Big Gun Blow-Out: Harley-Davidson FXSB Breakout Vs. Victory Gunner

John Burns
by John Burns

Veterans Day, 16-inch battleship guns and big-inch American V-Twins just seem to go together

Well, ahh, basically we were just looking for an excuse to tool around on H-D’s swell new FSXB Breakout for a while, and decided to bring one of our favorite cruisers, the Victory Gunner, along for the ride to see how things stack up between these American cruisers. In the powertrain departments, at least, both big V-Twins are representative of their makers’ current offerings.

A little history, in honor of Veteran’s Day and the USS Iowa …

Hence the term, “battleship diplomacy.”

The Harley’s 103-inch (1690cc) engine first appeared in 2012, but the original Twin Cam 88 has been around since 1998. The 103 powers H-D’s Dynas, Softails and Touring bikes – a couple of which get the new “Twin-Cooled High Output Twin Cam 103.” Otherwise, the basic 103 is what’s for dinner, unless you want to order upmarket from the CVO menu: Those bikes get a 110-inch version. (The 103B version in the Breakout gets an internal counterbalancer, which allows it to be bolted solidly into the frame.)

The Iowa was launched in 1942, served in the Pacific during WW2, was Admiral Halsey’s flagship for the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay, and has a bathtub FDR used in the days before there was an Air Force One. Now she sits in the Port of Long Beach, where you can take a nice tour.

Meanwhile in Minnesota (why do America’s three big motorcycle brands come from the frozen north?), Victory didn’t build its first big V-Twin until 1997. The V92C was met with mixed reviews. In 2002, that engine had evolved into the much more refined Freedom 100, which became the Freedom 106 of today beginning with the Victory Vision in 2008.

Animal Magnetism

No, they’re not sportbikes, though that’s all relative. The Gunner is in fact pretty sporty ridden alongside the Breakout, but neither one is going to be much fun at a track day. That’s not the intended use. You don’t use a hammer to perform brain surgery on most patients. At first the Harley feels like it would rather go straight than turn, but you soon learn that like walking a big dog, it’s just a matter of letting the dog know who’s in charge. Once that’s established, it rolls right in given an authoritative shove. Soon enough, the shove becomes subliminal and everybody’s happy. It’s that big, 240-section rear tire that’s the culprit, but how can you complain when it’s also that dragster-inspired tire that gives the bike its essence. It also makes your butt look not so big.

For myself, at 5-foot-8, it’s not the steering but the ergonomics that make this Hog less rider-friendly than the Gunner. Its flat, drag-style handlebar wants you to lean into it quite a bit, which wouldn’t be a problem if not for the fact that the footpegs are also way forward, which enforces a doubled-over riding position that’s not ideal. Some Harleys just make me feel small and inadequate; the Breakout is one of them. The 26-inch-low seat is nice, but the rest of it makes me wish I were a linebacker with gorilla arms. On this, Roderick and I can agree: “The flat bar forces any rider without NBA-length arms to lean forward and reach out like a zombie biker in search of brains.”

Underneath, you can see the two shocks that work in extension to give the Hog 3.1 inches of travel out back. The footpeg feelers sound the alarm a little early, but it still goes around corners okay.

The ride itself is surprisingly sweet. You can see the black chrome sliders moving up and down on the fork tubes, but you don’t really feel most bumps, and the 3.1 inches of travel out back does nice work too even if you’re not a 250-pound brawler. Heck man, it’s a 703-pound muscle-bound Harley, even bumps seem to clear a path when they see it coming.

It’s pretty quick in the 40, too (that’s 40-yard dash for you non-linebackers, sneer …); 68 horsepower is nothing to brag about, but 87 pound-feet of torque at just 3000 rpm are Harley’s stock in trade. Drop the clutch in the alley, and the dragster-inspired theme makes immediate sense as the four-inch pistons and pushrods and rocker arms all get suddenly serious. Really it seems like the only guys who look down their noses at Harleys are ones who’ve never ridden one. The “Big Twin” (I think that’s trademarked) really does produce a unique, visceral experience for all six senses when you twist its tail, which is probably why it has so many imitators. And there are plenty of ways to get more power out of this engine.

The easiest would be, as Tom R. points out, for H-D to just put the Project Rushmore High Output Twin Cam 103 in at the factory. The one in our 2014 Harley-Davidson Street Glide Special Vs. Indian Chieftain shootout made 9 more horses and 5 more lb-ft.

