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ChopCult Shootout: Victory High-Ball Vs. Harley-Davidson Street Bob

 

Pounded by critics for not being technologically advanced and pummeled by customers every time they stray from tradition, Harley-Davidson will always face a double-edged sword. Outlasting all other stateside bike makers and defending themselves from quality imports is a testimony to both Harley's cult-like status and the rabid dedication of its customers.

What if a new motorcycle company came along that didn't have the restrictions of over a hundred years of defining a category? What if you could start with a clean slate and build a bike that accomplished the same mission, but was unencumbered by past?

That's the position Polaris found themselves in when they started Iowa-based Victory Motorcycles in 1998. Freedom to do things their own way but also lacking generational momentum has proven to be a challenge. No matter what you think of their bikes, Victory is clearly onto something—a fact made apparent by the brand's profitability after their fourth year in operation. ChopCult is focused on customizing, building and creating our own machines, but it doesn't mean we shouldn't be aware of what's going on with modern motorcycles. When an opportunity came along to test the Victory High-Ball head to head against H-D's newest Street Bob, we jumped at the chance.

Having ridden old and new, stock and modified Harleys for years, it's hard to not to go into a road test with some preconcieved notions regarding the incumbent. With zero experience aboard a Victory, it was easier for McGoo and me to notice subtle differences. On paper the bikes are very similar. The Victory weighs in at 659 pounds dry, has a 106-inch Freedom V-twin, single-cam four-valve engine, a six-speed transmission, a low 25-inch seat height and a 64.8-inch wheelbase. Our Harley was packing an optional 103-inch Twin Cam V-Twin engine, tipped the scales 20 pounds lighter than the High-Ball, and boasted a 64.2-inch wheelbase and a seat height a click shy of 27 inches. The High-Ball is slightly lower, longer and heavier, but only by fractions. Those small tweaks are almost immediately obvious as soon as you sit on the Victory. It really does feel longer, lower and well, different. The Street Bob feels exactly as you'd expect if you're used to riding a Harley—these guys know what to mess with and what to leave alone.

If you believe the series of videos on YouTube created by an Arizona Victory dealer called "Victory vs. Harley"  it's a wonder Harley-Davidsons even run. Victory's Freedom V-Twin with gear drive primary and some true technological advancements is surely a great power train, but is this guy for real? I asked a trusted friend for some advice on the subject who earns a living with his knowledge of both old and new engines and who is intimately familiar with both the TC and the Victory mills. To paraphrase his summary: "The claims in these videos are based mostly on truth, but are exaggerated to the point of being misleading. The Victory engine (and entire motorcycle) is surely well designed and well made, but this guy is not exactly telling the whole truth." That sounded like a pretty reasonable analysis to me.

Tech and propaganda aside, how do they ride? Is there a big difference between the two? In a word, no. They are both sophisticated, large motorcycles that are more than willing to squirt you down the highway at unreasonable speeds and bring a smile to any face when the going gets fun. If all-out speed and handling were your goals, you wouldn't be looking at either of these machines in the first place. But just because you don't want a Ducati or a Street Triple doesn't mean you shouldn't have fun, right? It was nice to see that neither bike compromised rideability, comfort or performance just to achieve some marketing-driven look. (The Sportster 48 comes to mind...) Either bike would be right at home on a jaunt around town or a multi-day trip across country. The ergos on the Victory bars are a bit suspect. McGoo didn't care for them, but I didn't mind them at all. The forwards on the High-Ball are not outlandishly out there, but the mids on the H-D are right where I wanted them. Both clutches pulled easily, seat heights were low and all controls were easy to use. A rider from any spot on the experience matrix could hop on either bike and feel confident, but the Victory feels a little more like you are sitting in the bike—down low, arms up, slightly more chopper-ish in posture—which is clearly by design.

The H-D came equipped with optional ABS. I prefer less nanny-controls and want to be 100 percent in command of my machine, but keep in mind these modern bikes with a full-sized man, tank of gas and a couple days of camping gear nearly hit the half-ton mark. As much as my Luddite nature says otherwise, ABS works. I put it to use a couple times on the Bob and also abused it last year on a new Blackline (especially in the dirt) and I have to admit it can be a good thing. It's not intrusive and only comes in when you need it.

