcycles. I’ve started with some inexpensive upgrades and they’ve already made this 18-year-old British machine feel far newer. Check them out.

Just over a year ago, I wrote about how I’ve owned 20, maybe 30 motorcycles over a short period of just over five years. A lot of that had to do with the now-closed Vermont registration “loophole,” which allowed me to save motorcycles without paperwork. I’d get those machines running, ride them for a month or so, then sell them to the next person. Somehow, through all of this time and that massive pile of motorcycles I never really modded a bike. I usually just rode my motorcycles as I bought them.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

20230716 155359

My 2005 Triumph Rocket III changed something in me. Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve seen how these look customized. Perhaps it’s the fact that you can get some awesome bits for them. Maybe a motorcycle with a 2.3-liter engine, 140 HP, and 147 lb-ft torque warped my head. I’m not entirely sure what has convinced me to burn nearly $1,200 on this motorcycle and I’m still not done yet. What I can say is that I’m having a ton of fun, so let’s get into it!

Lighting

20230628 200356

ADVERTISEMENT

I think one of the quickest ways to modernize an old motorcycle is to update its lighting. Some bikes have timeless designs and curves that stand the test of time. The Triumph Rocket III seems to be one of them. Despite it being nearly two decades old, people have asked me if it’s brand new. Part of that likely has to do with the fact that it’s in such good condition, but also the fact that its design looks like something that could be made today. However, what can immediately date a motorcycle is its headlights.

So many of today’s motorcycles, like cars, rock distinctive bright LED headlights. These lights also often come with a futuristic look with halo rings, light pods, or a neat daytime running light design. My Triumph had regular old yellow halogen bulbs. They were merely ok.

20230626 195352

I got down the road with them, but they didn’t light up a ton. I briefly tried better bulbs and they made a difference, but ultimately, I decided to just upgrade the lights entirely. A popular mod in Triumph Rocket III communities is the J.W. Speaker Adaptive Series LED motorcycle headlights. These snazzy things are like adaptive headlights for cars, but for bikes. When you lean into a turn, the lights illuminate the corner ahead. Neat stuff!

Problem is, these sweet lights cost $600 each, which means I’d be spending $1,200 alone on new headlights for the Triumph. I’m sure they’re worth it, but spending that much on lights makes me feel weird. So, I looked at another popular mod, a set of Harley-Davidson Daymaker LED headlights. I’ve ridden a Harley with these LED lights and they’re really good, at least compared to halogen. Plus, they have a sort of alien look, which I dig. These are cheaper than the J.W. Speaker units, but not by a ton. A set of real Daymakers would set me back about $900.

ADVERTISEMENT

20230627 221649

This sent me to Amazon, where I found Daymaker clone lights (above). Now, being clones, they aren’t going to be as bright and the seals are almost certainly not as good. However, I paid $90 for a pair of these things. At $45 each (now $50), I could kill about 20 of these before the Harley units would become the better option.

Installation was stupidly easy. It required one tool, a screwdriver, and some time.

20230627 213446

I installed them when Chicago was blanketed by smoke from Canadian wildfires and I was able to slip both lights in before the air quality got to me. Installation required me to loosen the headlight bucket rings, remove the halogen housings, slide in the Daymaker clones, then tighten the buckets back up. The lights were plug and play and, for the most part, centered themselves. One is slightly crooked, so I’ll have to fix that later.

ADVERTISEMENT

As for light output? I dig it! I need to adjust the buckets for more light downrange, but I’m getting exactly what I want. I can now see the sides of the road and the lights are bright, but not blinding. I have no idea if these lights are actually DOT-approved as they say on the lenses, but they seem legitimate enough.

20230627 221941

Here’s what the old lights looked like, for comparison.

20230627 212810

You can get these lights for even cheaper ($40), but I spent a little more to get a bit of style with halo rings. Really, I wanted to get a set of headlights with RGB halos. I like the idea of going to a car show and having the rings glow red to match the paint. Sadly, the reviews of RGB headlights on Amazon suggest that the quality is quite shoddy. I think I’ll be happy with these well-reviewed white halo units.

ADVERTISEMENT

I still haven’t adjusted the buckets, but the night rides have been a night and day difference. The lights do such a good job that I feel like giving all of my motorcycles LED lighting upgrades. If you ride something old with a headlight that seems like a candlestick in the night, I’d say toss $40 at Amazon and see what happens.