She stops good, anyway. All the Softails got a new front brake for 2015 that requires 40% less lever effort for maximum braking. A new master cylinder, a new 4-piston caliper with 32 and 34mm pistons with a special coating, and a larger 300mm rotor add up to this being the hardest-stopping Harley I can remember – even with just the one disc. ABS is standard too, with the sensors tucked out of sight inside the hubs.

All the Softails get a new front brake for 2015 that works very well. ABS is standard on the Breakout.

Navel Gunnery

We’ve already contemplated the Gunner at length, both in Brasscannon’s initial ride and again a couple months ago in our big Shootout at the MO Corral seven-bike slugfest, so I won’t regale you with the details again. Victory’s Hammer 8-Ball, with its 250-section rear tire, would’ve been the one to ride off against the fat-tired Breakout, but the Gunner was what we had; they both use the same Freedom 106 powerplant and are otherwise pretty similar. I remember the Hammer 8-Ball being similarly affected by its beach ball back tire, but with a pullback handlebar that made it easier to deal with.

Tom waxes poetic: "The Suede Green Metallic color scheme and black-out nature of the Gunner are in direct contrast to the Hard Candy Quicksilver Flake, chrome and brushed aluminum of the Breakout, basking elegantly in the fading light of sunset's golden hour."
Tom waxes poetic: “The Suede Green Metallic color scheme and black-out nature of the Gunner are in direct contrast to the Hard Candy Quicksilver Flake, chrome and brushed aluminum of the Breakout, basking elegantly in the fading light of sunset’s golden hour.”

With its SOHC engine and matte paint, the Gunner is the introvert of this pairing, but giving its throttle a nice twist lets its personality open right up. Interestingly, the same bike made 4 more hp and 6 more lb-ft of torque on a different Dynojet 250 just a couple of months later and a few miles away. Don’t know how much that has to do with Dynojet 250s (or their accounting for atmospheric conditions) and how much of it has to do with an engine now showing just 503 miles still breaking-in? Anyway, 99 lb-ft is seriously stout, at just 3300 rpm. Consider that our Bike of the Year KTM Super Duke needs to spin its 1301cc Twin to 8200 rpm to make 96.5. And the fact that the Victory makes 18 additional peak horses than the Harley is even more impressive.

Suspension and ride quality is very comparable to the H-D, but the Gunner leaves the Breakout behind in ergonomic terms, with a pullback bar that leans you into the wind just a little, and forward pegs that aren’t too far forward for medium-sized people. With its light clutch lever and a seat that’s even lower than the Breakout’s, a chick could ride this bike. Wait, is that sexist?! A WOMAN, I meant, and not a big linebacker one in a plaid shirt either. A dainty one.

It’s still a big long bike and only 30 pounds lighter than the Harley at 673, but overall the Gunner just feels like a bigger, way more powerful version of the excellent little 505-pound H-D Street 750 I traded in for the Breakout, which might actually be my current favorite Harley.

The Victory is, in general, a little crude compared to the Harley when it comes to fit and finish and exposed welds, but it definitely gets the job done.

The main complaint with the Gunner remains its gearbox: “The transmission in all Victory motorcycles has, for years, been lambasted by the motorcycle press for its overtly noisy, clanky operation, and Victory has failed to address the issue,” says Tom Roderick. I personally don’t find it all that bad. It and the Harley both engage first and second like train cars coupling – which bikes like these have been doing for so long, I assumed it was part of the show – but once past second gear, shifting is pretty non-eventful on both of them even though you won’t mistake either 6-speed for a KTM gearbox. Both of them engage gears smoothly with just a partial pull on the clutch lever once you’re rolling, and the Gunner in particular has a nice, light lever pull.

The upshot of it all …

Nobody does the details like Harley-Davidson. The paint and chrome are deep and luscious, and the wires are inside the handlebar.

By the end of our time with both bikes, we determined that one’s best for looking at and the other’s better for riding. If you like to ogle and polish and you have another motorcycle to ride when you’re going somewhere more than a couple of hours away, then the Breakout is as beautiful an embodiment of the modern Big Twin Harley as any and will definitely hold its own and be your personal bully pulpit at any gathering place where cruiser people, ahh, gather.

Every Victory I’ve ridden has its speedo slightly cocked in the mounting. It takes two seconds to twist straight in its rubber-mount bezel thing.

The Gunner, to most eyes, is not nearly so nice to look at but is a far better motorcycle to ride than the Hog, much more comfortable, more responsive to the helm, and considerably more powerful. Then there’s the price differential. At $12,999, the Victory is a tad less than ⅔ the price of this $19,799 Breakout.

