The others are hunkering down while we’re on the gas,” says Victory Motorcycles as it marshals forces against its self-declared arch-rival, Harley Davidson. With a Core Custom program, revised transmission and a grab bag full of shiny new parts, the Minnesota-based company is set for 2011.
Putting the 106 across our line is a pretty big deal,” says Victory Motorcycles product manager Gary Gray during a press conference convened in southeast Colorado.
He’s referencing the 106-cubic inch engine that was previously only in select heavyweights such as the Hammer and Vision motorcycles, but will now be included as standard for all Victory models. It’s an important item on a grab bag agenda of upgrades, features, programs, and three actual all-new models scripted by three generations of the hired gun Ness clan (Arlen, Cory and Zach), who’ve rendered custom versions of the Vision, Cross Country and Vegas 8-ball for 2011.
It’s clear, early into the conference, that if Victory ever really considered itself and its marketing structure to be separate, unique and undefined by the juggernaut that is mighty Harley-Davidson, this is no longer the case. Victory says it’s the “New American motorcycle” and in that declaration is a binary equation: If Harley is this, then we are that.” This is really what Victory is saying. Victory’s celebrity designer, the legendary Arlen Ness, articulates the position.
“My relationship with Victory works great because all the young guys [engineers, designers etc.] are open to doing some neat stuff. There being another American motorcycle is exciting to me because all there was, really, was Harley and they’re just so straight and narrow they don’t want to try nothing.”
There it is in a nutshell. Victory sees itself as being younger, fresher, more vibrant, but ultimately locked in mortal combat with Harley-Davidson in the all-important cruiser category, and in the even more critical touring segment which, according to Victory, now outweighs the cruiser class: 54 versus 46 per cent.
Victory’s big deck gun, the 106, as an across-the-board motor, is the return salvo to Harley-Davidson’s 103 Twin Cam, though Victory claims a significant torque advantage for itself: 109 ft/lbs. versus Harley’s 92. Both sides run six-speeds, and very likely each are heavily influenced by Bert Baker who was the first to introduce the extra ratio through his aftermarket company, Baker Drivetrain.
For 2011, Victory will take the route established by Harley in 2002 with its V-Rod by introducing helical-cut gears, which are primarily all about creating an overall quieter transmission. Harley debuted its Cruise Drive six-speed Big Twin transmission with helical cut gears in the 2006 Dyna family and then in all H-D Big Twins in 2007.
Victory calls its own a “100,000-mile transmission” and though there are new gear tooth counts, all ratios remain within one per cent of their 2010 values. Immediately noticeable while on the road is the inclusion of a neutral selection assist that makes missing neutral perhaps not impossible but at least very unlikely. With gear noise and driveline lash reduction coming as the prime objectives for the 2011 transmission, there’s an added bonus at the owner level: Victory has extended the oil service interval for all models from 3,000 to 5,000 miles.
There’s a peripheral plus to the new gearbox. By extension, a quieter motor allows more rumble from the exhaust. At least that’s the theory being tossed around in Victory’s sound test lab, where pursuit of compliance with the Motorcycle Industry Council’s proposed roadside sound test procedure has led to three all-new exhaust systems (swept, shotgun and 2-1) each with larger outlets than model year 2010 versions yielding an improved sound quality and lower exhaust note.
Lifting a page from Harley’s notebook on the importance of holding a vast accessory line that allows customers to make their bikes uniquely their own, Victory has introduced a Core Custom program that allows clients to build a custom bike literally within hours by selecting from 48 possible combinations, starting with the Cross Roads—a model that is of great importance to Victory because of its touring role and which the company pits directly against the Road King.
The various combinations are found in four major groups: saddlebags (hard or soft), colour ranges, windshield, and tip-over protection. While lauding the Cross Roads and its associated Core Custom program, Victory cites key feature advantages over its Harley competitor. Specifically, larger capacity bags, more torque, longer rear suspension travel and floor boards and a $3,000 price differential, MSRP, in the US.
There’s also a new quick-release trunk available for the Cross Roads and Cross Country models that Victory says is $500 less than a similar item from Harley-Davidson, has 15 per cent more capacity, and mounts in 10 seconds. Unlike Harley, what Victory will not release are specifics concerning sales numbers. So, the relative success of the models Victory targets against Harley-Davidson is anyone’s guess. Anyone outside the company that is.
But if Victory’s internal assessment is any gauge, the parent company, Polaris, is “on a tear,” gaining market share during trying economic times with an invigorated focus on business coming through a new $32 million R&D centre in Wyoming, Minnesota where there are “many new ideas coming down the pipeline,” according to Mark Blackwell, who is both Victory’s vice-president and an AMA motocross Hall-of-Famer. “The others are hunkering down while we’re on the gas,” says Blackwell when asked why Victory recently enjoyed record attendance at its national dealer meeting—this at a time when some manufacturers and distributors have trouble keeping some stores open.
As a company that has steadily added to its catalogue of choice accessory items—interestingly, Harley and Victory share common suppliers for components such as seats—Victory follows its own suit by once again ramping up a tasty array of colours, chrome suites, trendy blacked-out parts and some of the best wheels in the cruiser business. Across the standard 12 models in the 8-ball, Cruiser, and Touring families, various other upgrades not including drivetrain work range from calculated gear indicators to bolt-on heel shifters to standard ABS (on some models).
Meanwhile, the 106 engine, which Victory calls its Freedom 106, is packaged in a Stage I version, and a Stage II featuring a horsepower and torque boosting high-performance cam fitted into the cruiser bikes, Hammer, Kingpin, Vegas, etc.
Unfortunately the claimed 97 horses and 113 ft/lbs. torque of the Stage II motor are not available as standard to the Touring bikes: the Cross Roads, Cross Country and Visions. Following nearly back-to back sessions with the Road King one week, and the Cross Country the next, the Harley just felt better sorted through a broader range. Where the King was precise regardless of which gear was selected, the Victory seemed to be hunting for the right ratio in certain situations, such as those between second and fourth when the roads were winding and tight. Perhaps the extra torque of the Stage II motor would have been the difference maker.
But the sum of all its 2011 parts make the Victory line stunning and lend the individual bikes an undeniable presence.
Much credit can go to the influence of Mr. Ness, who has enlisted the aid of his son Cory (“The one with the formal business training.”) and, more recently, grandson Zach who brings with him a contemporary urban-hip street influence. “My grandfather’s definitely old school,” says Zach with a mixture of pride and an unspoken determination to bring the “other Americans” increasingly toward that lofty palace that was once the sole domain of Milwaukee’s pride.