By Bryan Harley, Cruiser Editor

More than capable on the long haul

The stretch of US-93 out of Salmon, Idaho, winds up and around the wood-covered mountainside, big sweepers followed by big sweepers. The 2014 Victory Cross Country Tour feels as steady pitched over at about a 45-degree angle as it does on straight stretches, its 43mm inverted fork gobbling up the road’s inconsistencies before they reach the bars, its rear monoshock keeping the motorcycle’s back end firmly planted beneath as we steer into turn after turn. With a fully loaded topcase, transitioning is a tad slower than what we’ve experienced on the Cross Country bagger, but the big bike still tracks predictably and is smooth and steady as it rolls through the turns. Even with a fork-mounted fairing, it only requires a modest effort to get the 2014 Cross Country Tour headed into the proper direction, and once there the bike’s Dunlop Elite 3 tires are gripping the pavement tightly.

This scenario would repeat itself seven-fold during our nine days in the saddle of the 2014 Cross Country Tour. Is there a better way to test the merits of a touring motorcycle than to log a couple thousand miles in its saddle? To test Victory’s 2014 touring machine, we did just that. Our journey to the 2013 Sturgis Rally would take us over some of the most scenic byways Idaho, Montana and Wyoming have to offer – real-world riding over mountain passes, into national parks, and through tiny towns across America’s West. Unfortunately it included doing the biker crawl down Lazelle Street during the rally, too, but on the flip-side it gave us a chance to experience the motorcycle at the lowest speeds possible and to find out how the air/oil cooled engine performed at idle on a hot summer day.

Victory touts the Cross Country Tour as having the most storage space of any motorcycle at 41.1 gallons. We tested these claims out twice this summer, the first aboard the 15th Anniversary Cross Country Tour Limited Edition on our way to Laconia, the second on our nine-day exodus to and around the Black Hills. We crammed a week’s worth of clothes in its saddlebags and topcase both times, the collection including rain gear, backpack, cameras and a computer as well, and after loading it like a pack mule it has passed the test with flying colors. The topcase is huge, deep enough to store a full-face helmet, its latches are idiot-proof and provide quick and easy access to items like cameras at photo ops. The saddlebags also have good depth, enough to hold my antiquated laptop with its 17-inch screen. The bags and topcase are said to be waterproof, and a driving New England rainstorm proved this statement true. If only the same could be said about the cheap rain gear we brought.

Though Victory’s Cross Country Tour looks imposingly large, a relatively low 26.3-inch seat height means getting two feet down flat at stops is no problem. Its riding position is upright and relaxed, big floorboards positioned far forward provide plenty of room to stretch a rider’s legs while the seat has a butt-hugging contour that is well-padded and long-ride comfortable. The floorboards allow for just enough range of motion for a rider’s legs to switch up pressure points during long stints in the saddle. Its bars taper back and place the grips within easy reach, arms just below chest high. Tension on the clutch cable isn’t overly taut and with a little application of throttle, the motorcycle doesn’t require manhandling at parking lot speeds. But it is the motorcycle’s stability at lean that is even more impressive, as its predictability in corners permits riders to carry plenty of speed into turns as they pick a line and the bike holds to it.

This is due in part to a stellar suspension setup mated to a capable chassis. The inverted 43mm fork ranges through 5.1-inches of travel and shelters riders from teeth-rattling jolts while the rear monoshock keeps riders comfortably shielded in the saddle. Spring rates are dialed-in almost ideally, keeping the action during compression and rebound controlled and the ride quality high. This is augmented by a two-piece, sand-cast, hollow aluminum frame that runs spine-like along the top of the bike and a rigid-mounted engine serving as a stressed member of the chassis. The bike shows no wallow, our conclusions reached after riding the 15th Anniversary 2014 Cross Country Tour LE around the pock-marked streets of New York City. We did our best to dodge chunks of missing asphalt and wheel-swallowing ruts on the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge, but few can dodge every pot hole in NYC. When we did square one up, the suspension only bottomed out on rare occasions. During our adventure across the western states on the standard Cross Country Tour, we gave the preload adjustable rear a few squirts from the provided air pump based on the chart in the left saddlebag. The ride quality was firm and rebound was near ideal, so the motorcycle maintains its composure over all but the most extreme road obstacles.

A 50-degree V-Twin provides the Cross Country Tour with plenty of car-passing power. Output from the Freedom 106 engine is deceiving, as it doesn’t feel like it has the same arm-stretching punch of torque as some of its competitors, but the motorcycle is nonetheless hooking up and moving out. Last time we tested the Freedom 106 against Harley’s Twin Cam 103 from zero to 60, the Victory powerplant edged it out by a fraction. The 1731cc V-Twin put out a verifiable 94-lb-ft on our dyno last year at 3,700 rpm and performs best when rpm are up. At low rpm it will lug a bit if you don’t drop it down a gear. There’s no doubt about its ability when it reaches midrange though, and fueling remained spot-on during several climbs at higher altitudes. On freeway stints, drop it into overdrive sixth gear and the big tourer settles into an effortless 2,900 rpm rhythm at 75 mph. Despite being rigid-mounted, vibrations are a non-issue, but doing the biker crawl in Sturgis reveals the big V-Twin does emit heat on the inside of a rider’s left leg.

