Friday, 16 May 2014

Ride review: Victory Cross Country

Victory Cross Country
A strange and interesting thing about the Victory Cross Country: it gave me the worst riding experience of my life, and yet the reason for that terrible experience is so easy to fix I am willing to overlook it and tell you that this is The One. This the motorcycle I need in my life.

Honestly, as soon as I got home after my Cross Country experience I set up a savings account and labelled it: "CROSS COUNTRY FUND." Goodness knows how long it will take me to save up for the £16,500 (US $27,725) American bagger, but the point is that's how great an effect the machine had on me.

So, let's start with that one bad thing: the little sliver of a stock screen is about an inch too short for someone who is 6-foot-1. Or, considering that I normally ride with my helmet in the wind, perhaps it is an inch too tall. 

To be honest, I don't fully understand the particulars of aerodynamics as pertain to screens, but the long and short of things is that the screen was wrong for me. I suffered intense, intolerable wind turbulence akin to having someone banging on my helmet with a club. Really, it was hell. After my demo ride I had to sit down and hold my head for a few minutes. If we accept the Chris Nowinski definition of a concussion as being any trauma suffered to the head, it is wholly correct to say the Victory Cross Country gave me a mild concussion.

I guess that could be a selling point: the Cross Country is so bad ass that it will knock you out. But, uhm, I'd prefer to just fix the problem with a different screen. Victory offers several, as do a number of aftermarket providers. Or, you could just remove the screen altogether and keep your skull in the breeze. I have no doubt that if I explained it was a make-or-break issue, most dealerships would just switch out the screen for free.

That's it, though. Everything else about the Cross Country is amazing. I mean, really amazing. I mean, so amazing that I could get the hell beat out of me by this thing and still go home trying to figure out how to get one. This is no Cruel Shoes experience, though, it's just a great bike.

The best place to start is that engine. Though this may be subject to change in the near future, at the moment all Victory motorcycles are powered by the Freedom 106 –– a 1,737-cc V twin that produces upward of 100 bhp and 110 lb. ft. of torque. I'll be honest, y'all: I still don't totally understand the meaning of the figures I just threw at you but it sounds impressive for me to use them, doesn't it? As if I were a real motorcycle journalist instead of some guy who squeals like a happy little girl when he gets to test ride a new bike.

But, of course, the latter is what I am, and the smooth yet powerful pull of the Cross Country had me whooping and shouting even as the wind kicked me in the head.

The Cross Country gives you a real sense of presence.
I'm guessing that, like the Victory Judge, the Cross Country would audibly benefit from the Norse-god-like rumble of Stage 1 exhaust. But I found the grunt of its stock pipes to be equally pleasing, making me want –– almost need –– to ride on and on. And that was a spirit that carried to every other part of the bike.

Stock screen aside, the wind protection was excellent. The large batwing-esque fairing cuts out a huge cocoon in which to sit and be happy. More than happy. Although the bike was obviously built by Americans and primarily for Americans, that front end makes it perfect for overcoming the perpetual misty-cold misery of Britain. Add to this the lower wind protection afforded by the enormous floorboards, which block out a space that came more or less to mid shin.

Initially I wasn't too hot on the idea of floorboards. I prefer the look of pegs. But the space afforded by the boards meant that on the move I was able to shift my feet down and put myself in a fully upright seating position. And that meant I didn't suffer any of the lower back pain that cruisers can sometimes give me. Also, I was able to lift up out of my seat when encountering the worst of potholes.

For all the other bumps in the road (and on a British road there are many), the suspension was blissfully plush and backed up with the most pleasant motorcycle seat I have ever experienced. There is plenty of passenger room on the seat, as well, so instantly I found myself fantasizing about dragging Jenn on long trips to Spain.

In addition to being able to handle the bumps of a typical British road, the Cross Country was surprisingly adept at handling its curves, too. There is no denying the Cross Country is massive and its nigh 800 lbs. of weight is not the sort of thing you'd want to try pushing uphill. But all that weight is so well distributed that it feels lighter than the Judge or Jackpot I rode. It handles better than them, too. Corners were easy and enjoyable, and the bike was happy to lean over far more than you'd expect.

Perhaps because it has a shorter rake than Victory cruisers, the Cross Country also –– shockingly –– handles better at slow speed than its cruiser brethren. Particularly when compared to the Jackpot. I was able to keep my feet up without wobble even when crawling through a crowd of people.

At high speed, ignoring the head kicking I was taking from turbulence, the Cross Country was solid. As with all Victory motorcycles the gears were long, meaning I could get up to 40 mph in first before the engine even started to suggest I shift gears. Acceleration was joyful and when I twisted the throttle it felt as if I was being shot forward by a giant bungee cord.

The dash offers plenty of information
but keeps a clean look.
I was happy for such an experience because, contrary to machines of Victory's cruiser line, the Cross Country can actually stop. Up front, it has two discs that actually work the way actual brakes are supposed to. Which means less aggressive reliance on the single rear disc, and an overall less stressful "whoa" experience. Especially because the Cross Country's brakes are anti-lock.

Anti-lock brakes! On a Victory! My one major complaint resolved! I felt, to paraphrase Steve Johnson, that Christmas had come early. And while they were at it, Victory had gone ahead and responded to a few of my other complaints. In that lovely big dashboard there is, in addition to the speedometer/odometer a tachometer and a fuel gauge. A digital gear indicator sits in the middle of the dash and the screen offers all kinds of other info.

