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.

T_Commander_static035

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.

 

Bonfire Hearts Reminiscent of Easyrider Theme

bonfire hearts 3It’s not Steppenwolf”s Born to Be Wild but the video from James Blunt’s newest release, Bonfire Hearts pays homage to that one thing most of us have at the top of our bucket list, The Great American motorcycle road trip.   In the video, Blunt rides across the wide open West on a customized 2007 Harley-Davidson Nightster, borrowed from Greg  Pierce, a Jackson Hole Wyoming resident who also appears in the video, along with local bikers, Kevin Anderjaska, Mark Wittig and Wayne “Grizz” Dyess.

The final scene in the video came about quite by accident when newlyweds Tim and Sarah Farris arrived at the One Ton Pig to celebrate their nuptials and stumbled into the cast and crew filming the video in the parking lot.  The producers saw the bride in her dress and included the couple dancing in the final edit.  The couple said Bonfire Hearts has become their wedding song, and the experience was a moment that will live forever in their memory.  The YouTube video has been viewed over 1 million times.

The groom Tim Farris said the couple didn’t want to obsess over the schedule on their wedding day, preferring to take things as they came, which is what led to their inclusion in the video.  ”It was pretty magical,” Tim Farris said. “The best things that happen in life are things that aren’t planned.”

A New “Endurance” Rally Debuts in Columbus Ohio

Columbus OH:  Endurance runs, or rallies have always been the stuff of Hollywood legends.  We still remember Adrienne Barbeau outstanding acting in Cannonball Run, and that unforgettable outfit.  Although it’s doubtful Barbeau will show up for this one, the AMA has sanctioned a new long distance motorcycle rally scheduled for June this year.  For $1,000 you can compete for a part of the $500,000 purse in the American Motorcycle Rally, a 7000 mile endurance run that begins and ends in Columbus.  Organizers plan to use GPS tracking devices on the bikes and the riders to hopefully avoid the controversy that has plagued other events of this type. For more info, visit American Motorcycle Rally


Early American Motorcycle Pioneer to be Inducted into Motorcycle Hall of Fame

PICKERINGTON, Ohio — The Motorcycle Hall of Fame is pleased to announce the fourth member of the class of 2011: Norbert Schickel, an innovative designer and builder in the early years of American motorcycle manufacturing.

As the founder of Schickel Motor Co., Schickel was part of the motorcycle design boom that occurred in the United States between 1905 and 1915. He will be honored at the 2011 Motorcycle Hall of Fame induction ceremony as part of the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) Legends & Champions Weekend at the Red Rock Resort in Las Vegas, Nev., Nov. 18-20.

“It’s fitting for the Motorcycle Hall of Fame to reach back 100 years in time and honor one of the true pioneers of American motorcycling,” said Jeffrey V. Heininger, chairman of the American Motorcycle Heritage Foundation, which raises money for the Hall of Fame. “The Hall of Fame honors and memorializes the men and women who have made motorcycling great. And without early pioneers like Norbert Schickel, there would be no American motorcycling.”

Schickel’s vision and designs were evident in the two-cycle motorcycles that he developed. He also helped popularize the twist grip control and had a patented “spring fork front suspension” and “fly wheel magneto.”

Schickel unveiled his first motorcycle at the 1911 Chicago Motorcycle Show, and Schickel Motor Co. began producing motorcycles in 1912 in Stamford, Conn. The company sold more than 1,000 motorcycles, but was forced to file for bankruptcy and close its doors in 1924 due to competition from the automobile industry and other motorcycle manufacturers.

“It was an incredible thrill to learn that he has been selected for the Motorcycle Hall of Fame,” said Ken Anderson, Schickel’s grandson. “He would be thrilled and humbled. If he were here, he would say there are many others who are more deserving.”

Norbert H. Schickel, President, Founder, Designer, Manager, inspecting engine parts probably about 1916.

Schickel is the fourth member of the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Class of 2011 to be announced. He joins magazine editor and innovator Phil Schilling, industry leader Fred Fox and roadracing champion Doug Polen. The final 2011 inductee will be announced in coming days.

