Twice in the last couple of months
someone called the Bikernet offices on a
Monday and dropped a weekend into the
center of the week. Not bad. First the
new-model call came from Buellton to ride the
2004 rubbermounted Sportster. Then last
week I was ordered to fly to Oakland to meet
the hardworking Victory crew. I was afforded
one stinking hour to decide. Jump a plane or
not. I chose to hit the road.
How about a Sportster driven sidecar
from the Ness museum.
Just a portion of Arlen's trophy
wall. Bev, (in cover shot with Arlen) his wife,
has been stridently beside him since the
This is Arlen's next Victory
chopper project. Benefits to using a Victory
92-inch drive-line include narrower, lighter
Last year I road-tested the new Vegas.
Outstanding motorcycle from a power, styling,
balance, comfort, fit and handling perspective.
I was impressed. Arlen and Cory Ness were
called to assist with appearance decisions
which added style, finish and a unified touch.
While flying up the coast of California I was
confident in the outcome of two days in the
Napa, wine country--I rewrote my will. A
handful of moto-journalists from Iron Works,
American Rider, Rider, Cruising Rider and
Cycle World stepped off the plane. A stretched
limo swept us to Dublin, California to the new
home of Arlen Ness and family. The party
kicked off with a brief presentation from the
Victory and Ness crew, then dinner and drinks
in the Arlen's packed museum. If you get
a chance to wander through the facility,
you'll witness vast, chromed and
metalflake examples of custom motorcycling
history from 1970 until today.
Arlen and son Cory Ness. Arlen's
wife Bev and Daughter Cherry also work for
the company. A solid family operation.
Early Ness customs.
The new Arlen Ness family
Arlen and Cory made room on the
spacious granite-tiled showroom floor for
American Iron Horse, Victory and Italian Vespa
Scooters. They will soon be the largest (sales)
Victory dealer in the country. Half of the
shapely, two-toned Vespas they sell are sold
to women. The centerpiece in the showroom
was an Arlen Ness limited edition Vegas.
Arlen is touching approximately 300, 2004
models with billet wheels, accessories and
custom paint schemes. Only one will be
available per dealer for a retail ticket of
Mark Blackwell (left), VP from Victory
and Ken Freund, senior editor of American
There had to be a girl.
Ness customs in his museum.
The only dual-overhead-cam engine on
the planet. They're still working on
Arlen took care to laminate most of his
magazine features. This is just a small
The new Kingpin, a slightly heavier
version of the Vegas, will retail for around
$14,000 and the touring model of the Kingpin
will slip out the back for $15, 299. While we
toured the new 68,000 square-foot Ness
Facility, Cory mentioned one of the impacts of
the Polaris/Ness relationship,
requirements have lifted the bar on our own
wheel manufacturing," Cory said. The Ness
line of wheels are now more stridently tested
and equipped with top notch fasteners and
Arlen and Bob Moon designed this
shapely concept cycle to house the "Jet"
power-plant. Watch for it.
Nothin' like buying parts directly
from the home of the manufacturer.
The Ness retail parts department.
Although the Kingpin is considered a lightweight touring motorcycle, it is equipped with the most powerful headlight in the industry. I'll get to the 2004 features shortly. We stumbled back to the flea bag motel and tore the place apart looking for munchies. Reveille shouted for a 7:30 wake-up call and departure at 9:00 a.m. Another Limousine pulled up outside but I ducked the lavish interior of the bus to ride with Gary Laskin, the Victory Product Manager. I wanted the inside scoop.
Check the Victory web site for color variations, custom applications and flamed themes.
