Mark Shippey reviews Victory's Kingpin cruiser over the course of a year
WHAT A DIFFERENCE the Avon Venoms have made. The frankly awful OE Dunlops were rock hard and took an eternity to warm up so, for £300 fitted (£230 retail), chuck your original rubber and get the Avons on. They give tons of confidence from the off wet or dry, and the Victory now handles properly instead of gingerly lolloping round corners.
As soon as the first service had been carried out, we whipped the standard exhaust off and gave her a new lease of life with a Stage 1 tune. The kit consists of new mufflers, vented airbox cover, K&N filter plus a fuelling re-map and ignition timing change for around £550. What a revelation. The open pipes are ear-splitting, so no creeping home in the wee small hours for me anymore. I knew it was loud, but only realised just how loud when my brother-in-law, Martin, took her for a pose the other day. Okay, so we were in the countryside with relatively little other traffic, but I could follow his route by the noise of the engine for at least three miles. Superb.
I finally managed to get her booked in for the 2500 mile service at Gifford Motorcycles (01784 245243).
All it consisted of was an oil and filter change and a thorough check over of nuts and bolts, which was fine by me as I didn't want a footplate/frame bolt coming loose again. £55 the lot, so I can't grumble. The next service comes in at 5000 miles and is a little more involved with cables and stuff coming out, but still only £150.
I commute across south London every day and if one thing drives me mad above all, it's traffic lights. They are the bane of my life. How many sets of lights do I go through in 16 miles? Fifty-flippin'-two. My average speed must be about 5mph!
With all that stopping, braking became an issue. Riding from Gatwick the bike developed a scraunching noise from the rear. Bollocks. Pads had worn down to the back plate. Not ideal when stopping a 350kg cruiser two-up. Quick call to DP and a new set of pads arrived (024 76343741, £21 a pair). Much better now, and I don't wince every time I brake.
I feel as if I've spent the past three months cleaning the Victory, but this is the price cruiser owners pay. It can be very rewarding though and gives a great affinity with your machine.
Well, my honeymoon calls. We're off to the US to ride Victorys from Vegas to LA, then up Highway 1 to San Francisco via the Laguna Seca MotoGP. It's a hard life...
WHERE IS THE last place you would expect to see a Victory Kingpin? Judging by the astonished looks from Tamada's pit crew, it's two-up round Laguna Seca. Fellow West Coast tourer Kev and I must have looked a sight - two six-foot-plus blokes in open-face lids scraping round Laguna's final turn. How did we get here? Kevin already had a ticket to do a procession lap of the track and
I persuaded him, with the promise of riches and media glory, to do it on the Victory. The only drawback was that I'd be riding shotgun.
Except the whole experience was too short lived. As another group got ready to take to the track, we played the 'we're English journos' card and sneaked another lap. All was going well, we chatted as we rode and I snapped away, until the infamous Corkscrew nearly swallowed us up as its latest victim. The entry is blind beyond belief. As we crested the turn Kev realised we were too far to the right and we just managed to hang onto the rumble strip and rejoin the track halfway down the hill.
I think the Americans had the shock of their lives. Everyone else was on a sports bike of some kind thinking they were Nicky Hayden for a lap, when all of a sudden, with a thundering bellow and the scrape of metal on Tarmac, a two-up cruiser would pass them on the inside grinding front and rear pegs while the nonchalant pillion snapped away on a digital camera.
All good things must come to an end, so with my honeymoon and US West Coast tour over and back in dull grey England, on my own longterm Victory, my gearbox took a turn for the worse, jumping in and out of gear and refusing to change into anything other than first. Gifford's in Ashford found the problem - a bent selector arm - and blamed my heavy-footed changes. Hang on a minute... I don't recall a warning in the handbook about the maximum force to be used changing gears. Fortunately the part was fixed under warranty and the gearbox is back to its normal self. There is a niggling doubt, though, in the back of my mind that it will happen again.
Just for a change, I spent another afternoon cleaning the Kingpin. It's weathered pretty well over the past 5000 miles. There are a few annoying examples of cost cutting, though; the bolts holding the headers to the cylinders are rusted to buggery. Perhaps the climate is different in the US, but for a few cents more surely stainless parts could be used? The footboards are incredibly sturdy. With all the grinding I do, a Harley's boards would have lasted five minutes. Trouble is I'm grinding away the frame bolts too!
