Victory Kingpin Motorcycle Road Test

The Vegas got the Victory motorcycle brand into the race. The new Kingpin closes the gap. From the June 2004 issue of Motorcyclist Magazine.

Many folks assume that once a new motorcycle company begins producing actual machines, it has cleared its last major hurdle. As both Indian and Excelsior-Henderson have shown, it's a lot more difficult than that. Once that first bike is built, it must be refined or revised to meet customer demands. Bugs need to be exterminated, dealer networks must be set up, publicity and image campaigns need to be arranged, the manufacturing process has to be massaged, follow-up models must be readied, and support programs for the existing bikes—warranty, parts, service, accessories, etc.—have to be created. And all this takes money—Big Money. The assumption that bike sales will fund this isn't based in reality, especially since customers tend to be skeptical about new bikes. Meanwhile, investors tend to get cold feet because they assume money will begin flowing the other way. It seems to take about five years to get through this phase.

Like other new companies, Victory stumbled at first. But unlike the others, it had a steady source of cash from parent-company Polaris. Victory improved its first cruisers, expanded its line and completely revised its engine, creating a better-looking, substantially stronger motor that established itself as the powerhouse of the midteen V-twin cruisers. Victory rolled out a succession of new models; not all were successful, but each brought improvements and refinement.

In 2003, its fifth year of production, Victory introduced the Vegas, a completely new platform that shared only engine layout with the company's first model. Home run. The Vegas finally strutted styling the market embraced, and Victory had its first big success. Better still, the company's bottom line was fading from red to black. Now, Victory's here to stay.

Bulking Up

To maintain momentum, Victory added the Kingpin for 2004. Described by Victory as "large and in charge," the Kingpin is intended to be a more substantial, classically styled cruiser in contrast to the Vegas' sleek, ultra-custom look. Still, actual differences are limited. The biggest change is up front, where the Kingpin has exchanged the Vegas' 21 x 2.15-inch standard wire wheel for an 18 x 3.0-inch six-spoke cast hoop and wrapped it with a radically valenced fender. It's bracketed by an inverted fork instead of the conventional legs on the Vegas. The rear wheel is the same 18 x 5.0-inch size as the Vegas', but it too is cast rather than wire-spoked, and it is sheltered by an even deeper fender. Floorboards confirm the Kingpin's commitment to comfort.

With its fatter front wheel, the Kingpin steers more responsively than the Vegas, though it doesn't quite match the immediacy or precision of the best-steering cruisers, such as Kawasaki's Vulcan 2000. The handlebar bend is more suitable for most riders, offering a greater sense of control. The suspension is firm but rarely harsh. Only very large—or very sharp—pavement lumps jolt you. The front end is especially compliant. Even so, the Kingpin has not improved on the limited cornering clearance of the Vegas, so it is easy to drag hard parts. Still, the choppy ride of the first models has been banished.

Early Victory models all had dual-disc front brakes, but the Vegas arrived with just one. At the time, Victory said customers were concerned that a powerful brake would overwhelm the skinny 21-inch front tire. So it's ironic that the Kingpin sports the same brake despite its beefier footprint up front. The brake is acceptably powerful and offers good control. The front end dives substantially, and you must adjust for this during initial brake application. Our test bike's brake also squawked loudly during moderate applications in the wet.

Take a Seat

Most riders felt more comfortable on the Kingpin than on the Vegas. The Kingpin's seat is just as close to the pavement, but riders who spent time on both bikes said their backsides felt better a few hours down the road on the Kingpin's perch. The seat itself doesn't permit much room to fidget and shift position, though the shape is otherwise accommodating.

Riders accustomed to floorboards felt immediately at home with the Kingpin's heel-toe shifting. The mighty clang of shifts on early Victory models is history. The current five-speed gearbox operates slightly more quietly and smoothly than most big twins. Neutral is easy to find. The clutch engages with average effort and reach, though there are no lever adjusters.