Tommy sums it all up: “While the scoring was close, I think it’d be easy for me, given the situation of spending my own money on one of the two motorcycles, to purchase the Gunner and use what I save to buy some new riding gear, bike accessories, then take the wife on a weekend ride to a fancy resort … The Victory Gunner is less expensive, more comfortable and smokes the Breakout in every performance category. Shootout won.”

2015 Harley-Davidson FXSB Breakout

+ Highs

  • You can join HOG
  • Best paint and chrome in the biz
  • Great brakes

– Sighs

  • A little more fashion than function, ergonomically speaking
  • Is the side-mount license plate a little awkward?
  • I feel like Walter Mitty

2015 Victory Gunner

+ Highs

  • 99 lb-ft. of torque is a good thing
  • Really comfy to ride and easy-handling
  • You can’t join HOG

– Sighs

  • Lower couple of gears are a bit clangy
  • The low price is reflected in the details
  • A little more function than fashion

Big Gun Blow-Out Scorecard

CategoryHarley-Davidson BreakoutVictory Gunner
Quality, Fit & Finish92.5%80.0%
Cool Factor82.5%77.5%
Grin Factor60.0%72.5%
Overall Score73.6%78.8%

Big Gun Blow-Out Specs

Harley-Davidson FXSB BreakoutVictory Gunner
MSRP$18,599 base, $19,799 as tested$12,999.00
Engine TypeTwin Cam 103B 1690cc (103.1 cu. in.),
air-cooled 45° V-Twin
1731cc (106 cu. in.), air/oil-cooled, Freedom 106 / 6, 50° V-twin
Bore and Stroke98.3 x 111.1mm101 x 108mm
Fuel SystemElectronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI)Closed loop fuel injection, dual 45mm throttle bodies
Compression Ratio9.6:19.4:1
Valve TrainPushrod-operated, overhead valves with hydraulic, self-adjusting lifters; 2 valves per cylinderSOHC, 4 valves per cylinder, hydraulic lifters
EmissionsCatalytic converterCatalytic converter
Horsepower67.84 hp @ 5000 rpm85.89 hp @ 4900 rpm
Torque86.97 ft-lb @ 3000 rpm99.31 ft-lb @ 3300 rpm
lb/ft-lb torque8.106.80
Transmission6-speed,multi-plate wet clutch6-speed, multi-plate wet clutch
Final DriveBeltBelt
Front Suspension41.3mm fork; 4.6 in. travel43mm telescopic fork, 5.1 in. travel
Rear SuspensionDual shocks, coil-over; preload-adjustable, 3.1 in. wheel travelSingle shock with rising-rate linkage, preload adjustable; 3.0 in. travel
Front Brake300mm disc, 4-piston caliper; ABS300mm disc, 4-piston caliper
Rear Brake292mm disc, 2-piston caliper; ABS300mm disc, 2-piston caliper
Front Tire130/60 B21130/90 B16
Rear Tire240/40 R18140/90 B16
Rake/Trail37° / 5.1 in.32° / 6.7 in.
Wheelbase67.3 in. (1710mm)64.8 in.
Seat Height26 in. unladen25.0 in.
Measured Weight, full tank703 lb.673 lb.
Fuel Capacity5.0 gal.4.5 gal.
Tested Fuel Economy36.4 mpg38.3 mpg
Available Colors• Vivid Black
• Charcoal Pearl
• Mysterious Red Sunglo
• Superior Blue
• Radioactive Green
• Hard Candy
Quicksilver Flake
Suede Titanium Metallic with Black, Suede Green Metallic with Black
WarrantyTwo yearsOne year
John Burns
John Burns

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2 of 27 comments
  • TheMarvelous1310 TheMarvelous1310 on Sep 18, 2015

    I want a Gunner with the little sporty rear from the Hammer S... And maybe some midsets and a 180 series rear tire...

  • Mrtwowheels Mrtwowheels on Feb 26, 2016

    I test rode the Victory Gunner and a couple other models during demo days a couple years ago. I owned a 2008 Kawasaki Ninja, Zx 14, I was not ready to trade it in, the power on my bike was to addicting. Later own I test rode the HD Breakout, although cool and was looking for a street cruiser, I felt it was way under powered. Well as of last week, I traded, my Ninja for a brand new Victory Jackpot, had less than 10 miles on it. I like it alot, suites my style and plenty a grunt for a bigger bike, still not as fast as my other bike, but that is not what I am looking for anymore. I hope it is reliable as my Ninja.