What's in the box, Polaris?

I try very hard not to pay attention to this blog's stats. It is, after all, a site dedicated to my own obsession and interaction with the motorcycling world -- what's interesting to me. Paying attention to stats inevitably leads to trying to cater to other people's interests. I don't want that. I'm not trying to sell anything here; I'm just sharing my own thoughts and experiences.

Even so, I can't help noticing what "works" in terms of topics, which posts draw the most readers. And in that I know that not a great deal of people care about the various faces of Polaris as much as I do. But hey, as I say: this is my blog. And I am a slut for all things Minnesota. So, I want to carry on a bit from my previous post and talk about a number of the interesting things coming from the Mendina, Minnesota-based company.

Maybe Victory isn't all that bad

Firstly, in the feedback I got on my post about Victory's 2015 model year line up, there were a lot of good points to suggest that I was either being too harsh or not quite seeing things the right way. For instance, Steve Johnson said: "Look at the models riding bikes in this video, and it's evident what they're trying to do, appeal to youth."

I think he's right. Victory seems to be oh so gently, gently, gently moving away from the image created by having R. Lee Ermey as a spokesperson to something a little more diverse and... what's the word? Roguish? It's likely the marketing guys would use the word "young." And in as much, I realise that my complaint about the look of bikes like the Magnum, Hammer and Vegas is something of a reflection on my own narrow idea of what it means to be young.

See, when I repeat the cliché that motorcycle companies should invest more time trying to appeal to younger people, I am expecting them to appeal to the young person I once was, or the young person I would like to be. Here's a Venn diagram of that person:


So, you know, the people buying a Triumph Bonneville or Harley-Davidson Iron 883 (with their parents' money) then going on an "epic road trip" from Portland to Seattle and making a Vimeo film about it. The never-been-poor white kids who who grow beards and force themselves to smoke American Spirit cigarettes in college because it looks cool. That's the kind of kid I was; that's the kind of kid I would probably be. But that is just one sub-culture of youth.

My brother was a completely different type of young person. Always fixing cars and listening to hip-hop, he drove around in an Acura that was lowered so much it couldn't physically get over speed bumps at the Mall of America. It had weird neon lights in inappropriate places and a stereo system so loud it probably violated some sort of UN human rights code. I am willing to bet that the Victory Magnum, with its gaudy paint schemes, flash front wheel and 100-watt stereo system, is totally up his alley.

So, my lament that all of Victory's line up isn't like the Gunner is really just a sign that I probably wouldn't be very good at selling motorcycles. Victory is, though. And it's targeting several different types of young person.

Meanwhile, Jerry Kerns pointed out that "it's unrealistic [to expect big surprises from Victory] this year with the big changes happening in Spirit Lake to add an assembly line then update the other."

Again: very good point. Earlier this year, Victory cancelled its annual American Victory Rally because the company is too occupied making changes to the production facility in Spirit Lake, Iowa -- where both Victory and Indian motorbikes are made. Expecting them to offer something new and ground-breaking during such a period of transition is, perhaps, unfair.

Maybe it's best to just write this off as a "rebuilding year," like when a sports team knows in the pre-season that it is going to suck, and look forward to what may come next year. Victory silently killed off four of its models (Judge, Jackpot, Boardwalk and Cross Roads) in the 2015 line up, which makes room for some new models once the changes at Spirit Lake are complete. Equally, Victory not too long ago registered a patent in the EU for a liquid-cooled cruiser. So, perhaps big things are ahead.

Is Indian offering something more than a paint scheme?

Speaking of big things ahead, there's a lot of talk about what Indian has planned for Sturgis. Over the past week or so, the Polaris-owned motorcycle company announced new two-tone paint schemes for its existing models and thereafter introduced the world to the Indian Roadmaster.

Keen observers will note the Roadmaster is just a Chieftain with a top box. This is effectively the trick Victory pulled with the Magnum -- changing one feature on an existing model and deciding that's enough to merit giving it a different name -- but I feel less critical in this case because Indian is still in its infancy in terms of its Polaris era.

When that new face of Indian launched at Sturgis last year, moto journalists were head over heels at the fact Indian had managed to design and produce the all-new Thunder Stroke 111 engine in the two years since Polaris had bought Indian in 2011. The Thunder Stroke 111 was hailed as a tremendous achievement. So, I've not expected them to floor us again this year. Some new paint and expansion of accessories seems fair.

But then, just a few days ago, Indian posted a rather intriguing picture to its Instagram account showing the existing four models -- Chief Classic, Chief Vintage, Chieftain, and Roadmaster -- lined up next to a motorcycle-sized wooden crate. Written on the crate are simply the numbers: "8.2.14."

In the photo's description, Indian writes teasingly: "We're Not Done Yet."

Thankfully, whatever's in that crate will be revealed Saturday, so I won't have to suffer too much longer. But ever since learning of its existence my mind has been exploding with thoughts of what it might be, with hopes of what I want it to be.

