Skip to main content

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…

How to save Victory Motorcycles


About a month ago, Jason Avant wrote an article for RideApart titled "How Victory Motorcycles Can Save Itself From Defeat," which is an issue that is sort of near and dear to me. I agree with almost all of what Jason says in his article but wanted to write a post on how I'd specifically like to see things done.

Jason, by the way, is a cool dude. Not too long ago, he put in a good word for me with the higher-ups at RideApart, suggesting me as a writer for the site. Sadly, I've never heard from those higher ups. I suspect that's because whatever good words Jason might have for me are negated by my own words about RideApart

In my defence, I would say my criticism was directed toward a previous incarnation of RideApart. The modern site still has quite a few problems (I can think of no other "professional" website that is so littered with typos, bad grammar and spelling errors), but I'd rather be part of the solution than bitch.

That's neither here nor there, however. It's not relevant to the future of Victory Motorcycles. Like Jason, I carry a bias toward the company. Though in my case it is because Victory is based in Minnesota. Although more of my life has been spent in Texas, and I've now lived in Britain longer than I ever lived in Minnesota for any consecutive number of years (a), there is a strange part of me that thinks of the Land of 10,000 Lakes as home. And as such, I like to see Minnesota businesses succeed.

I'm also an American. And my competitive side wants to see American businesses not just succeeding, but dominating. At the moment, Victory is nowhere near that.


There are a lot of reasons why. First and foremost is the fact that you are never going to out-Harley Harley-Davidson. That company is very, very good at what it does. I guess there is some money to be had in offering up a Harley clone, true, but you'll note that doing so isn't the bread and butter of other companies. Honda doesn't live and die by its cruiser sales; the Vulcan is not the only bike that Kawasaki makes.

Victory, though, has nothing else. And I really don't think you can beat Muhammad Ali just by wearing the same colour of trunks as him. Being like Harley-Davidson ("Hey, we're American, too. We're also from the Upper Midwest. We also make nothing but V-twin cruisers and tourers.") while still not actually being Harley-Davidson just doesn't cut it.

Especially when you're up against the Harley-Davidson of today. Its bikes have more features (e.g. anti-lock brakes, keyless start), better finish, higher resale value, greater clout among non-riders and offer considerably more customisation options. And most importantly, as one of the RideApart commenters pointed out, Harley-Davidson understands how to make the most of an experience economy. Victory does not –– especially outside of the United States.

All of this means that Victory doesn't seem to know what the hell it is. I've talked about this before; there's no real identity to Victory motorcycles.

I mean, if I ask myself, "What is a Victory rider?" I struggle to come up with a clear answer. That is to say, I struggle to come up with a unique idea of a person. Think about it: If I say that my friend will be arriving on a Victory Gunner, what sort of person are you expecting to show up? Male or female? Young or old? Race? Economic status? And are these attributes any different from those you would apply to the rider of any other cruiser?

Victory's marketing offers no real clarity. It tends to be all over the place in terms of the demographics it pursues. I realise that all motorcycle companies pursue different demographics with different models, but Victory's actions seem far more confused. More often than not, it seems to be chasing an identity rather than declaring one. What the hell is the essence of the Victory brand? I don't think Victory knows.

You can see that in the manifestation of Victory's biggest problem: the fact that it is falling ever more behind. Since 2010 it has offered nothing that is actually new or different. Instead, it has whiled away half a decade changing aesthetics or slightly altering ergonomics and hoping no one notices. In recent years, it has become clear that Victory has run out of ideas. Few things shout "We ain't got nuthin" more loudly than the Magnum X-1.


If you haven't heard about the Magnum X-1, it is a Cross Country with a comically large front wheel, awful paint scheme and 200-watt sound system. A sound system, y'all. A sound system. Let me repeat that again: A SOUND SYSTEM. Victory's best effort in the world of performance motorcycles is to offer up a 5-year-old bike with a really loud sound system.

Because the Notting Hill Carnival crowd is such a vast, untapped market...

Things are bad. Victory has become the Impact Wrestling of American motorcycling; people are looking at it thinking: "OK, this is it. This thing is dead. It could have been so much."

For a long time I had hope-believed that Victory would present us with a truly new machine at Daytona Bike Week. Now, I have lost almost all my faith in the company.

Almost. I'm clinging to the fact that Victory is planning to produce an electric motorcycle this year. So, I won't sign the death certificate just yet.

