Photography by Tim McKinney,...
Photography by Tim McKinney, Brian Nelson, and Dean Groover
Simply put, it is the most important new product to hit the American motorcycle marketplace since the first Japanese bike -- a Yamaha -- came ashore in 1959.
The arrival of Victory motorcycles in showrooms means that for the first time in over six decades there is a new brand of large-displacement street bikes being built in America by a U.S. firm. Yankee riders have had just one home-grown brand for so long that mentioning Harley-Davidson has become almost like waving the flag. A new American brand made in the U.S. is going to shake things up.
You can see that the Victory has the attention of other makers already. Harley has responded with a formidable new engine. The Japanese firms, which have found Polaris a fierce competitor in other arenas -- ATVs, watercraft, etc.-- where they vied for customers, are not taking the arrival of a Polaris motorcycle brand lightly, either. Also watching its entry into the market are a small but growing number of other U.S. companies working to bring new cruisers to market. Excelsior-Henderson is the best known and closest to market of these, but there are others such as a possible Indian revival.
Precise handling was marred...
Precise handling was marred by poor handling of large bumps.
Not only is Victory the first of this new generation of American motorcycle builders, it has one asset to call on that none of those other start-ups can: the marketing experience, resources and financial wherewithal of Polaris. That big, successful parent gave it assets others might lack during development of the motorcycle, provides marketing muscle to introduce itself to the market and can provide a safety net in the event that the new motorcycle company stumbles in its infancy.
We aren't expecting Victory to trip, though. The V92C was conceived and developed by a group of people with impressive credentials and motorcycle-development experience. Their depth and evident enthusiasm created a motorcycle with its own distinct character and attractions, applying a fresh approach to traditional cruiser style. Top-notch components indicate a commitment to quality. Packing 1507cc, that eight-valve overhead-cam powerplant was sure to provide plenty of motivation, and the chassis looks hell-for-stout.
You'll never forget what you're...
You'll never forget what you're riding with three Victory logos greeting you when you're in the saddle. The billet-styled gas cap ratchets like an automotive item and has no lock.
One big question remained: Will it stay together? We were asked that repeatedly by potential buyers and others who felt that Polaris had a less-than-stellar reputation for reliability with new models. Even though Victory is an almost independent division that seems to be shooting high, the question kept coming up.
We were happy to search for the answer, and what better place than America's original transcontinental highway? (See the "First Road: Riding the Lincoln Highway" in the Rides and Destinations section MotorcycleCruiser.com for the full story of the ride where we tested this bike.) In 10 days of intensive testing, we accrued over 6000 miles on the LCD odometer and erased most doubts about the V92C's durability.
Tester's notes: What an introduction to a new motorcycle! I picked up the V92C, serial number 35, this morning at Polaris headquarters, loaded up and pulled out of Minneapolis with 90 miles on the odometer at 11 a.m. My feet didn't even touch pavement for 184 miles on that first stint. Five states and a bit more than 600 miles after climbing on the bike, I feel surprisingly fresh. I'd probably be better still if it wasn't for all those damn toll booths in Illinois. What sort of moron builds an interstate highway and then puts roadblocks in it?
Somebody must have measured me when they built this bike, because it fits perfectly. Even without a windshield, I'm comfortable running down the road at over 70 mph. I find it difficult to believe that even my butt isn't sore. Minneapolis to Manhattan in two days shouldn't even raise a sweat. At least until I hit the Lincoln Tunnel.
The rider's saddle removes...
The rider's saddle removes with the key to reveal the battery, the single Fox shock and the tool kit. The shock has no linkage, but we'd like a bit better response to large, sharp bumps.
Victory's debut motorcycle holds many surprises for experienced riders, but perhaps the most pleasing is its ergonomic excellence. The company mentions its commitment to a rigid chassis, a modern engine and other design goals in literature about the bike, but the ergos are rarely touted. So it was a surprise-and a pleasant one considering that we were embarking on a 6000-mile ride -- when the V92C's most outstanding quality was its human interface.
