World Exclusive! 2011 Highland Viking | First Ride

High and mighty - America's newest motorcycle packs serious power

By Aaron Frank, Photography by Brandon Bones

The tiny engine makes the Viking streetfighter incredibly light, with a claimed dry weight of just 318 lbs. The Viking is the only member of the lineup that doesn't use a Highland-made frame. British specialists Spondon build the tubular-aluminum space frame to Highland's specifications, complete with the firm's signature banana swingarm. "This is not my first Spondon," Bales says. "What can I say? I just love that frame and swingarm. And we're doing what we love here." Finished with top-shelf Öhlins suspension, Brembo brakes and Marchesini wheels, the Viking is more like a carefully assembled custom than any production streetbike.

Highland's high-performance intentions are evident the second you fire up the Viking. The prototype asymmetric titanium exhausts are hardly DOT-legal-this might be the loudest streetbike we've ever ridden. Even in big-bore, 1050cc configuration (standard displacement is 950cc), the V-twin revs with uncommon urgency. A super-light crank, coupled with cams that could have come from a Pro Stock dragbike, delivers the raw, intense engine character of a highly tuned racebike.

Despite this initial impression, Bales claims this is the "mild" state of tune, making around 125 reliable horsepower. More aggressive tuning will raise that number as high as 150 bhp, he says. Out on the twisting tarmac of Dripping Springs State Park in nearby Okmulgee, the quick-revving engine and light overall weight let the Viking accelerate with ferocious authority, making me wish for a lower handlebar to help keep the front wheel on the ground and to hide from the windblast. As exhilarating as it was on the throttle, however, the Viking suffered from severe fuel-injection hiccups, especially at low revs and partial throttle openings.

The prototype I rode was equipped with a single throttle body that will soon be replaced with a patented dual-throttle system of Malmberg's design. The new throttle body meters airflow using a cylindrical drum instead of a traditional throttle plate, which Malmberg says will provide significantly smoother throttle response that will cure the existing woes. This system has already been tested on Highland's single-cylinder dirtbikes, and is being adapted to its twin-cylinder streetbikes now.

Highland is currently completing EPA and DOT certification, with plans to produce and deliver the first customer bikes by August. Malmberg says the company will aim for initial production of 25 bikes per month, eventually doubling that figure to meet a realistic goal of 3000 motorcycles in the next three years. How that production is spread out across the model line will be determined by customer demand. "We can componentize and configure bikes however the customer wants, with a three- to five-day timeframe for delivery," Bales claims.

No matter what the final lineup looks like, all Highland models-which are expected to retail for between $10,000 and $20,000-will be hand-built using as much American-made content as possible. Bales' background manufacturing oil-drilling tools and equipment has given him access to a deep network of local precision manufacturers who now supply the company with everything from stainless-steel framesets to carbon-fiber bodywork. Respected American aftermarket firms like Jardine Performance Products and JE Piston have likewise been contracted.

"It would probably be easier-and cheaper-to source this stuff in Korea or Taiwan," Bales says. "But people want an American success story. We want to be that success story."

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