There is a way to quell some of that heat thanks to its Victory Comfort Control System. It is a system of adjustable vents and deflectors that allow riders to channel the flow of air depending on circumstances. The system is composed of adjustable upper and lower wind controls. Open up the vents on the fairing lowers and some of the heat coming off the engine can be diverted. They are integrated cleanly into the design of the fairing lowers and have a handle that is easy to use while in motion. The upper air controls are mounted at the base of the fork-mounted fairing and can be adjusted to divert air completely around or directly at the chest of riders. Overall the combination of a wide front fairing, tall windscreen and Victory’s Comfort Control System provides a solid buffer between riders and the elements.

When it comes time to scrub speed off the big tourer, dual 300mm front floating rotors with 4-piston calipers get the job done. The system provides plenty of feel at the lever so riders know the four-piston calipers are biting into the big discs. Braking power on the front is strong, while the rear is a bit more sensitive and will lock up if you stomp hard on the pedal before the ABS kicks in. It has a non-linked ABS with sensors in each wheel, and the system on the rear pulses hard upon application in the ball of a rider’s foot but is effective nonetheless.

Slipping between gears is the job of a six-speed gearbox with helical-cut gears. The Cross Country Tour’s six-speed overdrive transmission received heavy revisions a few years back, increasing gear tooth counts, revising gear ratios and trimming down the drive sprocket. The revisions helped reduce mechanical noise but engagement is still accompanied by an audible clunk. The Victory’s transmission also features a neutral assist and finding neutral isn’t a problem. What is problematic is the fact that sometimes the gear indicator will light up saying the bike’s in neutral when in reality it isn’t, which riders quickly learn when they let out the clutch. Having to rein in a lurching 850-pound motorcycle is never fun.

That one electronic gremlin aside, the list of amenities that benefit riders is much longer. Heated grips are activated in ‘Hi’ or ‘Lo’ modes via a switch mounted below the speedo and tach. Heated seats are standard fare for both rider and passenger. The floorboards are long, and a toe-shifter gives riders the leeway to move them around a bit while riding. The passenger floorboards are even better, ranging through 10 degrees of angle adjustment and two inches of height through three different positions. Cruise control located in the right control housing activates easily with the thumb and comes with the standard package. Listening to music is always a good way to help melt the miles away, and the Cross Country Tour is equipped with both an AM/FM radio and an iPod attachment. The iPod connector is tucked neatly away in the cubby hole inside the left lower fairing, while all audio can be manipulated via the left control housing on the handlebar. The audio system also includes a weather band radio and has the capacity to run satellite radio as well, but it’s up to owners to have it activated. Working the audio or cruise control systems becomes fairly intuitive after spending a little time on the bike, so riders don’t have to take their attention off the road. Victory made the primary gauges analog; the speedo and tach are large and placed in the middle of the front fairing so they are easily viewable at speed. A small digital display between them includes a helpful gear indicator, clock, ambient temperature gauge, and odometer. One of the Cross Country Tour’s other cool features is the fact that its topcase can be removed. Simply unplug the wiring couplet for the brake lights mounted in the topcase, slide it back out of the mounting brackets and now you’re riding a bagger.

Attend just about any major American biker rally and the motorcycle you’ll see more than any other is Harley-Davidson’s Ultra Classic Electra Glide. Considering Harley’s big touring bike sells for over $20,000, it’s easy to see why Victory Motorcycles would love to whittle into those sales. This is one of the reasons Victory took its best-selling bagger, the Cross Country, added a topcase/passenger backrest, lower fairings, taller windscreen, and more rider-friendly amenities, and released it as the Cross Country Tour. With an MSRP of $22,499, it is priced competitively with Harley’s 2014 Electra Glide Ultra Classic at $23,249 while Kawasaki’s V-Twin powered equivalent, the 2014 Vulcan 1700 Voyager ABS, undercuts them both at $19,399.

After spending around 3,000 miles and riding across several states on the 2014 Victory Cross Country Tour, we’ve learned that it is a very capable tourer. We love its class-leading storage and it’s a comfortable ride thanks to its solid suspension and well-cushioned saddle. A wide front fairing and tall windscreen shelters riders so they can log more miles without feeling beat down. It flows through the curvy stuff with stability and predictability, has decent clearance before scraping floorboards and has power that is manageable but not overbearing. Add rider-friendly features like cruise control, heated grips and seats, and a rockin’ four-speaker stereo system and you’ve got a bike that’s more than capable of tackling the long haul.