For millions of commuters around the world, motorcycles are a compact and cheap way of getting around town in congested traffic. The Victory Vision is the absolute opposite - there's only been a handful of production bikes ever made that are bigger and heavier than this 400-kilogram, 1740cc American behemoth. It's built to eat up thousands of open-road miles with Harley-beating performance and buttock-coddling luxury - but in a surprise twist, this retro-futuristic mammoth can actually handle surprisingly well to boot. Loz Blain discovers how 10 days on one of the top five heaviest production bikes ever built can change your perspective on motorcycling in our video road test.
The Vision is Victory's clean-slate take on what a great American touring motorcycle ought to be; it's a shot across the bows of Harley-Davidson's Ultra Classic Electra Glide and a heads-up to Honda and BMW that America knows how to make a great long-range bike these days too.
Designed by famed chopper king Arlen Ness, it's a machine with a visual presence unlike anything you've ever seen. huge, broad, swoopy lines blend spaceship with hot-rod to frame the bike's gorgeous 106ci/1741cc v-twin engine. Like it or hate it - and these seem the only two options - the look is thoroughly unique and commands attention from onlookers young and old.
Let's dissect some of the numbers to get an understanding of what we're dealing with when we talk about the Victory Vision:
Dry weight: 849lbs / 385kg
Even once you've seen the physical size and presence of the Vision, this number still catches you off guard. With a full tank of fuel, it's well over 400kg, and just about double the weight of today's top sportsbikes. The only production bikes we could find that are heavier than the Vision are the Munch Mammoth, the Boss Hoss and the Honda Goldwing.
For this reason the seat is low and the bike's waist is narrow, to let you use all your leg power. Hoisting it off the side stand is quite an event, and walking-pace handling is a constant wrestle, but as soon as you get the Vision moving, it starts to behave itself admirably and turns into a very smooth and easy-handling bike.
It took me a good half hour to get comfortable with the weight of the bike, but once I got my head around it, it became a lot of fun to throw around.
Engine: 106ci/1741cc - 109 ft-lbs of torque, 92 horsepower, 5500rpm redline
The 50-degree Freedom motor is an absolute gem that forms the heart of the whole Victory range - most of the bikes get a 100ci version, but the Vision, the Vegas Jackpot and the Hammer all get this beefed-up 106ci variant.
It's American, Jim, but not as we know it. The motor has all the grunt, low-end and soul-stirring noise you'd expect from a big Harley - but it's a modern motor at heart, with overhead cams instead of Milwaukee's pushrods, and this lets it open up to a very impressive top-end when you really drop the hammer. It's all very Jekyll-and-Hyde, you can choose whether you want the bike to feel like a typical massive cruiser, or a hard-revving hot rod with steadily building power all the way through to redline.
The engine is stroked-out from the 100ci, with 108mm of piston travel against a 101mm bore. It's air/oil cooled and fuel injected - a nice EFI system that delivers instant and urgent throttle response without throttle sntach. It's a belt-drive system, through a 6-speed gearbox, the top gear of which is a comfortable touring overdrive.
The bike we tested had a 'nearly-legal' stage-one exhaust kit fitted, which gave out a very meaty sound that wasn't antisocial unless you wanted it to be - and it gave us a glimpse of just how enormous this bike would sound with something less friendly fitted. It's probably a good compromise; this is a long-range bike, and anything much louder could contribute to some serious ear damage if you spend a lot of hours in the saddle.
The engine dominates the riding experience - it's smooth yet raw, immensely powerful and full of character. Use low revs and you're king of the road, redline the thing and you're a power-hungry hooligan. Hugely addictive.
Fuel Tank: 6 gallons/22.7 litres
The Vision is a long-haul tourer, an Ironbutt bike, and as such it's got to carry enough juice to make a decent run between fuel stops. On a full tank, our theoretical range readout on the digital trip computer read about 450km, or around 280 miles - pretty impressive for such a huge bike, and significantly better than the Honda Goldwing GL1800, which tends to run out of puff around 210 miles.
