A new entry into the luxury touring class carries a combination that may be tough to beat as Victory launches the Cross Country bagger.
“The world’s best touring bike” is how Victory described its 2012 Cross Country Tour during a technical briefing in a Park City, Utah hotel conference room the night before the scheduled road test. This bold claim was made not once, but on several occasions by factory executives attending the press function in early August. In terms of market position, it’s pitched directly against Harley-Davidson’s Electra Glide Ultra Classic. As moving targets go, few are much bigger than that. The Ultra Classic has been an undisputed segment sales leader for some time now.
My first introduction to the new model actually took place shortly after I’d stepped off the plane from Victoria, BC into the heat wave that is Salt Lake City. From there I shuttled a Cross Country Tour unit to Park City Utah, where Victory was encamped.
To take my mind off getting wrapped in proper protective riding gear for the 30C day and the prospect of sweating away five pounds on a hot freeway (listen to me whine) I considered the bike’s many features. Propelling the 845-pounder is Victory’s own 1731cc, 50-degree, air-cooled Twin, the Freedom 106, is the standard mill across the entire lineup outputting 97 horsepower and 113 ft/lbs. torque. Augmenting the big motor and transitioning the base Cross Country model into the luxury touring class are 41.1 gallons of storage space, a six-speed overdrive transmission, and ABS. Other noteworthy aspects include cruise control, adjustability for passenger comfort, air flow, and rear suspension, as well as genre-typical heated seats and grips—basically anything capable of being run by a 12-volt power supply. Carrying a $23,999 sticker (MSRP), it’s available in sunset red and pearl white.
Visually, the Cross Country Tour looks every bit its 108-inch overall length. This carries over when you sit on the bike and the 845 dry weight pounds command your attention. Its sheer mass must be considered at times—especially if you’re moving the bike around with the ignition shut down … in a garage or parking lot manuever for instance. But the low 26-in. seat height does drop your own centre of gravity and thereby introduce the necessary leverage you need to make these manuevers if you’re in the saddle.
Hands down, the key feature you’ll first notice is the 41 gallons of storage space provided by two saddlebags and the trunk. The hardbags are nicely finished and include effective locking mechanisms with the ability to remove them from the bike without much drama. Up front, on either side, you’ll find two smaller storage compartments. Inside the left compartment is the iPod interface cable to the stereo, which features a well-synchronized speed-controlled volume, though the actual controls for the stereo and the cruise control are a bit small and awkward to use while wearing riding gloves.
The short trip from the airport to Park City was entirely freeway so I did get a glimpse of the bike’s touring pedigree. The seat, and more specifically the seating position, is quite natural and comfortable, and with massive floorboards there really wasn’t any position I couldn’t place my feet. Even the passenger’s feet and relative comfort have been thought of—the Tour has adjustable footrests.
Because of the heat I really appreciated the new air ducting Victory comfort control system. This is comprised of two
vents in the lower fairing and two deflectors in the upper. The two deflectors, when positioned correctly, are quite effective at directing air up and toward the pilot and on a cracking hot day you’ll appreciate them immensely. Unfortunately, I found the dual fairing vents did nothing but blow hot engine air up and onto my legs compounding the heat problem. I’m sure that on a cold day I would love this, not so much at 30C .
THE NEXT DAY SAW US SET OUT ON A 300-MILE LOOP INTO THE WASATCH Mountains. With a mix of shorter freeway runs and mountain passes rising as high as 10,700 feet, we were certainly given the opportunity to put the bike through its paces. Once on the open road the aptly named Cross Country felt as though it had very long legs. Victory refers to the sixth gear as an overdrive, and it’s all of that. Dropping the bike into sixth will see you cruising at 75 mph (about 120 kmh) while only turning around 2,500 rpm. It’s worth mentioning that I hardly used sixth gear all day but I can envision notching top gear on a long flat freeway with the cruise control set.
The white-faced analogue gauges incorporate a speedometer that reads all the way to 200 mph (320 kmh). That may be a tad optimistic though. One curious aspect about the gauges: there’s a short delay as the gear position indicator displays the selected ratio. Perhaps it’s the need we all seem to have these days for instant gratification, but I found this delay had the feel of older tech.
But the Cross Country Tour handles nicely at reasonable speeds, transitioning from left to right exceptionally well, while providing an amazing amount of ground clearance. Despite riding the bike quite aggressively at times, I wasn’t able to drag anything. Part of this is due to a key feature in the rear Showa adjustable suspension. With less than two minutes work the rider can take the supplied air pump (hidden in the trunk) and increase the pressure to raise the spring rate along with the rear ride height to match the riding conditions. Victory also includes a guide (really it’s just a sticker in the trunk), that provides suggested settings. What impressed me about this system wasn’t just its simplicity, but how effective it is for altering the bike’s handling characteristics. If the rider is actually willing to invest in experimenting with the system he will be rewarded with an excellent riding experience.
Another plus is the brake system. Here you’ll find dual 300mm front discs with four piston calipers and a 300mm rear disc with a two piston caliper. All this is mated to an exceptional ABS system that hauls this big machine to a stop with confidence.
As the day went on, and as we approached the towering 10,700-ft. summit, I found myself wondering whether the thinner air of this lofty environment might rob the bike of some of its generous power—strange things can happen to internal combustion engines as they’re subjected to elevation changes. Certainly it would be something the touring consumer would have to consider if he and his passenger packed the bike close to its gross vehicle weight rate of 1,360 lbs. (618 kg.). Doubtless, some loads would come close, especially if the operator completely maxxed-out that impressive 41-gallon storage hold, filled up the 5.8-gal (22-litre) fuel tank, and then seated himself and an average size passenger. With all that, highway roll-ons two miles above sea level might not be especially authoritative. But to be fair, the average North American tour will not include a full day at 10,000 feet.
The point of all this being, the Cross Country Tour has been outfitted to contain all the worldly possessions two people could ever wish to bring with them on an extended motorcycle journey. Moreover, with powerful brakes, thoughtful creature comfort features, plush suspension, and a crackling good engine at the centre of the package, the Cross Country Tour is capable of making the journey more than just another “good ride.” It brings you into the realm of “destination experience,” which is precisely what you should expect from an elite touring bike.
The hammer’s down at Victory.
Something’s very different at Victory Motorcycles folks. Perhaps it’s the company’s culture, business philosophy, or maybe they just have a lot of faith in what they’re doing but in a time when almost every other manufacturer is talking about scaling back, and slowing model development because of reduced sales numbers, Victory seems to be standing in stark contrast. Case in point was the company’s recent product introduction in Park City, Utah. Recession? What recession? This was Victory’s position. Not only was Victory introducing a new touring bike, it was also offering an update on parent company Polaris’s acquisition of Indian Motorcycles. Even though the amount paid for the Indian brand wasn’t disclosed, production will begin in the next few months, says Victory GM Steve Menneto. Apparently the brand will remain “mostly separate” and have limited dealerships throughout North America. In the same month Polaris acquired Indian, it also bought Global Electric Motorcars from Chrysler Group, which had $30 million in 2010 sales. Also in June, the firm reported second-quarter results where sales had jumped 41 per cent to $608 million, the fifth straight quarter of 25 per cent plus growth, while earnings rose 83 per cent.
In short when others are pulling back, Polaris, and more directly Victory Motorcycles are wound flat out. I have to admit I dig the attitude.
– Oliver Jervis (October 2011)