By Steve Lita Photos by Bob Feather
Around the RoadBike offices, we utilize a powerful, universally recognized reservation system. It’s the ultimate final word on entitlement for an idea, possession, or activity. It’s called dibs — a small word with mighty meaning. And while it’s said that the early bird gets the worm, I’ve found that being early to the party allows me to scope out the scene and lay claim to not just the worms, but the cool stuff, too.
Pickin’ A Winner
In fall of 2010, I was invited to the Victory Motorcycles 2011 new model press launch at Gateway Canyons Resort, just south of Grand Junction, Colorado. The plan was to ride with a pack of wild-eyed journalists to Sturgis, South Dakota, for the annual Sturgis Rally and Races. My compatriot Joe Knezevic of American Iron Magazine was on the invitee list as well, and we journeyed to Colorado a day early to be nice and fresh for the Victory throwdown. When we arrived at the resort, we found the
Victory staff buffing and shining the demo bikes in the parking area, and they took a moment to greet us. Once done with the niceties, they told us we could select which bikes we wanted to ride for the photo sessions and, ultimately, the ride up to Sturgis.
Like a kid in a candy store, I started pointing at all the shiny objects that caught my attention. “One of these! One of those! That one over there!” But I knew I needed to save my ace-in-the-hole pick for the long-distance ride to Sturgis. Decisions, decisions. And there it was, sitting all by itself: the 2011 Arlen Ness Signature Series Victory Vision, serial number #001. “Dibs!” I said out loud. There. Done deal. I could not be dethroned.
My scheme was to allow Victory’s hired-gun photographers shoot me riding the variety of cruisers I selected, but I would enlist RoadBike staff lensman Bob Feather to shoot me on the Ness Vision once we arrived in Sturgis. So I had no need to spend much time on it until we departed for the northbound two-day trip. When time came for the local ride, I looked around and noticed nobody had jumped on the Ness Vision. What? Were they crazy? The coolest bike on hand and it was left behind? I was certainly hoping these latecomers to the party weren’t thinking they were going to ride MY Arlen Ness Vision up to Sturgis. Because that was just not happening.
The following day, after the full-line presentations and test rides were all completed, we departed for Sturgis. Small groups set out on several routes heading for an overnight in Fort Collins, Colorado, after a ride through Rocky Mountain National Park. Those who followed the GPS-equipped group leader found themselves late for dinner. So much for the power of GPS. Me, I was having a leisurely ride, occasionally checking the map and asking directions at gas stations. I had a smile on my face the whole way, enjoying the Ness Vision. I had made the right choice.
Not to bore you with the tales of my trip, but I haven’t even gotten to the cool part yet. The meandering tour from Gateway to Sturgis was about 800 miles; add to that the several hundred miles I accumulated riding this bike in and around Sturgis during the rally, and I had clocked well over 1,500 miles on the odometer by the time I turned it in at the end of the week. This allowed me to become acquainted with the Arlen Ness Vision and, ultimately, Mr. Ness himself. More on that later.
Attributes And Upgrades
This year marks the eighth straight year master builder Arlen Ness has lent his name to a Victory special edition. This blacked-out Victory Vision Tour received his Arlen Ness Signature Series “Scrolled-Ness” design treatment extensively, with appliqués on the bodywork, milled into engine covers, and on the custom-looking billet wheels and handgrip ends. Ness bolt-on accessories abound and include chrome billet grips, shifter and brake pegs, and oil line cover. There’s a Ness windshield graphic on the shorter-than-stock, electrically adjustable windshield, a Ness logo radio display, and a special Ness ignition key head graphic. The driver and passenger floorboards are chromed, as are the handlebars. The custom stitching on the leather seat mimics the body adornment. Finally, the engines fins are modified for a reflective look, and there’s a numbered plate on the engine with a facsimile of Arlen’s signature.
The Arlen Ness Signature Vision is a cross between the Vision 8-Ball and the standard Vision Tour. It has the black look and the lowered suspension of the 8-Ball, but with the extra cargo-carrying feature of the Tour model’s tailpack. All three versions of the Vision are powered by the Freedom 106/6 Stage 1 V-twin, which produces an ample 92 hp and 109 ft.-lbs. of torque. That’s plenty of power on tap, even for this 869-pound tourer. An engine and transmission upgrade for 2011 has resulted in a benefit for owners: Victory now recommends oil change intervals for 2011 models at every 5,000 miles, up from 3,000. Less-frequent oil changes result in a lower cost of ownership.
