My journey with the Victory Cross Country Tour (XCT) began at Skagit Valley Polaris/Victory/Kawasaki in Mt. Vernon, Washington. Dan Jantz, owner of the dealership, and I spent a few minutes going over the basics of the controls, the dashboard functions, and how the cruise control and audio features worked. Dan had done a service on the bike, changing the oil and getting it ready for my three-week ride.
Design, Fit and Finish
As Wolfman Jack said, “as long as you got the curves baby, I got the angles,” and the lines on the Victory XCT are a mix of interesting angles and nicely integrated curves. The overall design is a combination of retro-modern, and I appreciate the bike’s form-following-function design. It is a decidedly American looking bike that incorporates a modern style with a high level of functionality and updated amenities.
The 2012 XCT comes in three solid colors; Black, Pearl White and Sunset Red. The test model was Victory’s Sunset Red, and the fit and finish on the bike was first rate. The red is a more cranberry color, with chrome accents on the engine and chrome exhaust pipes, as well as the headlight trim, turn signal stalks, bag latches and rear light assembly. The saddlebag latches worked easily and latched securely. Victory claims that the Tour has the most storage space of any stock motorcycle made, and the lockable hardbags are reported to be the largest available on a motorcycle. Coupled with the added trunk, a rider would not have a problem packing for weeks of travel. The hardbags used a combination push button latch with a key lock, and the trunk uses a rotating key lock flanked by two metal latches on either side of the lock. All the locks use the same key, but for consistency of design Victory might consider changing the locking system on the trunk to the button-lock system on the saddlebags, because they look good, work well, and seem a bit more secure, unless there is not a functional reason why the trunk lock is different. It’s a small point. The lower wind deflectors on the front of the bike incorporate chrome engine guards and a one-gallon storage compartment on each side. The left side storage compartment contains the iPod connector, and these compartments are very convenient for storing smaller items that might get lost in the larger bags. The front storage compartments use friction latches, and while they worked fine and closed with an audible click, but metal latches might give the compartment door a more secure feel.
The dry weight of the bike is 845 pounds, but the 26.25-inch seat height puts the rider well down into the bike’s center of gravity, keeping the bike from feeling top-heavy even in slow speed maneuvers. The shape of the seat itself—thin at front near the gas tank and wider further back where the rider sits, allows even riders of shorter stature (such as my-self) to get their feet firmly on the ground at stops, while having plenty of width and sup-port in the sitting position when riding. The seat is all-day comfortable, well padded with good lower back support, and whether on long rides or a weekend road trip, on interstates or backroad twisties, the saddle was excellent and comfortable in every riding situation.
Sitting well into the bike’s center of gravity helps to make the full-sized touring motorcycle nimble and predictable both at speed and in the curves. Dialing in the proper rear shock air pressure is accomplished by removing the right side cover and using the included small hand air pump that incorporates both a gauge and pressure release valve, to either add or release air pressure in the rear shock. A convenient chart inside the lid of the right saddlebag gives the proper air pressure setting for the model of bike, and the weight carried. On a ride along Washington’s challenging Forest Service (FS) Road 25, a road that not only has plenty of twists and turns but is also a bit unevenly paved in places, setting the correct shock air pressure allowed the bike to handle the bumps nicely. It never got out of sorts or bottomed out, and the bike held its line through curves even when encountering dips and bumps on the road. When the pavement smoothed out, keeping up a spirited pace and tossing the bike into the curves was never a cause for concern, as the bike handled extremely well, and transitioning through the right and left hand curves was confidence inspiring. Over the course of several weeks, I had the opportunity to ride some of Washington’s more serpentine examples of asphalt, and I can say that limitations in lean angles and hence sportier riding are not an issue on this bike. In many ways, it reminded me of a sport-touring motorcycle. This motorcycle is very good in the twisties.
Engine and Transmission
At the start of the test period, the XCT had a little over 3,000 miles on the bike. Engaging first gear required a strong pull on the clutch, and the transmission engaged into first gear with a solid “thunk.” While the clutch lever pull effort was initially somewhat on the heavy side, clutch engagement was smooth and even, never abrupt or “grabby.” In pre-Labor Day holiday stop-and-go traffic, slipping the clutch in traffic did get to be a workout, but in the more typical riding circumstance of open road riding and cornering, it was not a bother. I did notice that clutch pull became easier after several weeks of riding the bike, so either my forearm muscles are getting stronger, or less pull effort is needed as the drive train breaks in. The XCT also uses a standard cable control system for the throttle, and has self-canceling turn signals (bravo!) and antilock brakes as standard equipment.
