When Victory launched its initial V92C cruiser model in 1998, it was an exciting moment. This was the first new American brand of cruiser motorcycles in 60 years, with a solid, powerful and proprietary V-twin engine design. The bike had something of a sporting attitude, too-Victory wanted its cruiser to handle, and gave the V92C suspension and steering geometry to suit. Judging from the reaction of the media, the motorcycle worked well and should have been a hit.
Unfortunately, while we practical-minded motojournalists liked the V92C, those with a need for more form weren’t impressed with its styling, and couldn’t care less about its sporting ability. The devil was in the details-the V92C was introduced just as a revolution was occurring in cruiser styling, and it was too plain, too subtle it turned out, to wow most of its potential customer base. After a few variations on the theme netted little improvement in sales, Victory-armed with a new CEO on a mission-got serious and hired well-known custom bike builders Arlen and Cory Ness to consult on the design of their 2003 model line. The stunning result was the Victory Vegas, a sleek combination of stretched and chopped custom wrapped around a refined “Freedom” version of the V92C engine. More powerful out of the box than the American competition, the Vegas was a hit, and with it as a platform Victory never looked back.
A Kingpin model with a smaller, wider front tire, male-slider cartridge fork and fat, fully valanced fenders was added first, along with a dressed Kingpin Deluxe sibling for the touring-cruiser crowd. Next came the Vegas 8-Ball, a less-expensive black starter model, and the Hammer, with a new, larger 100ci (1,634cc) V-twin and-in firsts for a regular production V-twin cruiser-a six-speed transmission driving a 250-series rear tire. The same year we started seeing special Ness editions of the bikes with extra billet, chrome and special paint.
Victory’s more market-driven approach with styling assistance from the Ness father-and-son team seems to be working. Mid-year 2005 sales were up 51 percent over 2004, according to Victory. The 2006 lineup is more aggressive than ever, too, with a new Vegas Jackpot model that combines the original’s skinny front wheel and tire with the wide 250-series rear. The Hammer’s 100ci engine and six-speed have been incorporated into most of the lineup for 2006 as well, including the Victory Kingpin Deluxe tested here. Victory says Kingpin models account for about 20 percent of its sales.
At 1,634cc Victory’s latest air/oil-cooled, 50-degree mill falls right in the middle of the largest production V-twin cruisers, with displacements ranging from Harley’s 1,450cc Twin Cam 88 to the Kawasaki Vulcan 2000. Having single overhead cams with four valves per cylinder and a wet oil sump, the Freedom 100/6 is a tall engine, but performs better than larger-displacement, OHV V-twins. Its electronic fuel injection and belt final drive enhance performance and simplify maintenance, and the “overdrive” six-speed transmission means that you’re never hunting for a higher gear that isn’t there.
Bolted solidly into the tubular-steel double-cradle frame, the 100/6 has a gear-driven counterbalancer and helical-cut primary gears to reduce vibration and noise that would otherwise reach the rider. A rubber-mounted handlebar and vibration-reducing floorboards help here as well. Interestingly, Victory uses a stylishly shaped cast-aluminum rear swingarm instead of something plainer in steel, with a single shock performing suspension duties. Up front one of the Kingpin’s special components is its 43mm male-slider cartridge fork, an enhancement over the Vegas’ conventional unit for better heavy touring and highway performance. Wheels are lovely six-spoke spun cast aluminum mounted with bias-belted tires.
Touring-cruiser motorcycles defy exact descriptions, but they all share certain things. A windscreen for starters-on the Kingpin Deluxe there’s a midheight bolt-on model that can be moved up or down over a 2.5-inch range or removed entirely (with tools). Wind-deflecting lowers provide a little extra protection for your legs. In back the passenger gets a bolt-on backrest and folding floorboards, and the pair of locking, leather-covered hard saddlebags bolt-on as well. The Kingpin’s handlebar is high and relatively flat fore-and-aft, producing a wide, relaxed reach to the grips. It has wider, cushier passenger and rider seats as well, the latter just 26.5 inches off the ground.
Swing a leg over and settle into the Kingpin’s seat, with feet firmly on the ground. It only needs a little of the handlebar-mounted fast-idle control in the coldest weather to fire right up and belt out a loping idle, with a nice tone from the exhaust-while many big twins sound overly muted, the Kingpin creates a clear rumble with noticeable power pulses, especially under acceleration.
