2014 Triumph Thunderbird Commander and LT Ride Review

wild ones

by: Scott Cochran
photos by: Alessio Barbanti, Paul Barshon, Tom Riles & Freddie Kirn

March 6, 2014: Maybe I was surprised because Southern California wasn’t on my motorcycle riding radar. Yet here I am, just north of downtown San Diego on Highland Valley Road, tearing past orange groves and palm tree farms, grinding the floorboards on this 2014 Triumph Thunderbird Commander less than 15 minutes from urban lunacy.

This past February, while the rest of the country was caught up in the grip of the latest “polar vortex” yours truly joined a select group of moto-journalists for Triumph’s world press launch in balmy Southern California.

It was hard not to feel sorry for the rest of my motorcycle riding buddies on the East Coast.

We’d seen images of the new Thunderbird Commander and Thunderbird LT when the bikes were unveiled at EICMA in Italy in November and were anxious to throw a leg over each to see how the “on paper” improvements affected the real world riding experience.

Now those statistics were becoming real to me as I wound through the Anza-Borrego Desert and up and over Palomar Mountain, pausing to take in the view of Salton Sea, the largest lake in California.

Sitting in the pre-ride briefing, waiting on the presentation to start, I find myself pondering the history of this legacy marque.

both bikes

It’s easy for the American “biker” to overlook this brand, especially the segment that leans towards Milwaukee iron.

Part of the reason is Triumph abandoned the “lifestyle” buyer years ago and (for better or worse) concentrated its efforts on the “performance” market.

Blame it on economics, or stubborn British management, but either way the brand that “invented biker attitude” with Marlon Brando in the movie The Wild Ones has been relegated to the sidelines while others cashed in on the hard core biker lifestyle as it grew into the largest percentage of North American motorcycle sales.

Upstarts like Victory Motorcycles and newly revived Indian have made some headway in courting the Harley rider, Triumph hasn’t had much success in infiltrating that segment.

So in 2010, when Triumph tapped Harley-Davidson and Buell veteran, Greg Heichelbech, as its North American CEO, observers expected the day would come when the Brits would shift the styling of their cruisers to resemble the “lifestyle” market that exists in America today.

That day has arrived.

 

T_Symbol_Standard_BlackOnWhiteMany people forget that In World War I, Triumph produced more than 30,000 motorycles for the Allies, the majority of those being the Model H, also known as Type H, or the “Trusty Triumph.”  Powered by a 499cc air cooled single cylinder, It was the first Triumph which did not have pedals making it a “true” motorcycle.  It is also considered by many to be the first “modern” motorcycle.  

Standing in front of a room full of American motorcycle journalists, Simon Warburton, product manager for Triumph set the tone when he said, “We believe we have a credible alternative to Harley-Davidson.”

Greg Heichelbech CEO of Triumph America followed that up when he stood up and the first words out of his mouth was “Triumph’s Back! And we’re getting back to our roots and the things we did in the 50′s, 50′s and 70′s.”

Heichelbech went on to explain, “The Thunderbird was the bike that put Triumph on the map and helped us become the number one import brand in the 50′s and 60′s” (when “biker” became synonymous with the bad boy image)

But a lot has changed since the 1960′s, besides the size of the engine. The early Tbirds boasted a class leading 650 cc motor and a seat that, while comfortable for its time, would be considered torture today. And we won’t even talk about drum vs disc brakes. Yes a lot has changed and it’s not lost on the Brits as Warburton confided later. “We’re not trying to be Harley-Davidson, but we think this bike will appeal to those riders who want performance, laid back styling and aggressive handling.”

After a couple of hours saddle time on both bikes, I can safely say the engineers in Hinckley hit their bulls-eye.

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Rather than replace the previous iterations, the 2014 Commander and LT are new additions to the T-Bird family and are fitted with the upgraded power plant making these the largest parallel-twin (1699 cc/103 cu in) in the world, producing 93 horses and 146 fp of torque, enough to satisfy even the most aggressive of riders.

Momentum isn’t just for sports teams, and as Sir Issac taught us; The momentum of a moving object increases with its mass and its speed. The heavier the object and the faster it is moving, the greater its momentum and the harder it is to stop. Both models are heavy cruisers, but with the LT (which stands for “light tourer” weighing in just south of 750 lbs, add a couple riders and gear and you’ve got close to a half a ton of accelerated momentum. Both models come from the factory with ABS standard equipment. The front brakes are twin floating 310mm disc brakes with 4 piston calipers and the rear brakes are single 310mm disc with Brembo 2 piston floating calipers.

Thankfully, the ABS on the Commander model I rode performed flawlessly. Since this was a worldwide launch, the Triumph representative leading the group had been on this same route 10 or 12 times in the last two weeks. He knew it like the back of his hand. Ahead of me was Bruce Steever from MCN who has the chops to hang with most anyone on the track and is local and has ridden the area numerous times. Behind me is Mike Vaughn, former CEO of Triumph, also a sport bike guy and who lives (literally) on the route we were riding.

While I’m not the fastest on track days, (hell, who am I kidding…I don’t try to ride on the track!) this was not the best place to be as a flat land touring guru, trying desperately not to be the “slow guy.”

So the inevitable was bound to happen. I came in way too fast and overcooked some of the more tortuous turns on the Mesa Grande highway near Lake Henshaw and grabbed a little too much brake lever.
On any other non ABS model, the result would’ve been ugly. Lowside get off at best, high side flip over at worst. But thankfully the only drama was a few chirps from the tires as the modulators kicked in and I was able to slow enough to lean over and stay in my lane without laying the bike completely down.
Here’s as good a point as any to mention the lean angle of both bikes. With a seat height of just 27.5 inches, both the LT and Commander are low slung and easy to maneuver at low speeds and parking lot dances. However, that becomes disadvantageous out on the twisties as the floorboards touch down way too early.

T_Symbol_Standard_BlackOnWhiteMarlon Brando rode a 1950 Thunderbird 6T in the movie The Wild Ones and in 1955 Ford licensed the Thunderbird name from Triumph for a new luxury car eventualy producing 4.4 million units, which ended in 2005.

 

However, the slide rule society at Triumph knew this would be an issue so they mounted wear plates under the boards which absorb the road rash instead of damaging the more expensive chrome and painted parts. Still it’s a bit disconcerting the first few times they scrub and downright sphincter tightening when you’re fully leaned over, heading into the oncoming lane and having to choose whether to stand up and apply the brakes or keep leaning and hoping that you don’t bounce into oncoming traffic.

My takeaway from that is this; know your limitations and those of your bike. Luckily I didn’t trash the Commander or lose any skin, and I didn’t make the same mistake the next day on the LT.

SUSPENSION

Simon Warburton made a point to stress that besides providing smooth acceleration and braking, Triumph engineers were keen on improving the comfort and handling of these new Thunderbird’s. With an all new frame and swing-arm, designers included the engine as a stressed member, which reduces the flex in the chassis and gives it a more stable footprint.commander and details

While the rake and trail are slightly different on the two models, the handling characteristics are essentially the same. Although almost every journalist I spoke to agreed that the Commander is the “sportier” of the two. Chalk some of that up to the extra weight *(saddlebags, seat, luggage rack, wheels) and that big piece of Plexiglas out front on the LT and the rest to the slight difference is in how the new shocks affects the bikes.

