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2010 Victory Vision Tour ABS

Northwest winter test

by Pete "the Bookie" Chartrand

When I mention to the un-devout that I ride a motorcycle, they naturally assume I ride a cruiser. I fit the profile: big guy, black leather, scruffy goatee. But I prefer sport bikes. Imagine an elephant that dreams of being a ballerina.

So when being offered the chance to ride a brand new Victory Vision Tour ABS for a product review, the question asked was "you've ridden a cruiser before, right?" Well� yeah, I took a Triumph Rocket III on a test ride once (I seem to remember referring to that as less like riding a motorcycle and more like sumo wrestling). The question should have been "do you currently ride a cruiser?" I did not let this stop me from enjoying the chance to ride someone else's brand new motorcycle for a few weeks.

The idea behind riding the Vision was to evaluate how it stands up to winter riding in the Pacific Northwest. Not a model comparison, but more of a functional test.

I picked the bike up at the Cycle World International Motorcycle Show in Seattle on Friday night. My first impression was "it's dark and I can't see a thing." Once started though, I was struck by how much light is supplied by the Victory's headlights, not the intensity but the volume of illumination. I could actually see where I intended to travel - what a novel idea for safe motorcycle operation. The digital display was clear and functional but a bit too bright for night riding as it reflected off the inside of the windscreen.

The model I rode is the Victory Vision Tour ABS in "two-tone ocean blue and sandstone metallic." It is also available in solid black and solid pearl white. Some folks may not like the styling of the Vision, but I do. The sculpted bodywork with the exposed engine really works. The Tour model has the top trunk with built-in passenger backrest and stereo speakers. It's not as large as it outwardly appears due to the fairing and side boxes. It also seems longer due to the sloped tail section/fender extending so far past the rear axle.

To familiarize myself with the motorcycle, once home, I reviewed the owner's manual. I was startled to find in the section on saddlebags and trunk "never ride at speeds exceeding 80 mph�combined with the lifting or buffeting effects of wind can make the motorcycle unstable." With the trunk installed, the front end does get light with speed and the Vision suffers quite a bit of wind buffeting. Every time I accelerated, I got this picture in my head of Evel Kenievel's Sky Cycle launching with the drogue chute deployed. If you're not the type who cares to exceed 80 mph, then no biggy - right?

I can neither confirm nor deny that the Vision will do just over an indicated ton, but I can report that Laura Klock recorded a 122 mph run at the BUB Motorcycle Speed Trials on the Bonneville Salt Flats. She's a better man than I. With a 106 cubic inch (that's 1731 cubic centimeters to you and me) air-cooled V-twin, the Vision has plenty of horsepower for top gear roll-on passes on the freeway.

If you ride a motorcycle long enough in the Pacific Northwest, at least west of the Cascades, something strange happens. You stop noticing that it always rains when you want to ride. As David Laskin writes at the end of his book "Rains all the Time" about weather in the Northwest, "you get used to it." A rolling stone may not gather any moss but a PNW motorcyclist can, and you begin shopping for boots to fit webbed feet.

I took the Vision to a local parking lot to get a better sense of the low-speed handling and to test the Anti-Lock Brakes in a controlled environment. Being a Washington Motorcycle Safety Program certified instructor, I wanted to see how it would perform on the license waiver test. It performed flawlessly. Although it has a long wheelbase and long handlebars, I found it performed well on slow speed maneuvers. So well, in fact, I think Victory should consider a Police Special Edition. How cool would that be? Make mine red, blue and gold so I can pretend to be Judge Dredd:

"I am the Law!"

I did discover a special consideration while repeatedly turning in smaller and smaller circles. The ample floorboards provide many locations to move your feet to counterweight but even at 35 degrees ambient temp, the chrome exhaust cover on the right side gets hot enough to melt the heal of road racing boots. I guess that's why cruiser riders wear leather boots, not fancy plastic things � this made for a very expensive product test.

When it came time to test the ABS function, to say I was impressed is an understatement. Being a motorcycle instructor, I've been concerned with the movement to install ABS on motorcycles but the way the brakes worked on the Vision�

It was completely unobtrusive. On cold, wet, broken pavement with paint lines and debris, on cold tires, I had to work extremely hard to get the ABS to actuate. On this motorcycle, if the ABS takes over, you know you've screwed up. I think this is how ABS should work. Not anticipating threshold braking and taking over control like some bully, "let me do this," juddering the front end and causing panic. But waiting that little extra, until you prove you don't have it quite right, saying in a calm voice "here, let me help you with this," and bringing things to a smooth controlled stop. For straight-line braking, I found this confidence-inspiring. All was not perfect, though. For me the linked rear brakes applied too much pressure to the front on normal stops and while trail braking when eventually riding in the twisties.