The Class of 2011 will officially be inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame on Nov. 18. Other highlights of the AMA Legends & Champions Weekend include the 2011 Motorcycle Hall of Fame Concours d’Elegance on Saturday, Nov. 19, featuring some of the country’s most impressive original and restored classic motorcycles and the AMA Racing Championship Banquet on Sunday, Nov. 20, where AMA Racing amateur champions of all ages will be recognized for their 2011 accomplishments.

Tickets for the AMA Legends & Champions weekend are now available through this online registration form: http://events.r20.constantcontact.com/register/event?llr=vw9ldxbab&oeidk=a07e3rn4juk2e3f80c1. Tickets may be ordered over the phone by calling (800) 262-5646.

The AMA Legends & Champions Weekend also includes the final round of the GEICO AMA EnduroCross National Championship Series on Saturday evening, Nov. 19. EnduroCross tickets are available atwww.orleansarena.com/event-calendar/endurocross or by phone at (702) 284-7777 or (888) 234-2334.

The AMA Legends & Champions Weekend will be held at the Las Vegas Red Rock Resort, a world-class spa, hotel and casino, featuring a range of entertainment, dining and family-friendly attractions. The facility’s expansive ballrooms provide a stunning backdrop for the AMA Legends & Champions Weekend, which is certain to be memorable for the 2011 inductees, champions, families, friends and fans. Room reservations are available now at a special group rate by calling (866) 767-7773 and referencing group AMA or AMERICANMOTO. Online room reservations are available at RedRockLasVegas.com. For online reservations, use the promo code RCIMOTR.

More information about the Motorcycle Hall of Fame can be found at MotorcycleMuseum.org.

About the American Motorcycle Heritage Foundation
Founded in 1990 by the American Motorcycle Heritage Foundation, the goal of the Motorcycle Hall of Fame is to tell the stories and preserve the history of motorcycling. Located on the campus of the American Motorcyclist Association in Pickerington, Ohio, the Hall of Fame’s three major exhibition halls feature the machines and memorabilia of those who have contributed notably to the sport. The Motorcycle Hall of Fame recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions to motorcycling, including those known for their contributions to road riding, off-road riding and all categories of racing, as well as those who have excelled in business, history, design and engineering. More information can be found atMotorcycleMuseum.org.

National and World-Champion Roadracer to Join Motorcycle Hall of Fame

PICKERINGTON, Ohio — The Motorcycle Hall of Fame is pleased to announce that Doug Polen, a dominant national and world champion roadracer in the late 1980s and early 1990s, will be inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame as part of the 2011 American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) Legends & Champions Weekend at the Red Rock Resort in Las Vegas, Nev., Nov. 18-20.

“Any fan of motorcycle roadracing will remember Doug’s amazing — and dominating — championship runs on the AMA and World Superbike stages,” said Don Rosene, a member of the American Motorcycle Heritage Foundation Board of Directors, which raises money for the Hall of Fame. “At a time when the series saw plenty of fast competitors, Doug was clearly the fastest. And he’s still on the track, racing, teaching and promoting motorcycles and motorcycling.”

Polen had a series of strong winning performances in motorcycle roadracing in the United States and abroad, including winning the Suzuki GSX-R National Cup Championship Series 750cc title in 1986 and 17 of 26 races in the World Superbike Championship Series in 1991, earning the World Superbike title by 150 points. He also was the Japan Formula 1 and Formula 3 National Champion in 1989, AMA 600cc Supersport Champion in 1987 and 1988, AMA 750cc Supersport Champion in 1988, World Superbike Champion in 1992, AMA Superbike Champion in 1993 and World Endurance Champion in 1997 and 1998.

Polen remains active in motorcycling today, running his Doug Polen’s 1 on 1 Riding School (GoPolen.com), featuring radio communications with students during track sessions.

Polen said he was humbled by the honor.