Out on the rear, Triumph installed a pair of adjustable dual rate spring loaded shocks. Designed to offer a cushy ride on long trips, the 4.1 inches of travel easily soaked up the occasional broken asphalt potholes and all too often irregular bumps on our two lane travel through the So Cal desert. In the mountain twisties, I did find myself wishing for a slightly stouter setup. Thankfully there is a five position preload manual adjustment on each shock when you need a little something stiffer.

tshirt

The handlebars on the Commander provide for a more “forward” lean than on the LT. This works perfect without a windscreen. I dislike cruisers which place the rider in a more upright position and forces them to “hang on” to the grips when going sans windscreen. Very uncomfortable and dangerous.

On the Commander, that little tweak to the position of the bars made all the difference in comfort and stability from other “naked” cruisers.

SEAT OF THE PANTS

Then there is the seat. It’s usually the first thing we all want to change out when we buy a stock bike from the showroom floor. To paraphrase a famous politician (and take it entirely out of context,) when thinking of the seat on these new T-Birds “The butt stops here.” Ok, I hear the collective groan from the peanut gallery but I needed something witty to highlight how impressive this new seat is.

Consider that Triumph designers created a seat with three layers of different foam densities and a lumbar support (almost 4 inches total) and kept the seat height under 28 inches, I’d wager the seat isn’t going to be the first thing you’ll want to change. Granted, we only rode for a little more than an hour on our longest stretch in the saddle, so maybe I shouldn’t be bragging on the comfort just yet. However, by the time you read this we will have an LT in the office garage and will have spent 6 or 7 hours straight in the saddle. I’ll let you know if it performs as good as it looks.T_LT_details016

Both the Commander and the LT are available in two tone color schemes. The LT’s Caspian Blue/Crystal White paint is the best looking (in my humble opinion) and it also comes in Lava Red/Phantom Black. (Retail $16,999) The Commander comes in Crimson Sunset Red/Lava Red and Phantom Black/ Storm Grey. (Retail $15,699)

We’ll have a long term test on the LT in the next few months.

Triumph purists may decry the new direction the company has taken with these T-Birds, but they shouldn’t.

The brand isn’t abandoning its performance heritage, the Brits have simply created two cruiser models under $17k with modern performance yet comfortable and classic styling,

If anything, Triumph fans should be cheering. The Wild Ones are back!

(more static and detail photos in the photo gallery after the obligatory group picture.

That's the Salton Sea in the background.

That’s the Salton Sea in the background.

 

Suzuki GW 250; Great Beginner Bike

by: Walt Lumpkin

The Suzuki GW 250 is a ideal beginner bike or "refresher" for the returning motorcycle rider

The Suzuki GW 250 is a ideal beginner bike or “refresher” for the returning motorcycle rider

The newest bike in the Suzuki line is the GW 250 and it gives them a low cost niche in the starter motorcycle lineup. This lightweight bike is 248cc’s of two wheel fun directed primarily toward the first time rider. With an MSRP of $3999 it is affordable for most wallets and is a good choice for those who have no interest in purchasing a used bike and dealing with the pitfalls that usually come with such a purchase while perfecting the intricacies of learning to ride on two wheels.

The GW250 boasts a side by side liquid cooled twin cylinder engine delivering enough horsepower to the ground to satisfy most beginners. While twenty four horses may not seem to be adequate to those of us who have been riding for years  think back to the first time you straddled a  large displacement bike.  Now think about how daunting it’s power and weight can be to a novice rider.

This bike is not intended to be an long touring interstate highway cruiser but is plenty of motorcycle for those who need practice and transportation on surface streets and rural highways with double nickel speed limits. During our media test rides speeds of eighty plus miles per hour were obtained on I-4. Although the bike is not really in its element at those speeds it is good to know you have the capability if needed.

The GW250 seat height of just over thirty inches and narrow seat makes it ideal for the new female rider and male riders that are vertically challenged. The ability to place both feet flat on the pavement when stopped is one thing that builds confidence in new riders. The stylish GW250 also makes for a great bike for the college set that just needs affordable and fuel efficient transportation around campus. It is easier to park too.

Highway speed is easily accessible via the smooth shifting six speed constant mesh transmission and the hybrid ergonomic seating makes the ride comfortable for most riders. The positioning is somewhere between sport bike and normal mid controls. The seat and suspension is fairly comfortable even for a six foot two hundred thirty pound guy like me. Overall Suzuki engineers have hit the middle ground by focusing on the best of sport bike and cruiser ergonomics.

The chain driven GW250 weighs in at a very light four hundred and three pounds. It is equipped with front and rear discs brakes that are more than adequate to stop this lightweight chain driven looker. The dash contains both analog and digital gauges along with flashy indicator lights. The electric starter brings the 250 to life with an effortless press of the starter button.

The GW250 gives Suzuki an entry level bike that should appeal to a wide range of consumers and the twelve month unlimited warranty should give buyers the confidence in Suzuki to take care of their new offering to the US market.

What do you think?  Take the survey after the photographs

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Suzuki C90T BOSS Review

As I twist the throttle and lean into the curve, the brisk October wind slings a basketful of brightly colored Autumn leaves across the highway ahead of me. Colors so vibrant my nose sniffs the air searching for what my brain insists should be a host of complimentary fragrances.
With the speedometer reading 85 mph, I should be concentrating on the highway but instead I’m wishing I’d had the foresight to have a photographer stationed to catch that moment. In my mind I’m daydreaming about the missed photo.
This all black Suzuki surrounded by a swirling riot of orange, red and yellow. Such a photo would be shared by thousands on social media sites and bestowed with awards and honors. I would, by association, become an instant celebrity.
But, without a photographer, the only accolades occur in my imagination. But, at least I’m riding, so it’s still a good day at work.  Today is one of those days when the job is so enjoyable it shouldn’t be considered work.

More After the Video

I’m tearing down a sparsely traveled two lane country road on a 2013 Suzuki Boulevard C 90 T BOSS. The T designates the “touring” and the BOSS stands for “Blacked Out Suzuki Special.” A few hours earlier as I was picking up the bike from Statesboro Suzuki/Polaris, owner Mike Wallace told me he’d had the opportunity to put a few hundred miles on a BOSS earlier in the year and was confident I’d enjoy my time on this bike.
The C90T BOSS is new for ‘13 and (since the C109RT has been discontinued) is Suzuki’s largest “Boulevard” cruiser.
And it’s black. Not just the paint, but just about everywhere. From the paint, to the matte black forks, wheels, exhaust, frame and suspension. Pretty much everything they could black out, they did, leaving just enough chrome for contrast.
Other manufacturers have “blacked out” models but none do it any better than the BOSS. Our measure of how good a bike looks is by how much attention it receives when we ride it. The BOSS received a number of thumbs up, and more than a few head turns at stop lights and more than its fair share of female admirers. Of course, some of that attention could have been for the operator and not the bike.
The squat aggressive stance on the C90T is achieved by a 65.9 inch wheelbase (100 inches overall) and a 28.3 inch seat height. It’s a beefy bike, weighing in at 800 lbs, but drop the hydraulically assisted clutch too fast in first gear and you’ll find the 1,462 cc power-plant has enough oomph to lift the front wheel off the ground high enough for you to pucker up the seat.