The Vision is a luxury tourer with all the trimmings; our test bike featured heated handgrips and seats, a full-featured trip computer, gear position indicator, electronic cruise control, an HID driving light, an electrically adjustable screen and a four-speaker stereo system that adjusts its volume depending on your road speed.
All worked admirably - the cruise control is a must-have addition to any bike that's going to spend long hours on a freeway, particularly with speed enforcement such a high priority around the world these days.
The stereo has an FM radio and an iPod jack - a nice touch. It puts out an enormous sound; you can hear it reasonably clearly even through a full-face helmet at 100kmh. It also makes a brilliant static boombox if you're having a party outdoors - if you crank it up, you'll have the neighbours complaining from halfway down the street. Like we did.
The Vision comes in two editions - Street and Tour. Both have medium-sized side panniers on them, but our test bike was the Tour, which adds a giant top box to complete the luggage trifecta. All three are waterproof and lockable. They don't detach from the bike, a niggle which would end up being a annoying on longer trips, but there's a fair bit of room inside and the top box has a very handy internal light.
The fairing is gargantuan and offers great weather protection, particularly in the cold and wet. Raising the screen to its top position and flicking out the plastic side-wings, I was able to ride 50km in reasonably heavy rain on the freeway and arrive not only comfortable, but pretty much bone dry.
Of course the flip side to this is that if it's super hot, as it was for one 350km freeway stint I had to make at around 40 degrees celsius (104 Fahrenheit), there's not a lot of airflow to help cool you down. I could really have done with an air-con button!
How does it ride?
Surprisingly well, for something of its size. The Vision can really handle in the turns. Ground clearance is impressive given the width of the bike, and although the footboards touch down without too much effort, there's nothing scary about dragging them through turns. In fact, the Vision feels so planted that it becomes a bit of a sport to see if you can touch the footboards down on every corner and roundabout.
Even more remarkable is how easily this big Bertha steers - I've ridden older sportsbikes that took more effort to turn. Take this thing through a twisty road and you'll discover it's actually a heck of a lot of fun. The suspension is set up for pure comfort, so it gets a little bouncy and wallowy if you're hooning through bumps and dips, but in all it delivers outstanding confidence and fun for something so massive.
The brakes are twin 300mm discs at the front, and a further 300mm job at the rear. It's a semi-linked system, in that the front lever operates four of the six pistons in the front calipers, and the rear operates both the rear caliper and the middle pistons in the front one. The rear brake is fantastic, and does most of the work - but in the absence of ABS it's still prone to lockup if you're riding hard.
The front brake lever is one of the few outright disappointments on this bike - the feel is wooden and there's very little bite or stopping power until you wrap your whole hand around it and squeeze HARD. Perhaps Victory have chosen to dumb the front brakes down a little so as not to scare cruiser riders, who traditionally rely on their rear brakes - but this bike can really handle, which encourages you to push it a lot harder than most cruisers through the twisties. It deserves a front brake that's up to that style of riding.
The Vision makes a simply awesome long-range tourer. Its size is strangely reassuring once you're on the move, the riding position is supremely comfortable and natural, it's got a real superstar of an engine and it handles far better than it has any right to around the backstreets and twisties.
It's a sensational bike to take pillions on - not only will they feel safe and comfy, they'll feel downright special. The way everyone stares at the thing, you might too.
The tradeoff is that it's a bit of a pig if you ever have to ride it in heavy city traffic. Few are your lanesplitting options with mirrors this wide, so you've got to crawl along behind the cars, feeling the engine cooking your legs in protest as you scramble and strain to hold the thing upright - and at this point, the onlooker attention starts feeling much less flattering. If it wasn't for this deeply unpleasant side-effect, you could almost call the Vision a great all-rounder.
Starting at US$20,000, the Vision is a grand cheaper than a Harley Ultra Classic Electra Glide, and it outperforms and outhandles its American stablemate in just about every category. It's a whopping eight grand cheaper than the 2010 Gold Wing, which offers slightly superior performance and handling, but also has a turbine-smooth six-cylinder motor where the Victory sports a real heart-starter of a V-twin that oozes character and passion.
