Kevin Wing

Motorcycle Comparison Road Test: Harley-Davidson Softail Deuce Vs. Victory Vegas

The upstart from Minnesota makes a strong play for Mr. Milwaukee's turf

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his article was originally published in the June 2003 issue of Motorcycle Cruiser. It was a perfect summer night in Los Angeles, even if it was the beginning of February. Our mission was just supposed to be to move the new Victory Vegas and the Harley-Davidson Deuce to where they were to be photographed the next day, a 20-minute ride. But the night was balmy and traffic was light. A bit of cruising seemed in order. We were, after all, forced to ride America's two premiere cruisers, bikes that apparently aim at the same target, so we decided to make the most of it. Both the Deuce and the Victory push style to the forefront and flaunt the same sort of look. Narrow bikes with 21-inch front wheels, both strut sexy lines that suck in eyeballs and have similarities that beg comparison. Though the Vegas has the advantage to knowing how its competitor plays the game, we weren't going to bet against the Deuce, consistently one of our favorite cruisers, one that is much more satisfying to simply ride than such a highly styled bike has any right to be. We pushed the bikes out of the storage area, and fired them up. With fuel injection on both engines (standard on the Victory, optional on the Harley), this is just a matter of punch and play. Hit the starter buttons and both idle immediately. We pulled on our helmets and gloves, and both were ready to go. Instead of setting off toward the freeway, we headed for the Sunset Strip. In the concrete canyon on Wilshire Boulevard, we could hear muted echoes reverberating as we powered up LA's nearly empty main street. It was enough to get our blood up, but the volume was low enough that we didn't feel the need to throttle back to be civilized as we turned north on a residential street to reach the Strip. A few minutes later we rolled into Hollywood. Traffic was heavier here, with cruisers, club-goers and Sunday-night insomniacs out in force. This is probably where the line, "Cars crawl past all stuffed with eyes" from the Doors song was conceived. Everybody's here to be seen, but everybody's looking too. The two machines would face their first big trial here, and both passed, because everybody, even the weary-looking hookers, turned to look. But when we had to stop in front of a line waiting to get into the Whiskey, you could tell which bike was getting more and longer looks. Men point and women smile, more of them at the Vegas. Maybe our unit's red paint just looks more beguiling in the street lights' hollow glow, but it seems pretty clear that Victory, whose first bike couldn't catch an eye in a crowd of motorcyclists even before any of them had ever seen one, has gotten it right this time. As we'd hear again and again, the Vegas is a stunning-looking motorcycle. Sure, the optional billet wheels on our test unit help, but there is plenty to please the eye. New, more shapely fork sliders embrace the 21-inch front wheel that defines these bikes. Several pundits said that they preferred the front end of the Deuce because it looked longer and lighter, in part because it's capped with a headlight that's smaller than the big two-bulb reflector beam of the Vegas.

Harley-Davidson Deuce
The Harley has all-around performance and style.Kevin Wing

But in a turn-about, the Victory's engine drew the lion's share of aesthetic praise. The original Victory engine was crudely finished, but new suppliers make the late-style Freedom engine much prettier than before. Putting the airbox under the tank offended traditionalists but impressed free-thinkers who felt the engine looked cleaner without that big chrome oval hanging on its right side, as on the H-D. No one liked the bit of plastic airbox protruding from the front of the Vegas tank, but many overlooked it while exclaiming over the tank itself. With pretty curves and scallops that are sculpted into instead of painted on the sides, it catches your attention in profile. From the rear or top, it seduces you with its split-tail shape where it converges with the seat and with the spine that runs its length and is picked up again behind the seat to run to the tip of the rear fender. "It looks custom for sure," was the way one envious-looking gawker summed it up.

