By Bryan Harley, Cruiser Editor

A bike built for the long miles

The billows of cumulonimbus paint the horizon purple behind me, but I can already feel the winds preceding the storm. South Dakota has a reputation for violent thunderstorms, and the one chasing me reportedly has golf ball-sized hail. I twist the throttle of the 2013 Victory Cross Country Tour even more, the big tourer’s angular bodywork knifing through the air as rider and motorcycle streak east down I-90. At 85 mph, the engine is comfortably in its mid-range, the rigid-mounted mill drumming smoothly beneath me. Better yet, it’s good to know there’s still plenty of roll-on available, as no matter how hard I try, I can’t quite seem to get out of the shadow of the cloud and into the patches of sunlight in front of me. If we’re going to beat the squall to the Badlands, we might have to tap into more from Victory’s Freedom 106.

The 2012 Sturgis Rally was the ideal place to test the 2013 Victory Cross Country Tour. It is one of the few rallies bikers still ride to, and getting to destinations like Sturgis is what the Cross Country Tour (CCT) has been designed for, its combination of rider amenities, handling and storage making for a very capable long-range mount. The roads through the Black Hills are good chassis testing grounds with plenty of curvy roads winding through spectacular scenery, from Vanocker Canyon to Mt. Rushmore. The core of this chassis is based on a two-piece, sand-cast hollow aluminum frame and an engine that serves as a stressed member. The result is a spine that serves as a backbone, the frame showing no flex and making the Cross Country Tour sure-footed at lean. Sturgis also gave us an opportunity to have a little fun on the CCT, riding wingman for Victory’s latest spokesperson, R. Lee “The Gunny” Ermey, who was a busy man in between autograph signing and leading the Victory Riders Association charge from Deadwood to The Buffalo Chip.

Chasing the ever-elusive sun in front of us, the wide front fairing, tall windscreen and Victory Comfort Control System is providing a fantastic buffer from the elements. The system comprises adjustable upper and lower wind controls with assistance from the windscreen, which was tall enough to shelter my face from rain, even with an open-face 3/4 helmet on. The lower air controls, integrated cleanly into the fairing lowers, have a convenient new handle that is easier to use while in motion and directs wind mid-shin when fully open. The upper air controls mounted at the base of the fairing can be adjusted to divert air completely around or directly in the chest of riders. With all of them closed, the system is circulating air around me and, in video we shot, is actually pushing my hair forward, demonstrating how much of a cocoon it provides for riders.

Winds shift as we barrel down the highway, but the gusts do little to unsettle the 2013 Cross Country Tour. Not only is it fairly aerodynamic, but with a claimed dry weight of 845 pounds it isn’t budging easily. Turning south off I-90, it doesn’t take long before we’re at the entrance to the Badlands. Just inside the park, the road winds down and around, switchbacks and sweepers, and the Victory Cross Country grips the road solidly when banked over and is holding its line true. It’s got the type of rapport with the road that instills confidence in riders. The floorboards are up so you’re not grinding metal on every turn. One difference we noticed between it and the Cross Country bagger is the added weight of the CCT’s topcase, which makes side-to-side transitioning a bit slower. When you take the bike’s weight into consideration, though, it makes the Cross Country Tour’s handling even more impressive.

Its even handling couldn’t be achieved without a well-sorted suspension. The rear of the Cross Country Tour has plenty of travel: 4.7-inches on the single air-shock, which rebounds smoothly and makes for a comfortable ride. On the pothole-filled dirt roads leading to our RV inside the Buffalo Chip Campground, the arrangement keeps our kidneys from taking a beating as it compresses without bottoming, rolling instead of jarring the rider. The front end never gets out of sorts either despite the rough road, its 43mm fork tubes telescoping through the range of its 5.1 inches of travel while the bars remain easily manageable.

Cruising through the striated spires of the Badlands, signs warn of free-range bison. Pronghorn antelope also roam the park as do Bighorn sheep. We spot a small herd of Bighorns death-defyingly perched on a slanted cliff. With wild animals about and the road still shiny from the passing storm, we’re grateful the 2013 Cross Country Tour comes standard with ABS, which assists the dual 300mm disc front brakes and single 300mm floating rotor rear. On a stretch of open road, we grab a handful of brake to test the front. Feel at the lever is firm, the bite of the four-piston calipers on the big discs is strong, and braking power is even. The rear is a bit more touchy and will lock up if you’re overly aggressive at the pedal before triggering the ABS. The ABS is a non-linked system with sensors in each wheel that monitors wheel speed and activates when they sense slippage or wheel lock. The Cross Country Tour’s ABS will pulse under the ball of your foot unless you really mash on the brakes, but it saved us from a multi-car pileup on a prior trip, so we can vouch for its effectiveness in a true emergency situation.