I have a morbid fascination for the inner workings of manufacturing entities. Part of my restless soul has always avoided big company drudgery. I suppose it's the biker/romantic wanderlust and need to avoid drug testing. So when I watch a new Ford roll down the street I'm in awe of the fucking wiring loom and how it gets from the copper plant to the immense number of connections under the dash. Sure, some think writing a book is a serious endeavor, but building a car, jet or naval ship far exceeds the orbit of my comprehension. So I dug into Gary's sharp educated and experienced brain cells. Born in Saint Paul, he grew up in Minnesota and lived in Europe/Belgium where he climbed aboard his first moped. His dad worked for 3m and had tremendous enthusiasm for motorsports. Throughout his 35 years Gary has owned and ridden American, Japanese and European motorcycles.
Gary graduated from the University of Minnesota and grabbed an MBA from the University of St. Thomas. His first job at FingerHut dropped him into the deep, thought-provoking crap game of the data driven approach to marketing. He toiled developing surveys, focus groups and styling clinics... I swear that this will be my only comparison to Harley-Davidson, but I can't resist. Harley started with a handful of men with limited knowledge, seat of the pants access to market and sketchy technological information. Victory is also made up of a handful of hardworking dreamers. Unlike H-D these individuals are educated, backed with vast marketing history, financial support, business acumen, expertise and technological data. In a different era, under a new set of rules and guideline they are attempting to fulfill the same goals as the Harley crew.
This was my favorite custom Vegas--sharp.
As a young Victory gun the new King Pin, based on the Vegas chassis, was thoroughly researched by Gary's team. This process included not only massive marketing studies but the experienced Polaris Design Team, Arlen and Cory Ness and many focus groups. It started with the desires and needs of the customer. Each owner and road-test participant was asked to fill out surveys. Focus groups studied the emotional needs of riders and were quizzed, "Why do you ride?" They deliberated on un-met needs, the progressive history of the classic cruising customer and rider fears. Styling stood tall as the most important aspect of the motorcycle, but didn't end at that design obstacle. Comfort and stability were keys. Security stood tall in the sphere of rider comfort and confidence. Wider tires were key elements, coupled with substance or weight.
"Riders don't want to perceive to be blown off the road," Gary said. The look needed to demonstrate mass and strength. "Motorcycling is based on emotion," Gary said, "It's not anything like buying a computer or toaster. It's all about desire and passion."
The design team created 16 concept drawings and presented them to a number of riders who had recently purchased touring motorcycles. The illustrations sought to represent a realm of models from, "Cutting edge to bleeding edge," Gary explained, "from conservative to out-there."
The final mock-up was carefully and gracefully submitted to 150 more riders. "We were extremely attentive to their input, delayed the launch and spent one-half million dollars moving one component 1 3/8 inches," Gary noted without giving away the part number. One more critical decision quivered on the drafting board. Would the motorcycle, designed developed today, survive two years of engineering, testing and construction before launch? Will the shape of their dreams survive until it reached market?
Brand position is critical. "The customer is very sensitive," Gary explained. "Refinement is important, but American riders like the bold and brash, with a raw edge."
The King pin sports only 18-inch wheels with larger tires than the Vegas. Note the heavier fender styling.
I was beginning to get an edgy picture of the decision making process behind designing a bike. What a goddamn roll of the dice. With the final concept drawing burning a hole in the design team's collective pocket they faced the next daunting barricade: The experienced Polaris Development Process including rigorous and disciplined quality testing for two years. Component tests include road testing and bench testing that simulates road conditions. They are capable of scrambling through 200,000 road miles in two weeks. Just two hours on a shaker table will tests a headlight or component extensively. Testing and development once ate 2-3 years, but with shaker tables they shorten development and increase quality in the process. Accelerated durability testing hammers a bike over a cobblestone surface 1-mile long, equivalent to 11 miles on the street. Stringent dyno testing tortures engines. Aerodynamics and cooling are tested on the road and high speed stability is examined on the track.
92 inches of fuel injected power.
"One test involves a rider who smacks the
handlebars as hard as he can at various
speeds from 85 mph to over 100. The bike is
timed to see how long it takes to return to
stability and the degree of oscillation. Redline
shifting, with no clutch, tests transmission
Victory recently steered clear of
alpha-numeric nomenclature with the Vegas.