The shapely foot controls and brackets also earned points for the Vegas. The side panel treatment was a split decision. The Deuce's chrome panels looked "garish" to some "good" to others, and some complained that the Vegas side covers didn't mesh with the lines of the rest of the painted parts. By comparison to the Vegas, the full-length chrome tank console of the Deuce looks kind of tired. The flush-mounted LED taillight of the Vegas also sparked more smiles than the low-profile red lens on the Deuce. Both bikes have minimized their turn signals, but the rubber mounts on the Vegas droop to make the signals a bit uneven, an irritating detail. The harum-scarum arrangement of its cables is also troubling. Harley does a much cleaner job.

Waiting at for lights on the Strip, we also heard the word "low" directed at the Vegas more than once. It's true -- the saddle digs way down into the frame, so that virtually anybody can comfortably sit flat-footed. Rearranging the rear suspension with a single vertical damper and linkage has given room to drop the saddle and also challenge the Softail rear suspension of the Deuce for cleanliness and style. But the valley of the Vegas saddle sits forward, and it turns up in back just where medium and taller riders would like to plant their butts, making the seat uncomfortable immediately. You might not sit so low on the Deuce, but you're sitting pretty, or at least pretty comfortably. Its saddle accommodates a wider variety of shapes and sizes and feels good for a long time. Only riders who fit the Vegas seat just right were happy after 20 or 30 minutes.

Heading west, the Sunset Strip comes to an abrupt end at the Beverly Hills city limits. Clubs, show biz offices and lingerie showrooms give way to monster mansions and big trees. The road is wide and straight and soon next to deserted. You might be tempted to open it up here to see who's got motor, but we weren't. We knew about those Beverly Hills cops who lurk in the shadows just inside the alleys with radar guns. Instead we shifted up to fifth and kept the rpm down and the speed under 40.

Victory Vegas
Victory's Vegas has great power sans vibration.Kevin Wing

Ticking along at that speed, both engines feel strong, smooth and responsive. Yeah, you could shift down for more punch, but it's not needed, and when a couple of miles later Sunset veers right and leaves Beverly Hills for less-policed L.A., we just opened the throttles without shifting, picking up speed for the twisting, plunging road that runs all the way to the ocean.

In those first few corners, the Vegas rider began to feel cocky. Responsive, precise steering and better suspension control promised an opportunity to romp on the Deuce. But then we got to the fast carousel behind the Playboy mansion and as we dove into it, the Vegas began grinding hard, its right peg bracket throwing a shower of sparks, unweighting the front wheel just slightly and making its rider suddenly sober. The Deuce requires more steering effort to initiate and hold a turn (though we never really thought of it as heavy-steering until we compared it to the Vegas), but its front end does a better job of conveying confidence. When the Vegas bottomed out, the Deuce had the edge for a moment until it too reached its clearance limit, albeit with a bit less spectacle.

A couple of derisive remarks were exchanged at the next light, and then we were back into the road, winding past UCLA and up through the curve that used to be sung about as Dead Man's.

With each turn we adjusted to the bikes, and by the time we were running down through the last few corners approaching the San Diego Freeway overpass, we were moving along smartly again. Those turns provide their own tests, with an unven surface that makes suspensions and frames work hard. The Deuce, which we continue to rate as a good-handling cruiser, to our surprise, wallowed a little bit as if its chassis was bending fractionally under the forces. The Vegas was tight and solid, a tad too solid. On the sharp-edged bumps, its ride bordered on harsh, making us slow despite the precise steering. You worry that it will be jarred off the line you are trying to steer.

Shortly past the freeway, we made a quick detour to drag the bikes around the Bristol Circles, then swapped saddles and tried it again. A few quick laps and we scurried back to Sunset, having confirmed that the Vegas is a bit shy of cornering clearance.

The rider who just left the Harley added another observation. "This [the Vegas] shifts a lot better than that thing."

Victory has obviously been hard at work on taming its once scary-noisy gear-shifting (making dozens of changes just this year on top of previous improvements) and has come up with a gearbox that is not only reasonably quiet but also shifts smoothly and lightly. Our Deuce by comparison was somewhat stiff and uncertain, not typical of previous examples. Finding the Harley's neutral was sometimes a slight challenge. Harley's heavy clutch pull is still in evidence, making the light clutch action of the Vegas that much more pronounced.