Based on the entire 2015 Victory line up and sleight-of-hand tricks like the Victory Magnum and Indian Roadster, as well as the fact this face of Indian is still so new, a certain part of me suspects that the thing under that crate is just an existing model in a different form. Perhaps a blacked-out Chief. Or maybe even a stripped-down Chief to make it lighter and cheaper. Certainly that would fit with the crate's placement in the Indian Instagram photo. The bikes are lined up in order of price, and the crate is placed to the left of what is presently the least-expensive Indian model: the Chief Classic.

Everyone loves a bobber these days, so maybe Indian will cut down the Chief Classic's fender, lower the suspension, slap on some pegs and a solo seat, and claim it as something new. Or maybe they'll do something that is really new.

Maybe, just maybe, the thing in that crate is an all-new bike. Maybe, just maybe, it is a Scout.

And there is some reason to believe this may be true. Firstly, there is the fact that the Scout is one of the most iconic Indian bikes. Burt Munro and his 1920 Scout are central to the ethos of Indian Motorcycles -- something acknowledged by Polaris Indian when it created the one-off Spirit of Munro bike. It was strange, then, to see the Scout absent when Indian relaunched last year.

The reason for this, according to an interview at the time with Gary Gray, director of production at Indian, was: "As much we like to think about this as glamorous, and art and fun to do, it’s a business at the same time. When you look at the motorcycle market today, heavyweight cruisers and baggers are huge right now."

OK. The Scout doesn't exist for financial reasons. Sure. Right. I don't fully buy that excuse. I mentioned above that I try not to pay too much attention to my blog stats, but I have still noticed that the posts I've written about the Harley-Davidson Iron 883 and the Triumph Bonneville are in the all-time top 10. As are the posts I wrote about the Honda NC750X, the Triumph America, and the Honda CB500F. Every single one of these are lower-displacement bikes.

Meanwhile, Harley-Davidson has gone all-in with the Street 750 and Street 500. I doubt that Polaris' market research turned up dramatically different results than Harley-Davidson's. The fact is, there is a tremendous amount of interest in smaller, more-manageable bikes. And if you look at almost all of the responses to Indian's Instagram post you'll see that people are clamouring for a Scout. Count me among them. As I wrote in a blog post several months ago: "Honestly, I love Indian motorcycles so much that I would be willing to pay a deposit on [a Scout] today, right now, without any idea of what it will be or when it will be available. Just promise it will exist and take my money."

One designer's vision for the new Scout.
Add to all this the fact that in early 2013, Polaris co-sponsored a contest amongst designers to envision the new Indian Scout. That suggests a Scout has always been part of the plan. Statements by Gary Gray last year would seem to back that up: "We don’t want the brand to be pinned down into cruisers, baggers and touring like everyone probably expects. We want to go beyond that."

single news article from January of this year, suggests they are. In the article, Visor Down reported that "[Indian is set to bring] back the famous 'Scout'."

No other moto-journalism outlet has reported that, so it might normally be a rumour to dismiss, but for the fact the same article correctly predicted the return of the Indian Roadmaster. In my constant, extensive poring over motorcycle websites I've discovered that most moto-journalists, especially those that write for bigger names, are incredibly rigorous about adhering to embargo requests. So, I can envision a scenario in which a Scout really could be inside that crate to be revealed on 2 August, without anyone saying a thing about it beforehand.

I still think the stripped-down Chief theory is more likely, but I want so much for the Scout to be a reality. Something that uses the heritage of the Indian brand to appeal to that vision of a "young person" I mentioned above, and that could compete (or, preferably, excel) within the Sportster/Bonneville/Bolt arena -- something the Dirt Quake dudes could convert into a flat tracker. Folks on Indian and Victory internet forums like to go even further and dream of the Scout being an inline-4. Though, hell, even if Indian were simply to re-jig the old Freedom 100 engine from Victory, give it a heritage feel, ABS, and an affordable price, I'd lap it up.

I can hardly wait for Saturday to find out.

Then there's that weird car thing

At the same time Victory was announcing the Magnum, and Indian the Roadmaster, Polaris itself was pulling back the curtain on the new Slingshot -- a three-wheeled car that makes one think of a motorcycle because it is powered by a single rear wheel and apparently you're supposed to wear a helmet while riding/driving it.

The Slingshot looks like something that would be used in a superhero film, low to the ground and offering room for just two passengers. According to the Star Tribune, the Slingshot is "positioned to compete with Harley-Davidson’s 'Trike' three-wheel motorcycle."

But I don't really see how that could be true since the Slingshot appears to be a kind of adrenaline vehicle and offers minimal storage space (only enough room to store a helmet behind each seat, according to Motorcycle.com). Additionally, the Slingshot has seats and a steering wheel. It is similar to a trike only in the sense that both are three-wheel vehicles.

In truth, I think Polaris has made here a vehicle that is not like anything else at all. Which is very cool. But it prompts the question of who such a thing is for. I mean, if you gave me one I'd accept it happily, but I struggle to imagine the person who would pay hard-earned money for it.

Maybe, again, that's my short-sightedness -- in the same way I struggle to understand who in their right mind would pay hard-earned money for a Victory Magnum. Somebody will, though. And for the sake of a Minnesota-based company's success, I hope a whole lot of somebodies will.

