Ness Signature Edition Motorcycle
When Polaris industries launched Victory Motorcycles in the mid-1990s, the upstart did not exactly cause The Motor Company to quake in its engineer boots. Polaris made snowmobiles, personal watercraft and ATVs—scarcely a threat to the primacy of the big boys in Milwaukee. In 1998, Victory introduced the first all-new, mass-production, American-made street bike in over 60 years. Despite listless sales, Polaris persisted, knowing that something big was on the horizon. The sexed-up Victory Vegas was unveiled in 2003 and immediately raised eyebrows. The cruiser’s inventive styling and a ballsy V-twin motor began to muzzle Victory’s detractors. 2004 saw the recruitment of ace customizers Arlen and Cory Ness for their take on the Vegas model. Now that father and son have each designed a 2006 Ness Victory Vegas Jackpot edition, the “other” American motorcycle company seems poised to go all-in against the motorcycle monarch.
Both Ness Signature Edition cruisers feature the tip-to-tail raised spine, sculpted-to-the-chassis bodywork and scalloped tank that are Vegas hallmarks. The brawny, counterbalanced, 50-degree Freedom 100/6 V-Twin displaces 1634cc and features air/oil cooling, electronic fuel injection, overhead camshafts, and four-valve cylinder heads with hydraulic lifters. Both bikes are fitted with a Danny Gray custom stitched saddle atop a chunky 250 Dunlop Elite 3 rear tire, as well as a generous appointment of Arlen Ness Collection chrome accessories.
Bling-drenched in comparison to son Cory’s effort, the gleaming, predatory Arlen Ness Jackpot is best approached with a whip and a chair. Low and hungry, the bike looks to be in full gallop when simply leaning on its kickstand. The sinister “Jagged-Ness” chrome billet wheels, supersonic blue, gold, and silver tribal flame job glimmering under six layers of clearcoat seize your attention. Trademark “custom is standard” Ness details run throughout the bike. Billet engine cover inserts, billet style mirrors, a chrome swing arm, chrome engine covers, forks and axle brackets and custom graphic signed side covers produce the flash on this Ness-finessed envy magnet. Did we mention the chrome?
Helmet: Victory Silver Flame
Eyewear: Panoptx Velocity CV
Jacket: Schott Perfecto 585
Gloves: Joe Rocket
Jeans: Hugo Boss Low-Rise
Boots: Tony Lama. (Click image to enlarge)
Settling into the sculpted, flame-stitched saddle, you will notice how comfort has been thoughtfully integrated into the bike’s gorgeous, low-slung profile. The feet-forward controls are easy to access. The chrome-gripped handlebars are eye grabbing and give the Jackpot a hint of chopper heritage. The fuel injected four-valve-per-cylinder V-twin ignites with a touch and rouses with a quiet rumble. The chain-driven oil pump helps keep engine noise to a neighbor-friendly clatter.
Away from the curb, the 1634cc powerplant provides ample torque and a powerband wider than the Vegas strip. You will find yourself covering miles and wondering where you left the clutch. Gear changes could be smoother, but this is a big twin and a small measure of clunk is certainly forgivable, if not desirable. Actually, the 6-speed Jackpot is smoother-shifting than some other V-twins we have ridden and certainly an improvement over Victory’s earlier, noisy gearboxes. Heretofore rare, 6-speed transmissions are becoming increasingly familiar in the production world. Dropping the Jackpot into overdrive unleashes a reservoir of power, and you will find no need to downshift in order to tap the well. With upwards of 90 ft lbs of rear wheel torque available, there is enough muscle available to turn the huge Dunlop doughnut into a puddle of licorice. At cruising speeds, the bike produces a mouth-watering rumble and a pleasant vibration, similar to that of a Harley “B” motor—just enough shake to remind you that you are atop a powerful V-twin.
The soft tail chassis features an underslung shock. Suspension is relatively soft, but well damped. Sharp bumps are noticeable, but no cause for gripe. Balanced by a skinny 21-inch front wheel, the portly 250mm rear tire, while de rigueur in the custom bike world, is gradually gaining favor in the OEM segment, thanks in large measure to Victory’s success with the Rubenesque bun. The Dunlop, designed specifically for Victory, requires some muscular encouragement to initiate a turn, but once you get the bike leaned over, it tracks surprisingly well and holds a solid line, especially over wide, sweeping turns. The tighter you push it, the more reluctantly the Jackpot reacts because naturally it is primarily a straight-line runner. That said, trail braking while leaned over presents no difficulty, thanks to the long profile and low center of gravity. Another welcome characteristic of the fat rear tire is that it encourages use of the 300mm rear caliper brake. This is particularly useful when a rapid stop is necessary to field compliments from the chorus of wagging tongues you are likely to encounter, or in more critical road-going incidents. Another notable feature is the streamlined headlight. In addition to adding to the cruiser-cool look of the bike, the lamp has an HID element that illuminates like a napalm strike and assures that you will see and be seen.
Victory and the world of motorcycle customization owe a considerable debt to the imagination of Arlen Ness. Since 1967, when his own Harley Knucklehead took top honors in the first custom show he entered, the elder Ness has racked up a garage full of trophies. In 2003, the former semi-pro bowler and son Cory opened their 68,000 sq. ft. headquarters in Dublin, Calif., where the duo produce their innovative line of “custom production” bikes and a mind-boggling selection of custom parts. In 2005, Victory’s sales were up 34 percent over the previous year, owing in large measure to the success of the Ness-designed Vegas. The Minnesota based company has slowly elbowed its way to the table for an increasing share of the U.S. market and, since 2003, the company’s stock has more than doubled.
The Arlen Ness Vegas Jackpot is at the core of Victory’s focus on the extreme custom market. A decade ago, the notion of a radical, fat-tired beast rolling off the line at a major manufacturer would have elicited smirks all around. However, that was before TV shows such as American Chopper and Biker Build Off turned customizers and fabricators into wrench-wielding equivalents of celebrity chefs. Victory estimates the Discovery Channel bike segment is currently moving about 30,000 new bikes per year and growing, largely from small builders. Victory is targeting riders who desire the kind of custom styling that the Ness Jackpot flashes in spades, but who are also serious about riding. For them, a factory-built bike, backed by a solid reputation, after-sale support, parts, service and a solid warranty is an appealing alternative to the one-off, handbuilt bike costing thousands more. Riders seeking this combination in a big, brash, eye-widening cruiser could do no better than the Arlen Ness Victory Vegas Jackpot. Now for the bad news: Victory has limited the bike to a run of 250, making this Jackpot scarcer than a row of sevens on the Vegas Strip.