First Ride: 2004 Victory Kingpin Motorcycle

Victory rolls another strike with its latest custom cruiser.

Like a busload of errant conventioneers pulling up at the Palomino Club, we absolutely love Vegas—the Victory Vegas V-twin cruiser, that is. We raved about the thing after our first ride last fall, shoveled even more praise its way in our May road test, then made one final proclamation of Vegas lust by tabbing it Best Cruiser in our annual 2003 MOTY balloting. So when we describe Victory's new Kingpin by saying the company has built an even better Vegas, you know the Minnesota maker has rolled a winner.

This isn't to say the Kingpin is a replacement for the strong-selling Vegas. The Kingpin is instead an alternative take on the Vegas concept, reworked with a few choice chassis and styling mods to move Victory beyond the "custom-cruiser" niche the Vegas occupies and into the more traditional, "fat-fendered" category now dominated by various Fat Boys and the odd Road Star or Vulcan. The fact that the Kingpin actually works better on the road than the Vegas is but a happy coincidence.

What, then, is the essential difference between the Vegas and the Kingpin? First, what remains the same is the proven Vegas chassis (with its rising-rate, linkage-type rear suspension) and excellent, 1507cc "Freedom" V-twin engine and transmission. Differences begin up front, where the Vegas' conventional fork and chopper-style, 21-inch front wheel have been replaced by an inverted fork holding an 18-inch wheel with wider rubber. Crowning the new machine are fuller-coverage fenders designed by custom bike kings Arlen and Cory Ness to give the Kingpin that "anchored to the ground" look this customer demands. Voil —Victory easily and inexpensively doubles the market appeal of the Vegas platform.

Thankfully, the creation of the Kingpin is more than just market maneuvering—the stiffer fork and fatter front tire transform the Kingpin in the curves, as our brief ride in California's wine country evidenced. The Kingpin's inverted fork features cartridge internals (a first for Victory) and, as a result, the separate compression and rebound damping circuits are very well balanced. The improvement is especially apparent at low speeds. On tight, big-bumped bits (Trinity Road, for those of you familiar with Sonoma County) the Kingpin does a stellar job of keeping the tires on the tarmac. Only at higher speeds (the open sweepers on Butts Canyon and Pope Valley Roads back in Napa) can you induce any wallow, indicating a slightly undersprung/underdamped rear shock. The upshot is that the rear end is spine-savingly soft at sane speeds, which is what most cruiser riders want.

Besides, in most riding situations you'll run out of cornering clearance before you begin taxing the suspenders. Like the Vegas, the Kingpin is long and low—the attractive cast floorboards deck uncomfortably early, and there is what feels like one degree of leeway between the edge of the pivoting board and the associated hard bits beneath. Which is a shame, because the excellent traction afforded by the 130/70 front Dunlop (and similarly upsized 180-series rear) tempt you to taste the Kingpin's excellent four-piston front disc (matched to a 300mm floating rotor and Goodridge stainless lines) and drive deep into corners. Very few cruisers, even so-called sport-cruisers, will embarrass the Kingpin on a curvy road.

Although the Kingpin's 1507cc displacement might seem meager compared with this year's crop of mega-motored competition, it offers plenty of poke (70.9 horsepower and 93.1 foot-pounds of torque when we dynoed our last Vegas), and our recent ride confirms that power delivery is as burly and broad as before. The Freedom engine is virtually vibe-free; still, Victory added a new, rubber-mounted handlebar and rubber-mounted floorboards to the Kingpin. Also new is a dual-density saddle that is significantly more supportive than last season's too-soft perch. Many tiny details have also been tightened up on the Kingpin. Last year's droopy-drawers turn signals are jettisoned in favor of stiffer—and shinier—chrome bits, though the stamped-steel license-plate bracket looks like something stolen from the undercarriage of an ATV—and then chromed.

Let the style-meisters in the chopper crowd viva las Vegas—if you want a cruiser that really rides, or if you just prefer more traditional fat-fendered lines, the Kingpin is the bike that should be at your side.

MSRP: $14,999
Engine type: l-c 50-deg. V-twin
Valve arrangement: sohc, 8v
Displacement: 1507cc
Transmission: 5-speed
Weight: 639 lb. (claimed dry)
Fuel capacity: 4.5 gal.
Wheelbase: 66.5 in. (1690mm)
Seat height: 26.5 in. (673mm)

Victory's Kingpin, shown here in "Purple Thunder" with optional "Vogue Silver Tribal" flames. Victory's list of options for the Kingpin is extensive, and includes touring-specific add-ons such as the windshield, semihard saddlebags and backrest shown in other photos.