Indeed, let's be positive here and imagine that Victory is aware of just how bad things look, and that it wants to change, that it truly wants to compete. Here's how I'd go about doing that:

Firstly, Victory needs to be thinking far into the future, while demonstrating in the immediate present that this thinking is taking place. One way to do this is to let people know what you're working on. You don't have to give specifics, obviously, but letting people know that there is stuff happening makes them more comfortable about sticking with you. A few leaked images, perhaps –– things to stir the rumour mill –– or even videos showing some engineers poring over schematics.

What Victory's been doing over the past 5 years, simply changing the paint, would make me nervous as a consumer and I'd be concerned about buying a bike from a company that may not be around in another 5 years. If Victory were to be able to demonstrate that it really is thinking about tomorrow, that it is developing new technologies, new engines and new chassis, that would convey a sense of a company that's in it for the long haul –– a company you can "invest" in with your purchase.


Secondly, Victory needs to figure out who the hell it is and what it's about. I'm not entirely sure where I think they should go with things, but there may be some value in looking at how Triumph managed to pull itself out of the depths a few decades ago. Although, in fairness, Triumph in the 1990s had something Victory does not: a legacy.

And to that end, Victory should be working extra hard to establish its own legacy, its own solid identity.

In fairness, there are already some scraps of such a thing. A very subtle string that runs through Victory's advertising is its obsession with the modern American West. By and large, Victory chooses desert landscapes for its promo shots. The exception to this is when it chooses Las Vegas as a backdrop. Without really saying as much, or indeed adequately embracing what it means to say such a thing, Victory seems to be keen to sell itself as the bike of choice for Nevadans.

This strikes me as a questionable strategy, considering Nevada is ranked 35th in terms of the states with the highest populations and very few outsiders have any idea of what it means to be a resident of the Silver State (heck, most people don't even know how to pronounce the state's name correctly).

But, you know, OK, fine. There are concepts within that which you can use in developing a real sense of what Victory is. Not just open road nonsense, but practicality and the tolerant nonchalance of true libertarianism.

Though, if you're really going to embrace the Nevada mindset you're going to need to develop an adventure bike tout de suite. Which leads to the discussion of what Victory should be doing in addition to or, perhaps, instead of cruisers. Again, Victory simply doesn't have what it takes to lock horns directly with Harley-Davidson. Meanwhile, there is a huge, gaping hole in terms of American offerings of other bikes.


An adventure bike would make a whole lot of sense. Firstly, because Victory has the pedigree. Its parent company is Polaris, which makes some of the best offroad vehicles in the world. Secondly, it seems to me that unlike with sport tourers or supersports, there is an easy transition for the bulk of American riders (although Victory seems to offer better products in Europe, I'm assuming the United States remains the market it cares most about).

Most adventure bikes are twin-engined, offering a somewhat similar experience to cruisers, along with the same sort of roomy ergonomics. Check the owners' forums of various adventure bikes and you'll find that a surprising number of the forum members are former or current cruiser riders. And it's a style of bike that fits with the American psyche: the image of explorers and pioneers.

To that end, I'm not sure I'd listen too intently to those people who think Victory should be producing stuff that rivals something like the Honda CB500X in price and displacement. The profit margin is too narrow and the demand for lower-middleweight bikes isn't terribly high in Western markets (unless you're talking about 600cc supersports, and even there interest has been in dramatic decline over the past several years). Victory needs to deliver a bike that can serve as an entry point to the brand, yes, but that doesn't necessarily need to come in the form of some cheap bike that would be better suited to Indonesia than Indiana.

Whatever Victory does, I think it needs to drop its blind love for everything the Ness family does. I respect custom builders, but it is the very nature of a custom builder to be niche, to only appeal to a certain style and taste. That's part of what a custom build is: a bike that is keyed to very specific tastes –– the tastes of one, rather than 1,000.

That doesn't mean they need to be bland, though. Victory already has a wholly unique design in the Victory Vision. That is a bike that looks nothing like a Harley-Davidson. Add more technological farkles (e.g., traction control) and figure a way to lose some weight and you've got a machine that can compete against pretty much all other tourers whilst remaining individual and unique.

I'd like to see Victory taking inspiration from the Vision and putting it into other models. It doesn't have to be space age for the sake of being space age, but why not offer something that someone else isn't already doing better than you?

I feel that Victory can turn itself around, but that will require a whole new level of thinking and some fearless leadership. Time will tell if Victory has those things. If it doesn't, I fear it's doomed to disappear in the wake of Indian's success.

