Last Tuesday was Victory Motorcycle Demo days at the local dealership. Admittedly, I’m really not in the market for another cruiser, but I wasn’t going to pass up on the opportunity to ride someone else’s motorcycle, no strings attached. This was actually my 3rd Victory demo event, having ridden the Hammer and Cross Country in prior years. As it turns out, my wife has taken quite an affinity for the new Victory Gunner, I only felt it appropriate to take the new “bobber” for a spin.
Not counting my long-term review of the Speedmaster, I would consider this my first written motorcycle review, I only feel it proper to start by talking about what the motorcycle isn’t. It aggravates me to no end when major motorcycle news outlets give a cruiser low marks for things like lack of storage; it’s a cruiser, they sell bags for a reason, lots of cruisers stay naked, hell most of them are tavern to tavern bikes anyway! Cruisers also aren’t known for their ground clearance and suspension, so it’s important to realize that comments regarding cruisers are all relative to other cruisers, not sport bikes or dual sports.
Despite my need for a more functional motorcycle, I cannot deny the primal appreciation for looks of a cruiser. I obviously consider my Speedmaster to be the standard when measuring the blend of function and form; blacked out, yet highlighted in chrome. That being said, the Gunner inspires that same appreciation with its matte paint, blacked out engine case, and subdued pipes. All performance technicalities aside, I even find the Freedom 106 V-twin engine attractive; this coming from a parallel twin aficionado. Similar to my current bike, I’m obviously a fan of the Gunner’s cropped fenders, but also the fat front tire. Some guys find the hard angular lines of a Victory to be add odds with their preferred taste in cruiser styling, but accept the more modern style as it sets the Gunner apart from its competitors. Undeniably, some of the effects are visibly plastic, which to some degree screams “cheap”, but at the same time, you won’t find a budget big bore V-twin like this anywhere else.
Sitting on the Gunner I was impressed with the ergonomics; accepting the fact that it’s a feet forward seating position. Contrasting against my Speedmaster, I felt that I was actually sitting on the motorcycle, versus sitting in it. The solo rider seat is certainly minimalist, no pillion pad to speak of, but still feels somewhat plush despite the low profile. Ultimately I feel like the seat would benefit from additional material at the rear because I felt like I slid backward when I got on the throttle, but I was otherwise satisfied. At 5’10’, I found the rider triangle to be very acceptable. While I like the ability to move around in the large scoop that is the Speedmaster seat, the Gunner’s cockpit felt much more natural. The Speedometer and instrument cluster on the Gunner are also mounted above the triple tree, which I like. Several other cruisers have the speedo and tach mounted on the tank, which seems silly if you’re actually concerned about your speed. Victory also shows the gear indicator on the speedo, which is a nice touch. The Gunner shows the tachometer as a selectable digital readout on the speedo, which is convenient, but I’m still old-school and prefer the standard analog dial if I can get it (unfortunately that’s on the tank of the Speedmaster). The Gunner’s mirrors could probably stand to be a bit larger, or have some altered magnification; despite multiple attempts to adjust the mirror direction, I still felt like I could only see directly behind me and struggled to see anything in my peripheral.
Twisting the key, I thumbed the start switch and the Freedom 106 roared to life. Victory outfitted this demo Gunner with a stage 1 exhaust kit (pipes and an EFI re-map; ~$1,099), which was a huge bonus. While I’m not a supporter of the “loud pipes save lives” mantra, I do appreciate the healthy sound of a robust twin engine. The Freedom 106 is actually an overhead cam setup, which I knew prior to the test ride, but did not realize it was an SOHC design; somewhat unique today considering the dominance of the pushrod powered Harleys, and the typical DOHC setup on the Japanese manufacturers (which is oddly changing on the big Yamaha cruisers). Setting off from the dealership parking lot, I noticed the clutch friction point was pretty early in the lever actuation, which I liked, moreover the engine’s power was evident even at low rpm.
A fair assessment of the Gunner’s road manners is somewhat difficult, the Victory demo event is typically conducted as a twenty minute guided group ride around nearby backroads. Obviously I’m not interested in burnouts or wheelies, but it’s somewhat tough to establish exactly how flick-able a bike is given the arrow-straight farm roads around north Dayton. That aside, the true character of the engine was still established. Per the stats sheet, the Freedom 106 pushes peak torque higher up in the rev range; I find this odd considering it’s a cruiser, where most manufacturers attempt to mimic that bar and shield standard of stump pulling low end torque. This aspect of the engine architecture was extremely evident when I rode the Hammer and the Cross Country in past years, however the stage 1 kit on the Gunner truly changed my perception of the engine feel. I cannot debate what the dyno results are, but my “butt-dyno” says that the stage 1 kit totally revitalizes the torque feel of the Victory power plant. With the stock exhaust in place, the 106 seems anemic in the torque department; I find myself twisting harder on the throttle looking for more juice. However with the stage 1 exhaust on the demo Gunner, the bike had lots of pull that I’ve come to expect from other cruisers; this is a necessary upgrade if you’re looking for that typical lower end torque.
On the road the Gunner felt nimble, despite its hefty 675 pound payload. For such a heavy bike, I was surprised that I didn’t feel the top end pulling me into the curves; the bike was simply poised to obey my command. What impressed me most was actually the suspension; one of my biggest gripes about cruisers is that the feet forward position combined with short rear-end suspension travel drives all of the bumps directly into my lower back. Considering I ride my own bike around these backroads, I didn’t at all feel punished by the poor asphalt quality that I occasionally experience on my own bike. This is even more impressive considering that the gunner only has 3 inches of suspension travel. Unfortunately a group ride with a bunch of complete strangers is really not the best opportunity to adequately assess the bike’s breaking capabilities either. Other than feeling like the brake levers were a bit stiff, I admit that the brakes were at least adequate for the bike’s weight. I tend to engine brake as much as possible, so unless I’m in an emergency situation, I don’t typically work the brakes excessively.
