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.
The billet trim on the large...
The billet trim on the large taillight gives it a distinctive appearance. It uses a single bulb and illuminates the license plate from below. Turn signal stalks are one of few bungee anchor points.
Tester's notes: The Victory was a perfect partner for exploring the Lincoln Highway. The long, slow days in the saddle -- some exceeding 15 hours -- where the ultimate test for a bike's ergonomics. The Victory's seating position and seat weren't merely tolerable, but consistently enjoyable. The stable, firm handling characteristics were appreciated through every twist and turn on the Lincoln. Low-speed predictability was a benefit for backtracking and photo sessions. The bike tracked true at higher speeds as well. I can't tell you how glad I was to be on it that night in the Alleghenies -- just plant it and feed throttle. The wide bar and tires were sweet when the old highway turned to dirt and thick gravel.
Victory made chassis performance a top priority. After all, why shouldn't cruisers handle and stop well? With more and more experienced motorcyclists switching to cruisers, precise steering and steady cornering were sure to be appreciated, and even new riders would be more comfortable on a stable bike than one that wallowed. The commitment to a rigid chassis shows up in the stout 45mm Marzocchi fork legs set in massive triple clamps, in the use of the engine as a structural member, back in the triangulated swingarm with its single Fox damper, in the use of cast wheels, and in the visible strength of the frame itself. Wide, belted Dunlop 491s provide traction and a stable feel at both ends.
That strong structure affords the solid feel the designers sought. The steering geometry, a nice round 5.0 inches of front-wheel trail and 30 degrees of rake in the steering head, was chosen with not only the 92C but future variations of the design in mind. It permits low-effort handling at all speeds and steady manners during relatively aggressive cornering. Only when loaded with all our gear could we get a hint of instability in high-speed corners.
Friendly geometry and a perfect choice of handlebar permit you to turn it around on a narrow road with little effort, save perhaps in manipulating the clutch. You can also rush up to a fast corner and bend it toward the apex, arriving precisely where you wished with minimal adjustment to your line. Braking in a corner means that you must apply additional countersteering pressure to hold your line, but there are few surprises in the V92's handling. Which isn't to say that there are none.
Tester's notes: I've spent enough time in the saddle to feel I know the Victory pretty well, but twice today the handling surprised me.
Victory compressed many functions...
Victory compressed many functions into its single instrument face. The mini tach set in the speedometer face is reminiscent of those of bikes from the 1960s, though the needle fluctuates at high speeds. Warning lights are bright and take the form of icons--a gas pump for low fuel, left and right arrows for turn signals, a headlight shell for high beam, an oil can for oil pressure--making them easy to interpret. The LCD window offers much more than just the usual odometer and tripmeter functions. A button on the front of the right handlebar switch allows you to toggle through those functions plus a clock, an instrument backlight control, a control for the brightness of the high-beam-indicator light, fuel quantity, and voltage. A "check engine" message also flashes when the engine is not running or a problem is detected. The button on the front of the left handlebar switch allows you to adjust or reset the function displayed. You can change to metric units, reset the tripmeter or clock, or turn the instrument lighting and high-beam indicator down when riding on a dark road. The fuel indicator says "full" until the first gallon is gone, then shows remaining fuel to the tenth (as measured by a float in the tank) until you are on your last gallon. Then a "low fuel" message is displayed and the gas-pump icon light flashes. Although the LCD is hard to read when the sun is directly overhead, the instruments are placed where they are easy to take in without looking away from the road. We rate this as the best instrumentation on any cruiser to date.
First, riding around an off-camber, left-hand corner, I hit a mid-corner bump that upset the bike enough to touch down something hard -- the sidestand, I suspect -- with enough force to almost crash. The bike gave a mighty, wallowing shake that changed my line directly towards the ditch and the Nebraska cornfield beyond. As I rode on and my heart rate settled to normal, I pondered how many hours the trip to the nearest trauma center might have taken.