That wasn’t the only emergency situation we’ve avoided on board Victory’s Cross Country Tour. While making a left hand turn, a rider parked on the side of the road and looking in the opposite direction decided to pull out with us mid-turn. Fortunately, I saw him though he didn’t see me, so I cranked the throttle wide to catapult me out of harm’s way and avoid being another Sturgis statistic. I think we all know which finger I was pointing at the other rider. Bottom line: When I needed it most, the torquey Freedeom 106 delivered. The 2013 version of the air-and-oil-cooled 50-degree V-Twin, found in all Victory motorcycles, put out almost 94 lb-ft of torque at 3,700 rpm when we dynoed it earlier this year, albeit in a slightly different state of tune because it was mounted in a Victory cruiser. In the Cross Country Tour, the 1731cc powerplant will quickly get riders up to highway speed and drums along efficiently at 2,900 rpm in sixth gear at 75 mph, the overdrive gear leaving plenty of roll-on power above that. Internally, the valvetrain comprises single overhead camshafts and hydraulic lifters. The cam chains are self-adjusting, and each engine cylinder has four valves responding to input from the electronic fuel injection, keeping throttle response crisp. A couple of times climbing up and down the road through the Badlands we wanted a little more bottom-end thrust when we let a gear wind down and rpm drop low where it would bog when trying to throttle back up.

The practicality of the 2013 Cross Country Tour serves us well at the rally. It has a total of 41.1 gallons of storage, world-leading if you listen to the peeps at Victory. The topcase is huge and its latches easy to use. We could stash riding gear, a helmet and cameras in it alone. This is convenient when we frequently need to pull over on the shoulder, click off a few pics and be right back on the road. This doesn’t even take into account the big saddlebags or the one gallon of storage in each cubby hole in the fairing lowers.

The amount of storage will spoil a rider, as will the heated grips, heated seats, standard cruise control, and big rider floorboards. Victory elected to use a toe-only shifter so riders can move their feet around and alter pressure points on the backside and lower back on longer rides. Though we rode solo, the 2013 Victory Cross Country Tour has passenger floorboards that are three-way adjustable and can be tipped at a 10-degree angle. Passengers also have the luxury of their own controls for the heated seat.

While the wide front fairing on the Cross Country Tour has been helping us cut through the wind, it also houses the motorcycles gauges and instrumentation. We commend Victory for putting all of the most vital info front-and-center with big, easily viewable analog gauges for the speedo and tachometer with a digital gear indicator between them. Smaller analog dials outside of those read out fuel levels and oil pressure. A housing on the left handlebar allows riders to toggle through AM/FM, weather band radio or optional satellite radio by feel instead of having to take their eyes off the road. The cruise control is engaged through a similar control housing on the right handlebar. The Cross Country Tour also has an iPod attachment in the left compartment of the lower fairing, which runs through audio controls on the left handlebar.

Thanks to the Victory’s stability at highway speeds, we outpace the storm that is now dropping sheets of rain to the south. With dusk settling in, we take to dodging bats instead; they're taking flight as the sun disappears over the Badlands. Now we appreciate the wide, deep pattern of the headlights, and according to our video producer trailing behind us, the CCT is very visible from behind at night, too. Heading back to the freeway, we ponder our week in its saddle. The 2013 Victory Cross Country Tour has a torque-laden V-Twin delivering linear power, its chassis sticks to the pavement whether prone or leaned, its suspension readily soaks up all the road throws at it, and its class-leading storage is second to none. A 5.8-gallon tank gives it a range of over 200 miles, but it goes through gas fast rolling at 80 mph, and once the fuel gauge hits the low fuel range, it drops quickly. We did find out the needle will dip below the empty line, though. With the sweet smell of fresh rain on prairie grass filling the air, we point the 2013 Cross Country Tour back to Sturgis, the “riders on the storm” confident of safe passage thanks to a bike built for long miles in its saddle.