 

TORQUE
Twist the throttle and the BOSS shows it’s sportbike DNA. Sharing the same throttle bodies as the Suzuki Gixxers, the engine pulls away so strong you might forget you’re on a cruiser, if not for the seat position.
In our tests (closed course professional rider) we hit the rev limiter at 80 in first gear, 95 in second and over the triple digit mark in third. We maxxed out at 107 mph.
But here’s where we have to bring up the biggest knock on the BOSS. The brakes are squishy. With a single disc in the front and rear, this bike begs for better brakes, ABS or at least as good as those on discontinued C109 which sported linked 2 piston front and three piston rear.
Although The BOSS has all the trappings of a serious tourer, including a large windscreen, in reality the bike isn’t one I’d choose for the coast to coast epic rides. For one, there’s no cruise control or heated grips and the hard plastic saddle bags are too small for anything farther than an overnight jaunt. To increase the baggage capacity you’ll spend $800 for the add on pillion backrest and luggage rack, and then you can add a Kuryakyn tour pack.

Comfort

Suzuki gets high marks in the comfort department. The seat and pegs set the rider in a natural and comfortable position for long haul days. Suzuki says they designed the seat to allow the rider to shift positions as necessary to eliminate pressure points on long trips. During our longest ride of 5 hours, we found the truth in that. The roomy floorboards also gave us plenty of room to reduce fatigue and adjust our feet for comfort. However, we were not a big fan of the heel/toe shifter, but that’s not a knock on the BOSS, we don’t care for them on any bike we ride.
Our passenger gave rave reviews for the pillion seat comfort as well, although she wasn’t too happy about the passenger pegs. As a female with a short inseam, she found it difficult to swing a leg over the bike to mount due to the width of the bike, and had to resort to placing her left foot on the peg and swinging her right leg over the back of the bike. Adding a backrest would make this maneuver all but impossible, forcing the passenger to mount up before the operator.
Kudos to Suzuki for their LCD gear display which shows the operator which gear the bike is in, even if the clutch is pulled in. Harley and Victory both should copy this bit of engineering as theirs only shows when the clutch is out, rendering it useless at stop signs and red lights, exactly the places where it would be the most useful.
The position of the analog speedometer could be improved as it’s located on the tank, far enough down so there’s no way to see it while wearing a full face helmet without taking your eyes off the road. Since most cruiser riders don’t wear full face helmets, we can certainly understand why Suzuki considers this a minor annoyance.

Overall
We wound up spending a week on the BOSS and putting close to 500 miles during our test. We found it to be a good looking, dependable, and powerful touring cruiser for that long day trip or weekend jaunt. Throw on the optional pillion backrest and luggage rack, score a bag from Kuryakyn, and you’ll have a decent mid-level touring bike for slightly longer cruises. Priced at $13,999, the BOSS is a great bike for a spouse who’s significant other has a big touring bike to carry the gear or the person who wants to ride 3 or 4 hours at a time and who mostly logs overnight or weekend trips.
But, I’m not thinking about any of that right now. I’m tearing up the back roads around South Georgia and hunting the perfect spot for a photograph.

bossboss2boss3boss4

Base Layer Garments For Motorcyclists

tcsb103_1When the weather turns scorching hot, or blistering cold, most of us turn to the fitness market for something to wear under our riding clothes. Wearing compression shirts for their superior wicking effect is a good way to keep cool in the summer and the thermal base layer is also good at keeping you warm in the winter. However, non-specific compression gear is designed to be worn during exercise, not as all day wear. Enter a new American company, Twisted Core.  Twisted Core manufactures base layer riding gear with targeted gradient compression which delivers a controlled amount of pressure greatest at the forearm, improving circulation, increasing performance and lowering
fatigue.  The company says their products are made with a blend of cutting edge fabrics that won’t burn or melt when exposed to intense heat or abrasion, as in a sudden “get off.”    Additionally, the fabric contains anti-microbial and UV resistant properties to keep you protected, dry and not as smelly as you might be in the summer.

One of the simple tweaks to the shirts that make a big difference is the larger cut in the shoulders and upper back as well as the extended shirt tail.  And, we all know keeping a shirt tucked in during the winter months is priority one!

A set of these would make a great Christmas gift for that motorcyclist who has everything but proper riding gear!

We’re testing the winter pants, shirt and summer short base layer and will have a review in the December issue of USRiderNews.

In the meantime, you can view the video we took at AIM Expo in Orlando Florida this October with company founder Bob Lampert.

Video Post by USRiderNews.

2012 Harley-Davidson Switch Back

IMG_8502 Passing through the rust belt near Allentown Pa, I can see the black wall of angry storm clouds racing towards me from the southwest. It seems “thunderstorms and test bikes” are my constant theme in 2012.

First it was tropical storm Earl and the Victory Cross County Tour, then it was an unnamed but equally drenching early summer downpour on the Triumph Explorer, and now this dark ominous mass of 50 mph crosswinds, thunder, lightning and buckets of rain.

I’d left Bergen County Harley-Davidson in Rochelle NJ a couple hours earlier on a 2012 Harley-Davidson Switchback, with flight delays and a last minute rear tire replacement having shredded my carefully planned schedule. The storm was so close now I could actually smell the rain. For once, I had prepared for this inevitability by starting the ride with my textile jacket, Darien overpants from Aerostitch and full face flip helmet from Nolan.

Just as I’d made the decision to soldier on through the approaching wall of water, a mental flashback of a 3 minute sphincter tightening ride over the Potomac River during one of the aforementioned test rides jarred me to my senses and I ducked off I-78 in Breinigsville, Pennsylvania, coincidentally on the same exit where Sam Adams has a satellite brewery. Sadly it wasn’t offering tours, because I would have as soon spent the next hour and a half sampling Boston’s finest home-brews than leaning on an ATM machine in the local BP convenience store while I charged my cell phone (the only unused plug in the store) and searched weather.com to plan my next move.

I knew I’d made the right decision to wait out the storm as soon as I’d finished filling up the Switchback. Even before the full force of the rain arrived, the wind started whipping and twisting the street signs violently to and fro. I’d planned to hang out under the awning, but then the lightning started popping so close that the hair on my arm stood up and screamed at me, GET INSIDE YOU IDIOT!” As I waited for Mother Nature to exhaust her fury on the inhabitants of this Pennsylvania hamlet, I ran down a mental checklist of what I’d learned about the Switchback over the last couple hours ride.

New for Harley-Davidson in 2012, and designed for the rider who wants a “convertible” bike the Switchback can easily and quickly go from mid range tourer to sexy boulevard cruiser (ditching the “road sofa” stigma as well) in under 2 minutes. Thumb a few levers and the backrest is off. Open the hard saddlebags, turn a beefy plastic dial, and pull to the rear and the bags are off. The windshield is even easier. Pull the retaining clip from each side, grab it from the front and pull up and out, and it’s off. (This is basically the same windshield configuration that’s been used since the first generation Road King.)IMG_8984IMG_8517 You’ll spend more time storing the components, than removing them.

As easy as they are to remove, I wondered more than once over the course of the 30 day test ride, why HD didn’t incorporate some type of simple locking system to deter thieves but, more on that later.

The Switchback is built on the Dyna frame, and features the Motor Company’s 103 v-twin powerplant and six speed transmission. Power is delivered to the 5 spoke cast rear wheel via a belt drive from the air-cooled fuel injected 103 inch v-twin engine. Spent gases are evacuated through the two-into one chrome exhaust on the right side of the bike.

Speaking of chrome, the primary drive cover on the left side of the bike stands out, and not in a good way, as it’s one of the few parts not chromed from the factory. It would look better with flat black denim paint than polished aluminum, but most owners will probably opt for a chrome upgrade from the dealer. The seat is firm and pretty standard as factory seats come. I would eventually log over 9,000 miles on this test ride, with 3000 of those being two up and I learned the seat isn’t adequate for long distance riding. To be fair, the manufacturer never intended the Switchback be used as a serious touring bike. It’s more for weekend tours and short overnight hops.