Our official butt-dynos said the Victory has a slight advantage when it comes to motivation. The High-Ball straight gets it on and the torquey power delivery won't feel at all unfamiliar to a seasoned Harley rider. While it might seem just a hair slower than the Victory, the Street Bob with the optional 103-inch motor (a 350 buck upgrade—who wouldn't add that to the list!) is no slouch. With six extra cubes the bike feels significantly richer than a stock 96-inch TC and is right on the big Vic's heels. On a purely subjective note, the Harley sounds way better.

 

(Editor's note: For this comparo, Harold and I switched back and forth on the bikes, but he spent more time on the murdered-out Victory. The High-Ball photos and captions are his; I penned the ones that accompany the Street Bob. – Bill)

 

victory harley davidson chopcult test_001

Fussy dressers swear black clothing shrinks the human form from a visual perspective. To my untrained eye the Victory High-Ball's dusky blackness had the opposite effect, and actually increased the visual mass of this already imposing cruiser's hulking silhouette. 

 

victory harley davidson chopcult test_002

What I would describe as Victory's untimely attempt at retro hotrod styling adds little to what is otherwise a clean looking, purposeful motorcycle. Splashes of satin brightwork on the motor fins and other areas are a nice touch, but text treatments like "Freedom Twin" and "6-speed Overdrive" come across kind of cheesy. I don't need to be told how cool or rugged my motorcycle is.

 

victory harley davidson chopcult test_003

Hiding in front of the fat whitewall tire on this exceptionally nice looking 60-spoke wheel is an MX-inspired rising-rate rear suspension with adjustable, gas-charged coil shock. Rigid may be the way to go, but suspesion will always be the way to go fast.

 

victory harley davidson chopcult test_004

The Victory High-Ball's swingarm is a massive cast alloy construction with a clean, 3D forged alloy caliper backing plate. Some might label such details "un-cruiser like," but I give Victory an "A" for originality. Face it: very few snowmobile companies have the same 110-year-old heritage from which to crib design inspiration that Harley has.

 

victory harley davidson chopcult test_005

The High-Ball's cockpit is where Victory's commitment to creating "The Custom Bobber Experience" becomes untenable. While the construction of these fat, angular apes seemed first-rate, their height, width and flat backsweep felt unwieldy and accessively "faux outlaw" to this stubby-limbed test rider.

 

victory harley davidson chopcult test_006

On the other hand, Victory's smooth clutch and adjustable front brake lever felt awesome. Simple rubber grips with durable handlebar end caps were another nice touch. The button behind the clutch lever on the leading edge of the left control pod lets the rider scroll through basic data on the High-Ball's speedo.  

 

victory harley davidson chopcult test_007

Victory's aesthetic mantra must include the words "bigger is better." Everything first-time cruiser buyers are likely to cherish—namely, all the big stuff—seems especially big on this machine. Examples include the Andre-the-Giant-sized headlight bucket, the massive lower triple tree with integrated headlight bracket, and the aforementioned oversized apes. Lay off the steroids, Polaris.

 

victory harley davidson chopcult test_008

Any machine as big as the High-Ball feels demands brakes that are up to their task, and Victory's deliver in spades. As a whole the High-Ball's rolling and stopping hardware is top shelf, and put the gaudy red wheels on the 2013 H-D to shame in terms of style and performance in my book. 

 

victory harley davidson chopcult test_009

The Victory's foot controls were tidy, comfortable and super well constructed, even if they weren't exactly where my short legs needed them. Throw some mid-mounted foot controls and a six-inch-tall bar with backsweep on this oil-cooled firebreather and my lazy ass could ride a High-Ball all damned day. 

