A little over a decade ago American snowmobile and ATV giant Polaris dipped their toe in the water of the mainstream motorcycle market with the launch of Victory Motorcycles. In doing so they declared their mission to go head to head with Harley-Davidson in the cruiser market, dubbing Victory as ‘The New American Motorcycle’. Polaris set about making Victory a premium brand with classy dealerships, a promised higher level of service and performance a cut above the established top end player in the cruiser market.

Harley responded to the challenge by improving their showrooms, their product and significantly lifted their game across the board. The winners were the consumers. Instead of getting a new paint job with each model change, we were now getting new engines, gearboxes, frames, suspension and much better braking components. Harley had entered the 21st century.

Thus Victory’s challenge was perhaps not quite as easy as when they first hit the market and the company has had to step up to another level yet again to differentiate themselves from the icon that is Harley-Davidson. Take a look at Victory’s new store in Melbourne’s Elizabeth Street for evidence of just how serious they are about trying to achieve the premium brand experience. Likewise the product has also stepped up a notch with the recent launch of the new Cross Roads and Cross Country models and MCNEWS.COM.AU recently put the latest additions to the range to test in the Sunshine Coast hinterland.

These two models clearly line up against a couple of popular Harleys, and this scribe’s two personal Harley favourites. It is impossible to evaluate the Victory models without comparing them to their obvious competitor.

The Victory Cross Roads takes on the Road King, while the Cross Country’s feature list more closely resembles that of Harley’s Street Glide. The Harley touring line-up underwent big changes for the 2009 model year with a new chassis that did away with the old wallowing sensation common to previous Harley models and are now dynamically the best large motorcycles Harley have ever produced. Thus the challenge for Victory to outpoint their nemesis is now much harder than it was when comparing previous generations of product. These models are not cappuccino strip cruisers but motorcycles with real touring credentials and prove practical enough for everyday use.

All four are powered by big air-cooled v-twin engines but Victory’s 1731cc engine not only bests Harley’s 1584cc donk on capacity but also across both power and torque. The Victory advantage really shows as the tacho needle rises. Not that either engine revs all that hard, the show’s all over by 5000rpm on either machine. The Victory has a nice note and ample grunt off the bottom but it misses those characteristic heavy crank beats that the Harley boasts from its 45° layout (the Victory is a 50° V). Overall though on the road the Victory has the better engine but does miss out on that charismatic Harley beat. The Victory machines don’t have the huge pull of Yamaha’s XV1900AS or Suzuki’s 109R series but the delivery is purposefully more sporting than the Harley donk and rarely found wanting. On the highway the Victory turns a little under 2500rpm for 110km/h. The six-speed gearbox is a little agricultural.

Likewise the Victory bikes also win on the weight score by tipping the scales a useful 20kg lighter than the Milwaukee iron. Despite that, in the parking lot and really low speed city handling, Harley still has a clear edge. Out of the city and with rising speeds however the tables turn in favour of the Victory. Before the recent revamp of the Harley touring line-up the differences would be massive but the H-D bikes now handle really quite well. But Victory still have the sharper edge, hold a line much better and are rock solid through a turn. The Victory machines also offer more ground clearance than is the cruiser norm.

The primary source of the Victory’s admirable dynamics stems from the design of the rear suspension.

Short travel rear suspension is the bane of cruiser motorcycles. It means the shocks quickly firm through the stroke or over significant bumps the suspension bottoms out, kicking off an extended case of the dreaded wallows. Victory has overcome this by using a linkage at both the top and bottom of an activation rod that then pivots through a rocker arm to activate the shock absorber, thus freeing up a lot more space to give the shock a much longer stroke. This not only dramatically improves handling but also benefits comfort levels on long rides. The rear suspension design is really an ace up the Victory’s sleeve that really translates to a better ride over the shitty surfaces we call roads in Australia.

The other bane of long distance rides on cruisers is the all the weight on the tailbone style riding position that, when combined with poor rear suspension, makes for significant discomfort. One of the greatest fallacies in regards to cruisers is that they are comfortable for long distance riding. Most cruisers are definitely not comfortable for the long haul. Victory’s Cross Roads and Cross Country are however comfortable for the long haul, though clearly not as comfortable as the company’s Vision model. The Vision is the most comfortable motorcycle on the market and even surpasses Honda’s Gold Wing for creature comforts. But the Cross Roads and Cross Country are certainly two of the most comfortable cruisers on the market. They also boast some of the most generous load capacities in motorcycling. A 264kg carrying capacity for the Cross Roads and 255kg for the Cross Country means the bikes are actually capable of carrying two adults and a full load of luggage without being pushed well outside their comfort zone.

As the name would suggest, the Cross Country is more amenable than the Cross Roads when it comes to serious touring. The Cross Country scores a much more expansive permanent front fairing, an IPod compatible entertainment system and cruise control.

The Cross Roads makes do with a removable screen that proves quite effective but also adds versatility. The screen can be removed or reattached as the mood and role dictates.

Almost the exact same parallels can be drawn comparing Harley’s Road King and Street Glide in the touring stakes. The similarities are obviously not accidental. Victory has taken aim with both barrels and let loose at what are in my opinion, Harley’s best two models. And certainly in most areas of practicality and performance they have certainly inflicted some serious flesh wounds on their targets. More grunt, better handling, more voluminous panniers and higher levels of comfort make the Victory a clear winner in all areas of dynamics. The Harley has better brakes, sweeter looks, more soul and a smoother power-train.

But it’s not a Harley… As ridiculous as that sounds that is the biggest hurdle Victory faces in the marketplace. Their bikes could be twice as good at everything but still never sell as well as the Harley models. Some people have always wanted a Harley and nothing else will do. But for those of us with a more open mind, or just don’t want to follow the pack, you would be silly to not consider Victory, ‘The New American Motorcycle’.

Specs – Victory

Engine – 50° V-Twin, 1731cc
Bore x Stroke – 101 x 108mm
Transmission – Six speed, belt drive
Seat Height – 667mm
DRY Weight – 338kg Cross Roads. 347kg Cross Country
Fuel Capacity – 22 litres
Average Consumption on test – 6 litres per 100km
Range – 350km
Warranty – Two years
Price – Expect to pay $27,995 plus on road costs for the Cross Roads and $29,995 for the Cross Country

Verdict – ****

Positives
+ Great dynamics for a cruiser
+ Low seat height
+ Stereo and cruise control on Cross Country

Negatives
- ABS not available
- Clunky gearbox
- Brakes

CrossCountry CrossRoads