John Hogan spends 12 months 'enhancing' his cool status with the Victory 8 Ball
I’ve only got 600-odd words to convince you why at 28 years old I appear to be running a bike more suited to someone twice my age. Stick with me and I’ll have a go!
I love bikes, all bikes. Obviously I like sports bikes, most of us do, I quite like the odd tourer and can even put up with dirt bikes. The one style I have always struggled to comprehend though is the cruiser. I always assumed that people rode them because they didn’t like (or couldn’t) ride fast motorbikes. Having a cruiser in America makes sense. I have ridden the dead straight roads in Texas, in the sun, on a cruiser and loved it. But the UK, however hard you try and convince yourself, is nothing like the US of A.
Rather than shy away from cruisers I decided that 2008 would be the year I would try and fathom-out the long wheel-based, tassle dragging behemoths of the road. I’m not saying I don’t like them, the appeal is just lost on me a bit. Harleys are too Harleyish and Japanese cruisers are a bit Karaoke (by that I mean pretending to be something else, sometimes so badly that they’re good but usually just plain bad.)
So Victory stood out as the brand I should try in my search for cruising enlightenment. They are fairly unknown in the UK, holding a tiny 1% share of the 11,700 cruisers registered in ’07, which I find ridiculous. The model I will be living with is this, the Vegas 8 Ball. It isn’t the top of the range model, far from it. What I’ve noticd so far is that the build quality is really good. The switchgear and display, though rather rudimentary, look and feel as good as any Harley I’ve ridden. The indicators are either broken or they are the self-cancelling type, haven’t quite figured out which yet.
I only have one gripe at the minute: the lack of a clock. It sounds like a tiny thing to moan about, but I like to know what time it is when I’m riding. What I’ve found out about the 8-Ball is pretty promising. The engine is a 1,634cc 50° V-twin, until I get it on a dyno I won’t know the exact power figures but it has bucket-loads of torque. Victory claim 103lb-ft, which sounds impressive, in the real world that equals 3rd gear wheelspin in the damp. When you consider that none of the 2008 litre sports bikes make anywhere near that figure you get a better idea of what I’m talking about. Tyre-squealing traffic light getaways are a doddle, and lots of fun.
Maybe I’ve been watching too many episodes of Biker Build Off and American Chopper but I’ll be pimping this bike up a bit. That’s half the story with a cruiser like this. Don’t expect any stars or stripes or tassles or pictures of naked ladies, do expect more power, more noise and more black. My vision is some kind of 60 year old bike from the future. The first thing I changed is the number plate, the one it came with was actually a bit smaller than this, but it was yellow and looked a bit weird. MAL plates sorted me out with a new one from their huge range. Come back next month and see if I have managed to convince my self that this bike is a good thing.
Life with the Victory is actually very good. Much to the dismay of the rest of the office the 8-Ball has managed to maintain my attention. I rattled off the first 500 miles as quick as I could so that I could have the stage one tuning kit fitted. The kit consists of an ECU upgrade, an air filter and air box mod and a set of the loudest exhausts I have ever heard on any bike.
I was expecting loud but I wasn’t expecting this loud. A couple of builders working on a house down my street came over the other day as I was about to leave, they said my record for setting off the car alarms as I pulled away was seven! I didn’t know what they were talking about until I stopped and looked back up the street after I had pulled away, I counted five blaring car alarms and two builders bent double laughing and spilling their morning tea all over the street. People don’t turn to look at the bike when they hear it – they look up, expecting to see a crashing Lancaster bomber heading their way.
Red Dog motorcycles in Edenbridge are doing the spanner work on the bike. According to them the stage one kit is pretty much all people ask for when buying a Victory. They hear one, find out what the bike is and then buy it, simple.
In my search for ‘cruising enlightenment’ I have made a few key discoveries. The first was realising that while riding the Victory I will be ignored by the general biking populas. But, for every biker that fails to nod or stares straight ahead at the lights I receive attention from non-bikers ten-fold. A trip to Camden lock recently proved this. I parked the bike up for 10 minutes, and came back to find a swarm of tourists taking pictures and checking it out. I was too embarrassed to go and get on it so I just hung around and waited for them to thin out. It took at least a couple of smokes before I was happy enough to get in it and clear off. Shrinking violets should stick to Fireblades and the like.
Riding the 8-Ball is all about image, I can’t ride it comfortably unless I’m wearing something stupid. I can only change gear properly if I am wearing trainers, and a full-face helmet just doesn’t make sense. In the last month I have taken to wearing less than usual while riding. Its not the same as riding a sports bike, and wearing a T-shirt doesn’t feel dangerous. Apologies to those of you reading this and tutting about my apparent disregard for personal safety, but its personal so bite me.