Second, I rode the Victory sans luggage to dinner tonight. I'd almost forgotten how harsh the high-speed compression damping is without the additional weight.
Despite its generally excellent handling, the V92C does have limits on its chassis performance. Although the suspension works well on small and medium bumps and over large, rolling surface changes, you feel the full force of big, sharp bumps, which come through loud and clear from both ends. With such good suspension compliance on other sorts of irregularities, this harsh treatment over big bumps comes as something of a shock, especially since the Victory offers generous travel (5.1 inches up front and 4.0 in the rear), which usually means a better ride over large bumps. There are no adjustments provided to counter this condition, which we believe is the result of too much high-speed compression damping, though carrying heavy luggage or a passenger subdues the effect in the rear end. When riding solo and unladen, you learn to steer around, slow for or stand over large bumps.
Though cornering clearance is respectable by cruiser standards, what touches down is solid. Looking at the bike, we expected to drag the folding footboards first, but it turns out that the lower pipe (right side) and sidestand (left) are the first pieces to reach the pavement. Since neither of these can give way much, you will lever the rear wheel off the ground if you poke them into the road forcefully.
We have nothing but praise for the Brembo brakes however. You get braking power few cruisers can equal, particularly with equal lever pressure, and excellent control in a hard stop, both from the four-piston front caliper and the two-piston rear. The suspension doesn't dive excessively during a full-goose stop, and the Dunlops give plenty of traction with early warning of impending lock-up.
Tester's notes: It was a dead heat. I wanted to hit 6000 miles before arriving at the office, but it came up just over a mile short, so I went around a few blocks and arrived with 6000 on the clock. Old number 35 is running as strong as ever, though it shows some wear.
The Victory's arrival set off a debate among our testers and staffers from or stablemate publications, Motorcyclist and Sport Rider, about its looks. What surprises me is how invisible it seems to be. Maybe it is the perfect universal V-twin cruiser, but people sure don't seem to notice it. Two years ago I rode a Valkyrie around the country, and it lit people up at every stop. This bike only draws comments once or twice a day. Even when it was parked in sea of motorcycles outside the Guggenheim where "The Art of the Motorcycle" was on display, only one pair of riders stopped to talk. I saw several motorcyclists walk right past it on several occasions and not even register it. Upon arriving at the shop, the discussion quickly settled into a debate about whether it was pretty or ugly, and this isn't the sort of thing where people change their minds. Everyone did like the instruments however.
Without even a tune-up or oil change, the V92 surived 6000 miles of less than loving treatment with, for the most part, only minor glitches. A headlight filament burned out in the sealed beam. A minute amount of oil seeped from the front cam cover on the left side, but the engine didn't use a perceptible amount of oil. The final drive belt is still tight. The left side panel shed a grommet on one of its mounts making it rattle, but not fall off.
The header pipes, which have heat shields for only part of their length, had thoroughly blued by the 5000-mile point and there was a slight discoloration visible on the mufflers too. Wiring bundles running from the handlebar to the headlight have chafed on the top triple clamp, marring the finish there. Our saddlebags scuffed the rear fender. Since Victory chose internal fender supports, there is nothing to buffer the fender from saddlebars; certainly anyone taking advantage of the comfortable ride for a long trip with saddlebags should get a set of saddlebag guards. It would be difficult to carry luggage any other way because there are few perches to hook bungee cords beside the turn signals. We actually attached our tailbag to the saddlebags.
Perhaps because of the heavy luggage we carried, the sidestand bent and we had to bend it back a few times as the bike began to list precariously. However, that ceased to be an issue when one staffer, turning into a driveway, caught the lug for the top of the sidestand spring and snapped it off the frame. That left the stand with no spring, but we substituted a bungee cord. A real repair would require welding.
That's it. There were no loose fasteners, no power interruptions, no significant failures of any kind. If the V92C catches your eye, we think you can buy one with confidence that it will still be running many miles down the road.