 

victory harley davidson chopcult test_011

Victory's air/oil cooled overhead cam 4-valve V-twin boasts 106 cubic inches and generates 110 ft./lb. of torque. That beats the 96-inch stock mill in the 2013 Street Bob by 18 ft./lb. and the 103 upgrade by a couple, but Harley's more classic and visually inspired entry in this horse race felt plenty quick between the street lights in our seat-of-the-pants comparison. Perhaps this was due to the Harley's 20 pounds lighter curb weight? Something else surprised me during our 50-mile loop over the foothills and freeway near ChopCult HQ: The Harley-Davidson is a slick shifting beast. I expected the five quarts of oil coursing through the High-Ball's veins might make Harley's century-old drive train layout feel clunky by comparison, but it didn't. The 2013 Street Bob was one of the smoothest shifting motorcycles I've ever ridden. 

 

victory harley davidson chopcult test_013

This photo offers no sense of scale to put the Victory's seat into perspective, so I'll say this: It's goddamned massive. Does that help?

 

victory harley davidson chopcult test_015

Further styling cues from a company unencumbered by a century of visual and technological history or heritage. Because Victory is owned by a factory that makes snowmobiles, the brand isn't beholden to a design ethos originally penned by anyone's great-grandfather. This is a blessing and a curse. While I loved the High-Ball's recessed taillight, its swoopy fender stays and sword-shaped swingarm seemed swoopy and sword shaped for no good reason. In their attempt to reimagine the modern cruiser for today's motorcycler, Victory may be guilty of not pushing their own design language far enough. A pity, because a comparison of each machine's tech sheet has this shade tree mechanic convinced Polaris knows how to engineer great motorcycles, even if they don't yet know how to style one.

 

victory harley davidson chopcult test_016

Some bikes are perfect as they stand. Others beg to be customized. The Victory High-Ball is an excellent specimen of the former class, just as the Street Bob falls nicely into the latter. At the end of the day, however, this website is called ChopCult. For that reason alone, I give the victory to Harley, and a hardy "nice work" to Victory.

 

 c 2013 Harley-Davidson Street Bob Review256

Hey, it's a Harley! It's exactly what I was expecting and I'm totally OK with that. Red rims on an orange bike look like a mistake. This bike was an example of what you can build on H-D's website if you want to order a new bike with some specific options. 103-inch black engine and reasonably-sized apes? Good call. Red rims? C'mon—leave that shit for PJD! 

 

 b 2013 Harley-Davidson Street Bob Review272

That confounding license plate hinge thingy again. It hits the belt guard and doesn't fold up like it should. Big brains in Milwaukee can certainly come up with a better solution.

 

 d 2013 Harley-Davidson Street Bob Review264

No one ever complained about a couple more inches, right? They're worth the nominal $350 upcharge.

 

 f 2013 Harley-Davidson Street Bob Review266

My favorite H-D ignition setup. No keys flapping in the wind. Faux split tanks are an attractive nod to the MoCo's heritage.

 

 e 2013 Harley-Davidson Street Bob Review265

3-D badging is nicely made but feels a little whimsical. 

 

 g 2013 Harley-Davidson Street Bob Review267

Traditional bars and risers mean you can easily swap things out to suit your ergonomic and stylistic tastes.

 

 h 2013 Harley-Davidson Street Bob Review273

Harley manages to fit all the complex electronics and emissions gear in there as neatly as humanly possible.

 

 j 2013 Harley-Davidson Street Bob Review287

Ah… mid controls. Thank you very much. Nothing wrong with convention when it works, and these do their job like an old best friend. Add some highway bars if you need to stretch. When you are getting work done in the corners there is no reason to ride a birthing chair.

 

 i 2013 Harley-Davidson Street Bob Review285

No Dark Custom nonsense, just classically styled bars, trees and a simple headlight. Refreshing restraint that is easy to live with.

 

2013 Harley-Davidson Street Bob Review274

The MoCo rarely misses an opportunity to remind you what you're riding, or where it came from. Simple things like this plain Jane air cleaner show some class for such a stock piece. 