The 9.4:1 compression ration of the Freedom 106 engine requires a minimum of 91 octane gasoline. Engine performance is smooth and with plenty of power on tap to satisfy when you wind it up over 4,000 rpm. Given its V-twin personality, the engine seems really at home at 2,500 rpm, on the upside of its torque curve. Even allowing for the very large 106 ci (or 1731 cc) V-twin configuration, with its counterbalanced engine, vibration on the Victory was never intrusive, and barely noticeable at any engine speed.
The Six speed transmission has the gears excellently spaced for the power band of the engine, and while Sixth gear is very tall and designed to be used when moving faster than 60 miles per hour, (i.e. on the highway), at 65 to 70 mph, Sixth gear kept the engine in that relaxed 2,500 RPM range, making traveling on the highway a low vibration, smooth and quiet experience. In the first several days of riding the bike, the transmission’s shifting was somewhat stiff and notchy, occasionally requiring slipping the clutch a few times to get it back to first gear when not downshifting through the gears at a quick stop. Again, over the course of several weeks riding the bike, the shifting got smoother, so this may also be due to the drive train still “breaking in.”
Over the three weeks and 1.761 miles I rode the bike, it used about 40.7 gallons of gasoline, for a very respectable 42.5 miles per gallon average, and this includes several hours on stuck in the Labor Day holiday stop-and-go traffic.
Dashboard and Rider Controls
The XCT uses white faced analog gauges for fuel, speed, tachometer, and electrical system displays. The gauges are large, easy to read, and positioned just below the windshield at an optimum angle to the rider, and every gauge can be easily read with just a momentary glance from the road. Between the speedometer and tachometer is a panel of warning lights that include oil pressure, engine temperature, a low fuel warning lamp and the cruise control indicator, among others. In the center of the dashboard below the engine warning light panel is a digital information display area. The display has a large digital gear indicator, with digital clock and ambient temperature display flanking it on the left and right (respectively). A toggle switch on the front (forward facing) side of the left handgrip changes the digital odometer below the gear indicator to seven other displays: two trip odometers, average fuel economy, average speed, fuel range left in the tank, current fuel economy, and an elapsed time indicator. Holding the toggle switch for a few seconds resets any of the displays. Below that is a large rectangular display for the audio system, with integrated AM, FM, Weather Band, or iPod music selections (Satellite radio is also available). The handgrip heater control is just to left of the audio display.
The wealth of information available and the ease of use of the audio and information systems is excellent. It’s impressive that Victory managed to engineer a system that gives the rider this much information by using only three intuitive switches below the left handgrip (which match the cruise control switches below the right handgrip) and a toggle button on the front side of the left handgrip. Victory has also carefully considered menus and functionality for the audio and information systems: the most used functions of volume, mode, and station tuning are the primary choices on the button, while menus for treble and bass controls, front to read fade, iPod menu control, etc. are placed in secondary modes. Within minutes of using the system, it becomes intuitive and does not require taking your eyes off the road. It is a lesson in simplicity, excellent ergonomics, and ease of use, while still offering an abundance of useful information to the rider.
I also found the handlebar and handgrip position ideal. The handlebars are very well spaced, with the angle of the handgrips as it relates to the rider (the rider’s triangle) to be a very easy and natural reach. Score another one for Victory.
The foot controls are designed so that the rider (or a service person, although relocating foot controls is a fairly simple procedure) can make adjustments to the shift and footbrake positions, moving them forward or rearward to three different positions spanning two (2) inches. The shifting and footbrake mechanisms are self-contained in a track that is above and follows the angle of the floorboards, and are held in place with an Allen head bolt. To move the controls, remove the bolt, move the foot controls along the track to the desired position, and reinsert the bolt to hold the foot control in its new location. The brake pedal was easily adjusted, but a problem was encountered when repositioning the shift mechanism, as the shift rod did not have the sufficient adjustability to set the gear change lever at the correct height off the floorboard. This required a quick return visit to Skagit Valley Polaris/Victory, where Dan replaced the shift rod with a shorter one. Adjusting the front brake and the clutch levers on the handlebars by loosening the Allen screws and rotating them to a comfortable position makes setting up this bike up for a rider’s specific requirements a generally easy proposition. The front brake lever is also adjustable with a rotating knob that sets its position from the handgrip. Other motorcycle manufacturers would do well to make note of Victory’s elegantly simple solutions to make rider controls adjustable to allow the motorcycle to better fit the rider.