The question is, will it catch your eye? We were surprised by the lukewarm reception accorded the bike. Not everyone, even other motorcyclists who would presumably stop to look at a new motorcycle from a new brand, notices it, and those who do were split between loving and leaving the bike's looks. This seems to center on the bike's lines and proportions. Almost everyone found some detail to like. Most commented favorably on the billet footboards and rear brake pedal, and everyone liked the instrument cluster. Many wished for a smoother finish on the engine.
Overall, the finish and feel of the Victory is more Harley than Royal Star, more hand-hammered and forged in appearance than die-cast and precision machined. The pieces look big and solid; fitting for a bike that bangs gearshifts so loudly. It looks crude to some. For others, anything less would be wimpy.
If you are looking for a reason not to buy a V92C, we suggest that you decide that you don't like the looks. There is nothing in the way our bike worked that would make us warn you away from it.
Yes, the first Victory has a few warts, but none of them are malignant. Perhaps more significantly, none of them are any worse than those on motorcycles from manufacturers who have been building bikes for decades. And this is the first motorcycle model Polaris has ever produced. No, the Victory doesn't have history, heritage and all those other intangible qualities that seems to mean so much in the brochure but matter so little 10 hours into a 14-hour day of riding. But imagine how good the bikes themselves are likely to be by the time Victory begins to grow some of that stuff.
Stellar rider ergonomics
Ideal cruiser performance and engine control
Amazing first effort for a new motorcycle company
Abrupt clutch engagement
Very stiff over large, sharp bumps
Loud and clunky gearbox with too much lash
Rework suspension to smooth ride on large bumps
Place clear tape or other buffer under wire bundles rubbing steering crown to prevent scuffing finish
1999 Victory V92C
Suggested base price: $12,995
Standard colors: Red/black, blue/black
Extra cost colors: NA
Standard warranty: 12 mos., unlimited miles
Recommended service interval: 2500 miles
Engine & Drivetrain
Type: Air/oil-cooled 50-degree tandem V-twin
Valve arrangement: SOHC; 2 intake, 2 exhaust valves, operated by hydraulic adjusters
Displacement, bore x stroke: 1507cc, 97 x 102mm
Compression ratio: 8.5:1
Carburetion: EFI, 44mm bore
Lubrication: wet sump, 6.0 qt.
Minimum fuel grade: 87-octane
Transmission: wet clutch, 5 speeds
Final drive: Belt, 64/30
Seat height: 27.8 in.
Wheelbase: 63.3 in.
Wet weight: 692 lbs., 54% rear wheel
GVWR: 1075 lbs.
Overall length: 94.0 in.
Rake/trail: 30 degrees / 5.0 in.
Wheels: Cast alloy, 16 x 3.00 front, 16 x 3.50 rear
Front tire: MT90B16 Dunlop Elite II tubeless
Rear tire: 160/80HB-16 Dunlop Elite II tubeless
Front brake: double-action, 4-piston caliper, 11.8-in. disc
Rear brake: single-action, 2-piston caliper, 11.8-in. disc
Front suspension: 45mm stanchions, 5.1 in. travel
Rear suspension: Single damper, 4.0 in. travel, adjustable for preload
Fuel capacity: 5.0 gal.
Handlebar: 36.1 in. wide, 1.0 in. diameter
Inseam equivalent: 34.1 in.
Electrical & Instrumentation
Charging output: 400 watts
Battery: 12v, 14 AH
Forward lighting: 7.0-in 55/60-watt headlight, position lights
Taillight: Single bulb
Instruments: speedometer, tachometer; LCD display with functions for odometer, tripmeter,clock, instrument light intensity, high-beam indicator light intensity, fuel level, charge/voltmeter, engine monitor; warning lights for neutral, high beam, left turns signal, right turn signal, low oil pressure, low fuel level
Fuel mileage: 31 to 47 mpg, 39.4 mpg average
Average range: 197 miles
RPM at 60 mph, top gear: 2530
200 yard, top-gear-acceleration from 50 mph, terminal speed: 71.0 mph
Quarter-mile acceleration: 14.23 sec., 92.3 mph