Our annual longtermer jaunt to Wales was a good chance to prove to the rest of the class that my bike was actually quite good. It was perfect for the journey, comfortable, fast enough to keep up, and managed a completely reasonable 135 miles to a tank of fuel. Whitham demanded the keys as soon as he got the chance but returned them within five minutes. I knew he wanted to admit to liking it but bigger boys were near us and I think he was afraid in case they heard him. Most of the lads had a go on it and seemed to like it, what most of them struggled with was admitting to liking the bike without looking over their shoulder while they said it.
This months main gripe are the tyres. While I’m not expecting track tyre levels of grip from the OE Dunlops, some grip in the wet really wouldn’t go amiss. Wheelspin when you want it is great, wheelspin all the time not so good. Comes from being long and low.
Costs so far
I feel a change coming on. In the same way that you grow accustomed to the power of a sports bike or reliant on the fuel range of a tourer, the look, sound and feel of the Victory is starting to feel a little bit too familiar. Don’t get me wrong, the Victory is still a great bike and it is accepting the onslought of miles with nothing but grace, but right now I want more.
The official catalogue is rammers with with some fairly cool stuff, some a bit too tassley for my liking. I had a quick surf around the internerd and found that, while there is loads of aftermarket stuff for Harleys, in the UK Victory owners don’t have anywhere near as much to choose from. If you own a Victory have a look at what Battisitini’s have to offer, it’s not cheap (£997 for one wheel anyone?) but what they do have is definitely worth getting excited over and looks very, very cool. On the paint front I have been teaching myself airbrushing on a battered fuel tank in my shed for the last couple of years. When I grow up I would really like to be able to do it on a home built hot rod. I don’t know if I’m ready to spray an £8,500 bike yet but you lot will be the first to know if I do. Check back in next month to see what Harley owners think of my ride.
Theres a well known saying that Americans affectionately use when reffering to cruisers, ‘If it ain’t Harley, it ain’t shit!’. What does that mean? If it is a Harley then it is shit? Who knows.
At the risk of being strung up I took the 8 Ball to a Harley dealer to see what they thought of it. Another well known phrase that I will refer you to is the one about never taking a knife to a gunfight. It went well though. I managed to get the dealer principal to take the bike for a spin round the block. The bike goes well in his opinion and looks okay too. He made a very valid point in that you can ride a Harley anywhere in the world and not only will it be recognised, you will be able to find a dealer who can work on it. That may not be the case for Victory yet, but everyone has to start somewhere.
None of the guys viewed Victory as a threat to the dominance of H-D. What they were getting at, I think, was that if you want to stand out you buy a cruiser, if you want to stand out from the stand-out crowd you buy a Victory. So me and the Victory went to War(rs) and survived, with the cold weather fast approaching it will be intersting to see how the bike fairs against the elements.
This is the last shot you will see of my 8-Ball looking like this. Apart from being slightly over due a service, Victory answered my call for more black on the bike. Red Dog motorcycles in Edenbridge are fettling away as you read this. Two points grabbed my attention. The bushes in the handlebars had perished within 1200 miles (a bad batch apparently), it didn’t bother me but ad sales dweeb Ben Giff rode it round the block and came back white as a ghost. Yes, they flap around a bit but I’d checked the nyloc nuts and knew that they weren’t about to fall off. The other is the fact that I trolleyed the rear tyre in under 4,000 miles. Thats almost as bad as early Hayabusas. In the interests of scientific exploration I have asked for another set of the OE Dunlops to see if it was a bad tyre or if my child like stupidity when it comes to spinning the rear tyre in the damp. There’s not a lot else you can do to get your kicks on a bike of this style. I did race a bunch of sportsbikes through London a few weeks back. I hung on for long enough to warrant one of the guys getting off his numberplate-less R1 at a set of lights just to touch knuckles and check the bike out. Tosser.
Costs this month
Much to the disappointment of my neighbours, after three weeks of me riding home on normal motorcycles, I got the barutonus Victory back from the good guys at Red Dog motorcycles. The work I had done wouldn’t have taken that long normally but I was in no rush to pick the 8-Ball up
thanks to a car park full of shiny test bikes to play with.
I had picked a couple of bits that I wanted from the official parts and accessories catalogue that Victory offer. As I said last month I wanted more black, and that is exactly what I got. The Bullet headlight is the same as the one you would find on the Big Daddy Hammer S. Rather than transforming the front end of the bike I think it just looks right, your eyes follow the line of the bike from tail to tip and the old chrome jobby didn’t really look the part.
