Nicola Martini, the man behind Italy’s Special Mr Martini motorcycle workshop, restaurant and retail store, isn’t the shy type. For anyone who has had the pleasure of meeting the man, this would be have been instantly obvious thanks to his customary outlandish headwear and wide beaming grin.
Nicola is obsessed with motorcycles and in particular, those built by the UK brand Triumph. If I was to compare Nicola to a Triumph motorcycle, the bike that comes to mind would be none other than the unabashed Triumph Rocket III. As it just so happens, that exact bike was the subject of Nicola’s latest custom creation.
Like Nicola, the Rocket III has never vied for anyone’s attention – it simply attracts it. First released in 2004 the Rocket’s claim to fame was having the biggest engine of any production motorcycle. Acting as a stressed member in a tubular steel chassis the 2,294cc DOHC liquid-cooled triple produced 148bhp and 163Nm of torque. Those numbers sound big but it isn’t until you see a Rocket III in the flesh that you can really comprehend its behemoth proportions. It’s a beast and its bulbous factory bodywork does nothing to disguise the fact.
Over the years Triumph has streamlined the Rocket III somewhat. These days it’s considered more of a muscle bike/streetfighter than a competitor to Harley Davidson’s big cruisers. For this project though, Nicola was tasked with modifying the least slender Rocket III in the model’s lineage, a first-generation 2004 model.
Nicola’s goal with the Rocket III was to trim the bike down both physically and aesthetically. His main design influences were vintage Triumphs and cafe racers and he’s somehow pulled it off to create a motorcycle that barely resembles its former self.
The obvious place to start with this project was the complete removal of the Rocket III’s bodywork. Starting at the front, you’ll find a trimmed down version of the original fender devoid of any chrome embellishments. The bug-eyed twin headlamp assembly is gone and in its place is a single LED unit that sits neatly between the huge forks. A single Motogadget Motoscope Classic gauge replaces the factory twin dial setup too. And Nicola even put the handlebars on a diet swapping out the beefy cruisers for a set of relaxed Bonneville bars.
Sitting atop the hefty rails of the Rocket III chassis is a modified Triumph Trident fuel tank from the mid-seventies. It’s a surprisingly good fit on the unmodified frame, but peering inside reveals something even more surprising. Rather than carrying the bike’s fuel load the Trident tank functions as a cover for what is now the home of the Rocket’s electrics. As for the missing fuel, it is now stored in a custom made tank that occupies the space where the airbox once lived. Filling the tank is accomplished via a Monza style filler that’s recessed into the seat, similar to the oil filler set up on a 1960s Norton Domi racer. Along with helping to trim the proportions of the bike this arrangement lowers the bike’s centre of gravity which is sure to improve things in the handling department.
At the rear, Nicola has built a new subframe to slim things down even further. On the custom subframe sits a wasps tail style rear cowl, made in house by the Mr Martini team. The unit is removable to allow for two-up riding and it sits over the rear half of a handmade tuck and roll leather saddle. More LED lighting can be found here too in the form of a small round brake light.
The engine of the Triumph Rocket III is what makes it so unique, so Nicola has done his utmost here to showcase it.
With the heads now exposed thanks to the svelte Trident tank, Nicola decided to make a statement. So he strapped a Ramair performance filter kit to the intakes. To properly accommodate the Ramair assembly the side of the Trident tank has been notched making the whole setup look right at home.
Things are looking drastically different on the exhaust side of the huge straight 3 too. Rather than the huge twin mufflers that ran to the outer limit of the rear wheel, Nicola’s opted for a single short muffler hung off the stock headers and catalyst collector. In the place of the stock chrome heat shrouds, he’s added a custom heat shield complete with an airscoop to keep things cool. In the triangle where the side covers once sat are performance coils, one for each of the 3 cylinders and hanging from the front of the engine is a slimmed-down, handmade radiator.
Sharp handling was never a trait of the 350kg Rocket III but Nicola has set out to change that with this comprehensive rebuild. This Rocket’s front forks are now modern Showa alternatives. The rear shocks are more capable Bitubo twin-tube units and the wheels are wrapped in Metzeler’s cruiser/tourer Marathon tyres. Completing the revised riding position are custom footpegs positioned centrally for a comfortable ride.
To complete this tasteful transformation Nicola had his go-to paint shop, Garage 66, lay a soft metallic green over the tinware that’s a close match to a vintage Triumph colour. Chrome has been reduced to a more tasteful level and the oil tank, fuel tank and wheels have been finished in a smart-looking matte gunmetal grey.
Back in 2019 Nicola unveiled a heavily customised, nitrous injected Triumph Legend TT named Bob that we featured here. At the time Nicola told us “I wanted to create a special motorcycle that embodied the light-heartedness and lightness of a child playing with his balloon. Thus was born BOB.” In keeping with that theme this heavily modified Triumph Rocket III has been given the same name, but with a twist.
Deemed Big Bob it’s a fitting name for this beast of a bike. It’s lighter than before, has a much more approachable appearance and is undoubtedly much more fun to ride.