Transports of Delight
The New American Motorcycle, as Victory likes to call itself, is now moving comfortably into adolescence. It's been 13 years since the first 92 cubic-inch Victories went on sale, and the 2011 range now comprises 12 models across the cruising spectrum from boulevard bruisers to country-crossing baggers. As well, there are three generations of Ness-family limited edition customs from patriarch Arlen, son Cory, and grandson Zach Ness.
New also for 2011 is standardization on the 106 cubic-inch (1737cc) engine with six-speed transmission across the entire range, albeit in two stages of tune, producing 92hp/109 lb-ft of torque for the touring models and 97hp/113 lb-ft in muscle-bike applications. It’s an impressive model lineup, and offers something for just about every style of two-wheeled tarmac travel.
Big Motor, Big News
Victory’s 106/6 Freedom V-twin is a development of their unit-construction, DOHC, eight-valve 100 cubic-inch engine, and it first appeared in touring models in 2010. For 2011, the engine is further refined and, fitted with a six-speed transmission, now common to all Victory motorcycles. Victory paid particular attention to the overdrive transmission, bringing in changes to reduce noise, make gear selection easier, reduce driveline lash, and extend service intervals. They also added a device that prevents the shifter going from first to second gear when the bike is stationary, making it much easier to find neutral.
News on the touring front is that the Cross Roads now forms the base for Victory’s CORE customization program, allowing buyers to cowboy up the standard package from a range of accessories, including choices of hard and soft-look luggage, windshield, and more. The Cross Country comes already equipped with a handlebar fairing and hard luggage as before, and now both X-bikes have the option of a quickly detachable or QD trunk. On the Country, an iPod/MP3 hookup connects to the built-in stereo.
The first of the new bikes I swing a leg over is the Cross Roads, which boasts the Stage 1 92hp motor. Mine is finished in a sumptuous cherry red (“Crimson”). The paint shimmers, the chrome gleams, and even the black painted parts seem to glow. I have the optional windshield and soft bags, but I’m absent the optional engine protection bars.
Aimed squarely at H-D’s Road King, the Cross Roads claims to be $2,000 cheaper than the Milwaukee machine for equivalent trim levels, while also out-torquing it by a claimed 14 percent. The Cross Roads also boasts such detail features as four-way flashers, an analog speedo switchable from kilometers to hours/mph, elegantly curved ergonomic floorboards, full instrumentation including fuel range, a clock, and oddly, a digital tachometer. My test bike also came with an easy-to-use cruise control.
Though capacious (at 17.4 and 21 gallons respectively), neither the soft or hard bag options are wide enough for much more than some well-folded clothing and a pair of sneakers. My small camera bag was way too bulky. Climbing on to the low 26.5-inch-high seat, I thumb the starter. Firing instantly with an explosive lurch, the Big Twin settles to a civilized burble, courtesy of the dual 45mm throttle bodies and electronic engine management. Though little shift-lever pressure is required, selecting first gear also elicits a solid thunk. You know there’s some big iron in there.
Yet the ride itself is remarkably civilized. Once underway, throttle control and shifting are pleasantly light. Handling is neutral, if a little ponderous, and suspension is firm yet creamily plush. Brakes are powerful and well balanced front-to-rear, and ground clearance more than adequate.
A couple of minor niggles: my left foot kept groping for a heel shifter (one is available as an accessory), and I felt guilty I hadn’t adjusted the rear suspension. This is important for the best ride and handling, says Victory, but involves finding the air valves on the rear shocks, then using the hand pump provided to add or remove air.
But railing along Colorado’s meandering Highway 141 in overdrive 6th, the Cross Roads’ componentry comes together in mechanical harmony. The overdrive is perfectly usable on regular roads, with 60-mph coming up at 2,200rpm, well into the powerband. (For the record, the limiter cuts in at around 5,350 rpm, but revving much higher than 3,000 rpm seems wasted.)
Zach Ness-Inspired Vegas
Next, I climb on the Zach Ness-inspired Vegas, which for 2011 sports the 97hp 106/6 Freedom motor in Stage 2 tune, and is available in blacked-out 8-Ball trim or as the Jackpot with 250mm wide rear tire. I’ve hit the Jackpot!
The much lighter package teamed with 113 lbs of torque launches the Vegas off the line like a steam catapult. Controls feel more responsive, and the handling is much more taut, though with a strong tendency for the front to want to fall into the turns, matched only by the 250mm rear tire’s need to push the Jackpot straight on. The Vegas is a fast, fun package with considerable firepower. The blacked out 8-Ball version looks extra-cool and has a super competitive price tag, too.
Arlen Ness Signature Vision
Next I straddle the Vision. I find the Vision’s heft quite a challenge in low-speed turns and in parking lots, though once rolling, it seems to quickly trade its mass for mobility: though never nimble, the handling is neutral and confident. Visions now come with standard ABS, power windshield, cruise control, and heated grips/seats. Powerful, boldly styled, and bodacious, it’s the 20th-Century Limited of modern motorcycles. The Arlen Ness Signature Vision includes custom paint, graphics, and Ness accessories from nose to tail.
Cross Country – Cory’s Custom Cruiser
Finally, I switch to the Cross Country and immediately appreciate the 100 lbs lower weight of Victory’s next-to-top tourer, customized by Cory Ness. The Cross Country takes aim at H-D’s Street Glide. But it’s an infinitely more civilized beast, with plenty more thrust and a much higher level of sophistication, especially in the suspension, which offers a full 4.7 inches of rear wheel travel.
The Cross Country is perhaps the most appealing of the Victory range for long-distance touring. It has all the equipment most riders (and their passengers) would need, allied to a powertrain with seriously long legs, excellent fuel consumption (I averaged over 50mpg on a subsequent tour with the X-C), supple suspension, competent handling, excellent brakes and great parking lot appeal.
Equipment level on my ride-away Cross Country was equally impressive. I personally don’t like the idea of cruise control on a motorcycle, but Victory’s system is simple and intuitive. The stereo worked really well, too, especially with my iPod attached to the hookup in the trunk. I could find neither a steering lock for the X-C when I parked it, nor does it have any kind of immobilizer device, although a lock is offered as an accessory. And the package didn’t include such cruiser niceties as linked brakes or ABS.
Also continued for 2011, but with the 106/6 97hp powertrain package are the “bold American custom style” Kingpin, and the “modern muscle” Hammer, and the Hammer S. Blacked-out 8-Ball finish and attendant lower price are available on the Vegas, Hammer, Kingpin, and Vision models representing extra value.