Banishing the Victory's gearbox woes may have created a bit of play in the gearbox, especially lower gears, because the Vegas takes up lash with a bit of a jerk when you make quick throttle transitions, making it challenging to ride smoothly, especially in town or on roads like this where you are making constant throttle adjustments. The choppy throttle response makes for head-banging with a passenger if you aren't very deliberate with the throttle.

Coming off the light at Mandeville Canyon, we decided that it was time to see who had the power. We shifted them up into top gear, and on a signal at the beginning of the first straight, snapped open the throttles. The Vegas just walked right away from the Deuce, which is no sluggard among the big twins. But the mass of the rider on the Harley put his bike at a roughly 75-pound disadvantage, so we switched bikes again. On the next straightaway, the Victory, now carrying the added lard, didn't pull away so quickly, but it still eased ahead. Among the big V-twins, only the Honda VTX1800 offers more to move you.

Speedometer
We prefer the Vegas' speedo location, but Harley's cable and wire routing is much more sanitary. Harley's tank-top ignition lock is also a plus, and the off-set gas cap means that you can fill the tank on the sidestand.Kevin Wing

Jumping back and forth between the bikes you notice the difference in ergonomics. The low saddle of the Victory makes the handlebar relatively high, so while shorter riders like sitting low, they usually commented that the handlebar seemed high, a bit wide, and somewhat awkward. Taller riders also commented unenthusiastically on the Vegas' bar width, and also remarked that the position forced by the saddle made them feel slightly crowded into the handlebar. The Victory's seat-peg relationship worked better for a wide range on inseams. The Deuce made most riders much happier, not only because its saddle was better shaped but because it offered more flexibility. Taller riders could slide back a bit and even lean into the wind slightly at speed.

Traffic had vanished again, and soon we were dropping into Rustic Canyon and following Rustic Creek past Will Rogers State Park. The aroma of the local flora, the balmy temperatures, and the beauty of the night overcame any thought we had about sprinting now. It was time to kick back and soak up the sensations -- just us and the big bikes burbling through the night. At times like this, you don't want a motorcycle to intrude. The motorized symphony emanating from each is pleasing but different. The Harley lays a slight mechanical track over the xhaust. Victory's rumble sounds to the rider like it's all throaty exhaust, but if you pay attention, you notice that the airbox imparts much of the throb. Both these machines are smooth at normal rpm, thanks to their vibration-snubbing counterbalancers. However, the Deuce retains its smoothness right up to where the rev-limiter cuts in, while the Vegas begins to shake a bit as redline approaches. The Deuce also wins points for a more compliant ride, though it is nothing to, er, ride home about.

Sharp bumps are simply more defined when you encounter them on the Vegas, with the rear end providing more of the information and your back perhaps suffering from information overload. However, we think the new rear end is better overall than previous Victory suspenders and not far off the Deuce. And as we said before, the Victory's suspension is better controlled, keeping the tire more solidly in contact with the road. And speaking of tires, we felt we had more traction up front on the Deuce, but more in back with the Vegas. That is just as well because the Victory's rear brake is more sensitive and easier to lock it up in a moment of excitement or if you are simply trying to stop hard, We initially questioned Victory's decision to use a single disc and caliper on the front of the Vegas, but we have to admit that it provides good control and all the power the skinny 21-inch front tire can handle. Both brakes on the Deuce require a solid effort for maximum stopping power, but that means they are unlikely to lock up. If you can squeeze hard enough, it will stop hard enough.

