Custom Cruisers Face Off
2004 Vegas vs. Deuce
Despite all the trash-talkin' GSX-R pilots, message-boarding sport-touring riders, and stunting naked bike owners, it's the cruiser market that outshines them all in terms of market share. These attention-getting stylish homages to past paradigms account for more than 50% of streetbikes sold in the U.S. In a sense, these high-buck cruisers are the SUVs of the motorcycle world in that their high demand and low R&D costs make them cash cows for any manufacturer.
That in mind, it's no small wonder that everyone and their dog wants to get a piece of this action, and the target is indelibly etched onto one famous made-in-America brand that outsells them all. Over the years, that's proven easier said than done.
Japanese cruisers keep getting better nearly every year, but there's a large segment of the market that consider the Asian low-riders mere imposters to the gen-yoo-wine article made in Milwaukee. Then there's the newcomers, or more accurately, the re-comers: Excelsior-Henderson tried and failed a few years ago, and the demise of that historic marque was followed recently by another. Indian was on the verge of turning a profit early this fall, with an interesting new product line ready to launch before they folded up their Teepee last September. Both failed for many of the same reasons. Starting up a major manufacturing facility is a huge up-front cost, as is establishing a country-encompassing dealer network. In the end, more money was flowing out than was trickling in.
Then there's the brand that didn't have the advantage of a distinguished legacy to bank on, Victory Motorcycles. Birthed within the billion-dollar Polaris Industries group of companies, Victory had it all: The might of strong of industrial capital, an established dealer network, and extensive manufacturing facilities.
Well, it didn't exactly have everything
. Victory's small product line was missing the crucial ingredient that has proven to be so elusive over the years: style. While mechanically pretty good, the Victory models weren't supermodels, if you know what we mean. Sales were unimpressive, though not dismal enough that the parent company was getting compromised.
Meanwhile, the custom bike scene was exploding all over the country. Clearly, there were artists and craftsmen out there who knew how to design a cruiser that appealed to discriminating eyes.
Tall 21-inch front wheels with skinny-ass tires raked out like a wheelbarrow make parking lot maneuvers simply awkward.
As strong an effort as the Vegas is, there are a few visual elements that can be improved upon. Chrome is cool, and it looks good on the engine covers and drive-belt guard, but the plastic "chrome" on the air cleaner cover and bar-ends is too conspicuous on this otherwise classy machine. We also weren't fond of the chintzy-looking finish on its mirror bolts, nor the orange-peel black paint on its steering head.
As much as we like the look of the Vegas, there's something about the Harley that just looks so right. Its stretched 4.9-gallon fuel tank is topped by a full-length chrome console, and more chrome is slathered on the fork, handlebar risers, fender supports and oil tank. The Twin Cam engine is power-coated black, which really sets off the chrome engine covers and elegantly slinking oil lines. The bullet-shaped turn signals look graceful and expensive, and the fronts are nearly invisible to the rider in the daytime. At night, the signal's running lights reflect off the upper triple clamp, fork stanchions and headlight bucket into a warm and enchanting display.
Even though The Motor Company insists on having a separate switch for the left and right signals instead of the simple and ubiquitous single switch, it's a much better system than the similar one on BMWs. To cancel a signal manually, just give the switch a second punch; no BMW-like third button to cancel. And we have to admit that we thoroughly enjoyed Harley's self-canceling feature that takes into account gear position and lean angle to judge if you really don't want it on anymore. It's a well- executed system.
The Deuce is a nicely finished piece, but there are still a few reasons to gripe. The switchgear feels cheap and plasticky to the touch, and the tank-mounted gauge cluster forces a rider to look down away from the road to check speed or whether the turn signals have activated or cancelled themselves. We also didn't admire the Deuce's sidestand, even if it is deeply chromed. Set the 680-pound bike on the stand it rolls forward ever so slightly, making for unnecessary anxious moments even if the bike remains stable.
Perhaps the only annoying trait of the 663-pound Vegas is the mechanical whine that emanates from its straight-cut primary drive gears, something especially noticeable at idle and low engine speeds. This pitch is kind of exotic when it comes from a sportbike's gear driven cams, but it's unpleasant to the ear on a cruiser when it's more prominent than the exhaust note. Not cool. Victory tells us they have a specific group in-house that is addressing this issue. "Look for (the whine) to become substantially less as future production units come to fruition," they say.
A common pet peeve during this test is the overly complicated key arrangements on both bikes. The Vegas has its ignition switch on the left side of the engine, which is tolerable to live with. But, worse, it has no keyed fork lock, necessitating a run down to Home Depot for a padlock to stick in the provided brackets. We think for $15,000-plus, Polaris should at least provide a cool Victory-branded lock with the bike, ya cheapskates.