Comments

  1. Further to the discussion about Indian, this morning, the company released this on YouTube: http://youtu.be/f7rMvyeboQ8. In it, an engineer says that the item in the crate "answers a question that's been asked for a long time from a lot of riders, which is: "I like the cruiser and I like the brand equity that Indian offers to me, but I don't want to have to sacrifice power and adrenaline and a spirited ride."

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    1. There is a lot of babble speak there ("brand equity"?), but I think there are a few ways to interpret what the engineer is saying. Firstly, it suggests that whatever's under the crate isn't simply one of the existing Indian models with aesthetic changes. Simply painting something matte black will not result in its suddenly becoming more powerful and spirited. To a certain extent, stripping away the Chief Classic's heaviest bits (e.g., the valanced fenders) might. But one is still led to believe that what's coming will have a different engine. Secondly, the quote pretty much tells us that whatever's in the crate will be a cruiser.

      So, I have three ideas on what it could be:
      1) It is a Scout, a lower displacement V-twin machine in the 800cc-1200cc range that will compete with the Harley-Davidson Sportster and Triumph Bonneville on pretty much the same playing field and relying on the same sense of "sporty" to fulfil the ideas of power/adrenaline/spirit.
      2) It is a Scout with a lower-displacement water-cooled V-twin engine, and it will be the sort of bike that could go against the Harley-Davidson Street 750.
      3) It will be the fabled new Indian Four and all our minds will be exploded. Indian was famously decades ahead of its time through use of an inline-4 engine in a motorcycle. They did this in the 1930s, It wasn't until the 1970s that any other major player used an inline-4: that was Honda in the 1970s, with its CB750.

      If it IS the new Indian Four, I can see it being something a bit similar to the Honda CTX1300, in the sense that it has a cruiser-like seating position but offers a more spirited ride. My hope is that Indian would offer such a bike in a pretty bare-bones state, so as to make it affordable, with the option of all kinds of accessories (panniers, top box, touring screen, heated seat/grips, etc.) to turn it into a proper touring machine.

      I am really excited about this.

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    2. And here's some more evidence to support the idea that a new Scout is under the crate: in a press release about Indian's activities during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally it says: "John Munro, son of legendary Indian Motorcycle racer Burt Munro will attend the rally on behalf of Indian Motorcycle... [John] Munro will meet fans and tell stories of his father’s travels, exploits and dedication to his beloved 1920 Indian Scout... Munro is also in Sturgis to kick off the Munro Collection of Apparel that will debut in Sturgis."

      So, they're bringing in the son of the most famous Indian Scout owner ever, and releasing a line of clothing that celebrates the most famous Indian Scout owner ever. Seems, like the perfect sort of thing to coincide with the release of a new Indian Scout.

      The press release goes on to say that Munro will take part in a group ride and hold three different "autograph sessions" during the week. Three autograph sessions in one week, in the same place? For a guy who is only the son of a guy who was sort of famous many years ago? It's suspicious, isn't it? Why is he really doing all those appearances? I think it would make more sense if those appearances were part of the promotion of a new Indian Scout.

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    3. Don't know about a different engine. Wouldn't they have to apply for a patent and get some C.A.R.B. rating from California? Unless of course they are using a engine that already exists. I agree it's probably a Scout, but I have to think that it will have the 111 Thunder Stroke in it, just like all the whoopla Victory used on the Gunner. My pure guess is that it's a redesigned Victory Kingpin made to fit the 111, steel frame and all, and that would really trip my trigger!

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    4. Anonymous –––– Good point about the engine, although, in checking CARB docs, there's nothing for the Roadmaster, either. Personally, I would really hope they don't offer a redesigned Kingpin. If that bike worked, Victory would still be selling it.

      The two things that flumox me are the fact that in its promo photos, Indian lines the models up according to price, with the most affordable –– the Chief Classic –– on the left and the least affordable –– the Roadmaster –– on the right. The crate is to the left of the Chief Classic, which suggests that it will be affordable. Many of the ideas I've heard involving a reworked Chief Classic don't sound like they'd end up being cheaper.

      Secondly, the videos Indian is putting out talk about power, adrenaline and a spirited ride, and seem to suggest that this new bike is notably faster/better handling. That suggests a different engine, or a reworking (water-cooled?) of the existing engine.

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    5. Not to long to wait and find out, and Polaris does make some nice liquid cooled engines already. Turn one over to the engineers at Indian and see what they can do....

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  2. Chris,
    Wouldn't you just love to be there at the unveiling? I know someone who will be.

    Me.

    I was invited to attend the Media Event held Saturday night, 9:30pm, just 2 days ago. I'm utterly floored and humbled.

    So, watch our site www.BikerNewsOnline.com and we will be posting within minutes of the unveiling! Of course I'll be posting on FB, Twitter & Instagram too.

    And no. I don't know any more than you. I got the same press release you just quoted. I am so fricken excited!!!!

    Smooches,
    Sash

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    1. And I am so fricken jealous! That's amazing! Congratulations on scoring that opportunity!

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    2. I am really lucky. Right place, right time, connecting with the right people. Thanks! I'll let you know!

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