Of course, I’m stubborn and prone to want to do things I’m not supposed to do, which gets me in trouble often. Watching the weather radar on my Android, it became obvious I wasn’t going any farther this night. I’d hoped to make Gettysburg and take in the haunted battlefield tours but sadly the ghosts would have to wait for another trip. But, not all was lost as it gave me time the next day to stop in Hershey PA for a few photos and still tour Gettysburg and even spend an hour or so farther south in Antietam Maryland, the site of the bloodiest one day battle in the history of American warfare. (yes, even bloodier than D-Day in WWII because EVERY soldier killed was an American.)

Check another line on my bucket list.

Leaving Antietam I headed south to pick up the Blue Ridge Parkway in Waynesboro Virginia. It’s at this juncture where the Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge Parkway connect. The Parkway heads south and Skyline Drive heads north. I would ride the Skyline on the return trip.IMG_8988

The Parkway would be the first test of the Switchback’s cornering manners. I’d read other reviewers who said the Switchback didn’t have the clearance of the Road King or Electraglide, and on paper they might be right, but it’s a non-issue because try as I might, I was only able to scrub the floorboards a couple of times.

A few weeks later, riding two along the twisty black ribbons in the Black Hills, I did grind a few more times, but I still disagree with the other reviewers. Despite having less suspension than its big brothers, the Switchback has more than adequate cornering clearance.

Fast forward two weeks, and it’s me and my bride on the Switchback heading to Sturgis. This is all interstate riding. The saddlebags are stuffed full, with a big Kuryakyn bag strapped on the luggage rack. Storage capacity has been sacrificed at the altar of style, as the saddlebags have less capacity than its big brothers. The bags latching system is a bit buggy and will require careful attention to properly secure before riding, as I discovered when I thought I’d latched the bag, only to have it pop open at highway speed. That and the backrest rattles when you’re riding solo (without a bag) so you’ll probably want to take it off for short hops around town.

We leave late (after 5:30pm) and we’re busting our hump to make it as far as we can before stopping for the night. After a couple hundred miles, I notice the rear suspension needs adjusting. We’re hitting bottom at every change in road elevation. With 3.8 inches of travel in the front and 2.1 inches in the rear, suspension setup on the Switchback is adequate but slightly less comfy than HD’s tourers. (The Road King has almost an inch more on both the front and rear.)

IMG_8984The next day we stopped at Four Rivers Harley-Davidson in Paducah Kentucky and despite the service department being busier than a one arm piano player, Robert , one of the service techs took a few minutes with a hook spanner to dial up the setting on each shock a couple of notches.

The retro looking chrome cigar rear shocks are easy to adjust as long as you have the proper tool. Harley claims the nitrogen charged, 5 setting pre-load emulsion shocks perform better than traditional coil over shocks and compliment the redesigned front end suspension.

Compared against the other Dyna models, I’d have to agree with them. Out front, both front 41mm fork tubes use the triple rate springs, but the left features a cartridge assembly instead of a dampening rod which gave HD engineers a way to upgrade the front suspension without the increased weight of dual cartridges.

Thanks to the quick service this stop didn’t eat into our schedule and we were back on the road heading towards the great plains. The difference in ride was immediately noticeable for both me and my passenger. Having stiffer rear shocks lessened the overall comfort for her, but it made the bike less prone to hitting bottom at the overpasses. It was an acceptable trade-off for safety sake.

For us, Sturgis is roughly 1500 miles from home. We factor in two and a half days to make the trip. We soon developed a pattern of stopping every 150 miles for fuel. With a 4.7 gallon fuel tank, and averaging between 30 and 35 mpg, the low fuel light consistently appeared at 120-130 miles, giving us another 30-50 miles before we’d be walking.

Iron Butt riders may be laughing up their sleeves at our candy-arses, but the stock seat and stiff suspension had us both ready for a short 15 minute break every couple of hours. Combine that with the 98 degree temperatures we encountered from St. Louis all the way through Sioux Falls SD, and the frequent breaks were necessary to stave off heat exhaustion.

Speaking of fuel, a frequent complaint in the HD forums is the fuel gauge HD uses in the Dyna’s and Softail models. Located in the left side faux fuel cap, the gauge is almost impossible to read unless you lean up and sight directly over it. A simple (but probably not cheap) solution for HD would be to flip the gauge so the arch is an inverted U. I doubt that will happen as electronics has all but replaced mechanical gaugesIMG_8982.

On the Switchback the mechanical fuel gauge is actually unnecessary as HD’s engineers included an electronic information / diagnostic module built into the big round speedo on the tank. This electronic gauge can be cycled through current time, current gear and RPM, two different trip odometers, overall odometer, and estimated miles remaining of fuel at current rate of consumption. It’s large numbers easy to read for this 50 year old without reading glasses.

One of the big concerns I’d had when planning this trip was excessive engine heat. It’s no secret that the Twin Cam engine has gotten its fair share of negative press about the heat coming from the rear cylinder. Thankfully, HD didn’t incorporate its Rear Cylinder Cutout function used in other models to this one, as I never liked it on the other models I tested. In the little bit of stop and go riding I did during this test, I never felt the rear cylinder heat was an issue, although it was noticeable (and uncomfortable) during a mile or so duck walk wait to pass through the “Needle” on the Needles Highway in Sturgis, but I’m sure any air cooled V-Twin would have had the same issue.

Up front the headlamp assembly is all new. At first glance you might be mistaken to think that such a large lamp would affect the Switchback’s center of gravity. You’d be mistaken. Milwaukee’s designers went with an all aluminum chrome plated nacelle style housing, instead of heavier steel and it works. The low speed handling of the SB proved flawless with no drag from the headlamp.

The light itself, however, could use a bit of improvement. I don’t know if my test mule just wasn’t adjusted right, but the dim setting was as bright (at night) as the high-beams. In fact the way the high beams “split” the road, I was more comfortable using the low beams at night.

Switches on the SB use the new CAN, (controller area network) hardware upgrade. CAN reduces the complexity of the wiring harness and provides improved support for real time data transfer for critical applications such as the ABS. On the left handlebar are the trip, horn, lights and left turn signals. On the right are the flasher activation, engine kill switch, start button and right turn signal. There’s no radio or cruise control to complicate the switches. In lieu of an electronic cruise control, I’m happy to report the standard Harley throttle lock (one of my favorite features) remains located under the right switch housing, where its easily engaged with the right thumb.

A nice feature that isn’t obvious is the addition of ABS, standard on all Dynas for 2012. It’s a simple but effective system utilizing a single 300mm rotor/4-piston front caliper combo, and a 292mm rotor with IMG_8988single 2-piston caliper for the rear. I had the unfortunate opportunity to test it’s ability when a cellphone to ear driver, passing me on the left, suddenly swerved and occupied my lane on the interstate near Council Bluff Iowa. Without time to think, I grabbed a handful of front and a full foot of the rear and gave it all I had, hoping for enough inches to save our arse.  The front end dived a little, and I felt the ABS kick in and pulse for what seemed like a full minute, but could only have been a second or two. I still don’t know how we missed her but we did. Without the ABS, that panic stop would have locked up the rear, and more than likely caused me to go down at 80mph on a busy interstate. You can picture the rest.

The remainder of the trip proved uneventful but extremely enjoyable. In every other way the SB proved a capable steed with enough power at highway speed to blow by big rigs when desired and a low center of gravity that kept me from feeling overbalanced at stop signs with a passenger and fully loaded.