Victory continues to make small refinements, but there's not much to complain about with the driveline. In fact, the Victory engine is the strongest of the 1500 and 1600 V-twins. The overhead-cam, fuel-injected mill delivers power smoothly. It's stronger than other comparable V-twins at the rpm cruiser riders like to use. The twin pulls nicely from 30 mph in fifth and delivers rapid top-gear passes. Except for a slight abruptness in quick on/off throttle transitions, power delivery is about ideal for a cruiser. There is a bit of gear whine, but the Kingpin's engine is mechanically quieter than the majority of its peers, and most riders find the intake rumble to be a pleasing exhaust note.

Work with Me

We suspect most riders will prefer the Kingpin—at least functionally—to the Vegas. More cruiser enthusiasts say they now want cast wheels for the puncture resistance of tubeless tires but also for ease of cleaning. Victory allows buyers to pick from three other wheel styles, including wire spokes, if you order through its Custom Order Program (available every year from August to October through its Web site, Other options include paint schemes, engine finishes, chrome and touring packages, HID headlights, handlebar bend, and forward footpegs instead of floorboards. These are in addition to a line of accessories that includes such offerings as a tachometer.

The fenders are controversial, especially in back. Sidewalk critics felt that the gas tank, the same 4.5-gallon item used on the Vegas, looked a bit puny in the bulked-up Kingpin. Still, we like the bike's styling touches, such as the split-tail aspect of the fuel tank where the seat's nose nestles into it. Victory is a bit chintzy about little functional details. We wish its bikes included items such as self-canceling turn signals with front position lights, adjustable levers, helmet locks and additions such as a clock in the speedometer's LED display, which now simply provides mileage information instead of the myriad additional functions found in early Victory models. Such a paucity of practical touches seems out of place on a $15,000 motorcycle.

Bottom line? The Kingpin represents a solid second offering in Victory's new generation of motorcycles and extends the Vegas' appeal to a wider audience. And riders hooked by that appeal can be confident that, though still distinctive, Victorys have attained functional parity—and in some aspects, superiority—with their well-established cruiser competitors.

Photography by Kevin Wing.
If the Vegas was a wake-up call, the Kingpin is Victory's needle-in-the-heart adrenaline shot to sleepy-eyed Vulcans and lethargic Fat Boys.
Between August and October, you can custom-order a Kingpin or Vegas set up just to your liking a Victory's website. Options include flashy paint jobs and host of other factory-installed pieces.
Although it lacks the ectensive bells and whistles (and tach) or early Victory instrument clusters, the new speedo does live out in front of the handlebar, where you can see it, and not hidden atop the tank.
Love 'em or leave 'em, fat-fender designs from Arlen and Cory Ness add distinctive styling flair to the Kingpin.
The Kingpin is the motormouth, V-twin party guest that breaks furniture and makes everyone smile; you can't ignore 'em, and you want 'em to stay because it's, well, just more fun.
**Cheers & Jeers
Engine: 9 **Strongest among 1500/1600 twins
**Drivetrain: 8 **Smoother and quieter than most big Vees
**Handling: 7 **Fork and wheels transform response
**Braking: 7 **Powerful and controllable
**Ride: 7 **Firm, rarely harsh, smile-inducing at speed
**Ergonomics: **7 Plush saddle, floorboards, heel-toe shifting
**Features: 5 **Chintzy functional details; long options list
**Refinement: **7 Long and low styling; Vegas fuel tank a miss
**Value: 7 **Midway between Japan and Milwaukee
**Fun Factor: 9 **It's tough to beat
**Verdict: **With its mechanical enhancements, classic styling and true cruiser panache, the Kingpin is a major player
At its core is the Freedom engine, now the strong arm in the 1500/1600cc V-twin class.
Specifications *Performance with test-session weather conditions corrected to sea-level standard conditions (59 degrees F, 29.92 in. of mercury)