When Polaris Victory Made Its Way Into the Motorcycle Industry

North Star Rising

1998 Polaris Victory
America gets a long-awaited second motorcycle maker, Polaris Victory, and cruiser enthusiasts have an exciting new machine with a fresh approach to cruising.Brian J. Nelson

Unlike the efforts of Excelsior-Henderson and other start-up companies, the ability of Polaris to build a motorcycle was never in doubt. The firm is the world's biggest snowmobile maker and among the leaders in the ATV and watercraft markets. A darling of investors, Polaris has the capital and the resources—including the manufacturing capability—to design, engineer, and mass-produce a new motorcycle design.

So once rumors about the company's intent to get into the motorcycle business congealed into a definite plan to build a big cruiser, the only question that remained was how good it would be. We heard lots of skepticism. There is a tendency to think of a motorcycle company building a cruiser as competing head-to-head with Harley-Davidson. Could a newcomer match Harley's styling, heritage, and charisma? Fortunately, the people in charge of the Polaris motorcycle division weren't victims of such limited thinking.

The prototype we rode had an impressively full exhaust note, deeper and louder than most stock bikes. However, Polaris plans to include exhaust systems among the accessory items it will offer. Windshields and billet are also planned.Brian J. Nelson

When Al Unser, Jr. rode out the prototype Polaris Victory V92C at its introduction in Minneapolis, the Polaris folks didn’t center the discussion on classic lines, American heritage, attitude, heartland styling, or other pillars of cruiser puffery. Instead, they simply said, “We wanted to build a better cruiser.” They talked about handling, a rigid frame, rider comfort, suspension performance, strong brakes, and superior power in a package with the looks and ergonomics of a cruiser. Many experienced motorcyclists are buying cruisers these days, and riders used to the quality suspension, compliant ride, hard-hitting power, and good brakes of bikes from other segments, understandably find that the current crop of cruisers leaves plenty to be desired. Instead of aiming squarely at the Harley market or some other small segment, Polaris has opened a new and interesting niche of its own.

Although production won't commence until early 1998, we got to ride a prototype of the V92C briefly, the day after the introduction, and were very impressed. The bike has a long, low, lean, purposeful appearance dominated by the big air/oil-cooled 50-degree V-twin engine. The tall cylinders are topped by four-valve heads with a single cam in each. Though Polaris was a little shy about saying so (Harley is still trying to grab all rights to the sound of a 45-degree air-cooled single-crankpin engine), its design uses a single crankpin and a gear- driven counterbalancer. Fuel injection brings crisp throttle response, and a deep, surprisingly throaty note rumbles from the staggered dual mufflers, which are connected by a balance tube.

The pretty billet floorboards have rubber pads for traction and foot controls positioned so you can reach them without lifting your entire foot off the floorboard. Because the boards are set fairly wide, they are the first things to drag in corners, though the Victory has plenty of cornering capability remaining when the folding boards begin to scratch the pavement.Brian J. Nelson

Tap the heel-toe shifter into first, ease the clutch out, and you’ll feel plenty of torque right off idle. The 92-cubic-inch engine pulls willingly from below 2000 rpm without lugging, though the version we rode pinged just a little if you tried that in fifth gear. There are no flat spots or hesitation anywhere, just a linear pull to the 5500-rpm redline. Getting around slow traffic won’t require a downshift in most instances, just a handful of throttle for an expeditious pass. Though Polaris says it used a balance factor for the counterbalancer that left some engine feel intact, the bike we rode vibrated insignificantly. We didn’t ride far enough to get a meaningful fuel-consumption reading, but the Victory team says the V92 delivers 40 mpg or so, enough for 200 miles from the 5.0-gallon tank—which doesn’t look that big.

The clutch engaged progressively, even after we got it hot during a photo session (which requires lots of turning around and accelerating), and asks for just a modest pull at the lever. Gear selection involves a solid clunk, but lever travel is short, and there were no surprises. Unlike most other floorboard-equipped bikes (Kawasaki being the exception), the Victory has its foot controls arranged so that you can use them quickly and easily with the floorboards.