20230627 215629

Speaking of car show lighting, I also picked up an underglow kit for $40. Admittedly, I’ve long admired the bikes going down Chicago and Milwaukee roads adorned with RGB lights showcasing wheels and engines, so I will join them. I haven’t installed the kit yet, but the idea is the same as the halo rings. When I park up at a nighttime car show, I’d love to switch on some red underglow and make that red paint pop.

20230628 200526

Mirrors

Something I didn’t like about the Triumph was its stock mirrors.

ADVERTISEMENT

20230628 193051

They do a fine job showing me what was behind me, but they didn’t seem that fitting for a motorcycle like this. In Honda’s concepts for what would eventually become the Valkyrie Rune, designers focused on drawing your eyes to the engine. Now, I won’t pretend to know anything about vehicle design like The Bishop or Adrian, but I do know that when I looked at my Rocket III, the mirrors did sort of distract me. At least to my eyes, they made the motorcycle seem taller.

To rectify this, I bought bar end mirrors for $45. Installation was as easy as the headlights. I removed the old mirrors using a Vise Grip and some muscle.

20230628 194435

The new mirrors installed by removing the bar end weights with a hex key then sliding in the mirrors in their place. I know bar end mirrors can be controversial, but in this case I think they’re fine. I still see things behind me just fine but check this out:

ADVERTISEMENT

20230628 200332

20230628 200448

At least to my eye, the motorcycle just seems a bit lower and sleeker without those big chrome mirrors sticking out. Sadly, I do wish I paid a bit more because the mirror glass is really sloppy with paint overspray and damage from poor packaging if it’s even real glass. So, maybe spend a bit more on mirrors if you do something similar. Here’s a link to the mirrors just so you know what I got.

Comfort

20230717 123429

The other bits I bought were really to make the ride a bit more enjoyable in general. I have a bunch of helmets laying around and one of them has a Cardo communicator on it. These things are great for communication on a ride, especially if you’re riding in a group. But it’s rare that I ride in a group, so I don’t really need an expensive nifty communication device. I just want a set of speakers that play music and could take a phone call if necessary.

ADVERTISEMENT

For that, I bought this JZAQ helmet speaker system for $26. You can see the speakers in my helmet here:

20230717 123505
Makeup gets everywhere in a helmet!

Now, the sound quality is precisely meh, as you’d expect from a $26 speaker system. But it does exactly what I want it to do: give me a personal jam session on the road. Directions are piped through the speakers and I can take calls, too. The speakers are loud enough to drown out wind noise and as a bonus, when the system isn’t on the padding on the speakers also seems to quiet the helmet down a little, too.

I also picked up some Grip Puppy grip covers. In my first year of riding, I bought a 1982 Suzuki GS850G with some really soft grips. They were great for long-distance rides. Some bikes leave my hands feeling a little weird after a long ride, especially if that bike transmits a lot of vibrations through the bars. That Suzuki? My hands always felt great no matter the length of the ride. Later on, I learned my Suzuki had Grip Puppy covers on its grips.

20230717 123301

Grip Puppies stretch on over your existing grips, so installation doesn’t even require any tools other than your hands and maybe some dish soap. I haven’t installed these yet as I’m waiting to take the Triumph on a long enough ride to see how my hands feel. In a worst-case scenario, these will go on my Buell, which has a set of bars that could be used as a vibrator.

ADVERTISEMENT

Updates

20230716 155458

Finally, the rest of my purchases thus far have updated parts of the motorcycle. The date code on the front tire indicates it was made back in 2008, so it needs to go. I just decided to buy a whole new set of tires, which ate up $400 of the total I’ve spent on the bike already.

Despite the motorcycle’s low mileage, the original owner eventually lost both keys. I got one of those lame cheap steel keys that you get when you get new keys cut at a hardware store. The bike works just fine with this key, but it deserves better.

20230717 125635

Thankfully, I found a seller that makes reproduction keys and I scored two period-correct Triumph-branded blanks for $31. I’ll have them cut sometime this week.

ADVERTISEMENT

I’m going to finish with my favorite mod of all of them. The Triumph Rocket III has a somewhat annoying design for its cooling system. The coolant reservoir is hidden behind a big piece of metal nicknamed the “bear claw.”