At $15,999 the Switchback is an affordable entry level sporty cruiser tour package which should appeal to the “boomerang” re entry motorcycle owner looking for an alternative to jumping out on a bigger (and heavier) Road King, Street Glide or Electraglide. It’s also an obvious choice for the svelte female rider who wants to tour with her husband but also doesn’t want the heavier full dressers. The aging baby boomers (whom I fit into) might also decide this is the bike that fits their mid-tourer aspirations.

One thing is for sure, the Switchback, while built for short hops and long weekend tours, isn’t afraid of the “epic” rides. After 9000 miles in 30 days, I can attest to it’s adaptability and dependability on any adventure, however long you want it.

Gods of Mischief Book Review

gods of mischief“Big George Rowe was surprised when his fiancee’ called him a snitch. What she actually called him was a MotherFu#$ing snitch.” But, she was right. Rowe was a snitch, a self made one.

Rowe’s fiancee’ became suspicious of his frequent late night meetings with “Uncle John” but never considered he was a snitch. Privately she thought he might be gay, which in her mind was preferable to being   snitch.

“The man she knew as a hard riding, hard drinking member of the Vagos MC, the man she had agreed to marry, the man who had saved her life and was the father of her unborn child had been lying to her for the  last 3 years and was secretly leading the life of an undercover Federal informant.” “Now he had 15 minutes to convince her to join him in the Federal Witness Protection program, or be killed by those he had  betrayed, along with their unborn child. He knew she wouldn’t take the news and this decision very well, but he never expected this.”

Gods of Mischief is a gripping true story about Big George Rowe, a reformed crystal meth addict and dealer, a bare knuckle brawler and convicted felon who seeks to satisfy his need for redemption by attempting to destroy the Vagos MC from the inside out. George becomes a full-patch member of the Hemut California Chapter and along the way falls in love with a struggling drug addict 20 years his junior, helping her with her addictions while trying to conquer his inner demons, never quite getting a handle on either. Far from the glamorized lifestyle of the bikers in the television series Sons of Anarchy, the MC world George Rowe lived in was dirtier, more mundane and filled with humans who seemed to enjoy and thrive on committing random acts of senseless violence.

In Gods of Mischief, Rowe carries the reader through a narrative (three years in the making) from an insiders perspective as he buys guns and drugs for the ATF and as a “Prospect” washes motorcycles and fetches tampons for his club brothers to pass the initiation phase on his way to becoming a full patch member of the Vagos. Now living under a new identity, in an undisclosed location courtesy of the US Witness Security Program, Rowe writes a revealing memoir of his activities with the Vagos MC. The life of a confidential informant is hardly the stuff of legends, and even those who walk entirely on the right side of the law have a love/hate relationship with them. On one hand we’re glad when justice is served on the predators, but, on the other hand, we don’t really like the informants who bring help bring the predators to justice. It’s hard to feel sorry for George Rowe, who lost everything trying to rid his town of what he saw as a criminal gang, terrorizing his friends and neighbors. It’s hard because we feel he dishonored himself, turned his back on his best friend. and in the process, became a little too much like those which he despised. For snitches like Rowe, the end justified the means, but it also shows there is no  honor, even among thieves, and we place a high value on honor. Is this book a “tell all?” Probably not. The publisher, Simon and Schuster, does a good job of whitewashing Rowe’s unsavory past (and present  actions) and painting him as someone who was motivated by the desire to “avenge” the murder of a friend. While most readers will never sympathize with Rowe, the narrative is still compelling enough to carry the story. If the 1% outlaw biker lifestyle intrigues you, then Gods of Mischief, My undercover vendetta to take down the Vagos Outlaw motorcycle gang is a good way to spend a cold weekend inside. It starts off a little slow, but revs up halfway in and even though you know how it ends, you’ll find yourself caught up in the emotional turmoil and you’ll be turning pages late into the night.

Available from Touchstone Hardcover / Simon and Shuster for $25.99; (ISBN 978-1-4516-6734-9)


Justin Brings Cowboy Style To Motorcycle Riding

by: Scott Cochran, Editor

Whenever I start out to write a product review I like to do a little research on the company.  As most of you know, Justin Boots are headquartered in Fort Worth Texas.  Founded by H.J. Joe Justin in Gainsville Texas (now a suburb of Dallas/Ft. Worth) the company started to grow it’s mail order business in 1897 when Joe’s wife, Annie developed a kit that allowed customers to self-measure their own feet.  The Justins distributed the kits far and wide to the ranches and dusty cow-towns in the southwest.  In 1925 the company moved to Ft. Worth and by 1947, sales reached $1 million dollars!

The name Justin became synonymous with quality boots and in 1968. merged with Acme Brick Company to diversify into the building supply market changing it’s name to Justin Industries.   In 1990, Justin Industries bought out Tony Lama Boots.  With the housing boom in the US, profits in the brick division soared and attracted attention from Warren Buffett.  In 2000, Buffett wrote a check for $600 million dollars and Justin Industries joined GEICO, DAiry Queen and See’s Candy as a wholly owned subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway.

The popularity of Western boots has faded some in recent years, but within the motorcycle culture there remains a core group of riders who love the look and feel of these boots, but honestly, I’m not one of them.  Don’t get me wrong, I like “cowboy” boots, and own a few pairs, but I don’t ride with them.

When PR group from Justin Boots invited me to try a pair for free I figured I didn’t have anything to lose.  I’d owned a pair a few years ago, but since those were not waterproof, I’d never used them for riding.

To make my choice, I surfed over to justinboots.com.  Before checking the style of boots I would get, I read up a bit on boot making and learned that it takes more than 100 steps and 16 square feet of leather to produce a pair of Justin boots. If you’re interested, visit the site and watch the short video on boot construction.  You’ll be amazed at how much “hand craftsmanship” remains in a Justin boot.

I was disappointed the site doesn’t have a “motorcycle” specific  link, (an obvious oversight and one I hope is corrected soon) so I headed into the work boot section, and clicked the “steel toe” subcategory. (I figured having a little extra protection for my piggies is a good thing.)

With 80 different boots in this section alone, choosing a style is a little overwhelming.  Undaunted, I settled on a boot from the Stampede collection,  Style # WK4692, black oiled steel toe, pull on boot.

Part of what sold me on this model was Justin’s new J-Flex Flexible Comfort System built into the sole of the boots. We’ve all had the experience of buying a new pair of boots and suffering through the first few weeks or even months of stiffness while “breaking” in the boots.

With the J-Flex system, of leather-covered cushioned insole and the triple density insole board, I’d been promised the boots would be as comfortable as a well-worn pair right out of the box.  And the uppers on the WK4692 are guaranteed  waterproof.  It was a claim I’d wind up validating several times during the month-long test.

With my style selected, I sent the PR group my size and sat back and waited.  As it worked out, I had scheduled a long weekend ride on a test bike and the boots arrived just in time to combine the two tests.   I was hoping the new J-Flex comfort system was more than just hype because I’d be spending 12 hours a day in these boots and having sore feet is unwelcome distraction during a new motorcycle test.

On the day of departure, I broke out the new Justin boots, slipped them on and proceeded to load the bike for the long weekend test.  My plan was to evaluate the boots while packing the bike.  If they were the least bit uncomfortable, I’d switch out to one of my other riding boots and postpone the test.

In 15 minutes I completely forgot about the boots until I made my first fuel stop.  I was so impressed with the comfort, I took a few minutes to jot down my thoughts.