The name conjures high-style and high
"The Kingpin name came
from the notion of comfort, confidence and
control," Gary explained. "We would rather
riders hate the name than to have no reaction
at all." The new Kingpin is "large and in
After a short stint with Victory the Vegas
was his first major project. "I was clueless
when I started six years ago," Gary admitted, "I
got lucky with this job and I'm glad I was
given the opportunity."
Kingpins and Vegas bikes lined-up
beside Victory semi, ready to ride.
We rolled into the Brix restaurant parking
area in Napa Valley, surrounded by 11 acres
of grap vines and olive trees, as the sun
cracked the morning dew, and I picked a ride
among two dozen Vegas, Kingpin regulars
and Kingpin touring models. I stuff my digital
in the bags of the last touring model available
and admired the multi-staged silver paint
scheme. I immediately noticed some of the fit
and finished components mentioned the night
before during the presentation. We peeled out
in two groups of anxious maniacs and weaved
through snake like roads from Yountville down
the Silverado Trail, along Trancas Street, to
the treacherous Mt. Veeder Rd, onto Dry
Creek, then twisty Trinity road into Glen Helen
for lunch at the brick and historic Jack London
Journalists from most major bike
mags alongside a winding road with Brian
Nelson, Victory photographer.
After a fine lunch we were set free to
investigate Bennett Valley Road, numerous
wineries, catching Calistoga Road to St.
Helena's snaky lane, where a Victory
staff member failed to negotiate a turn away
from the guard rail and stood his Kingpin on
its nose. He survived and so did the
motorcycle which took him home minus a few
gears. The roads were tough twisters for
experienced sport bike riders and we dragged
the elevated footboards on several corners. I
wanted an open freeway or two lane highway,
cutting across a state, to test this comfortable
ride. Again, as with the Vegas, this motorcycle
fit me like a glove.
Outside the Jack London lunch
hangout in Glen Helen.
Unfortunately when we left the twisted
asphalt of the foothills we found ourselves
trapped in tourist and construction traffic
snarls. I pulled to the roadside to check my
navigational instructions, in the midst of
bumper to wine-soaked tourist traffic, when
three girls pulled up alongside me. "Hey
handsome," the driver shouted over the
rumbling sound of diesels and the stench of
exhaust smoke. Could she be talking to me or
"Hey beautiful," I responded as the traffic
inched forward. Our eyes met, her girlfriend
giggled and I remembered my promise to the
Bikernet babe. No fooling around. I kicked
the curb with my black cowboy boot, stuffed
the map in my HA leather vest, then split lanes
out of the old western berg, to find a suitable
winery to drown my sorrows.
After a full day in the saddle we pulled
back into the Brix parking lot to share road
tales and machine insight. I test rode three
other Victorys and noted different engine noise
in each, although they all handled and felt the
same. I split through Olive groves and lush
hills comfortably. Passing miles of annual
grape fields lush with full crops I spotted
lavish castle-like wineries, then upscale
pottery and art shops and restaurants. The
whole goddamn gentrified area smelled of
brie cheese and exotic coffees. What once
was a tough industry in roaming fields has
become Wine Disneyland.
It's a crying shame. What once was
romantic and adventuresome is now
commonplace smeared with fat tourists in
shorts. But what the hell, I was afforded a
weekend break in the center of a working
week. What could be better? Actually a couple
of bottles of wine, a girl waiting in a cabin on a
hillside and one of these Kingpins would hit
DESCRIPTION AND SPECS
GUTS NEVER LOOKED
Steel and chrome have never looked sweeter.
