Forget Carnegie Hall; the best way to Sturgis is to ride, ride, ride.
To make sure we got that message loud and clear, Victory Motorcycles invited a select few moto-journalists to take the long way to the World’s Largest Motorcycle Rally this past summer. Quality backroads, beautiful scenery and a rockin’ good time was promised, and a slew of Victory touring bikes were conscripted as chariots, including a Vision or two and several Cross Countrys.
Our meandering route took us north and east out of Boise across the Sawtooth Mountains to Butte, Montana (and its trippy time-capsule gem the Hotel Finlen). We traversed Yellowstone National Park, just missing rodeo night but barely making Last Call in Cody, Wyoming, before an exhilarating run up the Western slope of the Bighorn Mountains. From there it was a long, lonely jaunt through cornfields, a gawk-stop at Devil’s Tower and a short stretch of superslab that brought us to Sturgis, and the reveal of the new Indian Chiefs.
But hey, this is work. My presence on the Victory ride was not only to get to the Rally and the Reveal, but to evaluate one of the company’s 2014 touring bikes, with their signature 106-inch Freedom V-Twin engines, killer stereos, massive floorboards, copious cargo space and standard antilock brakes.
Now, everyone knows motorcyclists hate to backtrack. Because we reviewed a CC Tour back in 2011, and because the newcomers to Victory’s MY14 lineup, the 8-Ball versions of the Cross Country and Cross Roads, weren’t around, I chose the Limited-Edition Ness Cross Country for this evaluation.
Since Arlen Ness first applied his signature touches to a Vegas in 2004, the First Family of Fabrication has collaborated with Victory on a Ness Signature Series each year. Cory soon followed his dad’s lead, and it wasn’t long before Cory’s son Zach got the itch and started contributing his distinctive vision to the line. For the last few model years, each Ness has customized a limited-edition Victory as part of the series – with sexy results.
As we reported in July, the Ness family scaled back its Victory collaboration for 2014. A septuagenarian who’s been building and customizing motorcycles for nearly 50 years, Arlen is an icon who’s earned the right to do whatever the hell he wants and has settled nicely into his role as Grandfather of motorcycle fabrication.
Meanwhile, grandson and budding reality TV star Zach is busy working on his show on Nat Geo called “Let It Ride.” The 2014 scale-back was also an effort to put individual customization back in the hands of the consumer.
“We wanted to offer one bike at a more attractive price point where the owner can add Ness and Victory accessories on his own,” Cory told Motorcycle.com. The Victory website lists a whole host of available accessories, including 34 Arlen Ness products from mirrors and grips to covers and gas caps to pulleys and engine covers.
All of these reasons contributed to the Ness family’s decision to, rather than produce their traditional “Signature Series,” pool their talents into this one limited-edition Cross Country for 2014.
Just as no one who’s familiar with the history of custom motorcycles would ever question Arlen Ness’ expertise when it comes to American V-Twin cruisers, no cruising or touring enthusiast who’s ridden one would ever doubt the excellence of the Victory Cross Country. Since their introduction in MY2010, the CC and its non-faired brother the Cross Roads have been universally lauded as top-notch baggers, and they’ve been Victory’s top-selling models from day one.
Want proof? Shortly after its debut we ran a Cross Country up against Harley’s Road Glide, and gave the nod to the upstart “New American Motorcycle Company.” The following year we held a Bagger Shootout, we compared the Cross Country to a Street Glide and a Star Stratoliner Deluxe – and the Victory came up victorious again. The 2014 Cross Country is essentially the same bagger that won those shootouts and earned those raves, save for different skin.
Continuing the theme, enhancements to the 2014 Ness Limited-Edition are purely cosmetic, unless you consider a stitched gunfighter-style seat a comfort upgrade. Featuring “Havasu Red” Ness Legacy paint with sharp black tribal-esque graphics outlined in white, it differs from the standard CC because of a tinted boomerang shorty windshield, matte black fork uppers and highway bars, black engine with contrasting chrome heads and shimmering diamond-cut cooling fins, that exclusive seat, an engine-mounted number plate and an autographed Ness family photo.