While testing other bikes for comparison, the Victory development team was annoyed by the tendency of their frames to wind up and release under cornering loads. This and the generally unimpressive handling of most big cruisers, pushed them to raise standards significantly in this area. One of the first things many riders notice about the V92C is the burly lower triple clamp, obviously rigid and gripping a pair of 45-mm fork tubes. That stout construction carries through the entire chassis. Polaris claims the frame is as stiff as those of some sportbikes. The engine serves as a stressed member to increase the rigidity of the structure. The rear suspension’s swingarm, controlled by a single shock hidden up under the saddle, is also quite rigid. A lightweight aluminum subframe supports the rear of the frame.

fuel cap
The fuel cap is just one example of how Polaris has followed its own styling path. We are told that the Victory line of clothing introduced with the bike (which will include leather) will pick up the fuel cap design on its snaps.Brian J. Nelson

Judging by the machine we rode, the development people must be quite pleased. It’s extremely rigid, as demonstrated by its stability and surefootedness. No shaking, frame flex, wallowing or hunting here, just steady, exact tracking through corners. Well-calibrated suspension rates keep uneven pavement from upsetting the steadfast handling too, and they also provide a comfortable ride over all except the largest of bumps. Though not as quick as a sportbike’s, the steering is comfortably responsive, and the Victory steers neutrally, without straightening up under braking, or dropping into corners.

We were also pleased by the brakes. We got plenty of power without Herculean lever pressures, but the brakes were not too sensitive either.

Besides the absence of vibration and compliant suspension, the rider is coddled by a comfortable saddle, which is roomy and apparently well padded. Polaris lists the height as 28 inches. The handlebar is high enough to reach comfortably, low enough that you can lean into the wind slightly, and wide enough to provide good steering control on a 600-pound (the claimed dry weight) motorcycle. Floorboards provide foot position latitude and complete a riding position that promises to provide long-distance comfort for a wide variety of riders, though our saddle time wasn’t long enough to know for sure.

Putting the instruments in cans up by the handlebar was ugly, and putting them down on the tank where you can’t see them was stupid, so Polaris slipped them into the headlight shell, a location once favored by many manufacturers. The designers managed to incorporate a small tachometer dial in addition to the speedometer, and added a raft of features to the LCD display which other manufacturers use just as an odometer/tripmeter. Using buttons on the handlebar, you can call up not only those functions, but also fuel quantity and clock, as well as a unique feature that lets you dim the high-beam indicator light at night. Other handlebar switches are conventional.Brian J. Nelson

For the most part, fit and finish were as good or better than what we have seen on other manufactures’ prototypes that were even closer to production, although the Victory did have some pieces that could use a bit more polish, such as rough parts on some engine castings. A “full line” of accessories is planned, with companies like National Cycle (making windshields) and Intersport Fashions West (parent of apparel makers Firstgear and Hein Gericke in the U.S.) already at work on products. A line of bolt-on billet cosmetic pieces is also in the works.

Though there were a few details that needed some final sorting out (some electrical glitches and an occasional backfire, for example), the bike works exceptionally well for a machine that reached the drawing boards only two years prior, and has been in prototype form for less than a year. Factor in the facts that this is the firm’s first motorcycle (the company plans other cruiser models and possibly other types) and that it doesn’t go into production until early next year, and you have to believe that Polaris will be a major player in the motorcycle business in short order. Anything can change in that time, but the Victory is at the very top of our test-bike wish list for next year.

Headquartered in Minneapolis, the company will build its motorcycle engines in Osceola, Wisconsin and assemble the bikes in its Spirit Lake, Iowa plant. It claims to have more American content than that other motorcycle company that builds its engines in Wisconsin. It plans a production run of about 5000 machines in 1998 with about 300 dealers to sell and support them. Eventually Polaris plans to have about twice that many dealers and increase production substantially. No firm price was given, just that the company plans to price it between Harley (described as “between $13,000 and $18,000) and the Japanese ($10,000 to $12,000), which seems to indicate that they are looking at something in the $12,000 to $13,000 range.

Polaris Victory's first cruiser looks to raise the bar on handling, performance, and braking for the cruiser category.Brian J. Nelson

We’re pleased to have another real motorcycle company in America, but we are thrilled that its first machine promises to set new standards of handling, performance, and braking, for big V-twin cruisers.

This article was originally published in the October 1997 issue of Motorcycle Cruiser.

Designation: V92C
Engine type: Oil-cooled, 50-degree, V-twin
Valve arrangement: SOHC, 2 intake, 2 exhaust valves per cylinder
Displacement, bore x stroke: 1507cc, 97 x 102 mm
Carburetion: Electronic fuel injection
Lubrication: Wet sump, 6-quart capacity
Transmission: Wet, multiplate clutch, 5 speeds
Final drive: Belt
Claimed dry weight: 600 lbs.
Wheelbase: 63.3 in.
Wheels: Cast
Tires: Dunlop
Front brake: 4-piston caliper, 11.8-inch disc
Rear brake: 2-piston caliper, 11.8-inch disc
Front suspension: 45 mm stanchions, 5.1 in. travel
Rear suspension: Single damper, 4.0 in. travel
Fuel capacity: 5.0 gal.
Instruments: Speedometer, tachometer; LCD with functions for odometer, tripmeter, clock, fuel gauge; lights for neutral, high beam, low oil pressure, turn signals, low fuel