Victory had enough staying power that I actually thought it was going to give The Motor Company something to worry about. With the might of Polaris behind it, that theory actually had a little weight to it. We all know how that turned out, though one can make the argument that the challenge is stronger than ever with Polaris resurrecting Indian.
Nevertheless, nipping at the heels of the Harley Softail in 2009 was the Victory Vegas 8-Ball. Coming at Harley with a cheaper price tag, its 100 cubic-inch V-Twin (of which the aesthetics I have always liked), and its stealth black treatment, the Vegas 8-Ball got a host of updates for 2009. Here, former E-i-C Kevin Duke takes one for a spin in and around the beaches of Daytona and tells us what it’s like to ride.
A commuter-ized cruiser
Like many of our moto brothers, we often succumb to the power of bling. Bigger often seems better, so much so that we sometimes forget some of the appealing motorcycles that support a manufacturer’s flagships.
Case in point: the Victory Vegas 8-Ball. Cynics might say it’s simply a de-contented Vegas and therefore not worthy of consideration. However, this elitist attitude would overlook what is a very competent and stylish cruiser priced about $2,000 cheaper than a comparable Harley-Davidson Softail.
The Vegas 8-Ball first appeared in 2005, but it’s since had plenty of updates. Key among them is the addition of the powerful 100 cubic-inch engine which now produces a claimed 85 hp and 106 ft-lbs of torque. This mill got a host of enhancements in ’08, including larger 45mm throttle bodies as part of a new, sequential, closed-loop fuel-injection system.
A reduction in the compression ratio to 8.7:1 allowed more aggressive ignition timing, bumping up power marginally. A redesigned oiling system allowed the use of a smaller oil cooler that is less obtrusive. An annoying ticking sound from early Freedom motors was alleviated by slower valve closing speeds and longer closing ramps, and extraneous noise is further damped by additional sound-deadening ribbing on the engine’s primary cover.
The Vegas 8-Ball is distinct from the upmarket standard Vegas primarily by its black theme. Many of the Vegas’ chrome bits receive dark finishes on the 8-Ball. The only remaining chrome is found on the exhaust, headlamp nacelle, instruments and the clutch and brake levers. The 8-Ball also does without the Vegas’ sixth gear, cool headlight and removable passenger seat (and footpegs). As compensation, the $13,799 8-Ball comes in at a price $2,500 cheaper than the Vegas’ $16,299 MSRP.
|Saving money on the 8-Ball’s original purchase cost has the potential to give a rider customization options. In the case of our 8-Ball test bike, it is outfitted with a few Victory accessory pieces to make it easier to live with.|
As with all 2008-and-later Vegas models, the 8-Ball gets the Stingray cast-aluminum wheels that are said to be nearly 16 lbs lighter than the previous hoops. On the 8-Ball, the swirl-pattern 5-spoke wheels are partly black and partly machined/polished, an attractive combo that works well with the ’Ball’s black theme. Also new is a twice-brighter LED taillight. Other changes include the elimination of the fast-idle lever, redesigned handlebar grips and a smaller airbox cover.
Although lacking the overdrive sixth gear of Victory’s Freedom 100/6 powertrain, the 8-Ball’s SOHC, 50-degree V-Twin still impresses. With 1634cc of displacement, the New American Motorcycle’s engine compares favorably with The Motor Company’s 96 cubic-incher, offering a wide spread of torque and bigger horsepower numbers.
The absence of overdrive isn’t an issue unless you plan an abundance of highway miles, and even then the engine is smooth enough that vibration doesn’t cause annoyance. The gearbox offers solid, positive shifts, and driveline lash is nearly non-existent. Mirrors are unobtrusive but very usable.
As a sibling in the Vegas line, the 8-Ball version retains the custom-cruiser layout. The front end is led by a narrow (80/90-21) front tire and is balanced out back by a 180/55-17 Dunlop. A chopper-ish 32.9-degree rake is compensated by a relatively short 126mm of trail to create a nimbler package than you might expect. The 635-lb (dry) machine is very easy to maneuver with a non-radical peg and bar positions plus a moderately wide rear tire. A low 26.5-inch seat height keeps the bike accessible to short riders.
The 8-Ball also did a good job at ironing bumps on the mean streets of our Daytona, helped by 66.3 inches of real estate between the wheels. The 43mm non-adjustable fork offers a generous 5.1 inches of travel while the preload-adjustable shock provides a fairly smooth ride with just 3.9 inches of travel. In comparison, the rear end of a fat-tired Vegas Jackpot we sampled at the same time was noticeably harsher.
The Vegas series, with just a single front disc brake and a skinny 21-inch front tire, never set any records for short stopping distances, but its 4-piston caliper and 300mm front disc does an effective job at slowing the bike. Best if a rider also incorporates some power from the 2-pot caliper and same-size disc out back.
We rode the Vegas 8-Ball extensively around Daytona Beach during Bike Week, and we were continually impressed by the bike’s friendly manners and the versatility offered by bolting on a few accessories. The addition of the windshield makes for a huge improvement in rider comfort, especially at higher speeds, and there always seemed to be something needing stuffing in the handy saddlebags.
There’s no shortage of attention-stealing machines at Bike Week, but the understated 8-Ball drew a fair share of eyeballs in its direction. There’s no doubt Victory’s trademark scalloped fuel tank has been a huge advancement in style since debuting in 2003, and it’s accented by a visually pleasing ridge running along the center of the tank top that is mimicked in the front and rear fenders. A 4.5-gallon capacity will yield nearly a 200-mile range between fill-ups.
So, what we have here with the Vegas 8-Ball is a big hunk o’ cruiser for a relatively small amount of coin. H-D’s similar black-themed Night Train rings in at $15,899, a $2,100 premium over the 8-Ball. The Harley is equipped with a 6-speed tranny and passenger accommodations, but its motor can’t hang with the Vic.
The 8-Ball proved to be a fun mount while scooting through Bike Week’s sights and sounds, being both stylish and practical. No one needs to know the bike is a bit of a bargain, which now includes a limited-time 5-year warranty.