 

 

 

 a 2013 Harley-Davidson Street Bob Review283

Generations of literally defining the shape and scale of what a full-sized motorcycle should look like has helped Harley-Davidson build bikes that are both familiar and attractive. Looking at the Victory I get the sense that if the Polaris design team were building a woman, they'd exclaim, "Boobs are great—let's give her three giant ones!" Conversely, the guys at Harley seem to say, "Two tits is plenty—just make sure they're both the right size and shape." A ridiculous metaphor perhaps, but I know which girl I'd take home.

 

Since both bikes are fun to ride, close to the same size and boast nearly identical specs, what this comparison came down to for McGoo and me was styling. After riding both machines, one nagging thought got stuck in my head: The Harley feels like it was engineered by designers; the Victory feels like it was designed by engineers. At the end of the day, ChopCult readers want something they can make their own. If turning wrenches is as important to you as logging miles, the Street Bob will look better in your garage.

Compare specs and look at more details and photos here:

Harley-Davidson

Victory Motorcycles


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Comment with Chopcult (28)

Commented on 1-21-2013 At 10:44 am
 

like the tires and the taillight in the rear but bike not for me as the street bob not bad rode one .

Commented on 1-21-2013 At 10:45 am
 

Great comparison of two great bikes.

Commented on 1-21-2013 At 10:55 am
 

Great information!

Commented on 1-21-2013 At 11:43 am
 

I have ridden Polaris snowmobiles and ATV's all my life. My Old Man has been a Polaris fanatic since his first sled in, well, fricken forever ago. Also there was a Polaris dealership owner in my extended family. So needless to say, I like Polaris and Victory. They have some of the best products out there.

But I also live in Milwaukee, WI. And here, Harley rules the Roost. So that's what I have. And I love it.

Commented on 1-21-2013 At 11:50 am
 

Plus Victory doesn't have any old bikes to rebuild. My tools would feel so neglected. LOL

Commented on 1-21-2013 At 01:18 pm
 

These are the kind of write ups I like! No blatant catering to a manufacturer!

One thing I don't understand... Bill, you'd not take home the chick with 3, huge tits?

And McGoo's "... a comparison of each machine's tech sheet has this shade tree mechanic convinced Polaris knows how to engineer great motorcycles, even if they don't yet know how to style one." ----Is a perfect summary. My dad has a Victory and I can't get right with its style.... It's just... so heinous...

Commented on 1-21-2013 At 02:39 pm
 

"The Harley feels like it was engineered by designers; the Victory feels like it was designed by engineers"

Too bad they can't trade teams for a season or two.

Or at least Victory could get somebody else to design next season's new Indians.

Commented on 1-21-2013 At 02:39 pm
 

The simple fact that forward controls were compared to a birthing chair makes me happy. I have forwards on my softy. Wish I didn't tho.

Commented on 1-21-2013 At 02:41 pm
 

Somebody, ANYBODY else. So they'd do at least as good a job as say Yamaha does on their Harley wannabes.

Commented on 1-21-2013 At 02:45 pm
 

Somebody, ANYBODY else. So they'd do at least as good a job as say Yamaha does on their Harley wannabes.

Commented on 1-21-2013 At 02:46 pm
 

Im definitely dont like the polaris. I have an older model street bob which I love. I did like the write up. Hope for more stuff like this. Even though this isa site geared to choppers. These bikes will make it there one day maybe.

Commented on 1-21-2013 At 03:07 pm
 

I don't like Arlen Ness' bikes, never have. Even if the polaris is a better bike, its still fugly.

Commented on 1-21-2013 At 05:51 pm
 

The Polaris demands to be chopped. Or put out of it's misery.

I've visited Arlen Ness' Victory dealership and Mr. Ness sure as hell HAS built some cool bikes. But he sure doesn't seem to be doing it anymore.The '60's and '70's were a LONG time ago. Unfortunately. Polaris needs another designer now.

Commented on 1-21-2013 At 08:26 pm
 

Polaris has some nice bikes and can branch out on current technology. I would like to see one chopped. The swing arm on the Polaris is a huge turn off for me.

