2008 Harley-Davidson Cross Bones Vs. 2008 Victory Kingpin 8-Ball - The Boredom Antidote

Two Badass Choppers Inject Some Excitement Into Aerostich's Very Boring Rally

By: Aaron Frank, Bill Berroth, Photography by Jim Moy

Exiting the interstate and dialing back the pace, we aim north up a serpentine stretch of State Highway 55 following Wisconsin's wild Wolf River, where the less hide-bound Kingpin held the upper hand again. Though non-adjustable, its inverted cartridge fork offers 5.1 inches of usable travel and is firm enough to resist the hardest stops from the four-piston front caliper with minimal dive. Out back, the cast-aluminum swingarm carries a gas-charged monoshock with 3.9 inches of compliant travel. A rising-rate shock-not your usual cruiser-spec part -lets the Kingpin pull off a passable sportbike imitation.

The Victory's 180/55-18 rear tire looks tiny under that exaggerated rear fender. But paired with a relatively sporty 130/70-18 front the Victory delivers nimble, sure-footed steering that allows a surprisingly speedy pace on twisty roads. Classy, cast-aluminum floorboards allow more lean angle than the Harley's stamped-steel, half-moon boards, but don't spark or scrape half as obnoxiously as the Hog's. Boring.

The Cross Bones is better suited to boulevards than backroads. The faux-hardtail rear suspension (twin shocks hide under the engine) offers virtually no compression or rebound damping, so rear wheel control leaves something-many things, in fact-to be desired. The leading-link Springer fork nails the nostalgic look, but its performance is a throwback as well. Oversprung and underdamped, small bumps barely move the mechanism and big ones quickly overwhelm it. Want real excitement? Pitch Mr. Bones into a fast, bumpy sweeper and just try to hold on. The swingarm and sprung saddle move in different directions at the same time, and side-loading the Springer fork reduces compliance even more. You'll be listening for a rodeo bell to end that ride.

That's OK, though, because the rest of the Cross Bones' chassis isn't intended for serious action either. Chubby rolling stock makes for slow steering that's exacerbated by a tall, rubber-mounted handlebar that makes steering vague. Better to keep the speeds down, anyway, because the single-piston front caliper doesn't exactly encourage late braking. Low and slow is the way this retro Harley rolls.

Splitting performance hairs with these two bikes is like analyzing the nutritional content of Wisconsin's ubiquitous Friday-night fish fry. Thrumming along at the legal limit on Highway 2, cutting across the Gogebic Range and gazing out over the inland ocean of Lake Superior, these two American lumps of Iron just might be the perfect bikes. We don't envy our photographer at all, tagging along on the technically superior but hopelessly under-utilized Honda CBR1000RR gear mule.

The innate rightness of both the American Original and the American Upstart is further reinforced once we arrive at the VBR site in Duluth. Even touring geeks sense the cool, and the inevitable crowd gathers everywhere we park. The Kingpin garners its share of admirers, especially from the assembled Minnesotans. But the Cross Bones commands more attention, collapsing the dork vortex of sidecar talk and luggage capacity as even the most farkled BMW riders and over-fed Wing Dingers declare, in unison, "Wow, what a bitchin' bike!" Wonky chassis? Weak motor? Nobody cares. There's no substitute for Willie G style.

We opted out of Saturday's Very Boring seminars (The virtues of Gore-Tex? The subtleties of Garmin GPS software?) and instead headed out on a Tour de Duluth, over Skyline Parkway and down Seven Bridges Road. This Harley owns the lazy cruise with a smooth, unobtrusive character that's antithetical to its old-school looks. Electronic, sequential-port fuel injection performs flawlessly, and the Cruise Drive six-speed's sliding-steel "dog ring" shift mechanism provides smooth progress unknown to Harley riders of yore-despite a clumsy heel-toe shifter that sticks out too far beyond the frame, requiring you to reposition your foot on the floorboard before each shift.

The Victory's shift lever is slimmer and more ergonomic, but the transmission requires a longer throw and makes more noise between all five gears. Clutch effort is higher on the Kingpin, too, and the Victory's fuel injection displays just the slightest hint of surging at lower rpms. We'd offer an exact figure, but neither bike is equipped with a tach. Victory's bar-mounted speedo is much easier to read than the H-D's historically placed tank-top unit, but Harley-Davidson gets props for a trick "Cat Eye" idiot-light display that lends an even more retro look.

Blatting between red-brick warehouses lining Duluth's waterfront downtown, the style and swagger of the Cross Bones bobber-not to mention its more refined powerplant-is undeniably more satisfying. If the road is anything but straight and smooth, the Kingpin 8-Ball is what you want. While the cratered curves on Skyline Parkway got the 'Bones crossed up, Victory's superior suspension, reasonably agile handling, and robust power output handled cruising and carving with equal aplomb-and for $3000 less, it should be pointed out. A solid American antidote to boredom, indeed.

By Aaron Frank, Bill Berroth
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