You might never have heard of Polaris Industries, based in North America, but they are one of the biggest watercraft and quad makers in the market.
Now they´re making motorcycles and as you might expect, the Victory V92 is a V-twin cruiser style machine, aimed at stealing some sales away from Harley Davidson.
The Victory was launched during Spring 2000 in the UK, following an assessment of its market potential here at the 1999 International Motorcycle Show. Its styling might look a little drab to your eyes, or pleasantly restrained compared to the usual cruiser bikes, but the Victory certainly looks a well made bike for a first attempt.
’On this evidence, the motorcycle world is going to be hearing an awful lot more from Polaris’ concluded Roland Brown in Spring ’98 having cruised around Daytona on the V92C – the first machine from the ambitious American manufacturer.
Cruising around Daytona on the Victory V92C felt pretty cool, but if I’d expected to be the centre of attention on this new all-American bike I’d have been disappointed. Although a couple of Harley riders glanced across at the lights and nodded in approval, there was no excited pointing and gesturing. Most other bikers didn’t even notice that there was a new rival in their midst.
The Victory’s anonymous styling meant that it didn’t turn many heads on its Daytona debut, but if ever there was a bike that deserved to make a big impact it was this one. As the initial model from a giant company that intends to become a major producer not just of cruisers but of sportsters and tourers too, the Victory’s arguably one of the most important new bikes for years.
When production of the V92C begins in May, it won’t just mean that Polaris has jumped ahead of Excelsior-Henderson (whose Super X cruiser is due in October) to become Harley’s first serious home-based rival since Indian stopped building its V-twins back in the Fifties. It will confirm the arrival of a huge, $1 billion-turnover firm that is the world’s leading producer of snowmobiles, a major manufacturer of ATVs and watercraft and which has now turned to bikes as its next major long-term project.
When Minnesota-based Polaris decided five years ago to enter the motorcycle business, a big-inch V-twin cruiser with traditional American styling was the obvious way to go. It was inevitable that the Victory would bear some resemblance to rivals such as Kawasaki’s VN1500 and Suzuki’s Intruder, not to mention Harley’s Softails and a glance at its high bars, full fenders, stepped seat and chromed shotgun pipes show that’s how it worked out.
Within that basic cruiser format there are some neat and original touches. The engine looks clean and simple from both sides, thanks to its air/oilcooled nature and the fact that the airbox is under the fuel tank instead of to the right of the cylinders. There is no instrumentation in the tank. Instead it’s more sensibly located in the headlamp, closer to the rider’s field of vision, and incorporates a tacho plus an innovative electronic display that can not only show a clock or fuel gauge, but can also be used to adjust the level of instrument backlighting.
For all the neat detailing, it’s the V92C’s engine and chassis that are more important, and which suggest that the Polaris design team’s stated aim to ’add some performance to the cruiser mix’ has been achieved. Its powerplant is a 1507cc (or 92 cubic inch, hence the name), 50-degree V-twin that uses fuel-injection and sohc 4-valve cylinder heads to give a peak output of approximately 75bhp considerably more than most of its rivals.
Other details inside the engine, which was designed and developed in-house by Polaris, include hydraulic tappets, a counterbalance shaft to reduce vibration, a conventional wet multiplate clutch, and a torque compensator in the primary drive to soften the pulses from a motor that puts out a maximum of 85lb.ft of torque. The gearbox is a five-speeder; final drive is by belt.
There’s plenty of evidence to support the Polaris claim that their design places much more emphasis than the cruiser norm on chassis performance. The solidly mounted V-twin powerplant adds rigidity by acting as a stressed member of the tubular steel twin-downtube frame. Thick 45mm front forks, built by Marzocchi of Italy to Polaris spec, are gripped by solid-looking yokes machined from billet aluminium.
At the rear the look is traditional hard-tail, but the tubular steel cantilever swing-arm operates a single, near-horizontally mounted shock unit from American specialist Fox. Five-spoke cast 16-inch wheels wear fat Dunlop Elite tyres and hold big 300mm diameter single disks, the front rotor gripped by a four-piston Brembo caliper. By cruiser standards that’s serious stuff.
At a claimed 290kg dry the Victory is no lightweight, but much of its weight is held low. The bike felt much like any other big cruiser as its motor burst into life with a throb through the dual pipes, and I headed off for a blast on the Harley-strewn streets of Daytona. The riding position was typically relaxed, with arms reaching forward to very broad, pull-back bars and feet resting on neat boards whose blend of drilled aluminium and rubber pads is inspired by the foot pedals of Ferrari racecars of the 1950s.
