Riding the same motorcycle for 6100 miles in just 12 days gives you an intimate understanding of the machine and how well it works. If you’re in the market for a touring motorcycle, you should know that Victory has kept this machine mechanically the same from 2012 through the 2017 model year, with nothing more than lighting and cosmetic changes, like paint schemes, for the upcoming year (I’m writing this in August, 2016). I expect a major overhaul of the entire Victory line for 2018. Among other changes, I think we’ll see several models upgraded to the company’s water-cooled motor, which is currently only used in the “Octane.”

Before getting into specifics about my Victory, I should point out that most riders are not the slightest bit objective about their motorcycles. Brand loyalty is extremely strong and riders sing the praises of their machines and justify all kinds of flaws in them because of the strong emotional attachments they build with their bikes. Frankly, on Victory Motorcycle forums, some owners spend a lot of time putting down Harleys — it’s as if they’re justifying purchasing something different. In any case, I think Victory owners exhibit more “brand defensiveness” than riders of most other brands.

Perhaps because I’ve been a marketing professional for so long, I am somewhat cynical about brand loyalty — which is viewed by experts as a “downscale attribute.” In fact, I really like nearly all motorcycles (including Harleys) and I love the very wide variety of models, brands and styles available today.

Now, back to my Victory Cross Country Tour (or XCT for short).

This is a very reliable motorcycle, with Consumer Reports ranking Victory bikes in general well ahead of all European brands and just ahead of Harleys (side note: BMW is by far the least reliable brand). However, it’s a little less reliable than the Japanese brands.  I had no problems with the machine and I rode it pretty hard sometimes.

In my opinion, and according to countless people I met during my trip, the XCT is truly a beautiful motorcycle. Most people don’t know what it is and are intrigued to hear it’s manufactured in Iowa.  It’s fun riding a machine so handsome that people constantly seek you out to compliment your bike.

The XCT is a comfortable mount — provided you supplement the stock seat with some kind of cover. I used a “Beadrider,” which was simply fantastic. I know from experience that the stock seat is only comfortable for me for about four hours. With the Beadrider seat cover, I could ride all day and beyond. I like the seating position on the machine but I will experiment with some different handlebar positions as I developed some nagging soreness between my shoulder blades.

The XCT includes — stock — large floorboards with cubbies in the fairing to rest your feet. You can adjust your riding position a lot, which is extremely helpful on long days. The cubbies act sort of like highway bars but are a lot more secure (my feet always feel like they’re about to slide off of highway bars on other bikes).

Victory advertises the XCT as having the most storage of any production motorcycle in the world. My plan was to leave the trunk empty and force myself to limit my packing to what could fit in the saddlebags — which are really big, by the way. That was a great plan because at every stop, I simply dumped my helmet, jacket and gloves in the trunk, locked it and walked off. I had to do laundry a few times but it was great to travel light. Nonetheless, I carried a lot of stuff — besides clothes, I had a portable air compressor, tools, tire patch kit, first aid kit, engine oil and a lot more. It all fit in the bags.

I wound up using almost none of that stuff — except the air compressor, which was helpful to have on board. Notably, the bike didn’t burn a drop of oil in 6100 miles. Pretty impressive.

The XCT includes storage cubbies in the fairing, where I placed my camera and other small gear. They don’t lock (although you can order lock sets for them), but I had no trouble.

In terms of performance, the XCT utilizes the Freedom 106″ V-Twin engine. I never felt short of power and the bike kept up with the other five machines, which included a Harley CVO Ultra, a Honda Gold Wing, a Harley Heritage Classic (I think) and a Kawasaki Concours — which could have walked away from the rest of us anytime the rider wanted to, I’m sure. We weren’t racing but we rode at a strong pace for long periods of time and the XCT produced effortless power. My bike has the “Stage 1” kit and the Victory Tri-Oval exhaust, which probably add a few horsepower.

I replaced the original windshield with a Madstad screen, which allows a lot more airflow. Also, the Madstad is adjustable while the stock screen is not. I set it in its lowest position and didn’t touch it again throughout the trip.

The XCT’s rear suspension includes an air shock you can adjust through a fitting on the side of the bike. I frankly keep mine pumped up to the max setting most of the time — I like a firm ride and it gives me a little more cornering clearance before the floorboards start scraping. The front suspension is not adjustable.

My XCT has built-in FM, XM, Weather radio, AM and will play an iPod or iPhone — all through accessory Bluetooth dongles that I added when I bought it. This system works okay but it’s pretty outdated vs. what’s available on other touring machines from Indian, Harley, Honda, etc. The Bluetooth is particularly buggy, which is annoying. I wound up relocating the dongles to a place where I could reach the reset buttons when I stopped (normally they’re behind the headlight and you can’t get to them without removing the light).