Commented on 1-22-2013 At 04:53 am
 

Consensus..... Who cares, they are both $20k + brand new oem's being compared on a site where forum members chop and build customs twice as bad ass for 1/4 the price....... Next!

Commented on 1-22-2013 At 08:22 am
 

20k plus? how you figure easyspeed?

Commented on 1-22-2013 At 08:36 am
 

Shit + Shit = Shit

I'd like to see a write-up of two $25k Panheads and maybe I would be able to wrap my head around why guys spend that kind of cash on them, THAT would be wayyyyy more helpful to me.

Commented on 1-22-2013 At 10:34 am
 

Oops, I guess they msrp for $13,000 starting out. I'm sure both models are a bit upgraded though.

Just would rather click into chopcult and see chops. But I guess there are bills to pay now , huh? I think I'de go with the polaris, That way when I paid 13.5 + taxes I'de know my bike would be worth at least $5500 in 2015.

Commented on 1-22-2013 At 11:43 am
 

I love when you do comparisons Bill. I probably wouldn't be interested in either of these bikes but non the less, great write up. People have to remember that back in the glory days of choppers they were not "old" or "vintage" Bikes they used. They chopped brand new cb750's and shovels.

Commented on 1-22-2013 At 12:09 pm
 

Street bob is 13K base msrp, High-ball is 15K base msrp. If I was to pay 15K for a new bike I'd take a Dyna Wide Glide and throw the ape hangers on it. It's closer to the High Ball in looks, but better.

Commented on 1-22-2013 At 12:13 pm
 

rainbow your comment is correct to a point, but there were plenty of "old" or "vintage" pans and knucks being chopped in the "glory days of choppers"

Commented on 1-23-2013 At 06:21 am
 

Great write up, although I just can't get in to new bikes no matter who's building them.

Commented on 1-23-2013 At 08:00 am
 

ok so I would take a crap on the harley first i think i would rather cut up the victory but I would for sure crap on the harley first no reason just because well ok maybee because of the company using metal flake before i could afford to make my bike look like an easter egg bastards oh well satin black always was my favorite color

Commented on 1-23-2013 At 01:06 pm
 

Sooooo this is what this is turning into!!! Sad & squaresville!!!! I'll check back in a week!!!

Commented on 1-23-2013 At 09:43 pm
 

We had this test in the works long before the sale. We do about two or three new bike features a year. Of course it's a chopper site, but plenty of members also have a new bike. So, it hasn't turned into anything, it's the same as it has been from day one. Whether any more new bike tests get done in the future is up to the new guys.

Commented on 1-23-2013 At 10:58 pm
 

I ride a victory and it is number 35 off the assembly line ever. I have cams, pistons, exhaust intake work and a chip in it. After chopping it and taking off alot of weight the bike just flies. I hate most of the victory styling cues but after riding a Harley next to the power of a victory, Ill take my Victory. Fuck aftermarket parts... just make your own.

Commented on 1-24-2013 At 09:20 am
 

I have worked in both dealerships in the service department, and I have had my run ins with both manufacturers and all models and have riddens hundreds if not thousands of miles on all models. I can say that victory has a great concept, and its always good to see an american motorcycle company. As far as ridability, to each their own. Its all about rider preferance.

The biggest advantages that HD has over Victory, is HD has 110 years of heritage, more customization options (by far) and its a world wide known name. Victory has come a long way since it started manufacturing motorcycles in the 90s, but the company still has a long way to go as far as getting on the customization wagon. With NESS on board, it certainly helps. However its hard to compare with Harleys products and all the after market options available with any other manufacturer in the world.

Harley Davidson, all the way.

Commented on 7-4-2013 At 08:00 pm
 

The Polaris isn't gracefully styled, and it need not "copy HD" to be gracefully styled. (Vincent, anyone?)

Whitewalls on any modern bike are lame, the styling elements are poorly tied together, the swingarm is fugly, and the fuel tank treatment seems to be "avoiding" the engine rather than working with it.

Nice engine internals though. If any motorcycle needs to be chopped to save it from its stock styling, the Victory is it. It's up there with the bizarre Guzzi cruisers....

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