First Ride On The 2003 Victory Vegas

Viva Las Vegas!

2003 Victory Vegas
Revised geometry and narrower front tire make steering a bit more responsive.Brian J. Nelson

This article was originally published in the February 2003 issue of Motorcycle Cruiser.

There’s nothing like a hot new motorcycle to make you forget 30-something-degree temperatures and the possibility of snow on a fall day in Minnesota. Victory had invited us to its headquarters outside Minneapolis to hear about, look at and ride its latest motorcycle, and the object of that attention was more than enough to let us dismiss the threatening weather.

The Vegas is not just a new model, it's virtually a new beginning for the motorcycle division of Polaris Industries. Forget what you have heard or seen before. The industrial-grade finish, the hammer-on-anvil shifting sound and the snore-inducing styling are all products of the old Victory. For the last few years, a new team has been forming at Polaris, and the Vegas is convincing proof that it means business and understands the cruiser buyer.

Last year, the reinvigorated Victory gave a preview of what it was up to with the Freedom engine, which boasted a hefty power increase and a major face-lift. Some of the appearance change was cosmetic, but much of it came with such pieces as new cylinders. At last, Victory’s engine no longer looked as if it belonged in a generator in a jungle somewhere. The shifting had already been quieted down substantially and the abrupt clutch engagement smoothed out. For 2003, there are more than 70 additional changes inside the engine, the biggest being a new forged crank, but there are also many in the gearbox, which now shifts as smoothly as any big-twin’s and quieter than many.

2003 Victory Vegas
Top: For 2003, there are more than 70 additional changes inside the engine. Bottom: The Vegas has a simple gauge with just a speedometer and an LCD odometer/tripmeter.Brian J. Nelson

The company also rolled out its Custom Order Program (COP), which allows customers to use Victory's Website to choose a model; select the body paint, the color of the engine and frame, the tires and wheels and certain accessory packages; and have it all installed at the factory when the bike is assembled. The customer no longer must pay extra for installation or for parts that get discarded when the custom items arrive. The pieces are installed by a trained production person with the right tools and fasteners, and they are covered by the factory warranty. Although other motorcycle manufacturers reportedly have similar plans in the works, Victory did it first because of its U.S. assembly plants, its relatively small volume and Polaris' experience with similar programs for other products.

Perhaps most significantly, unit sales climbed by 60 percent in 2002, cleaning out most of the pre-Freedom bikes and dropping dealer inventories by 25 percent.

But that was just a prelude for the firm’s big move. The new team knew it had to do a better job of serving up what cruiser consumers said they wanted. At the Vegas introduction, we heard the phrase “voice of the customer” many times. You could hear that echoing when you looked at this new bike. It reverberated in the low saddle height, in the softened front brake and in the LED taillight, but it was loudest in the lines and finish of the styling. The pleasing but distinctive shape and details reflect the fresh thinking and its ability to give form to what buyers wanted without simply rewarming what others had already done. The Victory team includes stylists with impressive motorcycle-design credentials, and it can call on famed customizer Arlen Ness and his son Cory for input. The Ness connection was responsible, for example, for the 18-inch rear wheel with its low-profile tire.

Although the engine is familiar, the rest of the bike is almost completely new. Starting up front, the dual-disc brake has been replaced by a single 300mm disc and a four-piston caliper. We were disappointed by the loss of what had been impressive braking power. But Victory was listening to its customers, not a mob of motojournalists, and customers said that—especially with a skinny 21-inch tire in front—they were uneasy with a very strong brake. The new brake is even more progressive than the old and can deliver power under a strong squeeze; the rear brake is strong and controllable. A briefer fender nestles between the traditional Victory 43mm fork legs, which have greater bottoming resistance through more progressive rates. The dual halogen headlight (with an HID option) and turn signals are smaller. The Vegas has just a speedometer and an LCD odometer/tripmeter. The tachometer and multifunction LCD of the other models are not used, though an accessory electric tach is available.

The new 4.5-gallon tank is not only pretty in profile, but it better obscures the big airbox beneath it. The tank is a “split-tail” style, which means the tongue of the seat extends up into a sort of crotch at the rear of the tank. Another distinctive touch is a raised “spine” that extends along the tank and back past the low-profile two-piece saddle to run down the rear fender, which has chrome rails, a first for Victory. Carefully styled sidepanels complete the transformation to a much sleeker, cleaner profile than on previous Victorys.

2003 Victory Vegas
The 2003 Vegas is a new beginning for Victory.Brian J. Nelson

To drop the saddle almost two inches, Victory rearranged the rear suspension with a vertically oriented single shock placed lower and acting on the chromed swingarm through a rising-rate linkage for much more progressive action. The added inch of wheelbase helped make room for the shock. In addition, Victory switched from a stiff-springs/light-damping suspension philosophy to the opposite.

The result of all these changes is a hugely improved ride. The big, sharp bumps that meant back pain unless you avoided them can now be crashed into with nary a grunt. It’s slightly easier to drag a peg than on older V92s, but the Vegas is better than average. The riding position, completed by a handlebar that sweeps back noticeably, fit five-foot-10 me just fine, and the seat is quite low, something that often makes the position awkward. The saddle was not as roomy or as comfortable as Victory’s excellent past models, though smaller riders might like it better than I did. Vibration increases with rpm but only demands notice as the engine nears redline; the balancers smother it on the highway. Although the usual Victory intake note is still apparent, the exhaust now seems to have more authority.

Revised geometry (more rake, less trail) and the narrower front tire make steering a bit more responsive, but the stability remains excellent. The suspension is even better controlled than on other V92s, and there is less dive during braking. The Freedom engine is powerful over a wide rpm range, and throttle is predictable and fairly smooth. The clutch requires a moderate pull but engages predictably, and the transmission now shifts smoothly and lightly.

The bike I rode was a preproduction model, and I hope Victory will change some details, particularly the floppy rubber turn-signal stalks, before production. But the Vegas looks like a winner to me, even at $15,000 a copy. Its styling is original and cutting-edge, and the bike functions on par with its competition. If Victory does in fact produce a couple of new models as strong as the Vegas, no one is going to remember that it’s the “new brand” at all.