Shortly, Sunset Boulevard climbed back out of Rustic Canyon. Riding into the Pacific Palisades commercial area, we decided to take an ice-cream break. While the Jamoca Almond Fudge was being scooped, we were engaged by a sportbike rider who allowed as how those were pretty good-looking bikes, but they must cost a lot, and, oh yeah, are those billet wheels stock? No we told him, the wheels on our Vegas were accessory items from Victory, worth about $900 a piece. Wire-spoke wheels are standard. But they do highlight the effort that Victory is making to build the options list for its bikes, with a few dozen pieces in the works. Of course, that doesn't compare to the accessories available the Deuce, for which Harley and the aftermarket have hundreds of bolt-ons and major modifications. To use the example of wheels, Harley's site lists two rear and seven front wheel options, one of which is priced like the wheels on our Vegas with the rest running between $300 and $700. The aftermarket offers a few dozen more wheel styles, including ultra-wide varieties, that can be rolled under your Deuce. However, because you will be able to order a Vegas with the wheels installed at the factory (there will be new styles in 2004), you avoid paying for two sets of wheels.

One thing that the Vegas has that the Deuce doesn't is a tool kit -- or more precisely a tool. The single allen-wrench-shaped device clips to the battery box under the left side panel and incorporates just a single allen hex and a phillips screwdriver. The clever part is that bike was built with this tool in mind. As a result, many of the fasteners accept it, and you can accomplish quite bit with just those two drivers, including some accessory installations. Give Victory credit for thinking these things through. Here's another example: one accessory it offers is a tachometer, which comes already bolted to its chrome bracket that has a hole to drop the speedometer into. Just unbolt the stock bracket with the speedo in it and replace it with the tach and the new bracket. Transfer the speedometer to the new bracket and plug the tach into the wiring waiting in the headlight shell. Quick and simple, and it looks like a factory installation.

motorcycle tails
Out back, the Victory wins the beauty contest with its nice billet belt pulley and Frenched LED taillight, but its turn signals droop a bit. The billet wheels are optional.Kevin Wing

The girl behind the counter wanted to close up, so we lapped up the last bit of ice cream and wiped the rest off our chins and fingers. "Turn me out and I'll wander baby," that same Doors song promises. So we turned west again on Sunset for the last few miles to Pacific Coast Highway. The Victory lighted the way better than the Deuce, thanks to its bigger, better-focused dual-bulb beam. We also preferred its white-faced speedometer, which is located up in front of the bar, not down on the tank where you have to look away from the road to take it in, as on the Deuce. That multi-function LCD used in the speedometers of previous Victorys didn't make it to the Vegas, which got just the usual odometer and tripmeter. We also prefer its one-switch turn-signal system to the Harley's two-button arrangement, but we are impressed by Harley turn-signal cancellation scheme, which always seems to know when to turn the signals off and when not to, apparently distinguishing between a gentle turn and a lane change. Victory includes a four-way flasher switch on the right bar, a feature which is available on Harleys by pushing both signal buttons simultaneously.

The light turned red as we rolled up to California's Route 1. We came to a stop in the middle lane. We were supposed to turn south and deliver the bikes in time to get some sleep. But we didn't have to discuss it. We pulled into the right lane, and headed north, winding them up through the gears, the Harley trying to catch the upstart that has made it clear it isn't going to back off. Soon we'd settled into a brisk highway pace, feeling the warm air and inhaling the scent of the ocean meeting land. Half an hour later we pulled into a gas station, where the Deuce reaffirmed Harley's claim to superior fuel economy by averaging just over 43 mpg to the Victory's 39. But even with fuel prices edging past $2.00 a gallon, fuel mileage and range weren't the issue, as we talked over which bike was the king of the factory neo-customs. Which bike should you pick?

You have to determine your priorities. The Harley offers plenty -- good looks, good all-around performance, no real blemishes. It is noticeably more comfortable than the Vegas, though its controls are generally heavier. The dealer support is much more solid than Victory's, and so is the range of products and services from the aftermarket. You can even get some parts from auto-parts stores if no dealer is nearby. Harleys have a track record of holding their value (subject to change any time), but you pay substantially more initially, even without any dealer add-ons, which are likely to be heftier if you are negotiating for one of these 100th-anniversary versions. If you prefer to run with the pack, you probably want a Harley, and the Deuce is one of the best pure-cruiser models in the line.