The Victory’s low seat meant I could get both feet on the ground with ease, although it’s one of this pre-production bike’s two components that will be modified before production begins. The other seemed more in need of attention: the distinctly clonky five-speed gearbox, which didn’t actually miss any changes but detracted from the otherwise sophisticated feel of the powerplant.
Gearchange apart, the Polaris engine was great. As you’d expect of such a big lump it was hugely torquey. The fuel-injection gave a crisp response almost regardless of where the tiny tacho needle was pointed. Even from as low as 1500rpm the bike snapped forward with a shoulder-straining burst of acceleration, ripping through the midrange towards the redline at 6000rpm.
The Victory was ace for lazy top-gear overtaking. And it didn’t need much of a run-up to reach an indicated ton, at which point it was still gaining speed gently and probably had another 20mph in hand. By that speed some vibration had started to come through bars and seat, but the bike was impressively smooth up to about 80mph which is as fast as you’d want to go for long given the windblown riding position. (A windshield will be one of the numerous purpose-built accessories available.)
More importantly the Victory was rock solid at speed in a straight line, and went round a couple of 80mph sweeping curves with considerable poise. Florida’s flat, almost bend-free roads are hardly the best place to test handling and roadholding. But the V92C’s generally taut feel was a distinct improvement on the spongy nature of many big cruisers. Despite its long, 1608mm wheelbase and typically kicked-out steering geometry, the V92C handled well enough to suggest that it would be fun on a twisty road.
Ground clearance is generous by cruiser standards, thanks to the well tucked-in footboards whose design also allows the gearchange and rear brake to be used with feet in the normal position something that seems beyond most manufacturers. Further proof that this bike was designed by people who ride bikes other than cruisers came in its braking. The four-pot front Brembo caliper gave a generous amount of stopping power with plenty of feel, and was well backed up by the rear disc.
After riding the Victory, its brochure’s brash opening comment that ’A few years ago, we assembled a team of serious, experienced motorcycle riders and engineers, grabbed a clean sheet of paper and wrote down four words: Build a better cruiser,’ didn’t seem quite so fanciful after all. (Even if the later mention of the V92C’s ’sportbike handling’ still did.) This bike does look like being faster, more agile and better braked than the majority of its opposition, which bodes well given that its US price of $12,995 will put it midway between Harley’s big twins and the cheaper Japanese alternatives.
Of course, performance of any kind doesn’t figure highly in the buying decision of the average cruiser rider, who will be far more concerned about concepts such as style, image, feel and heritage. The Victory can’t match Harley on that score, and its finish, reliability and comfort have yet to be established. But Polaris is a well-established manufacturer that has a high technical reputation plus a lot of brand loyalty, especially in America.
The company’s size also brings other significant advantages when it comes to establishing an all-new motorcycle brand, not least an almost ready-made distribution network that incorporates hundreds of dealers across America, plus agents in 34 countries worldwide. The latter will have to wait until the year 2000, the first year that Polaris plans to export outside Canada, although some bikes are likely to be available unofficially in many countries before then.
What’s clear right now, though, is that the Victory V92C is a painstakingly developed and cleverly engineered bike that promises not only to match many of its closest rivals, but to surpass them in significant areas. Its styling might not be much to get excited about, but the Victory looks set to make a big impact when it’s released in a few months’ time. On this evidence, the motorcycle world is going to be hearing an awful lot more from Polaris.
Get Carole Nash bike insurance for the 4570.
Engine Air/oil-cooled 50-degree V-twin
Claimed power (bhp) 68hp @ 5400rpm
Compression ratio n/a
Transmission Five speed
Front tyre 140/80 x 16in Dunlop Elite 2 MT90
Rear tyre 160/80 x 16in Dunlop Elite 2 MT90
Front wheel 16 x 3in, cast alloy
Rear wheel 16 x 3.5in, cast alloy
Front suspension 45mm telescopic, 130mm travel
Rear suspension Fox monoshock, 102mm wheel travel, adjustment for preload
Front brake four-piston Brembo caliper, 300mm disc
Rear brake Twin-piston caliper, 300mm disc
Top speed 100 mph
Fuel capacity 19 litres
Current price $12,995