It's not a cheap bike, but in just 10 days I found it really grew on me. Even my sportsbike riding buddies, who were deeply skeptical at first, quickly changed their tune after a pillion ride around the backstreets, engine roaring, footboards dragging and classic rock belting out of the stereo. They all got off laughing like naughty schoolgirls.
And when I threw a leg back over my daily ride, a pretty substantial ZX-9R, it felt like an absolute toy. The clip-on bars felt like toothpicks in my hands, the four-cylinder engine felt bland and uninspiring, and the whole bike felt so damn light that I just didn't trust it to stick to the road. Now that was an unexpected side-effect!
Second opinion by Mike Hanlon
I have never liked big touring bikes. They handle, in the immortal words of the late Geoff Eldridge, “like a wheelbarrow full of walruses.” In my first day on the job at a motorcycle magazine back in 1976, I almost binned a Honda Goldwing whilst riding it for a photoshoot. It was the first time I’d ridden anything that large and I stuck it into a long sweeper at a fair clip for the benefit of the cameras, only to find it began gyrating slowly, bordering right on the edge of control. It was almost my last day on the job and although frames and suspension have come a long way in a third of a century, my mistrust of overweight motorcycles and their ability to become unhinged when you dislodge a walruss remains undiminished. In my mind, having a motorcycle that is never far away from threatening to samba you off the road, is like having a pet alligator – you can never be sure you won’t get bitten, and if you do get bitten, it could hurt a LOT!
Harleys, I forgive for their lack of ground clearance, poor handling and questionable reliability on the grounds that they’re not really motorcycles that can be judged by normal motorcycle standards and you can have fun on one at the speed limit. Somehow, along the way, Harleys became more than just metal and rubber and took on a mechatronic presence which transcends normal transportation measurements.
Oh, and the name – the magic of the name is unquestionable. It enables the marque to get away with reliability issues and archaic design that other manufacturers would simply not contemplate. For some reason, perhaps as a sign of rebeliousness, the Harley-Davidson name conjures a loyalty that is unprecedented in consumerism – how many registered brand names can you find tattooed on consumer chests, biceps, buttocks and breasts around the world – my guess is that 95+% of all brands and logos committed to ink on human epidermis on the planet would be Harley Davidson. That in itself is a clear indication that the Harley name means a lot more than an antiquated motorcycle brand to its consumers, and that companies going after Harley's market should proceed with caution. That said, Victory has done what the Japanese manufacturers seemingly could not do – though everyone builds a better motorcycle than a Harley, only Triumph has done so with originality well enough to create a viable marketplace for itself.
All of the Japanese manufacturers have Harley lookalikes which all do a better job of being motorcycles than Harleys do, but none of them wear the name or the badge. The Victory at least looks capable of creating a viable ongoing marketplace.
Such is my disdain for big fat motorcycles that I spent an entire 36 hour period in the presence of the Victory Vision, with my helmet and riding gear at hand, without even being tempted to throw a leg over it. It was only when Loz laid down the first cut of the audio for the video and insisted that it actually handled really well that I thought about trying it.
When I did eventually try it, I almost gave myself a hernia getting it out of the gate and I was standing at the lights in the first 60 seconds of my ride, feeling every bit of its 400 kilograms and thinking I was simply not going to enjoy it. Now let’s fully appreciate how heavy it is. I owned a Honda six – a CBX – a few years ago because I fell in love with the sound of the motor. It was so heavy, that I employed the services of an Ohlins MotoGP suspension technician to sort out the suspension for me so I could go around corners safely. The Victory Vision weighs 50% more than the CBX did.
The Victory Vision also weighs 33% more than Kawasaki’s six cylinder Z1300 of the 1980s, which frightened me more times than I care to remember. It is 50 kilos heavier than Triumph’s 2.3 litre Rocket 3, which was the heaviest motorcycle I have ever ridden that I could genuinely love – again, the motor of the Rocket 3 needs to be experienced to fully appreciate the meaning of the word “torque” and it is a point of difference worth compromising for. The Rocket 3 handles great until you drag something on the deck or hit a pothole while going hard, at which point it never fails to remind you that it could rear up and smite you in a moment.
