2013 Victory Boardwalk Motorcycle Test
One of my earliest and fondest memories is strolling the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk with my grandparents on the northern California coast. From the cacophonous wooden Giant Dipper roller coaster built in 1924 to the Looff Carousel (immortalized by Clint Eastwood in Sudden Impact) to the banks of flashing pinball machines, it was an idyllic childhood setting.
I suppose it doesn’t hurt that The Drifters’ Under The Boardwalk was a hit at the same time I was feeling the wood beneath my feet.
Someone in the Victory marketing department must have had a similar experience in his youth. The concept of the new 2013 Victory Boardwalk is so effectively realized, that it is difficult to determine if the bike’s name was derived from its function, or the machine itself was inspired by nothing more than the evocative word.
You don’t even have to climb aboard the Boardwalk to know that it is a pure beach cruiser. With ultra-wide bars and fat white-walled tires on chrome lace wheels, the Boardwalk is as suggestive of the Schwinn AeroCycle as the Harley-Davidson Seventy-Two’s appropriation of the Sting-Ray.
Victory uses a standard platform for its cruisers, and the personality – both visual and performance – of each model is determined by its ergonomics and styling. By the spec sheet, the closest relative of the Boardwalk is the High-Ball – same wheels, tires, rake, suspension, motor and exhaust – yet with different handlebars, floorboards, tank and seat, the Boardwalk is an entirely singular interpretation of the cruiser genre.
A fully relaxing ride, the wide swept-back bars (though not quite swept back enough for my 5′ 10″ frame) define the Boardwalk. You have enough leverage to feel unconcerned regarding imperfections on the road and profiling opportunities abound.
Despite the powerful Freedom 106/6 motor, there is nothing about the Boardwalk that makes you feel like you are in a hurry. You just want to kick back, enjoy the ride, and acknowledge the admiring smiles.
On a beautiful sunny afternoon, I took the Boardwalk to its natural habitat – Santa Monica. Perched on the bluffs above the Pacific Ocean, Santa Monica is a Mecca for tourists looking to shop, eat, sun, and enjoy the scenery. If the clicking of the point-and-shoot cameras pointed at me as I rode on the wood of the Santa Monica Pier were any indication, the Boardwalk is something of a tourist attraction in itself.
In white, the Boardwalk is unarguably a clean machine. Deeply valanced custom-style fenders caress the white walled Metzeler Marathon ME880 tires, and the sparkling 4.7-gallon tank gives you plenty of white to contrast with the splashes of chrome and black. If it weren’t for the DOT-mandated reflectors and warning lighting, the Pearl White version of the Boardwalk would be color-free, as is the Gloss Black version, for that matter.
In crowded urban environments, the Boardwalk has a dexterity that belies its 700-plus pound curb weight. The low seat height – under 26 inches unladen – and the wide bars are an unbeatable combination for taking it easy in traffic.
The 50-degree V-twin puts out friendly low-end power, so you won’t feel pulled around by the bike. You are in control and the Boardwalk does your bidding.
The delivery of vibration from the air- and oil-cooled overhead cam motor is more metric than traditional American, though the Boardwalk is built in Spirit Lake, Iowa. Some say po-tay-toe; others say po-tah-toe.
A downside of the wide bars in California, where lane-splitting is sacrosanct, is that it is often impossible to work your way between tightly packed cars. For those of us who take being at the front of the line at every red light as a birthright, it is a bit on the frustrating side.
In the canyons west of Santa Monica, the Boardwalk continues its leisurely ways. The wide bars discourage pushing any envelopes, while cornering clearance is decent, though not exactly generous.
The suspension feels too-tightly sprung, and you will get bounced around on less-than-smooth roads. This renders the speedometer superfluous, and there is no tachometer present or necessary. The Boardwalk is about sitting back and taking it all in.
Despite the successful use of the big Freedom motor on sportier Victorys, it is still quite willing to take it low and slow. Click it into third of six ratios and you’ll rarely find the need to shift. That magical gear works around town and allows you to pull onto the freeway without touching the clutch or shifter.
When needed, the clutch pull is reasonable and the transmission shifts smoothly, with a reassuringly positive engagement. Oddly, Victory outfits the floorboarded Boardwalk with a standard shifter, rather than a heel-toe unit. I prefer the latter when using floorboards, but Victory likes to give your feet more room to move around – a perfectly fine decision. Happily, Victory offers a heel-toe set-up as an option.
As nicely as Victory integrates form and function on the Boardwalk, there are a couple of shortcomings. The single front disc is weak and lacks feel; the same-sized rear brake works much better. However, working against choosing the back brake is the foot brake lever, which is patterned after a shift lever, rather than having a nice pad to securely press against.
The Boardwalk’s seat is hard and gets uncomfortable after an hour or so. There is also a lack of thigh support, something we’re seeing more often these days as a substitute for an ultra-low seat height. Usually that’s fine, but Victory didn’t quite get it right with this perch.
Oddly, Victory is pushing the Boardwalk as a casual weekend tourer. The overdrive transmission and motor are great for touring, so Victory has a good platform to work from. The Boardwalk has Victory’s Lock & Ride accessories that are quickly installed and removed; these include a windshield, passenger backrest and saddlebags. What’s really needed to make the Boardwalk touring-friendly is a new seat.
Personally, I would forget the touring aspect and focus on the strength of the new Boardwalk – cruising. No matter where you take the Boardwalk, you are going to turn heads, and there is an undeniable aspect of the Boardwalk that makes you want to ride helmet-free, wearing nothing more than board shorts, sandals, and a tank top. We, of course, didn’t succumb to the temptation, but it is there.
Hop on the 2013 Victory Boardwalk, ride it for an hour or so between your favorite haunts, and revel in the fact that it is simply a great cruiser that embodies the hang loose beach lifestyle.
Photography by Don Williams