The most comfortable boot out of the box I’ve ever worn. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear someone else had worn these boots for a couple of months before me, but there’s no mistaking that new boot smell. No noticeable heel slippage, but should have gotten a half-size smaller for summer wear, but will work great with thick winter socks.  Rounded toe looks more like a motorcycle boot than “cowboy boot.”  Biggest negative is the weight, as these boots are heavier than what I normally like to wear. (probably thanks to the steel toe)

The biggest plus for the boots is how it sheds water, on and off the bike.  During heavy rain and 70 mph riding, I didn’t detect any seepage.  Just to be sure I stood in ankle deep puddle for over a minute and my socks stayed completely dry.  The biggest complaint I have (other than the weight) is the lack of insulation in the boot.  These are definitely warm weather only boots.  When the temperature falls below 50, these boots seem to conduct the cold a little too much for comfort.  At $119.00 (on Amazon) these boots are not cheap, but should give you several years of riding comfort.

The Harley Switchback 6000 Mile Test Ride

867, 1712, 500, 1712, 295, 891

What do those numbers mean? That’s the mileage for the trips we plan to take on the 2012 Harley Switchback this August. Once out to Sturgis and back, then a 300 miler before heading back to Jersey.
Half of that mileage will be done two up… in serious touring fashion. The Switchback isn’t a bike you think about when you first think of touring… the
Road King, Ultra Classic, street glide or Road Glide usually come to mind first. So in the interest of expanding the universe of knowledge…we’re doing this! To make imageit interesting…we’re going to blog I and post video from the road in this space.

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July 26, 3:25 pm..update. 2 hour flight delayed in charlotte… I have to go to Bergen county Harley Davidson to pick the bike up because it needed a new rear tire.. Late lunch across the street at the reBar…will try to make Gettysburg tonight…5:30. Thanks to the hard work of the service techs at Bergen Co. HD, I’m on the road heading west.

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6:30pm A mutha of a t-storm blew in about the time I made Allentown PA. I discovered my Frog Togs have several holes that look like something hot touched the material and melted it, so, like Billy Joel says, “I’m living here in Allentown” tonight at the Quality Inn and Suites.

First impressions. The Switchback has a 103 cu inch powerplant and yet it’s not a peppy as I anticipated it would be. It’s not anemic, and it’s got loads of bottom end grunt. The operator floorboards are a plus. I don’t know if it’s just me but I’m feeling every little bump in the road through the front forks…not in a dangerous or bad way…I never feel uneasy, but I’m just noticing them more than I think I should. The speedo on the tank takes a little getting used to as most of what I ride has everything higher up, near or on top of the triple tree clamp. That’s not really an option the way this bike is set up. Having the speedo where it is also eliminates the ability to carry a magnetic tank bag, which would expand the cargo storage of the Switchback. Granted, most die hard HD faithful wouldn’t be caught dead with a tank bag but it’s something I’m going to miss on the next trip to Sturgis.

You can smell the chocolate / cocoa when you get near the plant.. (but this isn’t the plant..it’s an auto museum..)

July 27, 2012. 8:30 am – Heading to Hershey PA. Settling into the seat and getting comfortable with the manners. The biggest problem I’m having is with the kickstand. It’s behind and under the primary so it takes some work to reach it with my boot. I’m not looking forward to reaching this with a passenger on board. After Hershey, I head to Gettysburg, then onto Antietam for a full day of Civil War Battlefield touring.

7:30 pm Pulled into New Market VA to get gas. For some reason the idle seemed stuck and wouldn’t fall below 18-1850 rpm… It wasn’t a problem handling, but something obviously wasn’t right. Shut it off, refueled and upon the restart, everything worked fine.

Saturday 7/28/12 Spent last night in the Motel 6 in Harrisonburg VA… someone should tell Tom Bodet that “Clean and Comfortable” should extend to the bed…that morning I headed south to connect with the Blue Ridge Parkway in Waynesboro VA. A couple of times the bike shut off after pulling in the clutch to exit the interstate…The first time it happened, I just let out the clutch by reflex thinking since it was in 6th gear, it should start right back up.. and as soon as I let out the clutch, the rear wheel grabbed and started to lock up, pushing the rear end to the left. I quickly re-engaged the clutch and avoided a spill, but it scared the crap out of me. This continued until I got onto the Blue Ridge Parkway. Then it quit. Bad gas? Maybe.

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August 6 2012 8 am Other than 1700 miles of road grime, the Switchback has performed flawlessly these past three days..and the two up comfort improved tremendously once the pre load was dialed up a couple notches at Four Rivers HD..today we plan test the cornering and clearance on the Iron Mtn road and Needles Highway here in South Dakota.

One Man’s Love Affair with I-94

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A good, but short, collection of motorcycle travel essays

It doesn’t matter if you ride a Harley-Davidson, Triumph, Victory, Gold Wing or BMW, there’s one thing that most agree on.  Riding the interstate is a necessary evil.  We do it when the dictates of time force us to.

But if you believe Rand Rasmussen, spending solitary hours on the super slab can be therapeutic.

He admits to motorcycle heresy when he paraphrases this quote from the bible of motorcycle riding (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance)  “Joy may be found as readily in the lanes of a freeway moving forward at speed for uninterrupted hours without towns or stop signs or speed traps, as on curvy back roads.”

Heresy indeed, but I admire his courage in saying what many of us have discovered.  There is a certain “zone” akin to meditation that comes from pinning the throttle at 85 or 90 mph for an hour at a time with little or no traffic to contend with.  It’s not something you can do comfortably on two lane state roads.

I received a copy of the Revised I-94 Reader from Andy Goldfine at Aerostitch as a Christmas present.  I tucked the small book away for the time when I’d need a diversion from the stress of publishing.

After sending the February issue to the printer, and not having enough time for a short ride, I pulled out this book hoping it would help ease my “deadline” nerves that plague magazine editors.    Not expecting very much in the way of entertainment, I was pleasantly surprised and (within a couple of pages) fully engrossed as I shut out the world and rode along with Rasmussen through the Minnesota and North Dakota country side as he recounts his monthly trips along I-94 from Minnesota St. Paul to Fargo North Dakota.

All too soon I reached page 64, and the end, a little bummed there were no more stories.

Rasmussen has a talent to paint even the most mundane of circumstance with language so colorful you can almost smell the air, and feel the frost on your faceshield.  This talent must come from his curious nature and the long hours of introspection on the freeway he spent has years logging thousands of miles upon.

If you like a good diversion, you owe it to yourself to download Revised I-94 Reader from Amazon.com ($3.00) for the Kindle reader. If you don’t own a Kindle or a smartphone, I’m sure you can contact Aerostitch and get a hard copy.

- Scott Cochran, Editor USRiderNews

 


Victory Cross Country Tour

A mischievous grin split my face as I approached the empty intersection a mile from my house.  Poor planning years ago had turned what should’ve been a mundane 3 way city intersection, into a quarter mile twisty motorcycle launch pad.

I slowed slightly, shifting my weight to the left, and pushed the bike over into the left hand turn into a tight arch. Grinning wide, my right hand twisted the grip as I snatched the Cross Country Tour upright and I shifted my weight over to opposite side.   In one fluid motion (and with the mental fantasy of blasting around the track at Barber Motorsports)  I threw the big Vic with it’s all aluminum frame over to the right and tried hard to scrape the boards as I challenged its rated 32 degree lean angle before reversing my weight again to the left side.

Accelerating, the big Vic responded with the agility of a much smaller machine as I rode her into a left hander for another short turn before the pavement straightened, and the crest of the approaching hill and common sense demanded I ease off the throttle.  As the speedo slid below 70, I returned to my senses.  I was just a mortal magazine editor, instead of the super human professional racer I was pretending to be.

