Best American bike for Kiwi roads
Eric Clapton's biggest inspiration, blues legend Robert Johnson, once sang that he believed that he was sinking down while standing at the crossroads.
However, when I stand before the Victory Cross Roads tourer/cruiser clone, all I feel is up.
And not just up for a ride either, for the Cross Roads is easy on the eye and has an aesthetic that encourages one to just stand back and admire.
It's an intriguing piece of two-wheeled sculpture seemingly created by combining the back end of one of the firm's Vision touring bikes with the pointy end of a Hammer sports-cruiser. In the middle, there's Victory's 1732cc 50-degree V-twin, a motor that's as resolute and muscular as Hercules, as well as a prolific producer of locomotive-levels of torque.
The well-finished 106-cubic-inch engine, six-speed transmission with an overdriven top gear, and the belt drive that connects them to the rear wheel have become Victory's sole powertrain now that the firm's marketing department has stopped horsing around with engines of slightly smaller capacity to create a few cheaper entry level models.
Having an entire range in any engine size you want, so long as it is 1732cc, makes a nice contrast to the products of the "other" American motorcycle brand, as Harley serves up five choices of engine in its 23-model New Zealand range.
The advantage to Victory is lower cost of production, and other gains include a cheaper parts inventory and easier management of after-sales service. While the made-in-Minnesota bikes themselves display few signs of cost-cutting, the one-engine-fits-all strategy that Victory adopted for this current model year has enabled more competitive prices, and nowhere in the range is this more obvious than when inspecting the tag attached to the Cross Roads.
You can currently buy one in New Zealand for $24,995, almost 10 grand less than the $34,250 Harley-Davidson FLHR Road King that the model is targeted at.
But then, you do get ABS brakes with the Harley.
The Road King's six-speed shifts with more precision and less effort than more tractor-like meshing together of ratios when riding the Cross Roads, and the Victory's cable-operated clutch requires such a squeeze at the lever that right-handed owners will start shaking hands with their left just to impress others with their new-found strength.
However, I mention these foibles because they are the sole areas where the Harley is the better bike once heritage, tribalism and glamour have been taken out of the picture.
Some will also opine that the Harley sounds better, given that a 45-degree V-twin produces a slightly more syncopated internal combustion beat than 50-degree architecture. However, I'm too deaf to notice the difference (too much listening to Clapton playing Johnson-penned classics at high volume).
In just about all other ways, the Victory is the better ride.
First up, that 50-degree Vee-angle creates more space for the airbox and fuel injection system between the cylinders, and with the space comes better induction breathing.
With the better aeration of the four-valve combustion chambers comes a quicker-to-respond throttle, helped by lighter overhead-cam valvetrain of the Victory.
It's worth sacrificing a little engine- beat charisma for such a gain, even when discussing a 92bhp/148Nm "touring" model like the Cross Roads, which lacks the harder-ground Stage II camshafts fitted to the firm's 97bhp/153Nm cruisers.
Despite the softer cams, this is still an engine that performs as well as it looks.
Its use of fuel is none too shabby either, thanks to the overdriven top gear which has the engine trickling along at just 2250rpm at 100kmh. The fact that the Cross Roads weighs 20 kilograms less than the Road King also helps fuel use, the 338kg Victory consuming at a rate of 6 litres/100km on test.
The Victory's use of an aluminium-spine frame instead of the Harley's tubular-steel double cradle is where it most saves the kilos, and the weight reduction hasn't been won at the expense of handling stability and precision. Far from it, the Cross Roads is arguably the heavyweight American bike that is most suited to hustling down challenging Kiwi backroads thanks to its generous ground clearance, a rear-shock linkage that allows more wheel travel by compressing both ends of the shock, and the beefy front end that resists flexing.
Once you get used to the rearward weight bias that is prevalent when riding all cruisers, it's surprising how much this big ol' Yank can get its cornering groove on.
Larger panniers than the Road King's confirm the Cross Roads as a better touring bike. The bike also comes with a quick-detach windscreen of generous height and width, completing what is easily the most dynamic of American touring bikes.
AT A GLANCE:
Engine: 1732cc air-cooled sohc eight-valve V-twin, stoked by electronic fuel injection to develop 69kW (92bhp) at 5400rpm and 148Nm at 2800rpm. Transmission: Six-speed sequential gearbox, belt final drive. Frame: Cast alloy spine with steel rear swingarm; 43mm unadjustable front forks with 130mm of travel, air-adjustable rear monoshock with 120mm of travel. Price: $24,995. Hot: A more dynamic ride for substantially less money than the Harley Road King it is targeted at, the most adept American touring bike at traversing NZ backroads. Not: No ABS available, foot controls are a stretch away for many riders, heavy pull required for clutch lever, Massey-Ferguson gear-shift action.
The Dominion Post