Despite the cushy ride, I was surprised at how noticeable the engine cam noise was, especially with the stage 1 exhaust installed. Considering I ride the two wheeled equivalent of the Singer sewing machine, I don’t bat and eyelash about cam noise, but folks more familiar with Harley Davidson engine manners may find this a bit annoying. I assume this is easily remedied with more aftermarket exhaust options, but I wanted to be sure to mention it to the unsuspecting buyer. Engine heat was another byproduct that surprised me; I’m obviously very familiar with engine heat after long days on the bike, but I was surprised at how much I felt affected by the rear cylinder on this naked bobber just around town; something else to consider.
For me, one of the let-downs was that the transmission is excessively noisy. Having ridden a Harley, I’m very familiar with the audible “clunk” when shifting into the next gear. For some reason that “clunk” feels a lot more like a “Clang!” on the Victory. Beyond the clunky shifts, I find the tranny to sound overly mechanical when engine breaking, I assume it’s just excessive backlash in the primary drive. Just like the other previous comments, guys more familiar with traditional American cruisers may find this “reassuring” and not mind that racket, but I find the transmission to be obnoxious. Worse still, I found the engine to vibrate excessively above 4,000 RPMs, and I mean that in a bad way. A lot of guys have said you need to “wind it out” to feel the power of the 106 engine. Agreed, the stats claim that peak horse power is at 4,900 RPMs, with peak torque at 3,3000 RPMs. You’d think the engine would favor being revved from 3,300 to 4,900 considering that’s the sweet spot on paper, but around 4,400 RPMs I found the shakes to be a bit unnerving.
Engine character aside, the Gunner was really great ride. With its low center of gravity, impressive suspension, and eagerness to corner, it stands tall against the field of less adequate cruisers I’ve been on. With stage 1 kit, the big Victory V-twin exhaust note was fantastic, especially combined with good torquey grunt (if you know how to find it). With an MSRP of $12,999, Victory has definitely priced this factory “Bobber” competitively against other choices in its class, namely the Harley Davidson Dyna chassis, starting at around $13,449. The Gunner’s overall finish is somewhat “budget” considering the use of plastic accents, but there still isn’t a comparable naked cruiser at a better price.
Despite what a gas it was to ride the gunner, and even its affordable price, I don’t expect I will be trading in my Triumph twin anytime soon. At the end of the day the 865 cc Speedmaster still feels sportier than the Gunner. The V-twin engine no doubt sounds better than my Triumph sewing machine, but aftermarket exhaust can remedy that for less than $13,000. At the same time there’s undoubtedly more torque and power with the Victory, and the suspension is quite choice, but to me the Brit still feels more eager to please than its American competitor. I realize I’m comparing apples and oranges here, but it’s something to consider when shopping for a stripped down cruiser.
- Excellent Exhaust Note
- Impressive suspension
- Exceptional handling
- Noisy Transmission
- Bad Vibes above 4,000 RPM
I didn’t stop with just riding the Gunner, I also took a spin on the Cross Country Tour, and the new Victory Magnum. To my knowledge all of the current motorcycles in Victory’s lineup share the same engine, and similar chassis (I’m not sure about the Vision). Engine character was very similar between all three models; obviously the heavier baggers didn’t have the same “pull” that the lighter Gunner had. In addition, the Cross Country Tour was fitted with standard exhaust, which sadly made my parallel twin feel excessively torquey by comparison, which was sad. Both models had significant storage; from articles I’ve read, Victory’s storage capacity is often the most ample among their competition. These baggers were also fitted with cruise control, which is a nice addition for those long rides. Like the other plastic “accents”, the cruise control appears to be an afterthought considering the more visibly integrated options on competing models (Indian and Harley Davidson). With standard exhaust, the engine cam noise was extremely evident on the Cross Country Tour because of the front fairing; worse still, the engine vibration was even more apparent. In addition, the already mentioned engine heat is extremely obtrusive on these faired motorcycles, which is probably awesome in the winter, but somewhat uncomfortable around town in the summer. The cushy rider seat was quite comfortable combined with the already pleasant suspension. The touring models’ floor boards are well beyond spacious, despite my misgivings about the power plant in its standard configuration, I imagine the cushy cockpit, cruise control, and stereo system make the Cross Country variants especially cozy for the long haul. At the same time, I find some of the craftsmanship faux pas on the touring models to be a bit more glaring. While the floorboards are sufficient, I find the long foot levers to be a bit haphazardly designed; it appears to me that the clearances are extremely wide and the levers are loose and wobbly. The bars are pulled back for comfort, but I find the bikes to be a bit cumbersome at low speeds as a result of the extended reach necessary to conduct tight turns. That same feature also leads to a “flexible” feeling that I detected from the frame when riding down the road. This feeling is almost like my hands, butt, and feet are not always traveling in the same direction, especially if you swerve, there’s almost a delay between the bars turning and the frame executing. I suppose it’s only fair to keep in mind that all three of these bikes are demo models that have been ridden by hundreds of unconcerned riders; despite the limited miles on the odometers, I assume they’ve experienced their fair share of abuse.
All in all, I still like these Victory Motorcycles, despite my misgivings, and I admit I’m spoiled by a much lighter naked cruiser. Are you a fan of Victory Motorcycles, or are they too “space-age” or too “Cruiser” for your taste?