Stripping her down to the bare essentials for a proper spruce-up, I realised the rear seat pad comes off to make her into a solo seat low-rider. Usually there are holes for wires under the rear pad, but not with the Kingpin. Panniers, screen and rear pad all stripped away, she now looks like the result of six months on a Weight Watchers programme. Sadly, the wife complained this was selfish, since she would then have to get the train to the office every day, so the change was very short-lived.
SALTY, SLIMY GRIME and a layer of black shite constantly cover the Kingpin from headlight to stainless exhaust tips. Oh, the joy of rush hour commuting through the winter. More and more the option of taking the car to work looks very appealing. Not because I've turned into a fair weather biker (although the thought of heat and the radio is tempting) it's more that the Kingpin takes a good hour or so to clean every time it gets covered in salty gunk.
That said, once she's sparkling again it's noticeable that very few weathering defects are apparent. Okay, there's the rear cylinder exhaust bracket bolt that has been rusty since day one, plus the specks of rust appearing on the mirror stalks, but the rest of the bike -including wheels - appears to be bearing up remarkably well so far.
I've also discovered the benefits of heated clothing. It got to that stage in November where I had to stop two or three times between Gatwick and the TWO HQ in Teddington to warm my frost-bitten mitts on the exhaust, tears of pain streaming from my eyes. Then I recalled a box of tricks from Gerbing (01304 827030) that was still lurking in the lock-up. Christmas had definitely come early - the gloves and socks are especially welcome.
Scraping the footboards round the long right-hander going from the M25 onto the M23, sparks lighting up the night sky, everything suddenly went very dark then faintly orange as the headlight bulb blew and the fuel reserve light came on in sympathy. It was 12 miles to the next fuel stop so I had to limp past Gatwick praying for once that the predatory police patrol cars would not be waiting en route. At home it took five minutes to fit a PIAA Xtreme White Plus bulb (01443 742421). Now I see the world in a completely different light.
At the beginning of summer I stripped the Kingpin naked - riding
a cruiser is all about looking good - then, like a muppet, realised I'd lost the screen brackets when I went to re-fit it for the winter. Fortunately my father-in-law Colin is a whiz at
making something from nothing. After a couple of hours in the depths of his vintage bike restoration workshop he materialised with a perfectly
engineered replacement, and now the screen's back in place.
ALTHOUGH RELATIVELY NEW, the Victory beats its rivals hands down in terms of engine strength, build quality, brakes, and (in my opinion, but shared by many) in looks. The only slight pang of disappointment is that perhaps I've been riding a bike that still doesn't quite have the kudos of the Hog. Or does it?
The motorcycle division of Polaris is becoming more widely known, especially since it acquired a 25 per cent stake in KTM recently. That recognition was evident by the looks, comments and general acceptance the wife and I got while cruising through the US on a pair of 'Pin's last summer on my Honeymoon. Perhaps a little sad, some may think, choosing to go on a bike tour with your new bride, but then Tracie was looking forward to the trip almost more than I was.
We joined Big Rock holidays again, this time with 14 other bikes (all Harleys), and rumbled through the Nevada desert from Las Vegas, onto the US west coast and into LA. The second half of the trip took us along the spectacular, twisty, evocative Highway 1 to Laguna Seca for the MotoGP and finally into San Francisco.
Highway 1 has to be one of the best roads in the US. The rugged coastline is totally addictive. Jagged rock faces and rolling countryside disappear inland, while sweeping roads carve across the top of sheer drops to the crashing ocean hundreds of feet below.
Taking the lead, I beckoned Tracie and a few others to follow, telling her to stick the Kingpin in third and not to brake unless I did. A big cruiser is an excellent training tool. Once you get over the physical size and weight, you realise how well-balanced they are, with a very low centre of gravity that actually helps rapid progress.
True, you can't ride them as quick or hard as a sportsbike, but they would have been wasted on these roads as we proved by leaving other riders trailing in our wake.
A grin is permanantly etched across my stubbly mug every time I gun the throttle and feel the surge of power between my legs. Let's hope Tracie feels the same...
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