For model year 2011 Victorys, approximately 40 percent of the drivetrain is new, and with the six-speed transmission receiving so many improvements it’s virtually a brand-new transmission. The goal was improved ridability and a more pleasant-sounding transmission, and it’s been achieved through improved manufacturing efficiency and quality assurance; the larger shaft bearings don’t hurt, either. In fourth and sixth gears in particular, that infamous Victory gear whine has been reduced substantially. It’s not completely eliminated, but the drone is quieter, and driveline lash has been reduced by 66 percent. A “neutral assist” feature has been added as well, to make it easier for the rider to shift into neutral when stopped.
The Ness Vision can carry the load thanks to integrated, dual side storage compartments (not to be confused for saddlebags; these are much swoopier) and a top trunk that offer a combined 29 gallons of cargo capacity. Creature comforts include an audio system featuring AM/FM radio (XM satellite radio is available as an accessory) and an MP3/ iPod music player can also be added as an audio source. The Vision is wired to accommodate CB radio and helmet communicator systems. Thanks to new tubular handlebars, all 2011 Visions now accept accessory mounts and clamps, so you can add a cup holder and other trimmings. And the standard cruise control functions are adjustable via a pod that hangs from the right grip. The rear passenger handholds have a black textured finish so a passenger has a better gripping surface, and there’s no paint to nick or scratch. The new floorboard shifter leaves the rear of the floorboard open for more comfortable foot movement.
One of the few nicks I have about the Ness Vision is the knurl pattern on the metal handgrips and toe-pegs. The aggressive finish on the grips didn’t bother me too much as I always wear gloves when riding, but the left-side shifter toe-peg wreaked havoc on my boot leather. While the knurl looks trick and custom, long-distance riding, which this Vision is definitely capable of thanks to its 6-gallon fuel tank, will necessitate plenty of shifting and, therefore, boot wear. It’s the cost of touring cool.
Antilock braking system (ABS) is now standard on the Vision Tour and Arlen Ness Signature Series Vision, with dual-disc front brakes and a linked braking system. Also for 2011, the redesigned exhaust tips now resemble those of the Victory Cross Country. All in all, it’s a handsome bagger, and I could easily get used to touring on this version of the Vision. The special Ness treatment sets it apart from a garden variety Vision Tour.
Which brings us to the big meeting. Once in Sturgis, I made an appointment with Shooter Bob Feather and spent a morning cleaning and photographing this Ness Vision. In passing, Bob mentioned that Arlen had also tricked out a Victory Cross Country, and that he (Bob) was scheduled to shoot it the next day. The comment came and went without any light bulbs going off. Until the next morning.
After breakfast, I thought I’d swing by Bob’s ultra-secret Sturgis photo shoot location and meet the man behind my machine. I ventured out to the countryside and there he was, the customizer’s customizer, Mr. Arlen Ness himself. After exchanging greetings, we had a nice conversation about his work with Victory and the tastefulness of the entire line of Ness Victory customs: Arlen’s Vision, Cory’s Cross Country, and grandson Zach’s Vegas — the cover model from our December 2010 issue. I appreciate the spot-on styling of all three.
Well, my buddy Bob was milling around, fiddling with his camera gear, and I figured he was eager to get Arlen’s shoot in the can, so I bid farewell and headed out. It was real neat to meet Arlen; I was a bit starstruck riding the machine he helped create. I was a good 10 miles away when it dawned on me to ask myself: did Bob snap a picture of the two of us? Surely he shot a candid of Arlen and me chatting. Surely!
I flipped a U-turn and sped back to the scene. Arlen was still there and when I questioned Bob, he said “Hey, that’s a great idea, pose here.” I actually think I saw the light bulb over his head. Afterward, I rode off again, thinking “Whew, almost a missed opportunity there.”
And that’s the story of how I met Arlen Ness, and almost didn’t have the picture to prove it. RB
Story as it appeared in the May 2011 issue of RoadBike.