I could go on. It outweighs by 15 kilograms the legendary Munch Mammut 2000cc, named after one of those gigantic prehistoric wooly elephants which gave meaning to the English word “mammoth.” It weighs exactly twice as much as the even more legendary Vincent Black Shadow, the original superbike.
Indeed, if you’re prepared to disqualify the likes of the Boss Hoss with its Chevy V8 motor, a motorcycle so eccentric that it doesn’t do anything conventional, including stop or go around corners, by my reckoning, the Vision is one of the three heaviest scale production motorcycles in history.
As I muscled the Victory out of town on a hot day through holiday traffic, everything the numbers said was being confirmed in my mind. Each time I had to stop at the lights, I checked the road to ensure there was no gravel there – anything less than a surefooted stance at the lights and the Vision would no doubt have arm-wrestled me into submission.
Yet, just 30 minutes later, I felt differently and far more kindly towards this huge lump. Once the lead zeppelin had cleared the city limits, and the motor had cleared its throat, I could immediately understand what all the fuss is about.
For starters, the big v-twin motor has loads of character with oodles of midrange grunt, and a wonderful snarl with each twist of the throttle. It spins harder than a Harley motor, has just as much charm, and when you stretch the trottle cable, something actually happens in the horsepower department.
Most significantly, it didn’t feel like it was going to wrestle me into submission when the roads, dips, bumps and potholes inevitably came along, and though I tried to induce those galloping oscillations, I couldn’t. Chalk one up to that massive frame as it has achieved what must be impossible for conventional tubular frames, cos no-one has built a big bike with a conventional frame yet which can handle acceptably in my book.
Without the feeling that I was only a good pothole away from yawing, lurching or samba-ing off the road and into the shrubbery, it was fun to ride, though each time I had cause to stop, I remembered why I didn’t like heavy bikes. The biggest fascination for me regarding the Vision was comparing it with the single track vehicles I have been writing a lot about recently. Check out this article on the convergence of the car and the motorcycle and you’ll see what I’m on about.
Comparing the Vision to a traditional motorcycle, it is clinically obese. Its fat arse makes almost any other motorcycle, be it a BMW K1300GT, Kawasaki 1400GTR, Yamaha FJR1300 or Honda ST1300, seem svelte and trim. Loz and I were discussing this at the end of a long day of shooting the Vision in the coastal region at the foot of Australia’s Great Dividing Range and we dug out the figures for the latest bleeding edge micro cars being touted by the world’s most advanced auto manufacturers – the comparison was illuminating indeed.
The Vision might be overweight for a motorcycle, but in comparison to any car, it’s tiny – slightly more than half the weight of the latest smart fortwo, a lot less than half the weight of the latest Ford ka, new Fiat 500, Citroen C1, Toyota Aygo and Hyundai i10 and close to one third the weight of established ecomobiles such as the Honda Civic and Toyota Prius.
The low weight of a motorcycle is the secret to its frugality. Most motorcycles are aerodynamic atrocities, and waste a lot of that advantage pushing air around, but when you realise that the Vision which threatened to crush knee ligaments and rip tendons off the bone with its 400 kg weight, is just a fraction of the weight of a micro car, you suddenly understand how wasteful we have been on the roads with our finite resources.
But the roads are becoming increasingly congested, and that’s why the world’s auto manufacturers are currently exploring narrow-track vehicles. By the time the world’s population begins to stabilise, around 2050, with around 50% more people than there are now, the world’s roadways will be so heavily congested that public transport will look good, and motorcycles will completely validated, economical, environmentally responsible road transport with the only viable point-to-point times in urban areas.
That’s not to say I’m ever gonna love a motorcycle like the Victory Vision, but comparing it to a smart fortwo and realising that in perspective, it’s a lightweight tandem two seat eco vehicle was … illuminating.
Thanks to Victory Australia for the test machine and Cheng "Aleng" Lau for additional photography.