by Victor Wanchena
Polaris is the first of the two upstarts in the American built motorcycle arena to make it to the showroom floor. The early production models have been shipped to dealers and Polaris is set to begin full-scale production, upping the ante for both Harley and Excelsior-Henderson not to mention the American styled machines from the land of the rising sun. The good folks at Warner Outdoor in Bloomington were kind enough to loan us their Victory for an early morning cruise.
In 1994 when Polaris began the Victory project they were intent on one thing, to build a better cruiser. That’s a tall order considering H-D has been doing it for 95 years and that foreign competitors only refined the style that they mimicked. As I circled our tester in the parking lot I kept thinking that this machine has a lot to live up too.
As I rolled out of the parking lot the real size of the Victory hit me. It does not appear as big as it feels. It is the definition of a heavy weight, tipping the scales at 650 pounds without fuel. Despite this the Victory never felt ponderous, instead being just a large solid motorcycle. Rolling through the side streets of the city headed for open highway, I began to appreciate the easy rideability of the motor. All the power is concentrated at the bottom of the rev range. Huge amounts of torque are available right off of idle and running the motor out to the 5500 rpm redline doesn’t do much. You are best rewarded if you short shift around 4000 rpm. The motor is basically an updated version of the classic v-twin with four valves per cylinder and fuel injection. The transmission is a very stout 5-speed that while being clunky does have a very positive feel to it.
The real start of the show is the top shelf braking and suspension components. I hope the engineer that insisted on these pieces of the puzzle got a raise. The beefy 45 mm Marzocchi fork and the Fox mono-shock mounted under the seat make the Victory one the very best handling cruisers I’ve ever ridden. In even the bumpiest corners the bike simply held its course. Far different from the usual soft ride found on most cruisers, the Victory is firm and taut without being harsh. The brakes are a single disc with Brembo calipers front and rear and are strong and linear, easily stopping this bike which can weigh over 1000 pounds fully loaded with rider, passenger and fuel.
On the open road I found the Victory to be very comfortable. The seat and forward mounted floorboards put the rider in a very relaxed position with knees splayed wide around the fat five-gallon tank. The wide bars are comfortable but did knock my knees while performing tight maneuvers. One of the coolest features on the Victory is an LCD display that you can toggle through to display total miles, trip miles, fuel level, battery voltage, and dimmer controls for the instrument display. But be warned I got so interested in the display that I forgot about the road and ran a red light.
My only real complaints about the Victory would be that first they need to quiet down the noise coming from the intake of the motor. On hard acceleration it was louder than the exhaust. Also while the fuel injection performed well it did have a slight cough right off of idle which, I am told, will be cleared up in later production bikes. Second, it needs the ability to carry more. A load capacity of only 360 pounds on a full tank really limits the amount of gear a couple riding two up can carry.
So did the Victory live up to its name? Overall I would say yes. While not having as much power as was hoped for initially, the Victory still thunders along just fine and will out-handle just about any non-sport bike. Will they beat the pants off the competition? That remains to be seen.
Polaris Enters The Game
by Troy Johnson
As this motorcycling season draws to a close in Minnesota we are, strangely, witnessing some of the most interesting bike events of the year. Two of these stories are the attempts by local companies Polaris and Excelsior-Henderson to get their new cruisers under the seats of anxious customers’ pants.
The Polaris Victory will be the first of the local heavyweights to hit the streets. Customers should be taking possession of their bikes as you read this and you may already have seen one of the early production units which were shipped to dealers over a month ago. Our test bike is one of these early examples. After delaying the initial run of Victorys several times, Polaris apparently sent one Victory to each dealer and then stopped production to wait for the praise, complaints and suggestions to come in while the factory continues to tinker with the bikes.
There are two conclusions to draw from this action. Polaris is having more trouble than anticipated getting over the last few hurdles of production and, more significantly, Polaris seems unwilling to deliver a less than perfect Victory. The early production Victory used for this report, serial number 22, is an outstanding ride and I expect the next batch to come off the assembly line to be even better.
The Victory is visually impressive in that it hides its size well. It is obviously a heavyweight V-twin aimed at the riders belonging to the Royal Order of Ace-Harley-Shadow-Vulcans, but the sporting background of some of its designers lingers in the Victory. The lines are clean. The motorcycle is uncluttered. Its appearance is on the aggressive end of cruiser styling–no buckhorn handlebars here. The brake and suspension components bear the stamps of Brembo, Fox and Marzocchi. When you are about to throw a leg over a motorcycle that literally has no history, seeing trustworthy names like these on key components is reassuring.
Number 22 is a little temperamental at start up time. The throttle needs to be twisted a bit while you press the starter button for it to fire up. This is unusual because this is a fuel injected engine and is obviously one of the niggling problems the factory is correcting.
Putting the Victory into gear and heading onto the roadways brings the instrumentation into focus. The tachometer and speedometer share a single round faceplate no bigger than a normal speedos. This is achieved by shrinking the tach to half-dollar size and setting it into the bottom third of the faceplate. The whole instrument cluster is mounted in the headlight nacelle–clean, uncluttered. Along with the tach, speedo and various warning lights there is a small Liquid Crystal Display in the instrument cluster. This display is controlled by two switches mounted in the hand controls on the handlebars, one near your left index finger and one near your right. The right switch toggles the display through its various functions, time, charging system output, fuel remaining etc., and the left switch sets or resets certain functions. Many bikes have similar displays (my 1982 Seca Turbo has one) but I have never seen the controls placed on the handlebars. This is ingenious and damn cool.
Remembering the road and kicking the Victory into higher gears via the heal-toe shifter reveals the smooth power delivered by the 1500 cc V-twin engine. Number 22 has a lot of muscle in the low end of the rev range and keeps making good power nearly to red line. It is a heavyweight that knows how to hustle. Downshifting to pass slow-moving vehicles is optional.
Where Victory number 22 really shines is with the composure of its chassis, suspension and brakes. This cruiser is tight. The feedback the rider receives through the bars and seat is more reminiscent of that given by a good sport-tourer than a big cruiser. The bike stays solidly on line through corners. The brakes do their job well and inconspicuously. The irregularities of the roadway are taken care of by a precise suspension that does not hint at cruiser sponginess. There are , however two things that keep this Victory from being a very swift Victory; the rear brake pedal and the heal-toe shift lever. Both of them are too long. The brake pedal is especially difficult, forcing my foot to leave the floor board to operate it. The thought of negotiating some more difficult roads while having my feet doing the happy dance along the floor boards is unpleasant.
Putting in some big-mileage days on the Victory, however, is a pleasant thought. The firm seat, wide handlebars and natural seating position give the rider a very comfortable perch to enjoy some long road trips from.
It will be interesting to see what changes have been made for the next batch of bikes scheduled to be delivered this month. Number 22 here is certainly a successful debut for the Victory. Polaris, welcome to our world.