“The thing is that you ride and you race, and when you’re doing it, you’re doing it to have fun and be competitive against other people, but also to try and make a mark and have something you can look back on and be proud of,” Polen said. “This is kind of like putting a stamp of approval, so to speak, on my career, and I take it as a very flattering thing.”

Polen joins Cycle magazine editor Phil Schilling and Parts Unlimited founder Fred Fox as announced members of the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Class of 2011. The rest of the 2011 inductees will be announced in random order in coming days.

The Class of 2011 will officially be inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame on Nov. 18 as part of the AMA Legends & Champions Weekend. In addition to the induction ceremony, the weekend includes the 2011 Motorcycle Hall of Fame Concours d’Elegance on Saturday, Nov. 19, featuring some of the country’s most impressive original and restored classic motorcycles. The AMA Racing Championship Banquet closes out the weekend on Sunday, Nov. 20, where AMA Racing amateur champions of all ages will be recognized for their 2011 accomplishments.

Tickets for the AMA Legends & Champions weekend are now available through this online registration form: http://events.r20.constantcontact.com/register/event?llr=vw9ldxbab&oeidk=a07e3rn4juk2e3f80c1. Tickets may be ordered over the phone by calling (800) 262-5646.

The AMA Legends & Champions Weekend also includes the final round of the GEICO AMA EnduroCross National Championship Series on Saturday evening, Nov. 19. EnduroCross tickets are available atwww.orleansarena.com/event-calendar/endurocross or by phone at (702) 284-7777 or (888) 234-2334.

The AMA Legends & Champions Weekend will be held at the Las Vegas Red Rock Resort, a world-class spa, hotel and casino, featuring a range of entertainment, dining and family-friendly attractions. The facility’s expansive ballrooms provide a stunning backdrop for the AMA Legends & Champions Weekend, which is certain to be memorable for the 2011 inductees, champions, families, friends and fans. Room reservations are available now at a special group rate by calling (866) 767-7773 and referencing group AMA or AMERICANMOTO. Online room reservations are available at RedRockLasVegas.com. For online reservations, use the promo code RCIMOTR.

More information about the Motorcycle Hall of Fame can be found at MotorcycleMuseum.org.

About the American Motorcycle Heritage Foundation
Founded in 1990 by the American Motorcycle Heritage Foundation, the goal of the Motorcycle Hall of Fame is to tell the stories and preserve the history of motorcycling. Located on the campus of the American Motorcyclist Association in Pickerington, Ohio, the Hall of Fame’s three major exhibition halls feature the machines and memorabilia of those who have contributed notably to the sport. The Motorcycle Hall of Fame recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions to motorcycling, including those known for their contributions to road riding, off-road riding and all categories of racing, as well as those who have excelled in business, history, design and engineering. More information can be found atMotorcycleMuseum.org.

La Banda Announces Premiere Unique Documentary Celebrating Latino Motorcycling Culture

LOS ANGELES (April 18, 2011) –La Banda Films today announced the release of the documentary film, Harlistas: An American Journey, premiering April 2011. The film is directed by award-winning filmmaker Alfredo de Villa and follows the emotional journeys of real-life Harlistas – Harley riders of Latino heritage – as they seek adventure, camaraderie and achievement of the American Dream.

The documentary is the first of its kind to ever profile Latino motorcycling culture in the United States. The 90-minute film showcases four pivotal stories spanning Los Angeles to New York, the plains of South Dakota, the Pacific Coast and the Grand Canyon. Directed by Alfredo de Villa (Nothing Like the Holidays, Washington Heights), Harlistas: An American Journey brings to life Alfredo’s own passion for Latino culture and the iconic American motorcycle brand, Harley-Davidson.

“This documentary captures an unexplored terrain: the bond between Harlistas, their motorcycles and their families,” said de Villa. “Much more than the traditional historical or fictional narratives, this film charts new boundaries and is as fearless as Harley-Davidson itself.”

Harlistas: An American Journey is scheduled to premiere on Telemundo’s mun2, the fastest growing bilingual cable network in the U.S. among YLAs (young Latino Americans), on May 27, 2011, with additional airings on May 28 (Uni HD and mun2), July 29 (mun2) and July 30 (mun2). Prior to the network premiere, the film will be available first On Demand and to own via digital download beginning April 21, 2011.