I also found that when slowing to a stop, the abruptness of the fuel injection shut down in tandem with the strong rear brake caused excess weight transfer to the front. This could be an issue when riding two-up. I reasoned I could compensate for the fuel drop when out cornering by choosing a lower gear and keeping the RPMs up.

The transmission is very smooth shifting. Although there is an audible "clunk" with each shift, the feel is smooth and I experienced no miss-shifts or false neutrals.

It took some time to find the right tire-pressure and suspension adjustment. I received the motorcycle with severely low tire pressures and this could have contributed to my original dissatisfaction with the tires. I have to admit that access to the rear tire valve stem is inconvenient (there's nothing like lying on your back on freezing wet pavement trying to hold a flashlight with your teeth to make you look forward to a task). Although electronic tire pressure monitors are not known for their accuracy, I think the Vision is a perfect candidate for these. Even after setting the proper tire pressure, I was never won over with the OEM Dunlops. They seemed to slide everywhere; in the wet, over railroad crossings, over bumps, tar snakes, painted surfaces, when swerving around the guys stumbling out of the methadone clinic, you know, the usual hazards.

If this were my motorcycle, I would try to find a different tire, something with more of a profile. I would trade the straight-line stability for better traction and cornering confidence.

There is no external adjustment for the front forks but the rear has an air valve for pre-load adjustment. I'm sure the folks at Victory listened to their customers and provided the electronic amenities they said they wanted: stereo, GPS, etc. I would trade all of that for electronically adjustable suspension. It's easy enough to set the rear pre-load with the air pump before a ride, but as road conditions change, and the fact that this is a luxury motorcycle, the lack of suspension adjustment becomes annoying.

Due to my schedule, I was mainly using the Vision for commuting, so I needed to find an opportunity to put some miles on the bike. I chose a quick lap of the Olympic Peninsula to help get a sense of how it handled distance riding.

After several stormy days, the weather decided to cooperate (mostly) and I set out south on I-5 to test the cruise control. After about 20 miles it began raining again and the cruise control stopped working. I was unable to reset it until after the first fuel stop. I suspect the electronics didn't like the moisture. After resetting, the cruise control worked normally. Also, on two occasions, the ABS warning light came on while riding. I believe this indicates the unit recorded a fault code although I never experienced a problem. The light re-sets upon restart.

I rounded Olympia and headed north on Hwy-101 briefly to Kimilche and stopped at the Squaxin Tribal Center and Museum which was closed (note to self � tourist attractions are not open if it is not tourist season). I took Hwy-108 west to McCleary to get a sense of how the Vision handled in the curves.

Before taking this assignment, I did a little research into the cruiser market. It seems to me that moto-journalists need to get more or better adjectives. When referring to other cruisers, they actually used terms such as "razor-sharp handling," "agile," and "nimble."

I don't want to seem negative, it's just that, well, I know how to swim, ride a bicycle and run but you would never call me a tri-athlete.

I found the Victory handled itself respectfully through the curves in the wet.

I joined Hwy-8 headed west to the coast and the weather started to clear up nicely. By the time I reached the Hwy-101 junction in Aberdeen, it had turned into a pleasant, if cold (38 degrees), winter's day.

Heading north on 101, I rode right into a wall of fog. The temperature took an immediate dive. At this point, I wondered if having a thermometer read-out on the display was such a good idea.

Rounding Lake Quinault, the fog began to clear just enough to show a light dusting of snow on the surrounding hillsides. The fog swallowed me up briefly and when it cleared again, I found snow encroaching on the side of the road. Not much later I was riding through snowfall. I was considering turning around but then it occurred me that Victory's parent company is Polaris and they build snowmobiles. Besides it's only solid rain until it starts to stick and it looked like it was clearing ahead.

I continued on and the sky opened up and turned into a clear, crisp, sunny afternoon on the coast. With no one on the road and empty beaches, it was like the day had been created just for me. I snuck the Vision down onto the beach for a photo and realized I forgot to pack a camera. Getting the motorcycle back onto the road illustrated how heavy the thing is, at one point I was wishing it had the optional reverse gear.

