A motorcycle at home in second place

The 2014 Victory Cross Country Tour is a visual conundrum. At a glance it comes off as the biggest bike in our V-Twin tourer test with its wide fairing and large lower leg fairings. Maybe it’s because the Victory is the longest of the bunch at 108.1 inches, 5.7-inches longer than the Harley and 7.3-inches longer than the Voyager. But get the big tourer in motion and its intimidating presence becomes a moot point.

Because despite its size, the Victory Cross Country Tour corners best of the three. Its two-piece, sand-cast hollow aluminum frame has a spine that serves as backbone and keeps it from flexing while a 43mm inverted fork and an adjustable rear shock help make it the most stable and sure-footed at lean. This translates to more confidence when carrying speed into turns. It’s got the lightest action at the bars, too, their natural placement quick to respond to rider input. Turn-in on the Harley is comparatively close, while steering on the Voyager feels the heaviest and least responsive. Test rider Jason Abbott said the Cross Country Tour is a smooth, predictable ride on the highway and it responded well to rider feedback in the canyons. The Victory has a generous 5.8 inches of ground clearance, too.

Riding position on the Cross Country Tour is open, upright and relaxed. Big floorboards are positioned far forward and provide plenty of room to stretch a rider’s legs and shift pressure points on long hauls. The seat is well-padded, nicely contoured and all-day comfortable. Its bars taper back and place grips within easy reach, arms just below chest high. A 26.3-inch laden seat height means getting two feet down flat at stops is no problem. Abbott said the Victory’s rider’s triangle was the most spacious of the three and would suit tall riders best.

With a healthy 43mm inverted fork and single mono-tube gas shock on the rear, ride quality was firm within the confines of the rear’s 4.7-inches of travel and rebound damping was dialed so the motorcycle maintains composure over most road conditions. Preload adjustments can be made to the rear via a standard hand-held air pump that connects to a valve residing in the left saddlebag. Unlike the Voyager, the front end of the Cross Country Tour remains predictable and concrete whether you’re pushing it fast on the highway or banking it over on mountain passes.

While the Kawasaki and Harley both feature linked braking systems, the Victory Cross Country Tour sports a traditional arrangement. It does have ABS, but it’s a non-linked system. At the core of the Victory tourer’s brakes are three 300mm discs, two front and one back. Four-piston calipers provide strong, even braking power on the front, but test rider Jason Abbott noted a soft feel at the lever. The rear arrangement with its two-piston caliper is a bit more sensitive, and we got it to lock occasionally with a hard stomp on the brake pedal before its ABS kicked in. The Victory’s ABS has sensors in each wheel monitoring wheel speed and sensing slippage or wheel lock, and when it does activate, the system pulses hardest of the three in the ball of a rider’s foot.

Off the line, give the Victory’s throttle a healthy twist and the Freedom 106 V-Twin has deceptive power on the low end. It doesn’t feel as punchy as Harley’s High Output Twin Cam 103, but it launches with the same authority. This is facilitated by the lightest clutch action of the bunch. The 1731cc Victory does match up to the Harley in the midrange and allows for some over rev up top, something that helps separate it from the Kawasaki. Let the rpm drop, though, and it chugs a bit more getting up to speed and doesn’t pick back up as quickly as the torque-happy Harley. But the Freedom 106 has no problem producing an arm-stretching punch thanks to ample torque from its single overhead camshafts with self-adjusting cam chains and four valves per-cylinder engine. The Victory’s counter-balanced V-Twin does put more buzz in the tank and bars than the Ultra Limited, and Abbott claims the engine is the noisiest of the bunch, too. But for him, the engine is still one of the motorcycle’s best attributes.

“The main thing that stood out about the Victory was the motor. It definitely felt the most lively of the bunch, but it also seemed to be the noisiest. The bottom and mid has an aggressive torque feel to it, and the engine has a good over rev. It was a fun motor to ride because power was always on tap,” claimed Abbott.

As for rider creature comforts, the Cross Country Tour spoils with heated grips and seats, a rockin’ 4-speaker stereo system, cruise control, adjustable passenger floorboards, an adjustable system of vents to tailor airflow to riders, and the most storage space of any stock bike out there. The width of the front fairing, its aerodynamic design, and a tall windscreen provide a solid buffer from the elements. The Victory Comfort Control System consists of upper and lower wind controls. The lower controls are integrated cleanly into the leg fairings and have a handle to open and close them that’s usable even when in motion. The air/oil-cooled Victory engine does have a tendency to run hot, its mill being the only one without some form of liquid cooling. Luckily, the lower vents can help push some of that hot air away from riders. The upper air controls are mounted at the base of the front fairing. Depending on the angle, they can channel air directly into the chests of riders or divert it almost completely around them. The system is effective and blends discreetly into the design of the motorcycle.

In addition to leading the ranks in handling, the 2014 Victory Cross Country Tour impresses with the most storage area in its class at 41.1 total gallons. We’ve lived out of its saddlebags on weeklong rides to both Laconia and Sturgis. Its top case is huge and latches idiot-proof. The saddlebags have 21.3 gallons of cargo space in their own right. The chrome bars surrounding the bags are more than ornamental, a fact we discovered after a low-speed spill a couple years back in the thick Buffalo Chip mud aboard the Cross Country Tour resulted in only minor scratches to the lid. The cubby holes in the leg fairings even provide a gallon's worth of storage space each.

The Victory Cross Country Tour is the only tourer that came with both heated grips and seats as standard fare. The grips have ‘Hi’ and ‘Lo’ modes controlled by a switch mounted below the speedo and tach. Heated seats extend to both rider and passenger, with passengers even getting their own set of controls. The seat doesn’t wrap around passengers as much as the Voyager or Ultra Limited, but it provides more padding than the Kawasaki. The pillion package does include adjustable floorboards with 10 degrees of angle adjustment ranging through two inches of height and three different positions.

The Victory’s cockpit sports an attractive layout, a digital display featuring a gear indicator, clock, outside temperature gauge, and odometer squeezed between the big analog dials of the speedo and tach. A secondary digital display window below that allows riders to shuffle through media choices like local radio stations, XM satellite (not included), or music on your iPod. Blue backlights give it a great look at night and clearly illuminate the gauges. Cruise control is standard fare; its switches are located in the right control housing and activate easily with the thumb. The two minor marks against the Cross Country Tour are its flimsy housing controls, which stick out below the bars and barely clear the tank, and a rattle that comes from the seating of the inner console against the front fairing when riders hit a bump.

The edgy styling of the 2014 Victory Cross Country also has a polarizing effect – people either love it or hate it. It deviates from the norm established by the Harley’s traditional cruiser disposition, and where the Voyager sports a vintage hot rod look, the Cross Country Tour seems more space-age. A matter of personal preference, I like the definitive lines and angular cut of the bodywork and recessed tank, while Abbott doesn’t care for the overall look of the bike, finding it too big and bulky for his taste. This love-it-or-hate-it disparity is a common theme when talking about the Cross Country Tour.

One thing we do know is that with its combination of power and handling, long list of rider amenities, and class-leading storage, Victory’s Cross Country Tour is a bike we wouldn’t hesitate riding coast-to-coast on. And while it is a solid touring platform, the Project Rushmore treatment Harley put on the Ultra Limited addresses any shortcomings the motorcycle might have had. Harley's final package is more refined, and its suite of helpful high-tech goodies relegates the Victory to a respectable second violin in this V-Twin Tourer test.