Since I don’t fly the cruiser flag, I was a bit surprised and extremely pleased to be included in the press introduction of the new Victory Boardwalk, held in beautiful Santa Barbara, California. There, we were treated to some of the finest riding coastal California has to offer—fish tacos at the fabulously secluded Jalama beach, a loop through the rolling hills of the Chumash Highway, Solvang and Buellton, and on the second day an out-and-back on the legendary Maricopa Highway/Route 33, which winds its way through the stunningly beautiful, rugged, and remote Los Padres National Forest. In two days, we rode the Boardwalk close to 400 miles on a great variety of roads. Basically, we rode the hell out of the bikes, and got a really good feel for them.
I’m going to start off by saying that the entire Victory line is smartly designed, and works very well given the constraints of the market segment in which each model competes. With this in mind, if you are familiar with Victory products, then the technical details of the new Boardwalk will be familiar. It utilizes the 106 cubic inch, fuel-injected, overhead-cam, four-valve, air/oil cooled, 50-degree V-Twin used in other Victory models. All Victory bikes are belt driven, have self-adjusting cam chains, and hydraulic lifters. With hardware like this, it’s clear why Victory claims it has the number-one reliability rating for heavyweight cruisers.
Riding the Boardwalk was, for me (an ex-road racer and current dual-sport enthusiast), an exercise not unlike Mark Twain’s quip “Wagner’s music isn’t as bad as it sounds.” My last experience with cruisers was testing the Victory Judge, and that bike was fun and cool around town, but seriously painful to ride on the highway—the prospect of doing over 180 miles each day had me a bit anxious. Fortunately, the Boardwalk is actually a very comfortable bike for longer (if not Iron Butt-longer) days in the saddle.
Approaching the bike in the lot outside the hotel, I immediately noticed the wide beach-cruiser bars. They are the source of the name, too: beach… boardwalk… get it? One grumpy journalist thought that was a big stretch, but it’s not that obtuse. The bars, along with wire wheels, wide whitewall tires, a sleek tank, a really striking wrap-around rear fender, and a redesigned lighting package give the Boardwalk an old-time-y vibe. It’s a handsome bike. Throwing a leg over, I notice the low, scooped-out seat is pretty comfortable. The reach to the forward-mounted floorboards is quite reasonable. The shifter is a toe-only affair (i.e. no heel-n-toe) so there is a lot of room to move your feet around on the floorboards, a big enhancement to comfort. And it’s available with 100 percent more colors than Henry Ford offered. Your choice of black or white.
Slip the key into the chrome horn housing nestled between the cylinders, press the go-button, and the big Twin lights off instantly, with zero fuss. I’d love to say that it slipped into gear the way a college girl’s nylon thong slides down freshly-shaven legs, but it’s really more the way a hairy, sweaty lumberjack throws his muddy size-13 Redwings in the back of his pickup. Once underway, with the ritual of precisely matching engine and road speed before shifting observed, shifting can be accomplished with reasonable alacrity. Apparently, with 113 foot-pounds of torque available, the gearbox needs to be built a bit sturdier than other bikes, even those with more than twice the horsepower. The stock fueling is exemplary: it’s always spot on with no burbles, hiccups, or glitches anywhere in the rev range and under any load condition. I wish my 10-year-old Japanese bike fueled this well.
Underway, the suspension is surprisingly good. Struggling to keep fellow ex-Honda Hawk roadracer and current madman Robert Pandya in sight, the suspension got a comprehensive workout. Right up to dragging floorboards and beyond, the Boardwalk was as steady and predictable as the proverbial rock. If a former roadracer/Boardwalk owner should desire more cornering clearance, there is a one-inch longer shock available as a factory option. Obviously, it will raise the back of the bike a bit, but the aesthetic trade-off is worth it. If you’re thinking “hey, why didn’t the jerk just crank up the preload …” it’s because the preload adjuster is buried under bodywork and other bits, and the average owner would likely take it to the dealer for that adjustment.
One of the beauties of the Victory line is the available factory options. One of our test bikes was equipped with a wider, cushier seat, saddle bags, and a windscreen. Another test bike was equipped with a freer-flowing exhaust, a re-mapped fuel injection—together, these mods create a noticeable increase in thrust—and a “speedo unlock” which enabled a host of features on the electronic dash such as instant fuel economy: a neat diversion for the technically-minded.
Victory is justifiably proud of its number-one reliability rating and is actively improving reliability with a testing program. Every model and every factory accessory is subjected to numerous torture tests to ensure reliability. The tests include extended time on a shaker table (a machine which can simulate a variety of frequencies of vibration that mimic actual use), and environmental testing to determine if finishes and materials such as paint, rubber, vinyl, and chrome are satisfactorily durable.
The real bottom line for any first-person testing is to ask if I’d buy it personally, or recommend it to a friend. The answer is yes, I would. It’s a technologically-superior machine dressed up in really cool vintage duds. If someone miraculously emptied my garage of street bikes, and told me I could have a well-accessorized Boardwalk and an iPhone full of surf music … I might just be okay with that. And that’s really saying something.
Check your local Victory dealer for availability of the 2013 Boardwalk. It will be priced at $15,499 in black, $15,899 in white — add $250 for California models.