There is also a radio, which I had no real interest in and didn't mess with. But the controls on the left handlebar looked easy enough to operate with one's thumb. Assuming one is not wearing winter gloves. The same is true of the cruise control buttons that would be operated from the right handlebar. Again, I didn't get a chance to test that out –– few and far between are the British roads clear enough to maintain a single speed long enough to make use of cruise control.

The radio accepts auxiliary input like an MP3 player, though I don't at the moment remember seeing any place to put such a thing. There probably was a storage compartment and I just didn't notice because such a feature isn't relevant to me. Also on the dashboard is a 12V plug in for said devices or one of those heated vests that everyone is always saying I should get.

The lockable hard panniers were easy to operate but smaller than I was expecting. They were not wide enough to hold a helmet of any size in them, but could still definitely carry several days of clothes. The Victory guys told me larger panniers are available, and you can add a top box to create the Cross Country Tour. Though, I feel that is an expensive and ugly option. I personally would choose to go with Kriega bags for additional storage, which I think would fit the bad-assitute of this bike well.

Meanwhile, speaking of bad-assitude, the panniers are relatively easy to remove if you don't need them and the bike sans saddlebags looks pretty cool. I suspect the absence of the panniers' weight and drag would also give just a little more kick to the already-fun acceleration experience.

The Victory guys gave me this key ring.
It is now one of my most-prized possessions.
The Cross Country has been on my What I Want list for quite a long time now and having now seen and ridden the bike I find I want it even more. Back when I first fell started falling for it I wasn't that hot on the fairing, but since then it has really grown on me. In person, that fairing gives the bike an aggressive look, it makes you feel you have real presence on the road. and it meshes so well with all the other aspects of the machine. Like the majority of Victory models, it is fun to just stare at –– to follow the lines with your eyes, to examine every little aspect.

It is a bike with a sense of spirit; it is the sort of thing you find yourself speaking to. It is the sort of thing for which you set aside your pennies. For who knows how long, because great googly moogly is it pricy, but  I think it's worth it and one day I'll have one of my own.

The three questions:

For me to consider spending my own money on a motorcycle it needs to answer in the affirmative three questions.

Does it fit my current needs and lifestyle?
Yes. It also fits the lifestyle to which I aspire. It is a bike for what I am and what I want to be. It is surprisingly capable in corners, it has plenty of space to carry a passenger comfortably, and it has a decent amount of storage which can be expanded if so desired.

Does it put a grin on my face?
Yes. A massive stupid idiot grin. I was in the process of being concussed on my test ride and I still was hooting and shouting with joy. I mean, I know I'm saying it but I really don't feel I've conveyed just how much I enjoyed being on this bike.

Is it better than my current motorcycle?
Yes. Is sex better than a flu shot? It looks better, it rides better, it has more features, it has more power, it has more torque, and it's from Minnesota. I loved this machine.

12 comments:

  1. It's interesting to me that the HD and Victory touring models seem to be their most capable bikes (for the moment, it seems the various Indian offerings are all the exact same bike with slightly different bits bolted on). From looking at them, I'd always expected them to be lumbering, clumsy giants. Then I looked into the specs and noticed they tend to have the best motors, best brakes, best lean angles...

    I'm getting sold on the touring bikes, which is something I never thought I'd say. Having a windscreen, a convenient luggage solution, and ergonomics that encourage riding big miles all seem like awfully nice features.

    I recently went to check out the new Indians. While they're gorgeous, I was more than a little disappointed to find out they only have 25 degrees of lean angle available before they start scraping bits on the ground. That might be OK, but then I realized they only have one brake disk up front too. Unfortunate, since otherwise it fit me perfectly.

    Anyway, great that you found the big dumb grin bike!

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    1. I'm pretty sure all the Indian range have dual front discs and ABS. But, yeah, at the moment it seems you can get the same bike in a Victory but for slightly less. I really liked the Cross Roads and it looks a lot less old manish in person.

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    2. Oops. You're right - the Indian has dual front discs.

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  2. If you talk about an Indian bike only you will find front discs brake, rarely you will find abs.But you will find disc and ABS both only in sport bikes, frankly I am telling you that I have not seen this type of bike in India yet now might be few Indian having this type of bike but I have not seen. Thanks for the post.

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    1. Uhm, no. Not bikes made in India but the brand Indian Motorcycles, which are made in the United States: http://www.indianmotorcycle.com/

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  3. Chris if you can handle the looks check out the Madstad Engineering adjustable windshield system... Adjustable height and angle. You can buy one of their screens (I am rather partial to the flat topped Road Glide style) or buy just the brackets and for use with your OE screen which for a standard XC is probably the way to go.

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    1. I've read about those. I'll certainly check them out when I eventually have the cash to get a Cross Country. Of course, by then perhaps Victory will have fixed the problem. I've seen it mentioned in a lot of reviews.

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  4. Actually this bike add well as the new Indian's are made in spirit Lake iowa, not minnesota

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    1. True. But Polaris, parent company to Victory and Indian, is based in Minnesota. Most moto-journalists refer to these bikes as being "from" Minnesota.

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  5. Hell, one journalist even called Victory (Polaris) a British Company.

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  6. I have quite a few motorcycles, I love my XC tour.

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