The Rider’s Compartment
To say the rider’s compartment on the XCT is well engineered is an understatement; it is outstanding, and is another area where the bike really shines. While I typically do not like looking through a windshield on a motorcycle, and the XCT windshield is not adjustable, it is optically clear and without distortion with the exception of the very slightly curved outer edges, and there the distortion was minimal. It does require making a minor change to viewing angle to avoid the slightly distorted areas when looking through corners, but it was easy adjustment. The caveat here is that after a day’s riding, when the windshield got dirty (read: bugs) and while riding directly into setting sun, visibility was seriously affected.
The Victory’s “Comfort Control System,” a combination of the front fairing and wind-shield, the small adjustable clear integrated lowers on the forks, as well as the adjustable lower wind deflectors kept airflow controllable at all speeds. The integrated lowers and the large lower vents pivot open and closed, and the vents can be reached from the rider’s seat by leaning forward (or using your feet for the lower deflectors). Once you get accustomed to where the lever handles are positioned on the lower vents, you can adjust them without having to take your eyes off the road. While this may be something that would be more safely accomplished while stopped at a traffic light, some very good thinking went into designing the bike here. Adjusting the vents as I liked, airflow was there when I wanted it, and wasn’t when I didn’t.
With the generally “closed” rider environment - the front fairing and windshield, wind deflectors, hardbags and trunk, I did find that the engine and hydraulic lifter noise is more channeled up to the rider. Adjusting the audio system to a louder volume to try to mask engine noise became something of a distraction. The solution was to use a set of earplugs to block the higher frequency noise of the engine. While I could still hear the engine’s lower exhaust note, the audio system remained clearly audible, making the rider environment almost as quiet as a car with a radio on. On the XCT, (as with riding any motorcycle), using earplugs is clearly the way to go.
In addition, no matter where the lowers or the large vents were positioned, there was no wind buffeting on my helmet and head. Except for one experience riding the bike on the interstate in strong crosswinds, the wind noise behind the windshield was essentially non-existent. The excellent sounding audio system can be more fully enjoyed because it does not have to overcome wind noise around the helmet, and for all practical purposes, this eliminates the need for headphones or helmet speakers for a single rider. As previously stated, wearing earplugs does contribute to the nearly noiseless riding experience, but all things being equal, I do not think that I have ever ridden a motorcycle where wind protection was better. The one caveat here is that I am not a tall rider, so those over 5 feet 10 inches may have a slightly different experience, but for me, it was the quietest riding environment of any motorcycle I have ever ridden; compliments to Victory on this one as well.
On a weekend ride with my wife as passenger, she reported that the seat, the backrest, and the footrest position (which is adjustable) were very comfortable. She commented that she would like to see the inclusion of passenger hand holds on the sides of the seat, to allow a passenger to use their arm and shoulder strength as well as the back muscles to keep upright.
Maintenance and Cleaning
The easy accessibility to the oil filter and the Allen head drain bolt makes the prospect of changing the oil a simple procedure. Easy removal of the saddlebags on either side of the bike by rotating two retaining clips inside of each bag makes maintenance functions for the back wheel area (accessibility to the valve to check back tire air pressure, the drive belt tension and wear, and brake pad wear, etc.) an easy addition to routine clean-up. Changing the air filter requires the removal of the gas tank, which, according to the Victory Service manual, looks somewhat complicated, so as the air filter is something that only requires changing once every 10k miles, consider having the dealership change the filter when you bring it in for scheduled service that you are not likely to perform yourself.
While I found the XCT to be a truly stellar motorcycle, as with any new model there are usually a few items that can be considered for improvement. As the XCT I tested is a pre-production model, it may be the case that some of the items listed below are already being addressed by Victory. That being said, these are the areas that I thought could use some improvement, and are listed by what I considered to be their order of importance.
The Gear Indicator on the dashboard does not always read accurately. By design, there is no gear indication displayed when clutch is disengaged (the lever is pulled in), as would be the case when stopped in traffic. This is one of the more important times to know what gear the bike is in, and not having it display at stops would be one of the times when it is most convenient. Also, when letting out the clutch during downshifts, even at speeds below 40 mph, the indicator would sometimes display 6th or 5th gear before settling on the gear the bike was actually in. Finally, when pulling away from a stop, the indicator would sometimes show the wrong gear for a few moments for before indicating correctly. While admittedly starting from a stop in a gear other than first is an operator error, if the gear indicator says 1st gear, then displays 2nd, then 3rd (which actually happened) then the gear indicator system needs to be refined, because the error was partially based on a rider trusting what the display read. Victory needs to come up with a change in this system that will display the gears properly at all times. Not having a gear indicator at all puts the onus fully on the rider to know what gear the bike is in, but having an indicator that does not always read accurately or when the clutch is disengaged causes a confusing situation for the rider.