20230716 152625

Supposedly, you’re supposed to be able to check your coolant level by eyeballing the sliver of coolant reservoir that you can see behind the bear claw. Sure, in theory, you could do that. In practice, Triumph used gray plastic so opaque you can’t see fluid inside of it, even when you shine a flashlight into it. That means removing the bear claw and popping the cap, which is silly.

Anyway, after I removed the two bolts holding the bear claw on, I slid the cover off and saw the RamAir filter kit that the original owner installed on my motorcycle.

20230628 201749

ADVERTISEMENT

I’m not sure if it improves performance, but the RamAir filter kit certainly produces fantastic intake noise. This convinced me to really lean in on this idea of the bike gulping down heaps of air.

As it turns out, there’s a Rocket tuner in Australia that makes just the thing! Les Laidlaw’s Laidlaw Motorsport Services sells performance parts for the Rocket III. You can get headers, an exhaust system that looks like a work of art, and oh yeah, a big scoop for your custom intake system.

20230716 155407

It’s called the OzClaw and just look at the thing, it’s so much cooler than the stock bear claw. I paid about $375 for my OzClaw ($550 AUD shipped, so it changes with the exchange rate) and thus far it seems like it was worth every penny.

Installation was just as easy as putting on the bear claw and it totally transforms the bike’s look. Stock, I’m not sure this thing advertised the ferocious power housed in that 2,300cc beast. Now it looks the part.

ADVERTISEMENT

What’s Next

I’m not done yet. The rear suspension is a common complaint on these, so depending on how new tires changes the ride, I might look into suspension upgrades. Some people go as far as to outfit these with air suspension. I don’t think I’ll go that far. I do know I want a different exhaust system, a tune, and to replace the infuriating coolant bottle.

20230716 155505

Now it’s sitting behind the OzClaw. I would be ok with that if it weren’t for the fact that I’d have to remove the OzClaw to check and fill my coolant. A common mod is moving the coolant reservoir to the side of the radiator, so I’ll probably follow the same path. Most people just use an aftermarket aluminum coolant reservoir, which does the job, but I want something a bit more “out there.” Right now, the best idea I have is a glass bottle made to look like a bottle of Nuka Cola Quantum from the Fallout game series. But, I’m open to ideas!

Something important to me through all of this is keeping all of the factory bits. If I stop liking something or sell the bike, I want to be able to go back to stock. As a note, I haven’t provided a link to everything here, and that’s because the bits I haven’t linked I’ve yet to fully test just yet.

I’m having a ton of fun doing all of this. I’ve been banned from wrenching on my cars at home, but I can get away with small stuff like this. I need something to keep the wrench in me alive and this is sort of hitting the spot! Here’s where I turn things to the number of motorcyclists in our audience. Is there anything I missed? Is there a “killer app” motorcycle mod out there that all riders should do?

ADVERTISEMENT

(This post contains Amazon links which, if you click the link and buy something, we might get a small commission)

Support our mission of championing car culture by becoming an Official Autopian Member.

Image17

 

ADVERTISEMENT
Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on whatsapp
WhatsApp
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on reddit
Reddit
Subscribe
Notify of
16 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Eric Davis
Eric Davis
10 months ago

Use hand sanitizer instead of soap and water to install the grip puppies. It’s so much easier.

Andrew Weltlich
Andrew Weltlich
10 months ago

I owned a 2008 Rocket III for a few years and it’s definitely an excellent bike. Tons of torque and very comfortable.

Thomas Metcalf
Thomas Metcalf
10 months ago

You need to buy a couple of acres with a big garage or barn to house your fleet. No more of this apartment parking lot nonsense!

No Kids, Just Bikes
No Kids, Just Bikes
10 months ago

Watch your ears. Those speakers have to be louder than helmet/wind/motor noise and often do so at unhealthy sustained volumes. The helmet I found to fit me best is quite loud, so I am earplugs all the time now. I don’t miss helmet tunes save for non-urban interstate riding…and I don’t really do that any more.

And I’ve never thought under-lighting on any vehicle was cool. Different strokes and that.

Jason Mason
Jason Mason
10 months ago

Yes, not wearing ear plugs while riding at highway speeds is a great way to ensure hearing loss after a while, and as you noted, playing music loud enough to hear over the wind noise will only exacerbate the issue.

Dodsworth
Dodsworth
10 months ago

You had me at Rocket Surgery. Good one. So glad you replaced those headlights. Yikes. That OzClaw is an amazing improvement.

