But this was no ordinary man. It was Bill Davidson, son of the legendary Willy G. and the current VP of Core Customer Marketing for Harley-Davidson Motor Company. When a cruiser is able to capture his studied attention, the company behind it is certainly doing several things right!
Every motorcyclist loves the feeling of freedom a bike offers, but the individual reasons for riding a motorcycle are nearly as varied as snowflakes. Sportbike pilots demand pure performance, while a scooterist has an emphasis on ease of use and fuel economy.
A cruiser rider presents a unique challenge to manufacturers. It’s an equation that has a style factor as its root – it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that bling.
The Ness Signature models epitomize maximum style for Victory Motorcycles. The formula is two parts Victory custom cruiser and one part the creativity and flair of the Ness family.
|Ness Family Tree|
Motorcyclists who haven’t heard of Arlen Ness should be ashamed of themselves. The Motorcycle Hall of Famer began building custom choppers in the late 1960s and earned an international reputation for his radically creative rolling sculptures through the ’70s and ’80s and beyond. You can read his bio by clicking
In the late 1990s, Victory Motorcycles was launched as a Polaris Industries offshoot, and the initial models were met with lukewarm response as Victory struggled to develop its own style and identity. In 1999, while Victory designer Michael Song was working on an upcoming model called the Vegas that would later prove to be a stylistic hit, Ness was brought in for his opinion. Two years later, Ness officially entered a consulting role with the Minnesota-based company. Ness’s exploration into the world of production bikes wouldn’t be made alone, as he also brought along his budding custom-building son Cory.
Although Ness has been inaccurately portrayed as the artist behind the successful Vegas line when it was actually the fruit of designer Song, the opinions of the Ness family were surveyed prior to its launch and every model Victory has since debuted.
“They look at every bike before it goes into production and give us guidance,” commented Victory’s project manager Gary Gray. “But the actual design work is done by us.”
In 2004, the Arlen Ness Vegas became the first of the ongoing Ness Signature Series. Cory Ness has also contributed his own signature models over the years (starting in ’05), and the current pattern is for both Arlen and Cory to have a new version of their namesake bikes in each model year. Consisting mostly of cosmetic additions, the Ness family nonetheless has “total design control” over the models, according to Gray.
The Ness family will likely continue to play a role in Victory Motorcycles, as a third generation of Ness, Cory’s son Zach, also has a consulting agreement with Victory. According to Gray, Zach helps the company have “better appeal with the younger demographic.” Last year the youngest Ness showed off a Kingpin model he customized, perhaps portending an eventual Signature Series bike for himself one day.
Arlen’s son Cory authored the Ness Signature bike seen here, and it’s perhaps Victory’s coolest custom ever. Based on the fat-tired Vegas Jackpot platform, the Ness treatment involves cosmetic additions and flourishes such as special paint, wheels, hand and foot controls, and major amounts of chrome and billet.
It’s a serious bling machine, evidenced by Mr. Davidson’s head-swiveling at DIS mentioned above. The design is anchored by the Vegas’ now-familiar tip-to-tip spine shape running through the fenders and fuel tank, and a new LED taillight nicely frenched in to the fender follows the spine theme.
A proper chopper profile is set off by a fat 250mm wide Dunlop Elite 3 rear tire overcompensating for a narrow (90mm) 21-inch front tire, as do all Jackpots. The Cory Ness version deviates in terms of rolling stock by its use of killer Landshark billet wheels, black with machined and polished accents, which were a hit among the cruiser hordes when we tested it during Florida’s Bike Week.
Also receiving major props from the Daytona Beach chopper cognoscenti were the dazzling diamond-cut cylinder fins and its metallic-purple-on-pearl-white paint designed by Cory hisself. Its pinstriping accents are carried through on nearly every panel, from the top of the chrome headlight to the fenders and sidecovers. Even the leather seat receives a similar treatment with matching custom stitching.
Humans are naturally drawn to bright, shiny things, and the CN Signature doesn’t disappoint in this area. Among the extra items dipped in chrome are the headlight, swingarm, exhaust mount and foot controls. Billet aluminum pieces also shine when they’re polished, and you’ll find these machined components doing duty as engine covers, knurled hand grips and matching pegs.
Also gaining extra style points are the Ness teardrop-shaped mirrors that are both cool and effective, and braided-steel cable covers dress up the handlebars and complement the Jackpot’s stock braided brake hoses. For proof of the Ness connection, the Signature bikes sport an air cleaner cover with the Cory Ness logo and a numbered metal plate affixed to the engine. Production of Ness models are limited to no more than one per dealer, so the Cory Signature model tested here will number fewer than 350 total units.
All this bolt-on, dipped-in, machined-from-solid, stitched-on accoutrements add up to a fairly pricey $24,499, a substantial $6,000 bump over the most basic Jackpot. Although you couldn’t duplicate the Signature from a standard Jackpot for that price, it does put the Nessie near the rarified financial air of a Harley CVO model like the $27K Softail Springer. The fact there’ll be far fewer Ness models produced than something like the “limited-edition” CVO Springer (2,500 units) is either a positive or a negative depending on your perspective.
Like the standard Jackpot, the Cory Ness version is powered by Victory’s 106 cubic-inch 50-degree V-Twin that uses a single overhead cam to actuate its four valves per cylinder. Jackpots are fitted with Stage 2 cams in 2009 to yield an extra 5 ponies to 97 hp (claimed) and an extra 4 ft-lbs to 113, as well as providing a satisfying rumpity-rump soundtrack.
It delivers a burly surge of torquey power that will dust even Harley’s 110 c.i. CVO motor, and it is noticeably stronger than Victory’s 100 c.i. version we sampled in a Vegas 8-Ball while testing the Jackpot. Shift quality from the Jackpot’s 6-speed transmission wasn’t quite as smooth as the 8-Ball’s 5-speeder.
Rumbling around Daytona Beach revealed the best and worst of the Nessie. A low but supportive seat provides a comfortable perch from which to kick back and enjoy the Bike Week scenery, but a wide stance is needed to keep your right leg clear of the shielded exhaust routing. Even still, heat from the rear cylinder and its exhaust header can slow-roast a rider’s leg.
The fat-ass rear tire that contributes to the bike’s visual gravitas also makes for uncertain responses on cambered surfaces at low speeds and compromises rear suspension compliance. And although the chromed 43mm fork has a fairly generous 5.1 inches of travel, the single rear shock offers just 3.0 inches of bump suppression (and preload adjustability).
Achieving reasonable maneuverability from a fat-tired chopper is a balancing act. Victory set the Jackpot’s fork at a stretched 32.9-degree rake that is offset by a moderate 125mm of trail. A 66.3-inch wheelbase isn’t too huge these days, but this 649-lb (claimed, dry) bike isn’t ideal for your DMV rider test. Braking performance from the front and rear 300mm brake rotors, with a 4-piston caliper up front and a 2-pston clamper out back, is quite good if not overly impressive.
Daytona’s Bike Week can be a harsh environment for an OEM cruiser. With thousands of customized bikes around every street corner, a production cruiser can easily fade into the background. But the Cory Ness Signature Series never failed to garner plenty of attention, even from fiercely loyal Harley riders, which is perhaps the ultimate barometer of the bike’s success.
The Cory Ness Jackpot can proudly make a claim as one of the most desirable fat-tired customs from a large manufacturer. The Jackpot platform is a proven performer with an engine capable of blowing off any production Harley, and the addition of the Ness treatment endows it with special eyeball-grabbing style that can’t be matched elsewhere at this price.
Even Bill Davidson might agree.
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