Bikes we love Test rides

Ride Review: 2015 Victory Gunner

“Oh, I like that one,” my wife said when I showed her a picture of the Victory Gunner. “I actually like it better than the Thunderf*ck.”

“Thunderf*ck” is my wife’s nickname for the Triumph Thruxton –– up to that point my wife’s favourite motorcycle. When Jenn was a little girl, she collected stickers of motorcycles and Triumphs were always her favourites. So, I want you to just think for a second of how stunned I was to hear her place the Victory Gunner above them.

Not that I disagree. Taken for what it is, the Gunner may very well be the best bike in Victory’s current line up. It’s been on my What I Want list for quite a while. Having now had a chance to spend some time in the Gunner’s saddle, my desire to own one has only increased. Despite my history of being somewhat hard on Victory there’s no denying this is a good motorcycle.
All the usual caveats apply, of course. It’s not a sport bike. It’s not an ADV. It’s not a tourer. And so on and so on, etcetera, etcetera. Narrowly comparing it to one of those is unfair. Accept the Gunner for what it is –– a raw, powerful, agricultural cruiser with arm-ripping torque –– and you’ll find it’s hard to beat.
Yes, agricultural. But remember what I said back when I reviewed the Harley-Davidson 883 SuperLow: riding a tractor is awesome. The Gunner’s wrench-in-a-bucket gearbox offers a viscerally pleasing clunk with each gear change. And it’s a sound that reminds you that you are on a motorcycle, by God: a cacophony of metal and explosions to which some lunatic has bolted wheels.

With that experience in mind, the Gunner certainly looks the part. In matte grey or matte green –– sorry, I mean, “suede titanium” or “suede green metallic” –– and blacked out engine and pipes, the Gunner avoids the questionable over-chromed aesthetic that too often ruins a cruiser in my opinion. I’m not a drag queen; I don’t need sparkly bits and fringe. Keep my bikes looking simple, thank you.
The Gunner looks muscular and simple, aspects that reflect its performance. It carries a 1,737-cc V-twin engine that produces roughly 82 hp and about 96 ft lbs. of torque. The wide 17-litre tank draws your attention to the motorcycle and induces staring.
The bike is simple in the sense that it is instantly intuitive. Hands fall naturally to the grips, feet fall naturally to the mid-set pegs. Though I’d personally think it a terrible idea to choose such an expensive and heavy (523 kg wet) beast as one’s first motorcycle, a Gunner could, indeed, serve such a purpose because of its user-friendly style.
Don’t read that to mean it’s boring or tame or somehow not suited to experienced riders, however. The Gunner is a joy. It punches forward with a solid twist of the throttle. And, if it’s equipped with accessory Cobra exhausts, doing so rewards the rider with a rich, throaty growl. Throttle response is smooth, so picking up pace feels natural even while being quick. In accelerating onto the motorway I found myself in excess of the speed limit only halfway down the entrance ramp.
At more family-friendly speeds the Gunner also performs well. Its low centre of gravity and well-balanced weight make it relatively easy to move at a crawling pace. It’s not a scooter, obviously, but filtering with the Gunner is stress free if you can find gaps for its 94-centimetre-wide ‘bars.

In Europe, the Gunner comes equipped with anti-lock brakes. If you live in the United States, you should be writing to Victory customer service and asking why they love Not-America more than you. Because somehow adding an anti-lock braking system results in better overall braking.

You read my reviews I did last year of the Victory Judge and Victory Jackpot, their sub-par standard brakes were my biggest complaint. As I wrote of the Judge: “there is just not enough “whoa.” The single-disc front brake is spongy, demands a full-handed grab to be deployed and is overall not as effective as you need it to be when you’re sitting astride a 700-lb. motorcycle.

Front braking on the Gunner is still shouldered by a single disc (I would prefer two), but you get a lot more out of it. I was able to scrub speed with a simple two-fingered grab, as I am used to doing on my V-Strom. Hard stops require a decent amount of physical involvement but by and large, the difference between this Victory’s brakes and those I experienced last year are night and day.

It should be noted that in Europe the Judge is also now being offered with anti-lock brakes, so my previous criticism may no longer be valid. The Judge is no longer sold in the United States because Americans can’t have nice things.

Speaking of nice, riding at speed is surprisingly comfortable on the Gunner. There is no wind protection but even at autobahn speeds (I wasn’t in Germany but may have been riding that way) I didn’t find the experience to be too awful. For long-distance hauls I’d keep to roads that allowed more relaxed speeds.

I’d probably also invest in some new shocks. Suspension on the Gunner is certainly better than I’ve experienced on some other bikes (looking at you, Harley-Davidson Sportster), but by the end of my time with the motorcycle my back was starting to tighten up just a little bit. Life with a Gunner would, I think, demand stretching stops every 40-70 miles, depending on your stamina.

And any journeys you make will be solo. Passenger accommodations costs extra and the pillion-ready seat listed in Victory’s accessory catalogue is, to put it bluntly, inadequate.

In a recent interview with Cycle World, Harley-Davidson CEO Matt Levatich told the story of discovering as part of Project Rushmore that only one person on the whole of Harley-Davidson’s product development team had ever ridden as a passenger. Looking at the sloping maxi pad that Victory offers as a passenger seat for the Gunner makes me think the same issue may affect Victory’s product development teams.

Or maybe not. I suppose that to complain about such things is to ignore my own caveat from above. The Gunner isn’t supposed to be a tourer. It’s not really supposed to be used to ride to Marrakesh (although, it’s engine is solid enough that you could). If you want an awesome long-distance machine get a Victory Cross Country. The Gunner, though, is a cruiser. It’s primarily designed for perfect summer afternoons, for (well-paved) back-country roads and relaxed trundling through small towns. And in that function it performs incredibly well. To date, I have only ever ridden one cruiser that’s out-of-the-box better: the Indian Chief Classic.

Incidentally, on the same day I rode the Gunner I also got a chance to ride the Indian Scout for the first time. The two bikes are somewhat evenly matched in terms of horsepower and torque, and in the United Kingdom, at least, they are somewhat similar in price (the Gunner costs £400 less). I’ll have a review of the Scout up soon, but for my money the Gunner is the better choice. I wouldn’t have guessed that beforehand.

If you’ve got the moola, the garage space, and the right climate, the Victory Gunner really is hard to beat.

So, with all that said, let’s get to the three questions I ask of every motorcycle I test ride:

1) Does it fit my current needs/lifestyle?
Sadly, no. Well, not yet, at least. There is literally no way I would be able to manoeuvre this beast into my shed. Plus, financially, I’m at a stage in my life right now where any bike I own has to be all things. I suspect long journeys on the Gunner would be uncomfortable, winters even more so. If I lived somewhere where I had a garage (and perhaps a more reliable summer riding season), I’d almost certainly take the Gunner as my second bike.
2) Does it put a grin on my face?
Yes. I had a blast. The Gunner feels like the culmination of everything that Victory does well, without the myriad nonsense they seem so desperate to inflict upon other models, like terrible paint schemes, comedy big front wheels and stupidly fat rear tires.
3) Is it better than my current bike?
Objectively, no. Obviously, it’s cooler than a Suzuki V-Strom 1000, but it can’t compete in terms of features, handling, power, performance, comfort, passenger accommodation, fuel efficiency, wind protection, or touring capacity. Not to mention the V-Strom would perform a hell of a lot better off road. But personality goes a long way, and the Gunner has a lot of that.