First Ride: Victory Kingpin Motorcycle

Judging from our intial ride, on the Kingpin, Victory is ready to play with the big boys. Its new mainstream motorcycle, the Kingpin, is about to hit the streets. The Kingpin is as good as anybody's big twin and with some unique selling points. **By

The dictionary shows three definitions for "kingpin." One is the up-front bowling pin that you try to knock down to get a strike. Victory Motorcycles probably had the second definition, essentially "leader of the pack" in mind when it named its new bike. But the third meaning, a steering axle, might also apply.

Victory got itself headed in the right direction last year with the Vegas, but its latest effort, the Kingpin, is perhaps a more crucial bike because it is a more mainstream cruiser, a bike that aims at more buyers because of its traditional style and more inviting ergonomics. Victory says it is designed to look and feel more substantial and planted. It replaces the original Vicory motorcycle, the V92C, at the center of Victory's line.

Although the influence of the Vegas is apparent, and many components -- 66.5-inch-wheelbase frame, 4.5-gallon fuel tank, single-shock rear suspension, brakes, exhaust system, and the air/oil-cooled 1507cc, 50-degree V-twin engine -- are essentially the same, the Kingpin does have its own style. Most obviously the fenders are fuller and deeper. The front fork is an inverted cartridge style embracing an 18-inch wheel instead of the Vegas' conventional fork and 21-inch hoop. The wheel change apparently brings the steering head a bit closer to to vertical, setting it at 32.8 degrees instead of the 33.1 dgrees of the Vegas. The Kingpin has about .2 inches more trail too. Seat height (26.5 in.) and wheelbase (66.5 in.) have the same specification, but the fender change makes the 'Pin 2.8 inches longer (99.1 inches) overall. Victory also lists the Kingpin as 19 pounds heavier than the Vegas.

The Kingpin comes with floorboards and heel-toe shifting standard, though using Victory's Custom Order Program (COP), you can get it with the pretty Vegas footpegs too. A handlebar change and slightly different seat further rearrange the ergonomics, making the Kingpin significantly more comfortable for me than the Vegas. There is a more deeply padded saddle and a more pulled-back handlebar, but in both cases, I preferred the standard items. The floorboards and handlebar make the riding position more relaxed and give me better control than the Vegas arrangement.

I was also impressed by the suspension, which is soft enough for comfort on the vast majority of pavement hiccups but controlled enough for confident handling. The latest round of suspension refinement puts this Victory on a par with or ahead of other big twins in terms of suspension quality.

Counterbalancing keeps the engine comfortably smooth, though not as dead-calm as some designs. A small amount of vibration comes through, but it's not a comfort issue, and details like vibration-resistant mirrors and floorboards isolate its negative effects.

Though the engine is the same basic design that Victory first produced in 1998, the components are almost all different. There are new suppliers for many major parts, which is evident in the vastly improved engine finish, and other changes are immediately evident if you ride a bike with one of those original V92 engines and one of the current machine. First of all, there is considerably more power. The engine is noticeably stronger than the 1450 to 1600cc engines from Harley, Kawasaki, Suzuki and Yamaha. Unlike those first Victorys, the current machines also shift as smoothly, quietly and certainly as anything out there. In terms of power to displacement ratio, the overhead-cam four-valve Victory "Freedom" engine is probably the brawniest of the big twins, Our only complaint is that if your get sloppy with the throttle, the fuel injection sometime responds somewhat abruptly. It sounds good too.

The steady handling that Victory promised is there too. It steers predictably and holds a line well, even if you brake while leaned over. Steering effort is average, and it is steady in gusts and on bumpy pavement too. Its only shortcoming is limited cornering clearance, though it seems to have slightly more than the Vegas.

I was a bit disappointed to see only a single 300mm disc and four-piston caliper on the front wheel, which is cast in standard form, though other options -- wire spokes to billet -- are available on the Custom Order Program (COP). When the Vegas was introduced, Victory said it had a single disc instead of the previous bikes' double discs because buyers said they were uncomfortable with two-brake power working on a skinny 21-inch tires. But the Kingpin's 130/70-18 tire is considerably meatier than the 80/90-21 tire on the Vegas, and it still gets a single disc. It isn't too bad, but I would like the added power of two discs, especially with a passenger.

Last year we complained about some detail appearance items on the Vegas, such as sloppy wiring or drooping turn signal mounts. All those complaints seem to have been thoroughly addressed, and we'd rate the fit, finish and detailing of the Kingpin as better than average for a big twin. I do wish that the bike diverged a bit more from the Vegas, however. I think the family resemblance should be clear, but I thought that pieces like the exhaust system should be restyled to give the Kingpin more of its own style and identity.

One of the most impressive aspects of the Victorys is the Custom Order Program. Though Honda has started offering a similar program of its own, the Victory COP has a much wider range of components and options. There are more color options -- nine for the Vegas and eight for the Kingpin -- plus a variety of wheel styles, ergonomic options (handlebars and footboard of peg choices), a touring package (saddlebags, a fuller saddle, windshield, etc.) and some unique functional bits, like an HID headlight element. Because they are installed at the factory, all the components you add are fully covered by the warranty and included in financing. And because you don't have to remove the stock part, your costs are lower because you only pay for the final part, not the stocker that justs sits in a corner of your garage.

However, note that you must place a COP order by October 27, which Victory has set in order to assure delivery by the spring riding season. Otherwise you can hope a dealer has what you want or wait until next August for th3 5005 season. The Victory web site lets you sample what's available and choose what you want.

Suggested pricing starts at $14,999, which is $350 less than the Vegas. I had no problem finding $2000 worth of much-have additions and upgrades when I ran through the custom-order portion of Victory's site.

While I'll withhold final judgement until I have more time on the Kingpin, it puts Victory in the sweet spot with a bike that works well, looks terrific and has some unique attractions. Victory has shown that being under the corporate umbrella of Polaris has permitted it to continue to stumble, recover, develop, innovate and grow without the fear of a killing cash crunch. It looks to me like its no longer an upstart kid. Victory is now a mature motorcycle company that has what it takes to make it in the big boys' world.

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Action photography by Brian J. Nelson
The inverted cartridge fork offers a smoother ride and better control than previous Victory items. An additional disc would be nice. The covered braided stainless-steel brake hose is a stylish touch.
You can choose engine and frame finish with Custom orders.
The black engine cases and cylinders with polished fins always comes with the black frame.
When you order the silver engine, you get the silver frame.
You can choose from a variety of wheel styles.
The cockpit is very tidy. A tach that matches the speedo is available as on option with a new mount for both gauges.
The deep fenders distinguish the Kingpin, but we wish Victory had given it its own exhaust system, for example.