What's the proper response when the boss sends you to something called the Very Boring Rally? "Sure, just let me finish this latest issue of Modern Numerics and find my digital sextant?" A few years of marriage, mortgage and midnight feedings have dulled my edge, but The Very Boring Rally?
It's the brainchild of Andy Goldfine, proprietor of Aerostich Riderwear and inventor of the single greatest piece of riding gear yet devised: the Roadcrafter one-piece riding suit. You might think this rally's name is ironic, a nudge-wink to the uber-adventure types at the core of Goldfine's customer base. Maybe it's an attempt to scare off the Bike Week-bred party posse. But Duluth-born Goldfine doesn't do irony. He's almost pathologically sincere; the embodiment of Minnesota's straightforward, Scandinavian roots. Anyone who has perused the endlessly entertaining RiderWarehouse catalog knows that Goldfine honors truth in advertising above all. And with seminars exploring the "psychobiological connections between motor-cycle and rider," well, Very Boring is the dog's honest truth.
Never one to actively seek boredom, my over-caffeinated, ADD-addled brain comes to one conclusion. This job needs one hell of a cool bike. Not some GPS-guided, seat-heated touring sled, but a badass, tough-as-nails chopper. Ever met a bored Hell's Angel? Make that two choppers now that Bill Berroth-friend-of-the-magazine, el jefe at Motonation (Sidi/Vemar's US distributor) and off-road rider extraordinaire-wants in on the action.
Call us the Uneasy Riders: one (me) who'd rather be chopped up in little bits than caught dead on any chopper and another (Berroth) who's never ridden a Milwaukee V-twin at all. Instead of Wyatt and Billy crossing the desert in fringed leather, we're Papa and Baby Smurf in bright-blue Cordura, searching for freedom on Midwestern back roads. Our iron ponies are factory choppers in basic black: Harley-Davidson's retro-bobber Cross Bones and Victory's stripped-down Kingpin 8-Ball. Go ahead, try and bore us now.
The Cross Bones is the flagship of The Motor Company's new Dark Custom line-up, designed to appeal to young, hip buyers. Patterned after a '50s bob job, the Softail-based Bones nails the look with its Bobtail rear fender, fat tires on black, spoked rims, retro-style Springer fork and mini ape-hanger handlebar. Black Denim matte paint with hand-laid pinstripes completes the look. No need to squint much to see a vintage custom here.
The Kingpin comes from Victory's budget "8-Ball" line. Basic black is the theme-except for the slash-cut shotgun pipes, headlight and speedo housing, everything is as dark as midnight. Where the Cross Bones looks backward for inspiration, Kingpin styling is post-modern custom with a sculpted and stretched fuel tank and full fenders that emphasize Victory's signature, flowing lines. Don't dig the big-fender look? Try the slimmer 8-Ball Vegas for $200 less.
Cross Bones power comes from the Twin-Cam 96B, Harley-Davidson's latest 45-degree V-twin. That's 96 as in cubic inches, and "B" tips you to the internal balance shaft that eliminates vibration with surprising effectiveness. The Kingpin utilizes the Victory's 100-cubic-inch, air/oil-cooled Freedom engine. With single overhead cams and four valves per cylinder (vs. pushrods and two-valve heads for the Harley), the livelier Freedom engine delivers 76 bhp and 93 lbs.-ft. of torque through the five-speed transmission to the belt-driven rear wheel. The smaller-displacement Cross Bones puts down just 70 bhp and 84 lbs.-ft.of torque, though a closer-ratio, six-speed Cruise Drive transmission helps it more or less keep up with the Victory on the street.
Our version of cross-border terrorism took us from Harley's hometown of Milwaukee to the Victory's home state of Minnesota. The first 100 miles from The Brew City to Green Bay were all slab, and demonstrated immediately that the Kingpin and Cross Bones are both mostly unfit for long-distance, high-speed touring. Feet-forward riding positions provide the proper thug profile around town, but they're painful at highway speeds. The Victory is more comfortable, but not by much. Its saddle is accommodating with decent lumbar support, and a lower, pullback handlebar almost keeps your arms out of the wind. Forward-mounted floorboards prevent your legs from offering any support, however, sending road shock straight up your spine.