The word Harlista has deep historic and cultural roots originating more than 50 years ago in Latin America among Latino motorcycle riders to proclaim their strong passion for the Harley-Davidson brand and the bonds shared between fellow riders. Being a Harlista is about overcoming obstacles, grabbing life by the handlebars and experiencing the camaraderie of the open road.

“Harley-Davidson has a long-standing history with Harlistas, and we were thrilled to help support Alfredo’s vision to create a film that celebrates Latino riders,” said Dino Bernacchi, marketing communications director for Harley-Davidson. “We hope that everyone who sees this film feels inspired to take the next step toward following their dreams.”

To learn more about the film and, please visit www.HarlistasFilm.com

Victory Throttles into 2011

Riding through the slot canyons around Gateway, Colorado, with the headlight of a good friend occasionally blinking in my mirrors, I’m once again reminded that I belong to a small tribe, at least when compared the number of people there are in the world who don’t ride. Realizing how incredibly fortunate we are to experience the thrill of a new landscape from the saddle of a motorcycle, I down shift the big V-twin beneath me and dive into the next series of bends. Reacting to the change of pace, my buddy adjusts his speed, as I also realize that the Victory motorcycles we are riding belong to a relatively part of this tribe in the big picture of the motorcycle industry. This makes the large presence and awareness they have already established for themselves since their introduction in 1998 all the more remarkable.
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Having arrived on the scene with their bikes being touted as “the new American motorcycle,” Victoryquickly began winning awards. Their 1999 V 92C took Cycle World’s “Cruiser of the Year,” with numerous awards to follow. Building on this success, “Fuel your passion” is now a new tag line at Victory to accompany the fifteen new models they have on offer in 2011. As we thunder alongside a breathtaking vista of deep river canyons and towering mountains, I’m having no trouble figuring out what it means.

Also, riding through some strange times in the motorcycle world with our current economy, it’s interesting to note the success Victory has been achieving in growing the brand. This is not so surprising, when you realize the Victory Motorcycle Company is headed by Mark Blackwell, the motorcyclist’s motorcyclist. There are few more qualified in our industry, and this is easily recognizable in the quality and versatility of the machinery and choice of machines he oversees. With the fat 250 tire models excluded, the have ridden put a premium on the ride experience, with great handling, braking and strong, useable power allied to superb fuel delivery. Realizing that while I’m not a fan of big tire bikes, many people are, and the Victory models certainly do a much better job than others I’ve ridden with this configuration. American Iron Horse has to be the worst offender, with Suzuki’s M109R coming a close second for honors in the most difficult to ride category.

With fifteen new models to potentially ride in one day, it seemed like a daunting prospect at first to give them a decent evaluation. But with all of the line up sharing the same basic 106 cubic inch, air-cooled V-twin engine, it actually wasn’t such a tough job. Starting with the one bike I know from the Victory line up, the Vision Tour, I learned this, the Cross Roads and the Cross Country actually have what is called the Stage 1 engine package. This gives the touring range engines milder camshafts and a lower maximum peak of 92 horsepower. With 109 lb-ft of torque, it’s man enough for the job, and I’ve made many a happy mile in the seat of a Vision in the past.

For 2011, Victory has made changes to the gearbox to quiet things down. Fourth and sixth gears have been worked over to reduce whine, and drive train lash has also been drastically reduced. After our day of testing, there was too much daylight and incredible scenery left for me to pack it in, so I jumped on a cruiser and headed out to shoot some photos. Paying particular attention to the gear whine, I was surprised how much noise there was and wondered why it wasn’t noticeable during the day. Well, I’ve never been the sharpest tool in the shed, so it took a while for the small, shriveled pea floating around inside the cerebral nut basket to register I was riding last year’s model. Enough said.

