A Victory in more ways than one
It's often said the major difference between buying a Harley and purchasing a Victory is that you get more than 100 years of heritage with the former.
For Victory, the Minnesota-based arm of Polaris Industries, has been building bikes only since 1993. However, that market mindset is about to be cracked wide open. For after years of wrangling, Victory has finally acquired the rights to the historic Indian brand, and is currently developing a range of bikes that will revive what was once Harley's fiercest rival.
What will those new Indians look like? I think they won't stray too far away from the throwback looks of the bike you see on this page. For the new Victory Highball is the most retrospective bike of the current range, and its white-wall tyres and old-school graphics would fit any revival bikes about to wear the Indian brand like a tailored leather riding outfit.
The most striking thing about the Highball is the model's "ape-hanger" handlebars. These high-rise controls are borderline legal in several markets around the world, and ape-hangers are generally valued only by outlaws for their ability to put tattoos, arm muscle, and, presumably, hairy armpits on display to better distribute male pheromones. Yet the Victory seemed to attract people, more than scare them away, during the test period. I'm sure all who expressed interest in the bike during its time in my hands went home that night and said: "I saw the coolest-looking motorcycle today..."
If the Highball looks custom-made, it displays none of the dynamic pitfalls that usually come with the territory.
Victory's starting point was the existing chopper-esque Vegas cruiser model, and they reined in the wheelbase of that bike, steepened up the steering geometry and fitted a fat front tyre mounted on the 16in front wheel. The result is a bike that steers and handles much better than its limited footpeg clearance will allow. You feel that the Highball is just getting its groove on as it charges into a turn with some of the sweetest steering in cruiser-bike sector ... then the pegs smack noisily into the road.
Fortunately the spring rate chosen for the bike's preload-adjustable rear suspension is on the firm side of the cruiser spectrum, helping keep those pegs from grinding away on bumpy winding roads. Up front, the 41mm forks are perhaps a little too eager to use up their 130mm of wheel travel, and even the modest braking power of the single front disc/4-piston caliper - a weak stopper compared with the more emphatic bite of the massive rear disc - can send the forks diving for cover. However, Victory's over-plush front end is fine for the Highball's cruiser aspirations, and it is only when riding outside that envelope that the front wheel occasionally runs out of travel. When it does, the high handlebars suddenly offer an advantage, for there is no direct load path to transfer excess bump energy to the rider's shoulders.
Victory's sweet 106 cubic-inch 50-degree air-cooled V-twin is in its Stage 2 tune for Highball duty, which means it puts 97bhp (72kW) and 153Nm on the table instead of the 94bhp (70kW) and 143Nm of the Vegas 8-ball. While the horsepower peak looks modest for an engine of 1.7 litres, the access to it is impressive. There's an impression of relentlessness to this engine that makes it totally endearing, and the top-end zip is more than respectable for a mill with elongated piston strokes. Rev it out to a heady 6000rpm in the first five gears, and the Highball will feel like it has just pinged off the flipper of a gigantic pinball machine. Slip into the overdriven sixth gear and the Victory will chug as smoothly as a diesel-electric locomotive, content to pull 2000rpm up a steep road gradient at a strictly legal 100kmh.
The Highball gets a minimalist do-everything speedo, and it is a little beauty thanks to a digital display that can show stuff like chosen gear ratio, neutral selection, engine revs, trip mileage and oil pressure. A handy button on the left handlebar allows you to scroll through to the display most relevant to the riding situation.
As for those contentious ape-hanger bars, they can be lowered by loosening the handlebar clamps and rotating them rearwards, the slack allowed in the control cables making this an easy two-minute exercise.
However, I left the bars in their stock position throughout the test of the $25,995 Highball. I must have still felt the urge to liberally distribute my pheromones.
AT A GLANCE
Engine: 1731cc air-cooled dohc 8v 50-degree V-twin stoked by fuel injection to develop 72kW (98bhp) at 7500rpm and 153Nm of torque at 3000rpm.
Transmission: Six-speed sequential gearbox, belt final drive.
Frame: Cast-alloy spine frame with 41mm unadjustable telescopic front forks, and box- section rear swingarm working a monoshock adjustable for spring preload.
Price: $25,995 (ride-away).
Hot: Tasteful retro design creates a people magnet; Victory's best powertrain; comfy ride.
Not: Ape-hanger handlebars won't be to everyone's taste; limited cornering clearance.