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What it's Like to Crash a Motorcycle

“Damn it. John Burns thinks I’m a dick.”
That was one of the predominant thoughts going through my head as I slid down a Florida highway at 60 mph back in March.
It’s weird how the mind works. Time slows in a crash. Every tiny image burns into memory, so your brain can replay it over and over and over at night for the next who knows how many weeks.
In the moments before I crashed, I was riding the Harley-Davidson Street Rod along County Road 34 in central Florida. I’m not sure which county. The accident report simply records it as “County Code 61,” but the internet can’t agree on which county that is. Maybe I was in Indian River County; maybe I was in Suwannee County; maybe I was in Flagler County; I don’t know. I guess it doesn’t matter; I was somewhere. The road passing through that somewhere was long and straight – not the sort of place where one usually crashes – and the weather was perfect.

“My God, I am so happy,” I was thinking. “I am so incredibly lucky to be here – to live t…

What now for Victory motorcycles?

In the past few weeks I've talked a lot about my love for the motorcycle products of Minnesota-based Polaris Industries. First, I waxed lyrical for both the Victory Judge and the Victory Cross Country, then Indian came out with the new Chief Classic and I was so excited I had to change my pants. Both marques produce big, beautiful American machines to be proud of. But, see, therein lies something of a problem.

Ever since Polaris bought the rights to the iconic Indian motorcycles marque, there has been the unanswered question of what will happen to Victory. Now that Indian has officially been relaunched, that question becomes even harder to ignore.

Polaris built Victory from scratch. To my knowledge no other company has done that in my lifetime. Buell came close, sorta, perhaps, but used Harley-Davidson engines, never found its feet, and was then bought and killed by Harley-Davidson. What Victory has done is admirable, inspiring and (at the moment) profitable. I doubt that Polaris would be keen to kill off such a success story.

But now they've also got Indian, which carries with it that indefinable "heritage" quality that Victory will have to wait quite a few more decades to attain. Hondas first started coming to the United States in the 1960s and are only now receiving nostalgia love from hipsters, so I'd assume Victory has another 40-odd years before most people get all weepy-eyed for them on reputation alone.

Indian has said it doesn't want to be pinned down into making just cruisers, baggers and tourers, but certainly for the foreseeable future that seems to be their path. Unfortunately, that's the same path Victory has been on for the past 15 years. Parent company Polaris says it has taken great steps to ensure a separation of the two marques, but it has to be said that the water between them is not as clear and deep as it should be. The look of the engine, the pipes, the foot pegs, the accessories, etc., of the new Indians is unmistakeably similar to that used on Victorys. If you're going to have two companies producing the same bikes, the company with the iconic name is going to win.

This means Victory is going to have to change or die. As I say, the story of Victory is too good to just let it wither away, so here's what I'd do if I were in charge:

Firstly, I would fully embrace the idea of Indian as a heritage brand. Conveniently overlook the fact it's a marque that was in flux for 60 years and lay claim to 112 years of motorcycling tradition. Keep building the big, beautiful and smooth cruisers, baggers and tourers you've started with. Expand on those and make them technologically superior to those produced by your most obvious competition, Harley-Davidson, without committing the sin of drastic changes in overall design.

After the "fives and tens of years" mentioned by Indian Director of Product Gary Grey, expand the Indian range to further encompass the heritage feel. The most obvious direction is the reintroduction of the fabled Scout. Indeed, Indian has already held a design competition for the look of a new Scout. The idea, I feel, would be to produce other "timeless" machines, as Triumph has done with the Bonneville, Honda with the CB1100, Kawasaki with the W800, and so on.

With Victory, I would push more toward a future vision. I would hold onto the 8-Ball models (despite their awful names) and push them gently toward something just a little more sporty/utilitarian -- still essentially a cruiser, but modern and game changing. I would let baggers and tourers pretty much fall away and into the hands of Indian, but keep the 8-Ball as the iconic premier machine of the marque. I would load it with quality technology and strive toward making it one of the flat-out best motorcycles available in the world.

Using a quality machine like that as a launchpad, I would mine the tremendous knowledge base that already exists in Polaris to develop a quality adventure-tourer or two. Things that could compete and kick the ass of with a BMW GS or Triumph Tiger. I would name these after North American animals. Additionally, I'd develop a few quality sport-tourers or the like, naming them after U.S. states. Again, in both cases, I would focus on making a durable, technologically advanced machine that is well-suited to the incredibly diverse landscapes of the North American continent (a).

The differences then between Indian and Victory would become far clearer and would essentially hinge on what type of jacket you wear riding: leather or textile. The leather-wearing Indian riders would simply be in a different market segment than the textile-wearing Victory riders and both marques could be successful.

If anyone at Polaris is reading, yes, I'd be happy to come work for you.

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(a) There's nothing wrong with focusing primarily on your home audience. It certainly hasn't hurt Harley-Davidson.


Comments

  1. I do not see indian making a power cruiser. victory will have its niche market and will continue. it will probably be akin to the star and Yamaha brand.

    ReplyDelete
  2. The past few decades Indian has become a collector motorcycle, not something meant to be ridden in the way Victory is. They're designed for class, detail, luxury, and for the chief executives of corporations. To produce them in large enough numbers for the general riding public would be cheapen the collector mystique that Indian has built for itself.

    ReplyDelete
  3. You have a lot of good marketing ideas. It would be a shame if Victory did not hire you.

    I think we need to see first if Polaris can make the Indian brand profitable. Other companies have tried and been unsuccessful. Part of the problem was the fact consumers have a very specific idea of what an Indian should be. When you resurrect a heritage brand you have a lot of voices telling you how a motorcycle should look and feel even though it has been more than 60 years since the classic bike has been in production.

    I like your idea about Victory expanding on the types of bikes it creates. Unfortunately, there seems to be a shift away from cruisers at the moment. I think the next 20 years are going to see more sportbikes, UJMs, adventure, and just plain standard bikes. Cruisers in North America seem overwhelmingly piloted by Baby Boomers.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Just chiming in... here on the Middle Coast, almost everybody who rides is on a Harley. If they're not on a Harley, they're on a Harley-compatible. I see a few fellow non-cruiser riders here and there, but nothing like Phoenix.

      I don't think cruisers are going anywhere, although I would love to see other styles of motorcycle make a resurgence. Boomers are a huge, huge demographic. I don't think is that, percentage-wise, there are more of them on cruisers than there are younger riders on cruisers. I think it's that there are just more of them than anyone else...

      Delete
  4. I agree that Victory and Indian need to differentiate more. Since I already own an older Victory, I would like to see the adventure-tourer idea pursued. I would also like to see Victory include some entry-level bikes in the scheme.

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  5. I would welcome a Victory sport tourer similar to a BMW K1600 or R1200.

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  6. Shift away from cruisers? That's the most ridiculous shit I've heard in ages. I'm 31, I rode a Harley Dyna super glide for 10 years before switching to the Victory Vegas which I love riding even more then the Harley. Everyone in my family rides and many of my friends who are around my age ride, all but 1 of us ride cruisers. Sport bikes suck, they're uncomfortable and not designed to do anything other run around a race track or down the street and back. Cruisers look nicer, feel nicer and you have no boundaries. Fur me there's no contest between the two. Also a lot of the new cruisers are about as fast as sport bikes anyway.

    ReplyDelete

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