Big Wheel in Town
Nothing says attitude like outrageous paint, a slammed back end, tall front hoop and big, bad sound. The new Victory Cross Country Magnum.
With custom front wheels up to 30 inches in diameter and stretched, molded panniers that flow like a princess bridal train, so-called Extreme baggers are today’s “it” look on the streets of Daytona, Sturgis, Laughlin, and even Red Deer, Alberta. Seems to me they were once called draggin’ baggers but that all sounds so curiously dated now. When, and with whom, did this trend start? Like most trends, it’s hard to know. The first fully formed Extreme bagger I can ever recall seeing was in the parking lot of a SoCal hotel during the 2001 Love Ride in Los Angeles, and it belonged to one of the Hamsters MC, maybe Paul Yaffe, I don’t remember. But it’s fair to say that Yaffe’s “Bagger Nation” is hugely responsible for popularizing the super-heated segment that is so endemic word of it has even reached Medina, Minnesota, home of Victory Motorcycles, which has now returned its own custom bagger entry, the 2015 Cross Country Magnum.
Of course I’m just having a little fun at the expense of Minnesota. The truth is that Victory has long been in front of the custom curve. At least, where factory offerings are concerned. The wheel choices, paint combos, option packages and very particular molding treatments from Victory have always been progressive and remain highly under the influence of the Arlen Ness clan (more Hamsters).
This Extreme bagger thing grows steadily more extreme—there’s a rumour that someone is building 32-inch wheels and there are back ends out there now that are so slammed they can literally scrape the paint from centre line strips. But Victory can hold its own in this gaudy environment, even at the Sturgis Rally where I had my first chance to ride the Magnum in August. Through the twists and turns of Vanocker Canyon to the parade paddle down Main Street Sturgis, the Magnum may not have been the splashiest bike among the many thousands but there’s a chewy elegance about it that draws close attention.
While idling along in the bumper-to-bumper traffic on Lazelle Street in Sturgis, a Harley dealer slowly driving a Dodge turbo Ram in the oncoming lane jerked his thumb in the direction of the long Wells Cargo trailer he was towing and said to me with a playful grin, “We’re got REAL American bikes in here.”
I slowly nodded my head in faux appreciation. “Do they run?” I asked.
“You bet!” said the proud driver.
“So, what are they doing in the trailer?”
I asked, leaving the Harley dealer without a quick response. He was still smiling though, because it had been a good interchange. The rivalry is clearly on between the two manufacturers, with the Magnum providing at least a temporary edge in a popular class.
The Big Wheel Trend
The Magnum is not an unexpected variation of the Cross Country, which has already undergone reconstructive surgery by Zach Ness, the youngest of America’s best-known customizing family. His stylings tend to be more youth-oriented than grandfather Arlen’s, though whether he had a hand in the Magnum or not, I’m not sure.
“Extreme” rightfully belongs to the culture of youth, where all manner of excesses are tolerated/encouraged. But by the standards of Extreme, the Magnum is actually quite demure, with a relatively modest 21-inch front wheel called Black Roulette and a slammed back end that isn’t so much slammed as gently lowered one inch off stock, and capped with a Low-Pro seat.
Street-wise attitude is really what custom baggers are about, and nothing says attitude more clearly than a very loud sound system. An entire audio industry has sprung up around the necessity to convert hardbags into woofers and tweeters, but in the Cross Country Magnum’s case there are six big speakers cranking out 100 Watts of sound housed in the custom painted fairing. “Plus you can crank it up even further with a set of accessory saddlebag audio that complement the fairing speakers,” says Victory. Personally, I don’t quite see the point of this sound tsunami—most of it travels behind you and disperses into the wind as you hit highway speeds so who gets to enjoy your Metallica mix? But loud and proud is where it’s at in the bagger world. So, crank it up! The controls for the audio system can be quickly accessed at the left hand switchgear and even if, like me, you favour big, clumsy leather gauntlets, the controller is easy to manipulate.
I rode the original Cross Country during its press introduction in the red rock canyons of Colorado and noticed no appreciable difference in the Magnum’s ability to gracefully hold a corner or be manageable in low speed situations, although the slamming process reduced the rear air-adjustable mono-shock’s travel from 4.7 to 3.5 inches. That seems quite a lot in cruiser terms, especially for a bike that already weighs 761 lbs. (345 kg) before loading on a big lug like me. The quality of the roads around Sturgis is excellent and generally pothole free, but even so I judged the Magnum’s shock-shortened ride quality and suspension to be very mannerly. Certainly it’s light years removed from what the guys running around Sturgis with 26-inch hoops must have been experiencing.
That’s the thing though, isn’t it? The Magnum trends toward the Extreme bagger look without making its operator pay the price for style as he sinks into a 25.7-inch seating position (again, about one inch off stock). It’s an important consideration. ABS braking over 300mm front discs, along with Victory’s splendid and proven 106/6 Freedom engine bring a solid predictability—in every single road situation, you can be confident in the operational aspects of the motorcycle beneath you, despite its flashy, party-boy presentation. With a factory-spec 106 ft/lb. torque, the big 1731cc V-Twin is a recurring feature through the entire Victory line, where it continues to offer powerful service with never a hiccup or a surprise as you roll through the gears. It’s a pleasure to experience.
Well-placed floorboards, cruise control, optional apehangers, and four colour variations add to the experience. The inside of the fairing is colour-matched and the abbreviated Boomerang windshield does an okay job of creating a still pocket for the rider.
The Cross Country was already a well-sorted bike and customization to meet the demands of a charismatic trend has done nothing to change that. The Cross Country Magnum is a timely variation, but certainly not a compromise. Starting at $24,599, it’s a bike for a committed rider that the entire neighbourhood will enjoy—unless you crank up those 100 Watts at two in the morning.