Visually there are few noticeable changes to the Vision Tour, which I personally think is one of the coolest looking motorcycles ever made, except new blacked out passenger handholds, redesigned muffler tips and new tubular handlebars. It does come standard with anti lock brakes this year though and will set you back $23,699. If you want something extra special, there is an Arlen Ness version, which is simply stunning to look at and retails for $27,999. As a top of the line luxury cruising motorcycle, the Vision Tour comes with all the bells and whistles, from capacious lockable storage to a fully integrated sound system and more. While I didn’t put any transcontinental type mileage on the new ’11, I did put enough miles on to remind myself why I enjoy this, comfortable, mile-eating motorcycle so much.

The Cross Country is a stylish bagger, with a large full handlebar mounted fairing that comes with a fully integrated audio system like the Vision, an MP3/iPod hook up and optional Satellite radio. It feels instantly lighter and more maneuverable than the Vision, but with a choice of hard bags or soft saddlebags, or the new accessory color-matched trunk you can make it perfect for long haul journeys. Comfortable and smooth, with a 4.8-gallon gas tank and cruise control, the Cross Country is going to easily live up to its name.

Braking is the same as the Vision, with a pair of 300mm dual discs up front using four piston calipers. A single 300mm disc is used in the rear, and unlike the Vision the system is not linked. Settling the bike well into corners, solid and predictable handling is certainly one of the Cross Country’s strong points. While it uses the same frame, forks differ from the Vision’s 46mm conventional units by using the same inverted 43mm units found on the Cross Roads. A single air assisted shock in the rear makes changes for passengers and luggage not only easy, but also as precise as you want to make it. Coming in a choice of three colors: Solid Black, Solid Imperial Blue Metallic and Two-Tone Pearl White and Vogue Silver. The base model is on showroom floors for $17,999. You can, of course, get a highly individualized Cory Ness version for $24,999, which comes with a host of Ness chrome and billet accessories, the cylinders diamond cut, a pair of beautiful sculptured billet wheels, custom suede seat and a Sun Set red custom paint job.

The Cross Roads itself comes standard with cruiser control and no fairing, although you can have the same lockable hard bags or soft saddlebag option as the Cross Country. Part of Victory’s Core Custom Program yhat allows the customer to choose their own color from a choice of Solid Crimson and Solid Black. They can also specify whether they would like the accessory windshield, different handlebars and either the soft or the hard saddlebags. There is the optional color matched lockable trunk from the Vision and Cross Country. This comes on and off the bike in seconds and requires no tools for this operation. Able to hold two full-face helmets with room to spare, it has two speakers for the passenger as well as a comfortable backrest. Added benefits are the high mount tail light, and if you want to accessorize it further, you can add a passenger arm rest kit and pick up a liner and a cargo rack for more luggage carrying capacity. It’s this attention to every detail that is so precise that really impresses me with the whole Victory experience. You can simply set the bike up exactly the way you want it before you ride it away from the dealership. Retail on this baby starts at $14,999 and there is a highly customized Cory Ness version for $24,999.

In the cruiser department, you have a mix of bikes centered on three models: The Vegas, the Kingpin and the Hammer. The Vegas Jackpot is one of the bikes that has a 250 series rear tire and a very skinny 90 profile, 21 inch front tire. Retailing for $18,999, it comes with a cool black and white paint job, with a glamour girl on the side panel. The bike is a real looker, but loses points from me for the rear tire and the very busy digital tachometer. Never settling at any one place, even when I tried to keep the throttle steady, it would need to go if I owned the bike. The engine is a peach though and with the same faultless fueling it has a little extra power thanks to the Freedom 106/6 Stage 2 engine, which gives a total of 97 hp and 113 ft-lb of torque. It also uses the newly revised six-speed transmission and a host of customizing options at time of purchase.

The Hammer and the Hammer S also feature this level of engine tune and the 250 series rear tire. Victory says they are “at the intersection of sporty styling and cruiser muscle” and with twin discs up front, an inverted fork and removable seat cowl, they certainly have some sporting attributes. A performance exhaust is available, as are lower controls, grips and covers. The standard Hammer retails for $17,999 with the S model coming in a little higher at $18,499. There is also the Hammer 8-Ball which is a more base line, blacked out version with less frills for $14,499.