Generally speaking, I was able to listen to what I wanted to hear for the vast majority of the trip. There’s no built-in nav system, so I used my iPhone to guide me.

The XCT handles extraordinarily well at speed for such a big bike — but it does not perform like a sport bike or sport touring machine. It’s not as fast or nimble and the floorboards scrape at less of a lean angle. Having said that, it’s designed for long-distance touring (it’s literally called a “Cross Country Tour,” after all) and in that context it performs and handles admirably, particularly compared to similar bikes from other manufacturers.

But: All of these large touring bikes have a reputation for being very cumbersome and ponderous at low speeds, particularly with a passenger. I’ve read and heard complaints about the XCT, the Harley Electra and Ultra Glides, the Honda Gold Wing, the BMW K1600LT and more — at very low speeds, these bikes are very easy to drop. Adjustable front suspension would help in the case of the XCT but it’s just a lot of mass and a relatively high center of gravity due to the tall engine that leads to lots of parking lot drops. Fortunately, the XCT has built-in crash bars that protect all of the painted parts. I did not drop the bike on this trip — but I was careful every time I slowed for stoplights, at gas pumps, etc.

The bike is getting somewhat dated vs. competitors. The wiring is out in the open rather than run through the handlebars and frame, which doesn’t affect functionality but detracts from appearances. A bike in this class should have some kind of adjustable windshield without the owner having to buy an aftermarket product: it’s annoying not to have even a manually-adjusted stock windshield while competing models have electrically-adjustable screens.

As noted, the entertainment system is very clunky and needs a complete overhaul. A bike in this price range ($24K or so), should have nav built-in, the Bluetooth ought to work fine and programming and using the controls should be easy.

The cruise control works okay — it maintains speed well but if you have set your speed and you want to change it, you have to touch the brake to interrupt the “Set” speed first. In a car, you simply press the “Set” button at your new speed and the system adapts.

Some bikes have keyless ignition and the trunks and saddlebags are remote controlled, which isn’t a big deal but would be kind of cool.

The lighting is okay but not great — I added front LED lights for safety reasons. One change for 2017 is that these bikes will come with all LED lighting, which will help a lot.

Like many other Victory bikes, mine developed a squeak from the drive belt, which supposedly means the dealer made it too tight then they adjusted it. You can only hear this at slow, parking-lot speeds under certain conditions. In my case, it was very noticeable when I was stuck in construction delay traffic and it sounded exactly like a wheel bearing about to lock up. That was very disconcerting until I Googled the symptoms. Then I ignored it but it was a little annoying.

A bike in this price range should come standard with a fork lock. In fact, it didn’t even occur to me to check to see if the bike had such a lock when I bought it. I just assumed it was there — and then was surprised to learn that it’s an option and it costs a few hundred dollars to add. That’s a foolish and eye-rolling cost-cutting move. Perhaps Victory has changed their policy since I bought mine but every street motorcycle needs a fork lock.

My biggest complaint about this bike is the gas gauge. It’s nearly useless. When you fill the bike with gas, the needle goes to the very top  and then doesn’t budge for 75 or 80 miles. Then it drops like a rock and by 140 miles, the tank shows empty and the “Low Fuel” light comes on and stays on even though you have another 60 to 80 miles of fuel left…although you aren’t really sure because the gas gauge doesn’t work!

I had to set one of my trip odometers every time I filled up with gas — and then ignore the gas gauge and simply stop when I approached 180 miles, just to be cautious (particularly after I ran out of gas in Missouri!) Some people on Victory forums defend this, claiming that it’s hard to get gas gauges to work right on motorcycles and that the trip odometer is a better tool to use in any case.

I think that’s nonsense. This is an expensive motorcycle from a world-class manufacturer  — it’s reasonable to expect that the gas gauge will work. Other manufacturers have figured it out and Polaris (Victory’s owner) needs to make this right on future models.

Here’s the bottom line: I really enjoyed riding my Victory Cross Country Tour — but Polaris hasn’t updated this model since it was introduced in 2012 and it’s getting dated. In the meantime, the company introduced an entirely new line of Indian motorcycles, BMW launched brand new versions of three touring/sport touring bikes and Harley overhauled their entire line of touring bikes (the “Rushmore” project).

The Victory XCT is a great touring motorcycle — it’s comfortable, handles well, has good power and lots of storage. I really enjoyed riding it on this trip. But there are better, more up-to-date choices in this class right now unless you can find a great deal on an XCT and the price is important to you. I suspect you will be able to get deep discounts on Victory bikes through the next model year; the money-savings, along with the overall good performance, sharp looks and great reliability still make them attractive choices in some cases.

Way back in 2012, Cycle World magazine summarized their long-term test of this bike by saying, “With one more thoughtful pass through the refinement machine, it could be a great motorcycle.” Four years later, the company is long overdue with that refinement machine and I hope 2018 is the year this bike gets the update it deserves.