Rolling into Forks, I was startled at the "Twilight" hysteria that has taken over the town. The place must be a madhouse of teen girls in the summer. Thankfully none were present for my short visit.

I diverted from 101 to take Hwy-113 to Hwy-112. With a sunny sky and dry pavement, I could really test the Vision's cornering clearance. While railing through the turns�wait�did I just write that? Well okay, maybe not "railing," somewhere between that and lumbering, but the Vision can be ridden in a sporting manner, at least riding solo. It has plenty of clearance and even though the suspension is soft in the front, there's enough travel to compensate.

I seemed to run into weekday traffic around Port Angeles, which slowed things down quite a bit. Eventually I ran out of light and it started to rain. Great, wet again and now it's night (did I mention the headlights actually work?). I slogged south on the east portion of Hwy-101 stuck behind one commercial truck after another. This highlighted an annoyance with the windscreen, for me it was too tall. The windscreen is electrically adjustable by a button on the left handgrip. In the lowest position it causes water to be blown off the top edge into my face shield. In the higher positions, it collects so much road grime I can't see through it.

I hooked back up with I-5 and headed back to Seattle. I figure it was about a 420-mile trip. Not exactly across country, but long enough and with enough differing conditions to get a good sense of the motorcycle.

Because this is a touring machine and the way the seat looks, you might guess "all day comfort." For me, this was not the case. I was pretty uncomfortable � one would think a big bike fits a big guy. The seat seems sculpted to the design of the bike; it looks good, I just didn't fit. While the seated position is mostly upright - I guess I'm not used to the cruiser slouch ("Doctor, Doctor, it hurts when I ride a motorcycle like this." "Well, ride two Ducatis and call me in the morning"). The floorboards are adjustable for more legroom but I couldn't find a comfortable riding position and in the end returned them to the stock setting. I was, however, completely sold on the fact that it's a heated seat with separate controls for rider and passenger. This probably kept me from succumbing to hypothermia more than once and it's entertaining to pull into a gas station, get off the seat and watch the steam rise off of it. Additionally, the Vision Tour comes with heated grips, with off, high and low selector switch.

One other thing that kept coming up is the mirrors. They work great (functional mirrors on a motorcycle--who would've thought?), but because of the length of the fairing, they are unreachable while riding, at least safely. I kept forgetting to adjust one mirror while I was at a stop, and once underway I kept cursing the fact that the bike had all these electronic gizmos on it but not an electric adjustment for the mirrors. I suppose this would add weight exactly where you don't want it and a person could just remember to adjust them before getting under way. They could use a defrost heater, too, but then I suspect most riders would take frost on the mirrors as sign that its too cold to ride � whatever.

I was not able to ride with a passenger, so I compensated by overloading the top-box and strapping extra luggage to the passenger seat. Overall the handling was okay. At the recommendation of Victory Motorcycles External Relations Manager, I later removed the trunk and took a short ride. The removal is easy following the instructions in the owner's manual. There is an optional street trim panel to cover the mounting point. This transformed the motorcycle, reducing wind buffeting and helping lower the center of mass.

If I were considering purchasing a Victory Vision Tour ABS, I would get one in solid black with the street trim panel. Most of my riding is solo but the passenger seat remains in place and it only takes about 20 minutes to put the trunk with the backrest in place. Besides, without it and in all black, I think the bike looks Bad-Ass.

The longer I had the Vision, the more I liked it even though I am not the target customer for this motorcycle. I'm not quite mature enough and I have a different riding style. As far as riding it in winter in the Pacific Northwest, I would not recommend it. Is it a foul weather steed? No, anything with this much chrome is not meant to be ridden hard and put away wet. This motorcycle should lead a more pampered life. It should be washed and polished and stored in a heated garage. I was impressed by the build quality, but I suspect the paint could begin to wear with too much use around the side bag latches.

I enjoyed the opportunity to live with this motorcycle for awhile. I'm not a convert to the cruiser crowd yet, but I can appreciate the appeal. The marketing material I received clearly compared the Victory Vision against Harley-Davidson. If I were in the market for a touring cruiser I would need a back-to-back comparison to decide. But one thing is for sure: the Victory Vision is no winter hack.

PC/Winter 2010


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