The Cross Bones' sprung tractor-saddle is a fine perch, but that too-cool ape hanger bar turns your torso into a parachute and any attempt to resist the windblast is stymied by forward-mounted floorboards. You're left using either your arms or abs to sit up straight. Neither strategy works for 70 miles at 70 per, as visions of some boring bolt-on windshield dance in your head.
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.
Bobbed fenders and barbecue paint turn yesterday's Heritage Springer into today's Dark Cus
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.
Hidden Cat-Eye indicator lights under the center-mount speedo give the console a retro loo
Sprung saddle is as comfortable as it looks; lacing is a quality touch.
Springer fork looks fresh from the '40s--and rides like it too.
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.
Victory's Freedom motor is more modern than the Harley, with eight valves and overhead cam
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.
There's nothing budget about the Kingpin cockpit. Polished warning light bezel and sculpte
8-ball sticker looks cheesy up-close. Luckily, it's over the clear coat so it's easy to pe
8-Ball bikes use the old-gen 100 c.i./5-speed powertrain, not the 106 c.i./6-speed combo t
Full Bore Rally
Who needs excitement when boredom is this much fun?
"I don't think you go to the john at Sturgis and find two guys crowded around the same mirror, flossing," our new buddy Mike said coming back from the restroom on Saturday night. Dinner was barbecue and corn on the cob that tends to stick between your teeth.
Then again, Aerostich's Very Boring Rally has nothing in common with Sturgis-or Bike Week, or the Honda Hoot, or any other motorcycle rally we've attended. That's what makes it such a great event. There were exactly zero helmet-less sportbike squids or boozed-up bikers clogging traffic, and none of the crass commercialism or obnoxious activities-no "Best Biker Booty" contest, either-that pass for entertainment at better-known bike events. Just a few hundred serious motorcyclists not taking themselves too seriously at all after ending up in Duluth to celebrate 25 years of Aerostich and some great riding along the way. Just like the company's unassuming founder, Andy "this rally is not about me" Goldfine, hoped it would be.
And, just in case you're wondering, the Rally wasn't really that boring. OK, so the contemporary folk stylings of Nordic Angst had some of us running for the woods, but rowdy world-famous comedian Maria Bamford rattled cages the right way. And damned if Austin icon Junior Brown didn't put on the hottest honkytonk show Minnesota has ever seen. Seminars by super-tourers Ted Simon and Dr. Gregory Frazier were well received, and the final round of the 2008 AMA/NATC national trials championship took place on-site that weekend as well.Too bad Goldfine says we'll have to wait another five years for his company's 30th anniversary and the Very, Very Boring Rally. Brace yourself.
Off The Record
Maybe it's something in Milwaukee's water, but I really love riding Harley-Davidsons. Objectively, there's nothing easier to criticize than a Harley-especially one as tradition-bound as the Cross Bones, and especially compared side-by-side with a motorcycle as good as Victory's Kingpin. But subjectively, there's simply no comparison. Ape-hangers in hand, you can't help but feel like Steve McQueen (the bearded years) barreling toward Salinas on a Saturday night. Handling? Who cares?! Like all Harleys, the Cross Bones has that inimitable X-factor-accumulated over 105 years of popular myth making-that makes every ride, even the painful ones, feel like something magic.
Age: 33 Height: 5'7" Weight: 145 lbs Inseam: 31 in.
A Professional Dirt Donk Goes HOG Wild
Don't ask me how I made it 51 years on this planet without ever once riding a Harley-Davidson. I've ridden and raced literally hundreds of motorcycles, everywhere from Europe to Peru, Brazil to Australia, and enough times up and down the Baja Peninsula to have my own personal lobster tank at some finer taco stands. I've ridden all around the USA too, but not one single mile aboard genuine American Iron. Until now.