I had lost count how many times I’d pushed this Victory Cross Country Tour in this manner.   And, every time I marveled at how far it would lean before hard parts touch.  Approaching 2500 miles on this long term test, I had reached a comfort level with this bike that usually only comes with ownership.  I knew our relationship would end soon, but that was in the future, pushed to the dim recesses of my mind.

What was turning into a love fest with the CCT, began much differently.

As cliche as it sounds, this review almost ended before it started.

I should start at the beginning, in White Plains Maryland at Victory of Southern Maryland where I picked up the bike.  My arrival coincided with appearance of the remnants of Hurricane Earl.   A system that ultimately dumped record setting amounts of rain on the Mid-Atlantic States in a short 8 hour window.

I’d been watching the Weather Channel and knew I’d get wet.  I wasn’t too concerned.  I had the best gear that Victory, Aerostich, and Nolan manufactured.    My only real concern was fatigue.

Leaving home at 3:30 am, I boarded my flight out of Augusta at 5:30.  A short hop to Charlotte NC and a connecting flight to DC, put me on the ground at 9:30am.  I arrived just about the time Earl and his outer rain bands came knocking on the Capitol doorsteps.  After an hour’s cab ride to the dealership,(and a very interesting cold war history discussion with the Ukraine cabbie) I was more or less on the self-imposed schedule I had set for myself on this trip.

I planned to fly up, get the bike and make the 614 mile trip back home in less than 24 hours.  Along the way I’d stop in Fayetteville North Carolina to see an old girlfriend.   That sounds more salacious than it is.  Kelly is a female friend of both my wife and I, and while technically she’s a “girlfriend” I doubt she’s ever referred to me as a “boyfriend.”

Wave after wave, tropical storm Earl was pounding the DC area

Woody Allen said, “if you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans” and I think God was chuckling that day because as soon as I walked in the dealership, the proverbial bottom fell out of the clouds  and what had been a moderately steady rain, suddenly became a good old fashioned frog strangler of biblical proportion, threatening to completely wash out my plans..

The pounding on the roof was so loud there was no use yelling at the employees on the other side of the parts counter, so I stood there a few minutes, smiling at Melinda Torreyson as we waited for a break in the storms fury.   When it eased, I identified myself and told her my mission.  I could feel her sizing me up as she eyed my blue jeans, tennis shoes and short sleeve shirt.  I guess she hadn’t noticed my bag that I’d dropped by the door.  Oddly I felt compelled to explain myself.  “I’ve got all my gear in that bag” I said, pointing to the entrance.  She laughed and said, “That’s good, because it looks like you’re going to need it.”

That was her first understatement of the day.

As if on cue, the storm intensified into a deluge that would’ve made Noah proud.  The television in the customer lounge was tuned to the Weather Channel.  Fast moving green bands with pockets of yellow and orange storm cells were streaming off the Atlantic heading north, one wave coming right after the other, forming a seemingly impenetrable barrier between me and the clear skies of Richmond Virginia, only 90 miles away.

As I cooled my heels and waited for a break that never came, Melinda gave me a tour of the facilities and checked me out on the new features of the Cross Country Tour.

Melinda was well into her spiel before I realized I was daydreaming about taking my bride on one last extended road trip before winter’s arrival.  I hadn’t been giving her my full attention.  That’s what forgetting to take your ADD medicine will do for you.

I’d tested a Cross Roads last year, and knew a little about this line of bikes.  Introduced in 2009, the Cross Country immediately became Victory’s top selling touring bike, and helped move the Minnesota company from 5th to 2nd in the battle for supremacy in the heavyweight cruiser market.

The (previously optional) tour pack was now standard, and included rear speakers and integrated passenger backrest.  Additionally highway bar mounted lowers with a glove box on each side and IPod / IPhone connectivity.  Integrated in the lowers is what Victory calls its “Comfort Control System” of vents and air scoops, designed to channel air flow into the lower cockpit area, or block it out entirely; more on this later.

The windshield is 8 inches taller this year, and is non-adjustable.  Victory engineers designed it that way and included a set of clear rounded hinged louvers below the fairing to reduce cockpit turbulence. For that, the system is flawless. Overall I liked the taller setup, but I’d have to cut the windscreen down if the CCT moved into my garage permanently.  The reason?   At 6 foot, I’m l looking through the windshield, instead of over it.  There is some room on the fairing for manual adjustment, but the mounting system would need to be modified.

Melinda showed me how and where to adjust the rear air shock to set the bike up for transporting a passenger or bags full of gear. With 4.7 inches of available travel, this bike can comfortably transport a companion and all the gear necessary for a week on the road.  With 41.1 gallons of storage,(most in it’s class with hard side bags, tour pack and glove boxes) the space is there, how you fill it is up to you.

Throw a leg over the saddle and you sink down onto the plush padded seat 26.25 inches from the ground.  On touring bikes, lower is better, and the CCT setup instills the confidence and stability you get from having both feet firmly on the ground.

When not on Terra Firma,, the driver rests his or her feet on generous floorboards. Victory wisely decided against putting a rear shifter on this model, leaving ample room to shift feet positions slightly on long distance hauls. The passenger floorboards are adjustable for different height riders.

Approaching noon,  it was time for me  to poop, or get off the pot, as my daddy liked to say.  With no break in sight on the radar, I decided my best course would be to trust the big front end of the CCT to keep the worst of Earl’s fury at bay.  I figure I’d ride gingerly south until I escaped the squalls coming in from the coast.  I gauged I’d be out of it in 50 miles, or just over an hour assuming I could average 40-45 mph.

You know what they say about assuming anything.  (Cue the jackass sound effect.)

At that moment, as if to highlight the folly of my decision, (or maybe it was a cosmic punch line) a bolt of lightening stuck close enough for the simultaneous thunder to dislodge a glass framed picture sending it crashing literally at my feet.   Staring at the shards of glass on the floor, I was reminded of a quote from Voltaire, “God is a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh.”  I wasn’t laughing either.

But, it was either spend the night, or suck it up and ride. Underestimating nature’s fury, (or overestimating my abilities) I said my good byes and struck out south towards I-95 into the most nerve wracking hour of my professional motorcycle testing career.

Melinda had warned the first big sphincter tightening moment would come 15 miles from the dealership as US Hwy 301 crossed the Gov. Harry Nice Memorial bridge spanning the Potomac River.

That was her second understatement of the day.

I’ve made a few bad decisions in my time, but crossing a metal decked bridge on a touring bike with a fork mounted fairing and big rear tour pack in the midst of a tropical storm tops my list. Or at least my “I did this completely sober” list.

Cresting the top of the span and creeping along at 25 mph it happened.   A sudden gust from the west  whipped the handle bars so violently, my left hand came complexly off, and with the input from my right hand still on the bars, the bike leaned right, heading straight to the concrete guard rail.  Amazingly I had time to wonder if the impact would flip me over the barrier, plunging me and 860 pounds of aluminum, steel and fiberglass into the dark churning water, four stories below.  Thinking back, I’m still amazed at how calm I was when the grim reaper appeared.

But, just as quickly, the wind settled, the reaper vanished and I regained control of the bike well before impact.  Had the gust come from the opposite side, I could’ve been pushed into oncoming traffic.  Thankfully my mind was too occupied with the immediate task of survival to dwell on the painful outcome of that scenario.