Victory carves its niche with a stronger if slightly choppier engine. It steers better, stops more strongly, and has the lowest saddle on the block, though that brings uncomfortable drawbacks for riders who are not inseam-deficient. Suspension comfort could be improved. Dealer support is still limited, and the slack won't soon be picked up by other entities. With limited accessory availability, bolting together a truly unique Vegas will be a challenge. It has no track record for price, or anything else yet. It isn't as affordable as the Japanese bikes, but it is two grand cheaper than the Deuce -- and you won't have to grovel at the dealership to get one. Despite some disappointing but remediable details, we think the Vegas is the prettiest and most eye-catching of this oxymoronic "factory custom" segment. Perhaps best of all, it doesn't have the me-too aspect of a Harley, no matter how nicely done. The Vegas drew much more attention to it than the Deuce during our rides.

With the tanks topped, the fuel nozzle was replaced and the receipt hissed forth.

"So, whaddya think?" was the question.

"You know, I just can't make a decision yet. I'd like to go home and catch some TV and get to bed, but this damn job is just going to keep me out riding these things 'til all hours of the morning."

"I'm afraid you're right. More research is required. We'll keep heading north then."

The Doors again: "Still one place to go..."

HARLEY-DAVIDSON DEUCE

Highs: *Strong all-around performance; Impressive comfort -- in style; Great aftermarket support.
Lows: How about a tool kit? High-effort controls; You're part of the herd.
First Changes: Aftermarket suspension for greater control; Almost anything visual to help you identify yours in the parking lot.

VICTORY VEGAS

Highs: Victory proves it can make pretty bikes; Great power without vibration; Smooth shifting; Can an ultra-low saddle be a High?
Lows: Low saddle doesn't work for medium to large riders; Distracting drivetrain lash; Somewhat harsh ride; Conspicuous wires and cables; Droopy turn signals
First Changes: igger riders need a different seat. Add the optional tach. Clean up wires and cables
Harley-Davidson Deuce and Victory Vegas
Harley-Davidson Deuce vs. Victory VegasKevin Wing

RIDING POSITIONS

Cherney: We've bitched and moaned incessantly about the quirks on Victory motorcycles, and with the Vegas, it looks like the big boys finally listened. Gone is the truckish steering, the Frankensteinian shifts and the goofy cylinders -- and good riddance to 'em. Two-finger clutch and brake operation on the Vegas had me strafing into corners much later than usual; the brakes are top notch. Most importantly, the Vegas nails the heart of a cruiser: style. That ridged fender is sweet, and a sleek stretched tank and flush seat make for some tasty eye candy. It all fits me like a glove, too. Lose the butt-busting seat, and you're in business.

That's why I was bummed out riding the Deuce afterward -- even with superior ground clearance, a plusher saddle and stable handling, it felt like a tractor by comparison. 'Twas a bitter pill, because the Deuce has been a perennial fave of mine over the years. After struggling with the Popeye brake and unmanageable clutch, though, and factoring in the price, I had to admit the Deuce was looking a bit long in the tooth -- in all situations I just craved the immediate accessibility of the Vegas. Who woulda thunk it?

Friedman: The deciding question for me concerns the Victory's saddle. Is someone going to make a seat for the Vegas that I can live with? As much as I like the bike, I just wouldn't ride it much with a seat that becomes painful in so few miles. I can ride for hours on the Deuce in comfort and would be more than pleased if that was where I ended up.

However, I'd prefer to ride the Victory because you don't see one at every light, because I prefer its looks (once you clean up that rat's nest of wires and cables at the triple clamps -- did anyone at Victory bother to check how Harley handles this? -- and replace the dime-store rubber turn-signal stalks with something worthy of the rest of the bike), because the price is easier to swallow and you can skip the DCF (dealer convenience fee), and because of that potent engine. I am hoping that we'll get to keep a Vegas for a while to try some of Victory's interesting accessory menu and to see if we can fix that damn seat. Without a saddle swap, I'd have a Deuce of a time deciding between these two.

Maybe I can swing both...

You can find road tests and comparison tests for hundreds of additional cruiser motorcycles at the Road Tests section of MotorcycleCruiser.com.

