When Polaris bought the Indian Motorcycle brand three years ago, many wondered out loud if that would mean an end to Victory. That speculation got louder when the all-new Thunder Stroke 111 Indians hit the market in late 2013 to great critical and popular success.The 2015 lineups from Indian and Victory trade conjecture for actuality. Indian has positioned itself as a heritage brand, re-purposing names of the past and offering nostalgia wrapped around a modern design. With the Scout, there are already two different Indian motors, while all Victory motorcycles share the same Freedom 106/6 motor (though tuned differently for various applications).
Victory has slimmed down its line to nine motorcycles — five with bags and four unadorned cruisers. All share a clean and sleek modern design, free of conches, leather, and fringe; gone are the retro models.For 2015, each Victory shares a distinctive motif that will never be confused with Indian, Harley-Davidson, or any of the foreign brands. The unexpected result of Polaris purchasing Indian is that Victory has finally established its own identity — a clever sleight of hand worthy of vigorous applause.That’s not to say that every Victory is the same. Victory is also staking its claim as a brand that is audacious and daring. The High-Ball has stratosphere-scraping apes that are more extreme than any found on a mass production cruiser, and the Victory Vision full-dress tourer still sets the standard for conspicuous individuality and curvaceous composition.Joining the edgier Victory models this year is the Magnum, a brash bagger that barges onto the scene with a 21-inch front wheel, slammed chassis, a deafening stereo, and some even louder paint options— are you ready for Plasma Lime? Starting at 22 grand for the sparkling Metasheen Black Over Supersteel Gray version we tested, the Magnum comes at Victory’s flagship price.While Victory markets the Magnum rightfully under the Bagger umbrella — along with two flavors of the Cross Country—our test bike came with urban – oriented factory mini-apes rather than the touring-friendly stock pullback bars.Additionally, chrome Tri-Oval Stage 1 exhausts were fitted, which gives added growl along with EPA, CARB, and SAE J2825 blessings. With our fists defiantly in the wind, it is time to pull the trigger.Powered by the familiar Freedom 106/6 50-degree V-twin motor with its SOHC and 4vpc architecture, you have 106 ft/lbs of torque (claimed, with stock mufflers) at your disposal, which is plenty. Hitting the start button, the motor purrs to life quite civilly, and the counterbalanced motor immediately settles into an uneventful idle.With the mini-apes, the clutch lever is a bit of a challenge, at least for my 5′ 10″ frame. This involves something of a two-step process — grasp, and then pull in with a solid grip. The engagement is smooth and predictable, mitigating the awkward deployment, but your hand will cramp in heavy traffic situations if you don’t possess an ape-like grip.The six-speed transmissions in last years’ Victorys were sometimes balky, but that seems to have been fixed for 2015. Both the Gunner we tested two issues back, and the Magnum, have f lawless trannies, even though the gear position indicator still gets confused on occasion.Arcing floorboards look cool, and are functional on the Magnum. You can move your boots around quite a bit, allowing for joint relief on long rides, as well as perfect positioning around town. The reach to the shifter is a long one, and a heel shifter remains an option. The brake pedal is easily accessible and managed.I hadn’t been on the bike more than five minutes before it received its first on-street compliment. A truck-bound local city worker pulled up next to me at a stoplight, takes a long look, rolls down his window, and says to me with a broad grin, “That is nice.”Around town, the Magnum is a fairly easy ride. The motor moves the 800-pound machine around with authority, and the handling is reasonable. That 21-inch front Dunlop Elite 3 is narrow, and it has a tendency to fall into tight, low-speed turns. Watch out for dips in the road when making right turns— dragging happens.The mini-apes and fork-mounted fairing probably don’t help this, and it is something you are always aware of when underway. Fortunately, the tuck’s severity is reduced by the conservative 29 degrees of rake.Moving straight down the boulevard is, of course, pure pleasure and attitude. There’s a relatively narrow 180 rear tire lurking under the low-slung saddlebags and extended fender, so changing direction doesn’t require excessive effort.Victory talks about slamming the Magnum — and the 25.7-inch seat height is low enough for just about anyone — yet the rear wheel’s 3.5 inches of travel is not overly short, and there’s no harshness to the rising rate linkage air-adjustable single shock. The forks’ 4.4 inches of travel is complementary, and the ride is balanced.As always, the Freedom 106/6 brings some serious grunt to the table. You will never feel intimidated by opposing brands, yet the smooth motor is easy to operate. Fueling is excellent, and a hard twist of the throttle is rewarded with impressive acceleration. When you need to clear yourself from a tight spot, the Victory is ready to rip.The six-speaker stereo will announce your arrival before the Tri-Ovals do, if you’re willing to crank it up and put the 100 watts to work. If you like FM radio, the system has it, though most will want to use a custom playlist from a USB thumb drive (it hooks up in a saddlebag) or from your smart phone via Bluetooth. If blaring doesn’t get it done for you, Victory has optional bag lids with integrated speakers so you can rattle any loose fillings in the vicinity with the additional volume and bass.Let’s not forget that the Magnum is a bagger, and that means it’s ready for short trips, or long trips if you are the steely type. The mini-apes require you to adjust your riding position, but once you settle in properly, it is good for 100 miles without a stop — not bad for a profiler.The excellent flow of the fairing makes up for the urban ergonomics. Almost all of the blast is taken off your chest, so you aren’t fighting the wind all day — a big plus.At high speeds you will be a bit concerned about braking. Although you get twin discs, they are fairly small in diameter. Add in the narrow contact patch of the 21-inch tire and you will not be overwhelmed with front braking unless you use a very heavy hand. The rear is accept- able, though not close to great.Getting good braking requires the use of all three discs in unison. We like that the Magnum has ABS, so you can be aggressive, but this is a bike that needs linked braking for normal use.The bags are large, so you won’t have to skimp on those weekend getaways. There is a WX band on the stereo, so you can be apprised of any impending inclement weather. The mirrors don’t show much behind you when mounted on the handlebars, as tested.All in all, the Magnum is a tenable touring bike with the mini-apes. Riders looking forward to frequent or high-mileage trips will want to stick with the standard bend.Two-thousand fifteen will go down as a banner year for Victory. The line has been pared down smartly, and the remaining bikes have a familial familiarity that will finally establish the Victory identity. The Magnum is an important piece of that mosaic, and it doesn’t hurt that the attitude-heavy flag- ship is also an enjoyable ride.Riding Style:
This week we ride two genre-departing motorcycles from the established American manufacturers. Jess McKinley gives us his thoughts on the all new Harley-Davidson Pan America Special, and Ron Lieback gives his on Indian’s latest version of the FTR 1200 S.