It starts with a riding position that drew raves from everyone who rode it for a long distance. The handlebar-to-seat relationship is such that most riders can sit upright, or by bending their elbows slightly, lean into the wind enough to counter the blast of air at interstate-highway speeds. However, the force of the air is also mitigated by the motorcycle itself, the shape and location of the headlight, fork crown and other equipment up front deflect a large amount of air before it hits the rider. One staffer discovered that simply placing an inch-thick comfort pad on the saddle and thereby sitting slightly higher brought a large increase in the force of the air reaching him. Tall riders might find a bit more air pressure. At 36 inches, the handlebar is wide enough to provide plenty of leverage, yet during full-lock turns the outside end isn't straining your reach and the inside grip isn't pushing your paunch. The angle of the grip met all our wrists at a near-perfect angle.
Thought they look slippery,...
Thought they look slippery, the floorboards turned out to be well positioned, and it was easy to keep your feet in place,
Though some testers looked at the billet footboards with their rubber inserts and thought they looked slippery, too far forward and maybe a bit more spread out than they wanted, all those concerns proved unwarranted. The position was comfortable and allowed some leeway about where you put your feet. Despite the fancy look of the V92's boards, our feet actually tended to get vibrated or blown off them less than on most bikes with rubber-topped footboards. In addition, the passenger footpegs are forward and low enough to provide a comfortable alternative when you need a change of position.
The rider's portion of the saddle, at about 15 long by 14 inches wide, is long enough to move around, flat enough to let you sit in a variety of positions, wide enough to support even, you'll pardon the expression, fat boys, and firm enough to maintain that support on day-long rides. It got a bit hard during that second consecutive all-day ride, but it's better than all but a couple of original-equipment cruiser saddles, and we are sure that owners will find some good options from the aftermarket.
To permit the engine to mount...
To permit the engine to mount solidly and serve as a frame member, the design team abandoned the idea of rubber mounts and used a counterbalancer. The under-tank ignition lock placement is ideal.
Victory's design team deliberately dialed a bit of vibration into the bike by adjusting the effect of gear-driven counterbalancer to let just a bit of the 50-degree V-twin's primary imbalance get out. You feel the vibration, but beyond blurring mirror images moderately at most speeds, the shaking had no effects that provoked complaints.
We were impressed that the exemplary ergonomics extend even to the controls and switches. The pretty billet brake pedal is easy to reach without lifting your foot completely off the footboard. The heel-and-toe shifter is equally handy. However, we were most impressed by the handlebar controls. Although they aren't span-adjustable, the handlebar levers fit our testers' hands just about perfectly, and in combination with a light throttle pull, they make it comfortable to cover the front brake lever all day, a rare trait indeed. The switches arranged in a standard pattern with a right/left/push-to-cancel switch for the self-canceling turn signals, fall readily to hand and work smoothly even with heavy gloves. Even the added buttons used to control the special functions of the instruments are easy to manipulate.
However, the excellent ergonomics stop short of coddling the passenger. Passengers don't get as much saddle width as the rider, and shorter back-seaters said the reach to the footpegs was too long. Some shorter riders ended up with their right heels touching the top muffler, which eventually left a spot of melted rubber right behind the pegs. Like the riders, passengers also complained about the bike's inability to absorb large bumps.
By including a bolt-together...
By including a bolt-together section in the swingarm, Victory permits easy removal of the final-drive belt, which is placed on the right side. Ours needed no adjustment in 6000 miles.
Tester's notes: After a day and a half hustling on the interstates, it was a relief to break off onto the back roads of New Jersey en route a friend's house. The engine is as happy cruising at relaxed speeds down the little two-lane routes as it was on the interstate. Power characteristics and throttle reaction are almost ideal, and it requires a minimum of shifting.
Early on, the Victory design team concluded that its engine would conform to American cruiser tradition. That is, it would be a big tandem V-twin with a relatively narrow V angle. Beyond that, anything was possible. Oil cooling was selected after testing competitive brands in hot weather led testers to conclude that air-cooled engines lost their edge in high-temperatures and liquid-cooled designs were constantly activating their fans. A large oil cooler, fitted with a rock guard, mounts ahead of the crankcase, a vulnerable-looking location that elicited plenty of comments from riders we talked to. Rubber mounting was originally planned for the engine, but that meant that the engine could not serve as a stressed chassis member. Since chassis rigidity was a prime design goal, a balance shaft was fitted behind the crankshaft and rubber mounts were forgotten.