You can find an individual test of the Deuce and a First Ride report on the Vegas in the Road Tests section.

Specifications

Harley-Davidson Deuce

Harley-Davidson Deuce Victory Vegas
GENERAL
Designation: FXSTDI V92
Suggested base price: $16,965 ($17,255 California prices) $14,999
Standard colors: Pearl red, pearl blue
Extra cost colors: Black (with additional 100th-anniversay graphics), add $85; gunmetal, add $235; anniversary black/silver, add $905 Blue, silver, yellow, red
Standard warranty: 12 mos., unlimited miles 12 mos., unlimited miles
Recommended service interval: 5000 miles 5000 miles
ENGINE & DRIVETRAIN
Type: Air-cooled 45-degree tandem V-twin Air/oil-cooled 50-degree tandem V-twin
Valve arrangement: OHV, 1 intake valve, 1 exhaust valve operated by pushrods, hydraulic adjusters SOHC, 2 intake valves, 2 exhaust valves operated by hydraulic adjusters
Displacement, bore x stroke: 1450cc, 95 x 102mm 1507cc, 97 x 102mm
Compression ratio: 8.9:1 9.2:1
Carburetion: Electronic fuel injection Electronic fuel injection
Lubrication: Dry sump, 3.5 qt. Wet sump, 6.0 qt.
Minimum fuel grade: 92 octane 92 octane
Transmission: wet clutch, 5 speeds wet clutch, 5 speeds
Final drive: Belt, 70/32 Belt, 70/32
CHASSIS
Wet weight: 682 lbs. 668 lbs.
GVWR: 1125 lbs. 1135 lbs.
Wheelbase: 66.6 in. 66.5 in.
Overall length: 95.9 in. 95.9 in.
Rake/trail: 34 degrees / 5.0 in. 33.1 degrees / 5.28 in.
Seat height: 28.3 in. 26.5 in.
Wheels: 21 x 2.15 wire-spoke front, 17 x 4.5 cast-alloy rear Wire-spoke, 21 x 2.15 front, 18 x 4.5 rear
Front tire: MH90-21 Dunlop D402 tube-type MH90-21 Dunlop D402 tube-type
Rear tire: 160/70VB17 Dunlop K591 tubeless 160/70VB17 Dunlop K591 tubeless
Front brake: Double-action, four-piston caliper, 11.5-in. disc Four-piston caliper, 11.8-in. disc
Rear brake: Double-action, four-piston caliper, 11.5-in. disc Four-piston caliper, 11.8-in. disc
Front suspension: 39mm stanchions, 5.6 in. travel 43mm stanchions, 5.1 in. travel, preload adjustable
Rear suspension: Harley Softail, 2 dampers, 4.0 in. travel Single damper, 3.9 in. travel, preload adjustable
Fuel capacity: 4.9 gal. 4.5 gal.
Handlebar width: 33.0 in., 1.0 in. diameter 33.0 in., 1.0 in. diameter
ELECTRICAL & INSTRUMENTATION
Charging output: 416 watts 532 watts
Battery: 12v, 19 AH, sealed 12v, 19 AH, sealed
Forward lighting: 6.0-in 55/60-watt headlight, position lights 7.0-in 55/60-watt dual-bulb headlight
Taillight: Single bulb LCD
Instruments: Speedometer, LCD odometer/tripmeter, fuel gauge; warning lights for high beam, turn signals, neutral, oil pressure, engine malfunction, low fuel Speedometer, LCD odometer/tripmeter; warning lights for neutral, high beam, turn signals, oil pressure engine malfunction, low fuel
PERFORMANCE
Fuel mileage: 32 to 51 mpg, 43.2 mpg average 32 to 47 mpg, 39.3 mpg average
Average range: 212 miles 200 yard, top-gear-acceleration from 50 mph, terminal speed: 74.3 mph 177 miles
Quarter-mile acceleration: 13.14 sec., 97.2 mph 12.99 sec., sec, 101.0 mph