In several days of hot weather riding, with temperatures ranging from the upper 80s to the lower 90s, the bike did generate an uncomfortable amount of heat from the left side of the engine and onto my leg. When the ambient temperatures dropped to the upper 60s and low 70s the problem was less apparent, but still present. Victory may want to do some investigation to find a way to better duct the heat away from the rider on the left side of the bike.
Add a Kickstand Interlock or Warning Light
The bike is a little too easy to push off the kickstand when it is in the down position. In the case of the XCT that does not use a starter interlock switch on the kickstand, this has its advantages if you forget to put the kickstand up, because it folds up the first time it bumps the ground while moving, and keeps the rider’s mistake from potentially upsetting the bike. However, a slight drag along the ground while parking the bike may also cause the kickstand to unintentionally fold up, possibly causing the bike to fall over. I would like to see the kickstand lock slightly more forward and more securely when it is in the down position, with the addition of a kickstand interlock switch commonly used on most bikes to interrupt the starting circuit. If not a starter interlock, at least add a flashing light on the warning light panel to alert the rider when the kickstand is down.
The Cruise Control switches could be more intuitive. Operating the cruise control system was the only time where I found myself looking at the controls to find a button location. ‘On’ and ‘off’ being the far left control in the group (intuitively first) is good, but the second switch (in the center position) has the ‘resume’ control in the upper position with ‘accelerate’ below, while the third switch (positioned on the right) has ‘set’ in the upper position, and ‘decelerate’ below. This seems counter intuitive, as functions that should be paired vertically on one switch are paired horizontally on two different ones. A suggested change here would be to pair the button functions vertically as On/Off, Acc/Dec, and Set/Res, for a more logical and standard configuration.
When the Cruise Control system is engaged, the indicator lights up when the ‘On’ button is pressed and the ‘Set’ button is pushed, even though cruise control is not actually en-gaged until the set button is held for five seconds. While this is a good safety feature, having the cruise control indicator on the dashboard flash while the set button is pressed but before the cruise control function actually engages would leave no doubt as to when cruise control is actually operating. Also, reducing the required hold time for the ‘Set’ button press-and-hold period to 3 seconds would be long enough to assure that it wasn’t pressed by mistake, but short enough not to distract (counting “one thousand, two thou-sand...”) when riding.
Also, using the Accelerate and Decelerate buttons caused the throttle to react very quickly, often causing a bit of driveline lash when changing speed. This is especially true of the ‘decelerate’ button which, when pressed while riding on the interstate, made the bike react like the throttle had been snapped closed, dropping speed from 70 mph to 60 mph very abruptly, and in what seemed like a few seconds. A more gradual algorithm in the system here would make these buttons much less jarring in their use.
A relatively minor issue is that the air valve on the back tire is difficult to reach without removing a saddlebag. While the saddlebag is very easy to remove and reattach, it’s not something a rider may want to do every time they want to check the air in the tires. Changing to a right-angle valve stem on the back tire would allow easier pressure check and air fill.
The Fuel filler door opens from front to back, making it more difficult to get a fuel nozzle into the tank than it has to be. The problem is compounded by the handlebars being very close to the filler door. The door is attached to the tank by five Allen head bolts, and if the internal passageway of the tank allows the cap to be rotated, the simplest solution may be to move the fuel filler door assembly 145 degrees clockwise (or two “Allen-head bolt positions” to the right) so that it opens from back to front, which would allow much easier access when putting a fuel pump nozzle in the tank.
I would put a horn on the bike that has a little more “oomph!” The horn has a “small bike sound” and is probably not loud enough to be heard by a driver in a car with their windows up and in traffic. Not only for practicality, but also to match the “personality” of the bike, I would change the horn to one that has a sound in keeping with a full-sized touring motorcycle.
I would extend the mirror stalks ½-inch outward, and make the mirrors about 10 percent larger to get a better viewing angle behind the motorcycle, but only if doing so would not interfere with airflow around the front of the bike, which is truly excellent and should not be altered in any way
Having an opportunity to test a top-of-the-line motorcycle in the Pacific Northwest in the summer is a rare treat, and for all of the 1,700 plus miles and three weeks testing the Victory XCT, the bike exceeded my expectations. Victory has engineered a very fine motorcycle here, and in my experience, few full-sized touring motorcycles more closely approach the level of riding excellence than can be found with this bike. It is a motorcycle tour-de-force!