If the Cross Country rivals the Harley Street Glide, then this Ness Limited-Edition sort of goes after the new Street Glide Special, which starts at a comparable $22,499. (“Sort of,” because with a limited production run of only 500 it could never seriously challenge the King of Baggers). Now, in this currently bagger-crazed industry, the base Street Glide is, by far, the top-selling H-D in the world, and its Special brother takes the bagger king even further up the throne with enhanced suspension and the larger-screen, voice-activated BOOM!Box “infotainment” system that includes GPS.
Fact is, the full-color BOOM! Box system leaves the Victory’s (and most other baggers’) dash-mounted entertainment consoles as outmoded as a VHS player at Best Buy. Considering that A) the Indians are now out and proud, B) even Star has an integrated dash-mounted GPS on its V-Star Deluxe that we fully expect in the Stratoliner Deluxe very shortly, and C) Harley has pushed the “infotainment” bar ever higher, we hope Polaris refocuses its substantial energies back onto its Victory brand. And this entertainment console would be an excellent place to start.
In our opinion it’s the only place to begin, because in every other facet the Cross Country and, by proxy, this Ness Limited-Edition are among the finest baggers in the segment. The Ness CC makes no mechanical upgrades to the Freedom V-Twin, but this motor doesn’t need them. Performance-wise, it might not be able to compete with the Indian’s Thunder Stroke 111, but the vibrant Victory Vee is faster and more powerful than Harley’s Twin Cam. A dyno run during our 2010 Bagger Blowout showed the 106-inch Freedom making nearly 12 more ponies than the 103-inch. Harley. (Both engines lost handily, however, to Star’s 1854cc V-Twin – the same mill found in the aforementioned Stratoliner Deluxe as well as the Roadliner of our recent World Cruiser Shootout.) Still, the diamond-cut cooling fins and chrome heads sure make the mill of the Ness Edition pop, visually.
When it comes to handling, the Cross Country is as nimble as you’d expect from a full-sized bagger, and can hold its own with any bike in the genre – saving, perhaps the new Indian Chieftain (we really can’t wait to test that bagger against its competition!). Its only deficiency is some slow-speed awkwardness due to a center of gravity higher than a Street Glide. During our Sturgis run, the Ness Cross Country’s maneuverability made it a canyon-carver’s dream, especially as compared to the Visions and Cross Country Tours we had at our disposal, and we eventually all had to agree to take turns aboard it.
For distance riding, the Cross Country is as comfortable of any bagger in its class, and that includes the new Honda Gold Wing F6B, another bagger I’ve been fortunate enough to review. The rider triangle is amenable for riders of all sizes, thanks mainly to the largest floorboards in the class. The CC boasts about 5 inches of suspension travel both front and rear, and has excellent cornering clearance.
My August ride to Sturgis provided what I felt was a unique perspective to review a healthy sampling range of brand-new 2014 baggers. And after five days of tooling these Victorys around Big Sky Country, I spent the next few days riding the new Indians around the Black Hills. Two weeks later, I was in Denver for the launch of Harley-Davidson’s 2014 touring motorcycles and their “Project Rushmore” refinements.
If my evaluation of the Twin Cam 103’s performance seemed less than complimentary coming from an unabashed fan of the Motor Company, it’s fair to note that A) we tested the Harleys at more than a mile above sea level, and B) I’d just gotten off similar bikes that featured larger engines, both of which performed with no noticeable drop in power up and down darn near every peak from Idaho to South Dakota.
The new Indians may be media darlings and Harley-Davidson is king, but don’t underestimate the power of a Victory. While it’s admittedly pricey, the 2014 Ness Limited-Edition Cross Country holds onto all of the excellent attributes that make its namesake such a successful model.
At a full four thousand dollars more, though, is it worth the extra money? It’s a hot-looking bagger, to be sure, and for some owners it may be worth that extra money to be part of an exclusive, limited production club of just 500 bikes. I guess the answer depends on how much “extra money” you’ve got laying around.