Reaching the opposite shore, the recklessness of my decision was highlighted by the dozen or so cars pulled over on the shoulder on the opposite shore to wait for a break in the storm.  I can only imagine what idiotic labels they mentally pinned on me as I inched along, straining my neck to get my eyes above the top of the windshield for a better view of the road ahead.

Approaching the northern suburbs of Richmond Virginia, the rain slacked off and the wind evaporated.   With surprisingly light traffic, the worst was behind me, and I removed my gloves to test the stereo system on the CCT.

I’d brought an IPod and before leaving had plugged it into the Apple jack located in the left side glove box.  Once auxiliary input is selected, the Victory logo displays on the player and functionality is transferred to the convenient left side handlebar controls.  I never quite mastered the ability to change the play list, although I fiddled with it quite a bit.  The dock is fully powered and will keep your IPod or IPhone charged during use.  There’s also a separate accessory plug to charge other phones, although there isn’t a corresponding jack for stereo input. Bummer for anyone with their music on non-Apple devices.

With the tunes fired up, I entered Richmond Virginia just as Gregg Allman’s voice came through the speakers “Virgil Cain is my name and I served on the Danville train…til Stoneman’s calvary came and pulled up the tracks again…In the winter of ‘65, we were hungry, just barely alive….”  “how appropriate” I thought) a song about life in the last days of the Confederacy just as I’m entering its capitol.”

Settling back, I turned that Southern classic up louder than necessary and set the cruise on 80 mph, shifted deeper into the plush seat,  and spent the next few hours falling in love with this Cross Country Tour.

Soon after the September sun faded I stopped for supper. Pulling into the parking lot of a chain restaurant, the big round gauges illuminated the cockpit in a soft blue glow.  In the stressful beginning of the ride, I hadn’t been able to get acquainted with anything on the bike.  Before dismounting, I ran through the various functions of the controls.

A slight stretch of the LEFT index finger reaches a pull switch to cycle through the on board computer.  Overall odometer miles, miles per gallon on average, fuel remaining, average speed and current speed are displayed digitally, in addition to the large analog style circular gauges with RPM, speed and fuel.  An sensor relays the ambient temperature to the display, although over the course of the test I discovered it was consistently 2-5 degrees higher than those big display thermometers on the bank signs.

There’s a gear indicator in the middle of the digital readout, and while that’s handy, I noticed it disappeared when I pulled the clutch, which I almost always do when I approach intersections to stop, and while sitting at red lights. If that wasn’t a glitch limited to the test bike, I’d recommend Victory’s engineers redesign this so a quick glance will let you know if you’re in the gear you want to be in.

A toggle switch just below the instrument cluster activates the heating elements in the grips.   I came to appreciate this feature the deeper in fall and the first few weeks of winter.  There’s also heated seats, with those switches located on the left side under the passenger seat.  I’m not a fan of heated seats on any brand.  For me, if it’s cold enough to turn them on, I’ll be wearing something insulated, so all they do is make my rear end sweat, and a sweaty butt on long rides isn’t something I’m fond of.

Out front in the fairing sits a big slightly oval shaped High Intensity Discharge (HID) headlamp Victory claims it’s four times brighter than halogen and lasts 10 times longer.  I agree that on “bright” it punches a sizable hole in the darkness, but I didn’t like the short range on dim. There’s probably an adjustment to raise it up so it throws the light a little farther down field.

On the left, dangling below the standard set of switches reside the stereo controls.  On the right, in the same position reside the controls for the cruise control.  Nothing out of the ordinary to report here, so let’s move along.

While ABS isn’t standard on most cruisers, it’s on the CCT from the factory.  The rest is common fare for cruisers, such as dual 300mm floating rotors and 4 piston calipers on the front over the 130/70R18 Dunlop Elite 3 tire.  The front brake lever has a 5 position adjustment. Whether you like your front brake pull hair trigger strong, soft as marshmallow, or like me, somewhere in the middle, there’s a notch that suits you.   Out back, a single 300mm rotor with 2 piston caliper rules over a 180/60 16 inch radial from Dunlop.  Front to back the wheel base measures 65.7 inches with 108.1 inches overall parking space needed.

The remaining 7 hour ride was blissfully uneventful, and thanks to the superb acoustics of the CCT stereo system, the highway tunes banished the boredom normally associated with such a long slog.  I pulled into my garage 23 hours after leaving, tired but thankful for having come in under my self-imposed deadline.

Two Up on a Week Long Cruise:

A few weeks later I had the opportunity to load up the CCT with gear and my bride and take an extended weekend trip to Panama City Beach Florida for the autumn Thunder Beach motorcycle rally.  She doesn’t normally have the opportunity to ride the test bikes.  Since the CCT was designed for just this type of trip, It would be a real world test and one that should highlight any flaws that I might miss riding solo.  .

Packing the CCT, in many ways, reminded me of a 7000 mile trip I took in 2008 on another big Victory Cruiser, the Vision.  With the voluminous hard saddle bags and the (easily removable) rear tour pack, my wife and I fit everything needed for the 5 day mini-vacation.  That included my IPad, camera gear, and laptop.  With a washer/dryer at the condo, I only carried 3 days’ worth of clothes.

The weather was unseasonably warm at the start of the trip and I removed my jacket a couple hours into he ride.  By rearranging the contents of the tour pack, I was able to stuff the bulky jacket in with space to spare.  Not much space, mind you, but the trunk closed and that’s what’s important.

And speaking of closing, the lids on the hard saddlebags are designed in such a way that they’ll close without the latch being fully engaged.  I had been warned that the bags, if not properly latched, had a tendency to fly open at highway speed.  If this happens, expect to see your dirty underwear or whatever else you carry, spew out on the highway behind you.  With the temperature reaching into the 90’s, I remembered why I didn’t like bikes with a lot of plastic up front.  The engine heat, combined with the ambient air temperature really started doing a number on my legs.

In fact I got so hot under my arse that I wondered if I’d accidentally flipped the seat warmers on.  Then  I remembered Robert Pandya from Victory telling me that I’d need to “adjust” the lower and upper vents for the best airflow.  Robert cautioned that wide open was not always the best setting to evacuate the heat.  After a bit of trial and error, I found that by cracking  the left side lower vent  about halfway and keeping the right side alt 25% open and doing the opposite with the uppers, the cockpit was more comfortable.

But, in the middle of summer, when the temperatures approach triple digits, there isn’t much you can do on any motorcycle to escape the heat.   With its multiple power outlets, the CCT is the perfect bike to test the efficiency of those electric cooling vests.

The weather for the rest of the weekend turned out gorgeous.  After spending a couple of days in PCB for the rally, we headed west to Pensacola to visit a friend and eat at the Grand Marlin Restaurant we’d heard so much about.

Waiting on our friend to arrive, my bride and I compared notes and agreed we were sold on the Cross Country Tour.  For comfort, handling, and styling, no other bike, including the Vison, was as appealing to us as the Cross Country Tour.  And just like the saying goes, “When mama’s happy, every one’s happy.”  On this bike, mama stayed happy the whole weekend and that made the journey better than the destination.  There’s no doubt this would be our next purchase.

Our little mini vacation was ending the next day and it had turned out to be one our favorite trips.  So many highlights come to mind that it’s hard to know where to start first, or how much to include.

Watching the sun set on the horizon, hundreds of miles from home, while nibbling on lobster fingers and BBQ oysters is a treat in itself.  Add in a two piece band, a cold bottle of Michelob, and the warm ocean breeze and you have a magical evening spent with people you love the most.

Sometimes the end is the best place to begin.