Being as how it gets dark at about lunchtime now, I got a chance to test the new light on the way home from picking the bike up. It is much brighter than before, but the light is cast out in a strange ‘Bat-Signal’ shape, it’s not a problem it just makes the road look a little wierd.
Next on the list was a set of Victory petrol tank letters in black, on the black tank. It might sound weird having black on black but I think it works really well, looks way classier than the original Victory badges that were good, but a little too screaming eagle for me. Saving the best ‘til last I got all Knight Rider and had a set of Digital clocks fitted. Apart from displaying all of the usual these little beauties also display 0-60 times and 1/4 mile times. Pointless? Maybe, but I don’t care as they have transformed my commute to work. In 0-60 mode every time the wheels stop turning the clocks re-set to 0 and wait for you to go for it. The best I have managed is a 4.5 second run, traction is my biggest problem, traction and then talent. That said a quick flick through a car magazine proved that I was quicker than a Lamborghini Gallardo, which is nice.
One problem I have found with the clocks is that they read a little slow on speed. Riding along side a couple of different bikes from the office I found the digital display was on average around 5mph lower than the speed I was actually doing at any speed over 25mph. they do look cool though.
With a recent move to a new office in a swanky part of London, my commute has changed from riding out of London away from the flow of traffic, to riding into the jaws of hell. I’m still getting used to the route but the 8-Ball is coping remarkably well with the stopstart- squeeze-skid-stop style I have had to adopt. It isn’t very cool getting duffed up by scooters though, at the lights all eyes are on the Victory, you would think it’s way too big for a central London commute. It makes me feel like I’ve turned up to compete at Henley Regatta in a cross channel ferry. After blasting away from the lights and picking a couple of cars off here and there, I keep finding myself lining up against the same shitty little scooters. Oh well, at least there is something to look at on the way to work other than burnt out cars and benefit fraudsters which is all Orpington had to offer. After nearly 5,000 miles I hadn’t realised how loose the Victory had started to get, until I picked it up from Red Dog. As well as fitting all the parts, they also did a second service, replaced the rear tyre and fitted the new bushes into the handlebars. One of the guys had even cleaned the bike for me, making me
feel embaressed for letting it get as dirty as it was when I dropped it off. We discussed the issue of the handlebar bushes collapsing in under two thousand miles. Initially the mechanic presumed I had knackered them doing wheelies, which sounded a little strange. I have had the front off the ground a couple of times but I definitely wouldn’t class what I had achieved as a wheelie, more a massive fork extension after launching the bike hard away from the lights. On closer inspection it turned out to be the bad batch I thought it would be.
So the Victory feels box fresh again, looks ace and is clean as a whistle, for now. We are drawing to the time of year when manufacterers start calling us up and asking for their bikes back. I have a couple of options, the first and definitely the cheapest is to buy a new phone and not give the number to any at Victory, while an ingenious plan I feel it would only buy me some time. The other option is to buy the bike off Victory. There I’ve said it, I would buy a cruiser. It really is that good a bike, way better than I thought it would be. The main reason I want to keep the bike though is it keeps the neighbours happy, at least it looked like they were smiling.
So that’s it, I’ve managed a year on a cruiser without growing any ridiculous facial hair, buying a pair of chaps or writing off sportsbikes as pointless. That said I do now have a much greater understanding of why people buy bikes of this style.
It’s exactly that word, ‘style’, that plays such a huge part in the ownership.
Every year since I’ve been in the fortunate position to have a test bike I have tried to ride something that I wouldn’t necessarily buy with my own money. The Victory was the best example of that. I started the year laughing at the silliness of the whole thing; the brakes were weak, the pegs felt like they were two feet long – lean over a tiny bit and down they went – the engine was strong though and it didn’t take me long to get into the swing of things.
Apparently the done thing is to ride slower so you can see more and be seen. When a catalogue the size of a Thompson directory arrived full of factory accessories my research into the psyche of a cruiser rider stepped up. Bits came off and blacker bits went on, the sound of the bike also went from loud as standard to invasion of the ear drums. The bike changed me and my riding habits, notably the wearing of a silly open-face helmet so I could smoke on the way to work. On one ride to Wales I managed to retrieve a Marlboro and a lighter from my pocket, strike up a smoke and enjoy the view from the M25 without ever dipping below 40mph. Fellow smoker Andy Stevens looked on with admiration from the seat of his screaming R6 – this bike made me groovy, no doubt about it.
So, I get it – what’s not to get? It makes a cool noise, looks cool, rides exactly how it’s designed to ride and brings more exclusivity to the party than 99% of the bikes in this magazine – you never, ever see another one. One day one of these will live in my garage. When I can afford a garage...
Date recieved: 11th Feb 2008Test duration: 12 monthsTotal mileage: 6230 milesPurchase price: £8495
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