Four valves per cylinder promise performance and efficiency advantages, and overhead camshafts reduced the number of reciprocating parts. Chains with self-adjusting tensioners operate the single cam in each head. Coated metal gaskets were chosen for their durability at key points.
Look at this: a tool roll...
Look at this: a tool roll that includes a ratchet and sockets. That company headquartered in the next state east doesn't even give you a toolkit. The Victory's fasteners are metric.
A unique feature is the torque compensator, basically a weight that attaches to the crankshaft through springs. The springs absorb the shock of each power stroke then feed it back into the drivetrain through the remainder of the piston's cycle. This reduces stresses on the drive line. It may also pay dividends in engine performance. The engine seems to have a bit more flywheel effect when you want it, such as when dribbling along at idle, and less when you don't, such as when you mismatch engine speed during a downshift. In any event, the engine seems to have just about an ideal amount of inertia.
We also give it top marks for throttle response. There is no abruptness in the engine's reaction to movements of your right fist, which enables the rider to accelerate and decelerate or transition from one mode to the other very smoothly. In fact, the throttle response is smoother and more linear than any fuel-injected bike we have ridden and equal to any carbureted bike in our experience. One tester thought this might be due to a long throttle turn, but the distance from fully closed to wide open is just over a quarter turn at the grip. The only time that throttle response is less than crisp was immediately after starting, when the engine stutters off idle for the first couple of blocks.
Overall power is respectable, better than most other 1500s, but not quite as strong as the class-leading Harley. You get clean, responsive power from just off idle, and it's pulling happily before 2000 rpm. It makes respectable passes at highway speeds, where it is indicating about 3000 rpm at 70 mph. Power tapers off from an indicated 5000 and has pretty thoroughly petered out by time the needle reaches the 5500-rpm redline.
If you can keep speeds below 70 mph, the V92C consistently goes 40 miles or more on a gallon of premium. Running at 75 or 80 mph sucks up a lot more fuel, though, and mileage drops into the low 30s. Cruising at moderate speeds (below 60), you can actually go 200 miles before gas stops, though the low-fuel icon in the instrument pod will light up (indicating you are working on your last gallon) about 180 miles out. We averaged in the high 30s on the highway and refilled the 5.0-gallon tank at about 170 miles on the tripmeter.
Victory used conventional...
Victory used conventional handlebar switches with a single turn-signal control, but there are some additions, including a four-way flasher on the right handlebar switch shown here and buttons to control the instrument display and related functions.
The power train's weaknesses are rear of the engine. Abrupt engagement mars a clutch that is otherwise friendly. It requires a modest pull and the cable-operated design required no adjustments in 6000 miles. The abruptness seemed to get slightly worse with mileage, though. It isn't as bad as the clutch on Suzuki's 1500, but there is plenty of room for improvement. One method some testers used to minimize the bite of the clutch was to pull away from stops in second gear. The engine possesses enough flywheel inertial and low-rpm power to do this comfortably, and it smoothed out the lurch that we got in first gear.
An abundance of lash in the drivetrain may exacerbate the clutch's snappy engagement. All five gears have lash. The gearbox also shifted with a louder clank than any in memory. It almost sounds like someone hit the crankcase with a hammer. At least you know when you have completed a shift, and gear engagement was very positive. We had to get awfully sloppy before it would miss a shift. The one exception was if you waited to downshift to neutral until you came to a stop. Then the gearbox sometimes seemed to lose its place and balked a bit before returning to its normal positive self.
Neutral is also easy to locate, at least most of the time. Every once it a while, the neutral light would illuminate when you weren't quite in neutral. Since the Victory lacks any clutch or sidestand interlock system and will start in gear, this could lead to the bike rolling off the sidestand if you punched the starter button when the neutral light was lying.
The V92's exhaust note is deep and pleasant but fairly muted, which surprises riders who have only heard it from the saddle, since the impression the rider has is of a solid, heavy exhaust pulse. What the rider is hearing is actually the intake pulses from the airbox beneath the tank.