March 25, 2010 5:07 pm

Victory’s Vision is excess on wheels

 

“This is a Marmite bike,” says Victory dealer Mark Spies. “People either really love it or they really hate it.”

But this is no breakfast spread made of brewery waste products. The leftovers that constitute this motorcycle are the sprawling dreams of automotive excess, from the days before vehicles became embarrassed about their very existence.

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With looks that are a cross between a 1950s Cadillac, Judge Dredd’s bike and a high-intensity sound-and-light show, this is certainly a hard bike to ignore – not least because it is huge.

Weaving through traffic on it is like lane splitting in a large car – and scarcely any stealthier. Not only is the Vision big, but it also has more lights than Blackpool and Coney Island combined. Better colours, too.

What is more surprising is that Victory Motorcycles, the Minnesota-based manufacturer of the Vision, is a relative newcomer to bike making. An offshoot of Polaris, a long-established manufacturer of snowmobiles and small all-terrain vehicles, Victory sold its first motorcycle in 1998. The plan was to out-Harley the top-selling market leader, Harley-Davidson, with a range of bigger, more extrovert machines – but very much in the company’s mould of long, large bikes with large-capacity V-twin engines.

This is not just slavish copying, though. As the Japanese manufacturers found, the expectation of the target market in the US is that bikes have two wheels, a lot of chrome, a certain heft and a big V-twin motor – just as car drivers expect their next purchase to have four wheels.

The target market is mainly buyers who can count this machine as an automotive toy to take out only when they feel like it; perhaps on a small number of big touring trips a year. So, while it is a lifestyle accessory, it also has to be able to cover distances. Which means it must have some weather-deflecting ability. And if the optional heated handlebar grips and seats are fitted, they must work well enough beyond the first chill.

But none of this diminishes the primary function of the Vision: to soak up attention. From the woman in a Vauxhall car who professed undying love – for the motorcycle, at least – to the chap on an ageing bike who followed me for miles, the Vision tends to vacuum up attention more efficiently than any Italian supercar.

It is a motorcycle whose designers were unable to lift their pencils after sketching already long, sweeping lines. The result is a bike that both shows off and disguises its bulk.

In city traffic, it is almost a liability. People walk into each other on the pavement to look at it, but it is not going anywhere faster than the cars. The road obstacles that have sprouted in London make it hard to thread through traffic on anything wider than a bicycle. The Victory feels almost four times as wide, and about a dozen times less manoeuvrable. Sitting squarely behind the car in front is the only option.

But the built-in sound system helped keep me entertained, even though it subjected everyone nearby to my taste in music.

My partner, when installed on the back seat, commented: “This is like a mobile dining room.” Given that we keep a couple of our motorcycles in the dining room, this was apposite. It was probably more comfortable than our dining room, she added, except that the seat gave little grip when using the powerful brakes.

On another occasion, my daughter Cicely, sitting in regal splendour on the pillion throne, pointed out I was rather tense while riding the Vision in town. And the manager of a motorcycle shop we parked outside was aghast that it had no reverse gear.

“I thought you were having trouble pushing it backwards into that bike bay,” he said.

As the ABS version weighs a truck-like 395kg even before filling the vast, six-gallon, 300-mile fuel tank, some degree of forward thinking is required – like not nosing into a kerb. It may be easier if you weigh more than 100kg and are 6’ 6” tall. For ordinary folk, technique is more important than size – and I could not get the technique down well enough to be comfortable, despite the low, 26.5-inch seat height.

I am sure if you do enough miles on the bike, the weight will cease to be so important. But if you just keep it in the garage for sunny weekends and long trips, it will be a fresh learning curve each time you climb aboard. And then you may find, as I did, that all the attention has trouble compensating for the traffic-cursed bits at each end.

This is a shame, as on the highway the bulk of the Vision disappears. Wide bars make it easy to steer, and the fairing does indeed deflect the worst of the weather. Cruising at legal speeds, propelled by the 1,731cc motor, is effortless. And it is all very civilised, with plush suspension and little apparent vibration from the motor, as should be the case for a bike with a purchase price starting in the UK at £17,495 ($26,500) before adding in the £1,000 electric reverse.

Even Harley has struggled in the financial crisis, laying off workers, shutting its Buell sports- and touring-bike subsidiary and putting the recently bought Italian sports-bike manufacturer MV Agusta up for sale again. But Harley has also upped its game and made its bikes smoother and easier to ride.

They cannot, however, compare with Victory’s bike for sheer visual impact. And neither can the closest Japanese offering, the rather civilised, American-built Honda Gold Wing.

The Victory also has the extra cachet of rarity. If that is important, and if your riding consists mostly of long stretches of open road, and if you welcome the stares of awestruck onlookers, then you are squarely in the Vision’s sights.

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