I've always looked down on H-Ds. I imagined them all to be hugely overweight bikes with suspension by Wham-O that required a calendar to calculate braking and acceleration figures. Now I know that they're hugely overweight bikes with suspension by Wham-O that require a calendar to calculate braking and acceleration figures -but that's not the point!
If you watch enough cable TV you know all about the "spiritual experience" of riding a Harley-Davidson; all the blather about freedom and brotherhood that turns real motorcyclists' stomachs faster than it turns your dentist neighbor into a Road King-riding weekend warrior. The thing is-and I hate to admit this-there is something different about riding a Harley-Davidson, something that I never experienced on any of the other bikes in my past.
Climb aboard a Harley and you indeed enter another world-one where everyone that looks at you actually sees you, and also has a (usually favorable) opinion of you and your Wild Hog. Sure, a few might hate you as you roar by at 90 mph or do a smoky burnout in the hotel parking (Moy!), but for the most part it's pure envy. True or not, you are seen as the wild spirit that everyone else wishes they could be. Stop for gas, coffee, whatever, and it seems like every man, woman or child within 50 yards comes over to chat about the bike. It's like nothing I've experienced with any other motorcycle. After a while you do start to think it's something special-and pretty damn cool.
Off The Record
The Cross Bones' roguish look and sound are definite turn-ons, but the suspension-or, rather, lack of suspension-really tears you up. Hit a sharp-edged bump and it's like being punched in the face! Little details bothered me, too-the tank-mounted speedo is hard to see with a full-face helmet, and the BMW-type turn signals are odd. The Kingpin is smoother and more refined in every way. The brakes are stronger with better feel, and it certainly corners better and drags less. The Kingpin's a much better ride than the Cross Bones, but in the end just lacks the cool factor of the Wild Hog.
Age: 51 Height: 5'10" Weight: 195 lbs. Inseam: 30 in.
2008 Harley-Davidson Cross Bones | PRICE: $16,999
The Cross Bones rocks the 96B (for "balanced") version of H-D's Twin Cam V-twin, which runs smoothly enough to be rigidly mounted in the Softail frame without excessive vibration. The six-speed Cruise Drive transmission adds an overdrive ratio for even more relaxed cruising at highway speeds.
Rear wheel travel is an acceptable 4 inches, though it's all spring and no damping. The sprung saddle and fat, 200mm-wide rear tire help take the edge off harsher hits, however. The similarly under-damped Springer fork isn't exactly compliant or controlled, encouraging a sensible pace.
Harley's Softail chassis might resemble a rigid in profile (especially the Cross Bones version, with its retro-look sprung saddle), but it actually has rear suspension. Twin dampers are hidden underneath the motor.
Weak brakes will have you crossing your heart in panic situations. The front brake is a barely adequate one-piston affair-torsional loads produced by a stronger front brake would tie up the Springer fork, H-D says. Extreme rearward weight bias means the two-piston rear brake is more effective than most.
|Engine type: a-c 45-deg. V-twin||Rear brake: Single two-piston caliper, 292mm disc||Corrected 1/4-mile: 13.62 sec. @ 94.67 mph|
|Valve train: OHV, 4v||Front tire: MT90B16 Dunlop 72H||Top-gear roll-on 60-80 mph: 3.05 sec.|
|Displacement: 1584cc||Rear tire: 200/55-R17 Dunlop 78V||Fuel mileage (high/low/avg.): 43/31/39 mpg|
|Bore x stroke: 95.25 x 111.25mm||Rake/trail: 32.5 deg./6.3 in.||Colors: Vivid Black, Dark Blue Pearl, Black Denim, Pewter Denim|
|Compression: 9.2:1||Seat height: 30.1 in.||Availability: Now|
|Fuel system: EFI||Wheelbase: 64.5 in.||Warranty: 24 mo./unlimited mi.|
|Clutch: Wet, multi-plate||Fuel capacity: 5.0 gal.||Contact: |
Harley-Davidson Motor Co.
