First Ride on Victory's Vegas Motorcycle

Victory gets in the game with a sleek new custom that works as good as it looks.

V

iva la Vegas! With its newest model, Victory makes it clear that it is ready to compete with anybody in the cruiser market. As the motorcycle division of Polaris Industries enters its fifth year, we have seen an accelerating pace of development and change. Over the last few model years, the company has eradicated the problems of its early models—crude finishes, noisy transmission, abrupt clutch engagement, etc.—and upgraded to a prettier, significantly more powerful version of its 1500cc V-twin. A custom-order program available through its web site (www.victory-usa.com) enables the buyer to choose the components, colors and accessories he wants and have them installed at the factory when the bike is built, saving time and money and ensuring proper installation.

Riding the Victory Vegas
Cold day, hot bike.Brian J. Nelson

All those improvements were welcome, of course, but since they were still wrapped in the ho-hum styling of Victory's original cruisers, even when new versions like the Touring Cruiser were introduced, no one cared much. But its newest model, the Vegas, Victory has injected the sex appeal that the earlier designs lack. The lines of the Vegas are cleaner, more original and more appealing than perhaps any cruiser in mass production. If this bike doesn't make you look, you'd better check your pulse. You might be dead.

I recently spent a nice Minnesota fall day (it didn't snow) riding a prototype Vegas around between Minneapolis and western Wisconsin, where the Victory engines are assembled. As you might expect, the beauty of the newest Victory is more than skin deep. In fact, aside from the drivetrain components and the 43mm fork's externals, the bike is all new. Actually, even the engine is somewhat fresh, having received over 70 upgrades (many in the transmission, but also a new forged crankshaft) for 2003. But the Vegas goes beyond that with an entirely new frame, with a redesigned rear suspension featuring a rising-rate linkage for the single shock, which is situated vertically instead of close to horizontal as on the other Victory models. This enabled the company to drop the saddle height almost two inches to a claimed 26.5 inches. However, the ride has actually been improved through the combined effects of the progressive design of the rear shock's linage, softer and more progressive springing and greater damping resistance. The fork has also received a similar treatment for its spring and damping rates. Bigger bumps no longer jolt you as hard and small bumps are more likely to glide beneath you unnoticed. The handling is solid and predictable, and it steers with modest effort.

2003 Victory Vegas
This is the stock configuration, with wire wheels.Brian J. Nelson

Victory spent a lot of time asking what riders want. Besides the low saddle height, riders said they worried about too-strong front brakes, especially if they were acting on a relatively narrow front tire, like the 21-incher on the Vegas. So, in a break with previous Victorys, which all have dual front discs, the Vegas has a single Brembo disc and two-piston caliper. The new brake is ultra-progressive but can't provide the hard, immediate power of the other V92s' brakes. But unintended lock-up is unlikely if not impossible.

Victory Vegas
The bike we rode had accessory wheels.Brian J. Nelson

Potential buyers also offered input on the saddle and riding position, and as a result, it seems to fit a ride range of riders. Though not terribly roomy front-to-rear, the saddle is wide and firm enough to provide support for more than a test-sit in the showroom. The riding position, which places your feet forward on pegs, remained comfortable after a couple of hours on the highway.

Earlier problems with noisy shifting are completely gone now; the current Freedom engine shifts as smoothly and positively as any big twin. The engine, revised for 2002, is also strong, with good power from 2000 to redline. Victory's counterbalancing system quells the vibration until close to redline. The fuel injection delivers smooth, immediate response.

Victory Vegas
The 21-inch front wheel brings a single disc and caliper.Brian J. Nelson
Victory Vegas
The speedo and warning lights mount outside the headlight and lack extra LCD features, just trip- and odometer.Brian J. Nelson

Of course, styling is the real sensation. Victory has managed to make the Vegas' lines clean, appealing and original. It offers distinctive touches like the split-tail fuel tank and the spine running along the top of the fender and tank, and recognizes current trends with details like the low-profile rear tire on an 18-inch rim and the frenched-in LED taillight and flush-mount gas gap. A few pieces on the prototype do detract from the overall package. The most obtrusive was the rubber mounting stalks for the front turn signals, which drooped noticeably. Chrome or polished metal would be a big improvement. The cables and wiring from the handlebar could also be routed more cleanly.

Victory Vegas
Victory's Freedom engine is stronger, prettier and shifts as well as any big twin.Brian J. Nelson

Details aside, I was tremendously impressed both by the looks and the function of Victory's latest. Victory promises an additional new model on the scope of the Vegas every year for a while.

2003 Victory Vegas
The spine design starts on the front fender and...Brian J. Nelson
Victory Vegas
...extends through the split-tail tank to the rear fender.Brian J. Nelson

The Victory Vegas goes on sale this spring. The suggested price is $14,999. For a more detailed report, see Viva La Vegas in the February issue of Motorcycle Cruiser.