Introducing Kingpin,™ the newest of The New
American Motorcycles. The attitude of this
cruiser says cool and comfortable, whether
gathering a crowd on a city street or breaking
away from it on the open road. Follow the
curve of the fully valanced front fender to the
massive, inverted front fork, across the
handlebars and down the scalloped tank to
the business end of Kingpin. A 92 cubic inch
Freedom V-twin engine ready to power you to
the next time zone. The rest of the Kingpin is
pure comfort. Eighteen-inch front and rear
wheels, roomy, vibration-absorbing
floorboards, and front and rear suspensions
built and fine-tuned for an extra measure of
Leather covered saddlebags with
overhead cam, 92 cubic inch Freedom™
V-twin with standard fuel injection.
Overhead cam with four valves per cylinder
for superior power at high RPM.
Aluminum swingarm with rising-rate
linkage rear suspension for a smooth ride
and optimal handling.
Inverted-cartridge fork, fully valanced
fenders, full floorboards, rubber-mounted
6-spoke cast aluminum wheels, 18 inch
front, 18 inch rear.
Wide 130mm front tire, 180mm back tire
put more rubber on the road.
Engine 4-stroke/50 degree/Freedom
Bore x Stroke 97 x 102mm
Displacement 92cu. in./1507cc
Compression Ratio 9.2:1
Valve Train SOHC/4 valves per
cylinder/self-adjusting cam chains/hydraulic
Carburetion Electronic fuel
injection/44mm throttle bodies
Fuel Capacity 4.5gal./17.0ltr.
Exhaust Staggered slash-cut dual
exhaust with common volume
Oil Capacity 6.0qts./5.7ltr.
Charging System 38 amps
Battery 12 volts/18 amp hours
Cooling System Air/Oil
Primary Drive Gear drive with torque
Transmission 5-speed constant mesh
Final Drive Reinforced belt
Front Brake 300mm floating rotor with
Rear Brake 300mm floating rotor with
Seat Height 26.5in./673mm
Ground Clearance 5.8in./148mm
Dry Weight 639lbs./290kg
Front Suspension Inverted cartridge
telescopic fork/43mm diameter/5.1in.
Rear Suspension Single, mono-tube
gas/forged and cast aluminum w/ rising-rate
linkage/3.9in. (100mm) travel/preload
Front Wheel 18.0 x 3.0in./6-spoke cast
Rear Wheel 18.0 x 5.0in./6-spoke cast
Front Tire 130 70-18 Dunlop® Elite II
Rear Tire 180 55-B18 Dunlop® D417
Solid Colors Black, Sonic Blue, Purple
Thunder or Solar Red
Two-Toned Colors Black & Bronze or
Bronze Mist & Pearl White
Multiple Colors Sonic Blue with Tribal
Fade Flames or Purple Thunder with Vogue
Silver Tribal Flame
ARLEN NESS LIMITED EDITION
You won't see this cruiser on every street
corner. First, because this gorgeous
masterwork was created by Arlen Ness,
America's premier designer of custom
motorcycles. Second, because we're
building a few hundred of them. But those few
hundred riders lucky enough to add this
limited edition to their cruiser collection will be
the envy of everyone, everywhere. Fully
optioned, with radical paint and chrome,
it's as breathtaking to look at as it is to
ride. The Limited Edition Arlen Ness Signature
Series isn't for everyone. But when
you're dealing in art as powerful as a
Victory® motorcycle, that's exactly the
Each Victory/Ness custom is signed by
HISTORY WITH POLARIS
The Victory motor-cycle debuts as Indy car
champion Al Unser, Jr., rides the first V92C
into a packed Planet Hollywood at the Mall of
Victory motorcycle production begins at the
Spirit Lake, Iowa, facility on July 4.
Cycle World, the world’s largest-circulation
motorcycle magazine, names the Victory V92C
the Best Cruiser of 1998.
Tom Tiller joins Polaris as President and
in 1999 succeeds W. Hall Wendel, Jr., as
CEO. Wendel remains Chairman of the
The Victory V92C is named Cruiser of the
year by Motorcycle Cruiser magazine.