3700 W. Juneau Ave.
Milwaukee, WI 53201
|Transmission: 6-speed||Weight (tank full/empty): 726/696 lbs.|
|Frame: Steel backbone with twin downtubes||Measured horsepower: 70.0 bhp @ 5200 rpm|
|Front suspension: Springer leading-link fork||Measured torque: 84.2 lb.-ft. @ 3200 rpm|
|Rear suspension: Softail, twin shocks|
|Front brake: Single one-piston caliper, 292mm disc|
The Twin Cam 96B is unlikely to impress in any acceleration contest, but it's an agreeable powerplant with ample low-end power that builds steadily all the way to redline. A lower first gear and closer-spaced six-speed transmission help the Cross Bones keep the Victory within sight on the street.
You're a slave to fashion on the Cross Bones, with a mini-ape-hanger handlebar defining a riding position that looks badass and literally becomes a pain-in-the-ass as the miles pass by. The tractor-style saddle is as comfortable as it looks, and is adjustable one inch fore and aft to counter a long seat-to-peg distance.
2008 Victory Kingpin 8-Ball | PRICE: $13,999
Victory's more modern (and larger-displacement) Freedom V-twin benefits from overhead cams, four-valve heads and an ancillary oil-cooling system for improved performance compared to the pushrod, two-valve, air-cooled H-D. Stout torque makes up for the lack of a sixth gear, though transmission action could be smoother and quieter.
Who's been raiding the sportbike parts bins? The 43mm inverted cartridge fork isn't adjustable, but is sufficiently sprung to resist dive and pitch even when worked hard. Same for the rear monoshock, affixed to a rising-rate linkage, which is both acceptably compliant and nearly impossible to bottom out.
Victory's steel-cradle frame is stiffer than Harley's-a good thing, as better brakes and more capable suspension at both ends encourage you to feed higher loads into it. The cast-aluminum swingarm is unexpected on a cruiser, and adds both to performance and perceived value.
The single four-piston front brake provides decent feel and is reasonably easy to modulate (even with a massive lever blade), though it's easy to overwhelm with such a heavy bike. A second front stopper (as on Victory's Hammer) would be welcome, though this would likely compromise the 8-Ball's bargain pricing.
|Engine type: a/o-c 50-deg. V-twin||Rear brake: Single two-piston caliper, 300mm disc||Corrected 1/4-mile: 12.68 sec. @ 100.26 mph|
|Valve train: SOHC, 8v||Front tire: 130/70B18 Dunlop 491 Elite II||Top-gear roll-on 60-80 mph: 3.05 sec.|
|Displacement: 1634cc||Rear tire: 180/55B18 Dunlop D417||Fuel mileage (high/low/avg.): 44/32/41 mpg|
|Bore x stroke: 101.0 x 102.0mm||Rake/trail: 32.8 deg./5.4 in.||Colors: Black|
|Compression: 8.7:1||Seat height: 26.5 in.||Availability: Now|
|Fuel system: EFI||Wheelbase: 65.6 in.||Warranty: 12 mo./unlimited mi.|
|Clutch: Wet, multi-plate||Fuel capacity: 4.5 gal.||Contact: |
2100 Highway 55
Medina, MN 55340
|Transmission: 5-speed||Weight (tank full/empty): 686/659 lbs.|
|Frame: Steel backbone with twin downtubes||Measured horsepower: 76.0 bhp @ 5350 rpm|
|Front suspension: 43mm inverted cartridge fork||Measured torque: 93.1 lb.-ft. @ 2850 rpm|
|Rear suspension: Single shock, adjustable for spring preload|
|Front brake: Single four-piston caliper, 300mm disc|
Fifty extra cc's and four more valves contribute to the Freedom engine's 7-bhp/9-lbs.-ft. advantage. Peak torque arrives at 2850 rpm-allowing us to sidestep the clutch for drag-strip launches-but falls off quickly past 4000 rpm (where power begins to level off, too) so there's no reason to rev it out.
A lower, narrower handlebar and shorter seat-to-peg distance make the Kingpin more comfortable than the Cross Bones, but that's not saying much. The seat is especially supportive, but even that can't protect you from a gynecologic riding position that transmits road shock straight up your spine.