With the unfortunate news of Polaris shutting down Victory Motorcycles, it only seemed right for this week’s Church feature to be about Victory. Oddly, despite Victory’s beginnings in 1997, it took a few years – and a new millennia – for MO to get its hands on one. We’ve featured some of those models already in past Church features, so for this week we’re going with the oldest Victory review we have yet to showcase: the 2003 Victory Vegas. Ridden and written by Eric Bass, sit back, relax, and enjoy this early road test review of what might become a collector’s item in 20 years. Oh, and for more pictures, be sure to visit the photo gallery.
Apr. 20, 2003
Aaaaah Las Vegas! Actually, nobody who lives within striking distance really calls it that. It sounds too ordinary, like Santa Monica or El Monte. The Spanish dictionary I used translates Las Vegas to mean “the fertile plains”, which if accurate, is a hysterical misnomer, as it is by no means fertile nor plain. To those of us well acquainted with Beelzebub’s playground, we know it as Sin City, Lost Wages, Land of the One-Armed Bandit, or simply, Vegas (Baby, Vegas!). And while every man enters town with dreams of Victory, they are usually left trampled underfoot along with the cigarette butts and ATM withdrawal slips. But every now and then . . .
Any bike worthy of the name Vegas, needs to conjure a feeling of rakish adventure, “you Da’
Man” swagger, and a sense that something cool is gonna happen . . . tonight! And for the most part, Victory succeeds, and does so at a reasonable price point ($14,999 MSRP) relative to (cough) other American motorcycle companies. Compared to their Classic Cruiser based around the same power plant, the Vegas has been mildly stretched (from 94″ length to 96.3″) and slammed (from 28.3″ seat height to 26.5″). The rear tire (170 60VB/18 Dunlop K591 Elite SP) got fatter (from 3.5″ rims to 4.5″) and the front wheel got taller (from 16″ to 21″) and skinnier (from 3″ rims to 2.15″).
Stylistically, the fingerprints of design partners Arlen and Cory Ness are all over this bike, giving it a classic but custom look right off the showroom floor. The oil/air-cooled 50 degree, 92ci (1507cc) Freedom V-twin is split by a V-shaped badge replete with faux bullet-hole indents. This embellishment is repeated on the ends of the handlebar grips. A teardrop shaped, flush-mounted, LED tail light graces the rear fender. The stretched and flowing gas tank dovetails to meet the seat, which has been executed with a chopper-influenced minimalism while refusing to sacrifice comfort. The staggered slash-cut dual exhaust delivers a satisfying note without being obnoxious. I would probably upgrade mine to something obnoxious, but that’s just my personality defect. To summarize, the “a la carte” Vegas is served with the kind of secret sauce typically only found in a . . . well, in an Arlen Ness catalog.
The ergos are spot-on and had everyone smiling, from 6’2″ Sean, to 5’9″ moi, to the diminuitive JohnnyB. (Just kidding JB, please don’t bite me on the knee!) The pegs look farther forward than they really are, and the handlebars and seat all collaborate to create a casually kicked back body position that felt universally comfy to a challenging trichotomy of testers. The pegs are low though and will drag around a 90 degree turn if you get too sassy with it, slip into racer mode, and go for a deep-braking approach to the apex. Even the pillion shows consideration for the needs of your sidekick. The seat is fairly plush and slants toward the rider rather than off the back of the fender. Gee what a radical concept!
When the wheels start turning, the Vegas offers 70 hp to shove its 615 lbs of dry weight down the highway. After being so recently spoiled by the “performance cruiser” stars while conducting our V-Rod/Warrior comparo, I was braced for disappointment when I opened up the Vegas’ throttle. But for a bike in its class, it moves when you goose it, and Brembo 300 mm floating rotor brakes bring it to a halt with total confidence. The power is administered via a fiberglass-reinforced belt drive, and managed by a 5-speed constant mesh transmission that has a foot feel somewhere in between a metric “click” and an H-D “clunk”. The Vegas’ suspension does an above average job of absorbing pavement errata without incident. In fact, I gave the shocks an impromptu test by intentionally guiding the bike over a mild pothole under fairly hard braking, and squeezed only a tiny chirp out of the front wheel. My sole complaint would have to be that the Vegas likes to whistle while it works. The whirring of overhead cams was a minor aural irritation to me, but went un-noticed by the full-face clad JB and Sean.
As MO’s lonely and embattled defender of the steel stallion, I had to retrieve my jaw from my boot tops when Sean and JB actually offered unsolicited praise for the Vegas. Typically, cruiser conversations around here rapidly devolve into a verbal rat-packing by the Hamilton-Burns-Alexander axis of evil, until I feel like Frodo Baggins fighting off a horde of raging Orcs. But apparently the Vegas hath charms to soothe the savage Power Ranger. Phew!
While our communal grins surely were derived in part from the bike’s style and stance, the Vegas delivers better than expected performance for a “pure cruiser”. It really does strike a nice balance between form and function, and considering the head start provided by the Nesses, the bike could achieve a truly custom look with very little additional investment. A few aftermarket flourishes and some custom paint and this bike could look as good as a $30,000 machine and probably ride better at just over half the price. Nice job Victory. You may just ruin Lost Wages bad reputation!
Tell me More…
Contrary to popular opinion, I harbor no ill will toward that category of dungheaps generally referred to as “cruisers.” All I know is when I ride them, more often than not, instead of the usual euphoria I feel upon hopping on a cool bike after a dull day at the office or a broken heart or whatever, I get kind of bummed out at the lack of agility combined with physical discomfort. Most cruisers just don’t fit me. Take the Yamaha Warrior. I’d heard so many good things about it, I was all set to hop on the bandwagon. In fact I do like most of that bike, but not as much as I would if it didn’t have a handlebar designed for an orangutan. Easy enough to fix, true, but easy things like that tend to take on complicated forms at MO. Most other cruisers put the footpegs too far forward, leaving your tailbone to act as rear suspension. A cruiser with decent ergoes, I’m all over it–the Road King I can deal with, for instance. In general, though, the really stylized cruisers go for form over function, and I’m more a function first motorcycle guy–I got no time to “cruise;” I always have to be somewhere.
Which leads me to say, Wow, this Vegas is the first of its ilk I enjoy riding. Excellent throttle response from nicely programmed injection, good power, a positive, short-throw gearbox, crisp controls and a tightly bolted-together feel throughout, ergoes that work for me, pretty good suspension, really good brakes and swoopy looks that steer clear of self-parody.
Too bad Victory got off on the wrong foot a few years ago and soiled itself; it takes a while for the stigma to wear off, but conversations with Polaris people, and riding this bike, lead me to believe Victory has turned the corner. They’ve kicked junior engineers upstairs, brought in not only Ness but also some new Art Center people, spanned the globe to find a manufacturer to produce the Vegas gas tank… in short, they’re kicking free of the old made-in-America mentality and joining the global economy to produce a motorcycle which looks more Italian than American, executionwise. Even more interesting, Victory tells us that the Vegas is only one of a bunch of new models scheduled for launch, at the rate of one or two a year, between now and 2008. Oooh, what’s next?
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