First Ride: Polaris Victory Vegas
Calvin Wins a Trip to Vegas! (which turns out to be in Minnesota or some Godforsaken place)
Minneapolis, Minnesota-- I was lost. A thunderstorm was brewing and I could smell it. But I could also smell something else. What was this pungent aroma anyway? Ahhh... delicious manure. They say one of the things that makes motorcycle riding so unique is that you can be immersed in your environment. Sometimes that's not so good. Anyway, here I was at the corner of L and M or K and Q or somesuch, somewhere in the middle of Minnesota or Michigan or one of those states, and a storm was brewing.
At least the roads were good. Funny the things you think of when you're lost. I panicked a little bit. I wondered what would happen if I ran out of gas or broke down, or worse yet, if the weather caught up with me. Hey, it snows here, doesn't it? I thought about how much of a klutz I was for leaving my cell phone back at the hotel.
I also thought about why I was riding alone along one of the two-laners that threads its way around the many lakes and estuaries of this land. Left around one lake, right around another, over, under and through the woods. Rinse and repeat. And repeat I did. I didn't have to think about that one for long thanks to the new Victory Vegas I was here to ride. From the Vegas's sculpted and scalloped tank to its easy-access oil-filter, the machine I spent a day with turned out to be a very well thought out machine. Penned by Polaris's own team of industrial designers, this newest Victory implements the latest in modern design and construction principles--things I got to see firsthand during a tour of Victory's engine facility and R&D center.Victory designed the Vegas from the ground up purely in the virtual world. Using computers to design the entire motorcycle allowed for rapid prototyping and quick and easy fitting exercises before any parts were ever cast in metal. This new-fangled method of design has been in use in the automotive business for years, and is now making its way slowly but surely into the motorcycle realm. Other automotive-like advances for the Vegas include its onboard computer system: A Visteon supplied OBD-2 engine management system ensures the fuel injection system injects the fuel at the appropriate intervals.
The 1507cc Freedom engine--a single-overhead-cam four-valve per cylinder design--makes sure the engine is up to technological spec. Hydraulic lifters are used, thus allowing for a virtually maintenance-free valve train. That little radiator in front of the forward cylinder head is for the oil, which also has the task of lubing and cooling the transmission and clutch. The 50-degree V-twin utilizes an udersquare 97 x 102mm bore and stroke with a fairly conservative 9.2:1 compression ratio. A single 44mm throttle body feeds air into the engine. A counterbalancer is included to smooth out the works, enough so much that the engine can be rigid-mounted to the chassis. The linkage for the rear suspension is attached to the chassis by way of the engine, in fact, and only the bars are isolated via rubber grommets.The Freedom engine isnt't new; it's the same one that powered the V92 series of cruisers. The powerplant as found in the Vegas, however, has been tweaked to provide a more enjoyable riding experience. Gear selection has been improved by the use of a redesigned shift detent mechanism, and the previously oil-cooled engine has been redesigned for air/oil cooling. Transmission and engine are now morel solidly linked together, too, to provide a more rigid platform.
The chassis, on the other hand, is all new. Victory wanted a comfortable bike first, and a bike to perform well second. To do that, they researched the competition and came up with an "optimum" ergonomic profile. From there, they worked with their customers to provide a package that would be most comfortable for as much of their potential clientele as possible. A worthy goal no doubt, and a highly desireable one in a cruiser.
From shortest to tallest, none of the riders I was with complained about ergonomics. All control locations felt neutral. The only piece of ergonomic hardware this tester noticed was the vestigial backrest, during high-speed stints on straight sections of road where it made a great rest against the wind. Everything's nicely tucked under a seat only 26.5 inches (673 mm) from your soles. The transmission -- a weak link in some Victorys -- proved to be seamless, and compared to some V-twin cruisers, is for all intents and purposes, perfect. While some testers would've liked a six-speed -- and the motor could certainly pull a taller top gear -- the five-speed should be fine for 99 percent of what the Vegas will be asked to do.Clutch actuation was fine, as are the bike's Brembo brakes. Victory de-tuned the front brake to salve the fears of, presumably, uneducated riders. Initial bite is somewhat lacking as a result, but a healthy tug on the right hand lever does an adequate job slowing the machine. Try as I might, I wasn't able to get the front wheel to lock up. No big deal, and I bet replacing the stock pad with something more aggressive would result in more aggressive front brake feel. The rear brake is fairly typical cruiser fare.
Special attention was given to the suspension, with progressive springs up front and a straight-rate spring with a rising-rate linkage out back. This linkage is actuated via an aluminum swingarm. In order to provide a plusher, more forgiving ride, damping was increased while spring rate decreased. The only adjustment available is to the rear preload, via threaded collar.
While the technical bits combine to make a cruiser that handles superbly and consistently, the style bits are what really set this bike apart. The separation between the seat and gas tank is one such area that deserves a second, if not third look. The scalloped tank, and for that matter, the ridge that runs along the middle of the bike from the front fairing straight through the tank, and all the way to the LED taillight, all provide for a decidedly custom appearance. In fact, so custom is this process Victory has applied for patents on the manufacturing procedure.