The Kingpin Deluxe tested here is a quick one, too-it pumped out a healthy 79 horsepower and 96.5 lb-ft of torque peak at the rear wheel. A little soft just off idle, after that it flat moves, whether you wring it out or short-shift up through the gears. Passing power is always on tap even fully loaded and two-up, and the overdrive sixth gear is so high that I often found myself cruising on the highway in fifth. Dump it into sixth and the whole bike settles into an easy rumbling cruise, even at speeds up to 80 or 85 mph.
Shifting the Kingpin with its heel-and-toe foot shifter and meaty clutch lever is a sure but not-unnoticeable event, creating a loud clunk as you drop it into first starting out and requiring a certain deliberateness to each shift, up or down. Clutch pull is heavy but feel is otherwise fine, linear and strong, and vibration is minimal and never annoying. The power pulses come through cleanly even at higher engine speeds, giving the Kingpin a rewarding solid, torquey feel.
Life behind the Kingpin’s windscreen is cozy and warm except for a bit of helmet buffeting, which can be minimized by adjusting the height of the screen to where you can just see over it. Taller and shorter accessory screens are available, too. In warmer weather take the screen off and all of that reflected engine mechanical noise goes away, leaving just a silky rumble, and the seating position still helps you brace against the wind and enjoy a relaxed ride. Seats are comfortable for rider and passenger, with a bucket shape to the rider’s seat that holds you in place and seems like it would become restrictive, but really does not. The passenger backrest and floorboards work well, and the rider’s fold-up floorboards are buzz-free and are nicely angled and positioned, though they touch down easily and noisily in corners. If there’s a major issue on this bike it’s cornering clearance. Ridden in normal cruiser fashion it’s not a problem, but quickly becomes one if you choose to ride the bike more aggressively.
Otherwise handling is about what you’d expect from a long, heavy cruiser, though the Kingpin does steer quite effortlessly and quickly. The front male-slider 43mm fork is responsive and compliant and performs well under normal conditions and even a little beyond-it doesn’t dive excessively and offers a reasonable 5.1 inches of travel. The rear shock seems a bit basic for a big cross-country machine like this, however, and its minimal 3.9 inches of travel can be overwhelmed by a full load. It’s also quite difficult to adjust, as the bracket for the fuse holder has to be unbolted from the bike before you can have at the ring-and-locknut spring preload adjuster with a hammer and drift. It’s not necessary to change the preload between solo and two-up rides, but results in a better ride and more cornering clearance when you do so, and for a loaded-up trip it’s mandatory.
The Kingpin’s most easily fixed handling weakness is probably its stock tires. The design of the bias-belted 130/90-H18 Dunlop K491 Elite II front on our test bike has been around since the stone age, and its giant tread channels can track rain grooves and larger pavement irregularities. The rear 180/55-H18 D417 seems OK, but just. More modern front and rear tires with stiffer sidewalls, and a more contemporary profile and tread pattern-like Dunlop’s own Elite 3s-would probably eliminate the mild weave the bike exhibits in fast corners as well as the other nonsense. The tires work well in the rain and make a fine contribution to the bike’s good stopping power, as do the Brembo single disc brakes with Teflon stainless-steel braided brake lines front and rear.
Those saddlebags are only medium-sized and not watertight yet they will hold a fair amount if carefully packed. The mirrors and headlight on the Kingpin are excellent, and it has the usual assortment of indicator lights with an analog speedo and digital trip and odometers, but no tach. Fuel capacity is a little low for a touring machine at 4.5 gallons, and our test bike only returned average fuel economy of 36.8 mpg, for a medium range of 166 miles or so.
At just 738 pounds ready to ride with a full tank, the Kingpin Deluxe is among the lightest of the touring cruisers, and subsequently has a very good load capacity of 432 pounds. That light weight is partly the result of a no-frills approach that excludes several items from the standard equipment list we’ve begun to take for granted on other bikes in this price range. Adjustable brake and clutch levers, for example, or a quick-release windscreen and saddlebags, maybe something fancier than a padlock hasp for a steering lock. Or a removable locking seat with storage space underneath instead of a bolt-on. For the money you do get a real-steel (except for the side covers!) American-made alternative to the norm, though, with enough style, power, smoothness and comfort-stock-to satisfy anyone out for great ride, long or short.
Thanks to West Coast Cycle of Ventura, California, for the dyno runs.