MH7
MH7
10 months ago

A good suspension, a good seat, and decent bag setup are non negotiable for me now. I’ve tried progressives and wasn’t particularly impressed-might be worth stepping up if you plan to keep the bike (cough ohlins cough). If you can find a mustang touring seat for that bike on eBay, I promise it’ll be worth every penny.

The real benefit of those lights is the wide beam-they make things much less stressful when going through deer country right after dark. It’s not something I’d normally cheap out on, but f*** it, you’ve got two.

2manybikes
2manybikes
10 months ago

The mod I’ve got the most value of on my cruiser was a new saddle. Tough to test out first but the best saddle for your butt is the best investment you’ll make for a long ride. Stay safe!

A. Barth
A. Barth
10 months ago

The caption on the topshot is just *chef’s kiss* 😀

If you ride something old with a headlight that seems like a candlestick in the night, I’d say toss $40 at Amazon and see what happens.

As you’ve seen, that’s pretty much all halogen-and-earlier lights. The sealed beam (like the OEM light on your GS850G) types back in the 1970s-1980s were particularly woeful. The nice thing is that replacing them with LED units reduces the load on the electrical system while making more light.

I’m glad you replaced the tires, and that OzClaw really looks the business. I’ll reserve an opinion on the fast-and-furious underbody lighting until there is a pic. 🙂

This is the type of content I like: mods and mod accessories.

Droid
Droid
10 months ago

my sense is that the big benefit of the led lites is visibility during the day – other motorists should be able to see and recognize YOU an instant sooner.
the napoleon mirrors look cool.
obscured coolant bottle seems like it’s still an issue…
yeah, tires next.
be seen, be safe, be back, and HAVE FUN!

Spikedlemon
Spikedlemon
10 months ago

The Rocket3 was that first bike I’d ever sat on where I said to myself “this is too big for me”. And I’m not small.

But your LED / Halogen comparison may be deceiving you due to colour. Your halogens are clearly illuminating the road up to that second sign whilst your LEDs are far short of that. They’re usually a bad ‘upgrade’ without a proper factory kit (like the HD) – I say that, but I swapped to LED bulbs on my own bike as the factory wiring is inadequate to actually get enough power for the halogens to even reach proper voltage (Italian designers might make pretty bikes, but they aren’t much better than old British electrical engineers at doing shoddy wiring)

CSRoad
CSRoad
10 months ago
Reply to  Spikedlemon

On one of my bikes, I went through the progress of stock Stanley H4 bulb, to Sylvania Silverstar and then to a LED conversion. I found that the Sylvania bulb was the best compromise for my old eyes at night once I got out of the city. The LED seemed to make light areas brighter, but by contrast the peripheral dark areas got darker than the hubs of hell.
This may be a consideration as one’s eyes age and get abused.

Public roads are not like off-road where you just add more light to solve the problem, you are supposed to stay within the DOT regs. with the cut-offs and heights.

RootWyrm
RootWyrm
10 months ago

Thinking on the coolant reservoir, I wouldn’t put it on the side of the radiator. I think I’d go with something relatively squared on top of the radiator. Not just for aesthetic reasons; the reservoir on this system should (probably needs) to be above the radiator. I think a Fiat 500 coolant reservoir might actually be just about right.

Scott Ross
Scott Ross
10 months ago

Normally I would be all for the cheap upgrades but when it comes to helmet coms, after years of being cheap I finally bought into both Cardo and Sena. The amazon helmet coms have some serious issues like crappy speakers and are not really too compatible when riding with a group.

Cardo just pushed an update out that helps connect to a newer Sena much easier over bluetooth. Though Bluetooth coms are on their way out.

Mesh is the future. Cardo and Sena both have mesh and like everything else they are non compatible. Funny thing is the Mesh Networks use Zigbee just like Hue lights.

My wife just started riding with her vespa and when we go riding I set up the coms Shes on Sena Im on Cardo. We connect through bluetooth. Its been great for training.

I would also recommend a wireless charging cell phone holder. Its helpful for the longer trips and you can pick up some cheap ones on amazon.

Ant
Ant
10 months ago

Saw (and heard) a Rocket on the road the other day, they still have so much presence. Definitely improved with those new mirrors and the OzClaw too.

Can’t just me me imagining what this engine would be like in a Miata though, can it? 147lb ft is a good 50% more than the 1.6 in an NA…

16
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x