The rest of the Vegas family of cruisers restored Mr. Happy to the saddle as they come with a 180 series rear tire and a cool custom looking skinny 90 series 21-inch tire up front. The best selling motorcycle of the Victory line up, and probably the best known, it’s a distinctive looking bike that works really well over a wide variety of road conditions. Wide pull back handlebars, low seat and custom quality paint give it the right look, and with the basic 8-Ball starting at $12,999, it’s the lowest priced Victory of the bunch. You can spend up to $18,999 for the Zach Ness version, and there are a number of accessories available like performance exhaust, windshields etc, at the time of purchase for all the Vegas line up if needed.

Last but not least, and one of the bikes I put the most miles on during our test, the Victory Kingpin. With the larger fenders, inverted fork and eighteen-inch wheels, it has a distinctly different look to the others in the range. With the best handling package and the same silky smooth engine response, it was my favorite to ride. The seating position is pure cruiser, but not at the expense of any comfort, as the floorboards were nicely placed and the wide bars sat me upright without feeling strained in either direction. Base model 8-Ball starts at $12,999 and the straight Kingpin, with a choice of Solid Crimson and Two Tone Imperial Blue and White, hits $14,999. Clean, quiet and efficient belt drive is used as with all the models here, and like all Victory motorcycles it’s an extremely tight, well thought out package in every respect.

Heading home from Colorado, it’s clear Victory is extremely serious about their motorcycles and how to keep building on their success. The amount of options available for someone purchasing a new machine are bordering on the overwhelming, although I’m sure very exciting as you set about making your new bike just the way you want it. What started out as a confusing prospect, turned into a simple distilled realization that it doesn’t matter which of the new Victory models you choose, you are clearly not going to be disappointed.

Motorcycle Manufacturers Celebrate Veterans Day

When you think of the military you think of motorcycles.

The first American to enter Germany after the armistice of WWI was Corporal Roy Holtz of Chippewa Falls, WI, riding a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

Returning veterans from WWII looking for an adrenaline rush similar to what they experienced in the war turned to two wheels and formed the first motorcycle “clubs.”

But, even before the first World War, motorcycles were serving our nation.  In a press release Harley-Davidson says,  “Ever since the first American troops rode Harley-Davidson motorcycles during the Mexican Expedition in 1916, the Motor Company has enjoyed a long-standing bond with the men and women who have served our nation.”

It’s a bond that American motorcycle manufacturers recognize and continue to embrace.

This month Harley-Davidson and Victory Motorcycles both have programs designed to show appreciation to those who defend the freedoms of our Constitution.

Harley-Davidson  is providing an opportunity for Americans to create personal messages of gratitude for active and retired personnel at www.harley-davidson.com/thankyou.  These messages will be sent on an electronic postcard featuring supermodel and motorcycle rider Marisa Miller and military themed Harley-Davidson motorcycles.  Americans are also encouraged to visit their area Harley-Davidson dealership to learn more about opportunities to honor local military heroes.

“At Harley-Davidson, we’re all about freedom, but we can’t forget that freedom comes at a price,” said Dino Bernacchi, Harley-Davidson’s director of Marketing and Communications.  “It’s humbling to think of the countless sacrifices these brave men and women – and their families – have made to keep our country free, so the Motor Company is honored to help salute military personnel this November.”

HD is also giving away one lucky active or retired service man a “Freedom Pass.”  The winner receives a brand new Harley-Davidson motorcycle of their choice, and a trip to Milwaukee, Wis., along with five of their fellow service members, where they will receive VIP treatment at the H-D Museum and other select gifts.

Victory Motorcycles is also offering a limited edition military wedge badge set on every motorcycle sold today, November 11th.   It features the Military Salute Pin design, and is a small token of appreciation to thank the men and women of the military who sacrifice for our freedom.

In addition to the wedge set, during the month of November, Victory is giving a $1,000 discount for all active military members.