Victory motorcycles have had a few false starts in New Zealand, but early build-quality issues have now been resolved. Its owner -- Polaris -- is more serious than ever about its road bikes now Indian's been added to the portfolio, and so is the Australian and New Zealand team behind the brand Downunder.
As a competitor to Harley-Davidson they had their work cut out, for buyers rate not only that brand's visual and aural muscle, but also a heritage that's lasted well over a century. Victory's a raw stripling, the range of in-your-face twins launched as a Harley alternative on July 4, 1998 -- just 16 years ago.
The brand's designers have certainly done an impressive job of creating a handsome line-up with almost custom looks that'll cover everything from the muscle bike fan to the long-distance cruiser, from traditional Harley buyers to those looking at the likes of Triumph. The vibe is young, dynamic and b-a-a-a-d, as a foil to the more sedate Indian, or the Harley brigade, which numbers lawyers and accountants in their black-leather weekend fancy-dress and "club" patches.
Many of these bikes come as standard with the radical paint jobs, concept-bike lines and super-wide rear rubber that'll normally cost a cruiser buyer a pretty penny from the aftermarket catalogues. It's that, and competitive pricing, which drew a sprinkling of buyers when the brand first arrived here. And perhaps the array of comic book name tags also enticed, for the line-up includes such models as the Kingpin, the Hammer and the Judge. Cue the Batmobile, while the Vision's straight out of the Jetsons.
The Victory Jackpot
The $20,995 Gunner is new this year -- launched in New Zealand before Australia. Like the others it's wrapped round a 106ci (1737cc), 144Nm V-twin engine, here with a solo seat, suede paint and bad-boy looks, and aimed at the younger market.
The $20,994 Vegas 8-Ball is aimed at those seeking a slightly easier entry to the heavy cruiser market, the High-Ball introducing apehanger bars and spoked whitewall wheels and aimed at younger men but, the marketing team admits, selling to older guys recalling their youth. The Judge, with its American muscle-car cues, and featuring a narrower rear tyre than is usual for this brand, makes it the line-up's most agile player. The $32,996 Vision tourer tops the range.
And so it goes on; black bars, wide tyres, whitewall wheels, optional flamed paint -- they're all lookers. The tourers include modern specs such as ABS brakes and cruise control, and the biggest muthas adding stuff like MP3 players, heated seats, 12V power sockets, and air vents you can open with your feet if the fairing proves too efficient on that hot summer cruise.
Build quality now looks as impressive as the spec sheet photos, but it's hard to believe such long and heavy bikes (the Vision's 2.6m long and 394kg, plus passengers) are as agile as they're billed, not withstanding the powerslides that some skilled -- or foolhardy -- stunt rider managed for the marketing vids.
The Victory CrossCountry
So, what are they like to ride? Still in recovery mode after flinging myself off a dirt bike, I'm confined to the pillion pew, where I swapped notes with more limber test riders.
Not unexpectedly, I was comfiest on the Victory Cross Roads leviathan, with its backrest and broad, padded seat, followed by the Cross Roads tourer. These engines certainly felt punchier and more aggressive than the larger-capacity Indians launched alongside them, as befits their muscular persona, but those wide rear tyres put looks before agility for several models. Clearly they were designed with American open roads in mind, for you need a muscular riding style to get them to change direction with any vigour.
Victory is built on the same Iowa production line as Indian, but does deliver a more muscular experience than the heritage brand. And it's that character which will appeal to those for whom looks, feel and a custom vibe will always trump the dusty, cobweb-strewn appeal of history.