____________

(a) I have left and returned to Minnesota twice. My longest consecutive stretch in the state was 7 years; as of July, I will have lived in Wales for 9 consecutive years. Breaking down all of my nearly 39 years of life, I have spent:
- 12 years in Texas
- 11 years in Minnesota
- 9 years in Wales
- 3 years in California
- 2 years in Nevada
- 1 year in North Dakota
- 1 year in England

Comments

  1. I believe the Victory owners I've met do fall into a particular group: late 20's - early 30's, male, white, single, middle income.
    In my opinion, this is a growing market with a real future. I'm sure you know the average age of a Harley rider.
    To me, Victory has a particular appeal, but it is niche. That being said, it is an enormous niche of buyers with disposable income. Often times in marketing the goal is to market not to necessarily a large group, but to a small group with healthy produce.
    I also think that Las Vegas is a "destination" for most Americans at some point. It has a certain sexiness to the idea of it. This is consistent with the single men who currently love their Victory motorcycles.
    I don't agree that things are as dire as all that.
    Smooches,
    Sash
    Http://www.SashMouth.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, certainly I hope that you're right. You know I'm a Victory fan, despite my frustration with the brand.

      It occurs to me that some of my cynicism might be a reflection of European influence on my thinking. Your description of a Victory rider fits the description of an increasing number of H-D riders in Europe. Meanwhile, H-D is able to provide a full experience in terms of buying and owning. That's definitely not the case over here for Victory. The cruiser scene is hyper niche in Europe and there's not much room to compete against H-D if you can't offer a full experience.

      For an example of how different things are over here, consider that in the United States, Yamaha (Star) offers 21 different cruiser variants. Whereas in the UK, they offer just four. Honda offers just one.

      So, for Victory to compete outside the United States it has to make some real changes. But, perhaps it's doing well enough in the United States that doesn't matter to them. I don't know.

      Delete
  2. I approached Zach Ness at a rally about a year ago when I had some fun money for once and an eye for the High Ball. Zach had been standing alone at the show booth for a solid two minutes with hands in his pockets, so I figured a brief sales consultation wouldn't be too intrusive. I got straight to the point to save his time "Hey, how's it going, when I get home I was thinking about trading in for one of these." All I got was a scoff and a turned back: "I'm sure you were." and he walked away. (Yes, a scoff: The dismissive half laugh reserved for super villains and super assholes) That $13,500 MSRP found its calling in getting my wife a better car, and I've looked forward to being an Indian guy ever since. Singular incident, indefinite consequence, repeat ad nauseam.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Either your a liar or don't know who Zach Ness is. I had the pleasure of meeting him two years ago on the Hot Bike Power Tour, and at the end of being on his bike, which was a custom Dyna, and over four hours riding the bike, he still took the time to answer any and all questions that I had about what he and his grandfather (Arlen Ness), his dad (Cory), enjoyed about having Victory as an alternative to harley, and what I could expect from the Ness's in the future for custom parts, he asked if I would like to have a picture taken with him. He was with four or five of his friends that were also on the ride, but still, he took over an hour of his time to talk with me and was quite the gentleman at all times.

      Delete
    2. I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and say you talked to someone you thought was Zach Ness. Anyone who's spent any time around Zach knows that he doesn't stand around idle with his hands in his pockets. Ever.

      Arlen Ness is a marvel of a human being. For all his accomplishments, wealth and fame, he is one of the most polite, well-mannered, humble and kind people you will ever meet. That he has been influential in the lives of his family and a positive role-model to them is most obvious. Zach's love and respect for his grandfather is equally obvious, and even for his youth, he has a keen understanding that to act like a punk to people would be to dishonor the family name his grandfather made legendary.

      Delete
  3. In January my spouse and I decided it was time to move up from our Yamaha V-Star 1300 Tours and bought two hold over 2014 Victory Cross Country Tour motorcycles, which we love. We researched and rode other brands and settled on the Victory because it was, in our opinion, the best handling and mechanically sound touring bike we rode. The Indian Roadmaster was our second choice but the cost and cramped riding position were deciding factors for us. We liked our V-Stars but the Venture was their touring choice and it hasn't been updated in longer than the Victory, no fuel injection, 5 speed, etc. In fairness we didn't ride a Harley-Davidson and had no intention too from the start. We just don't like the whole "Harley Mystique" or the fact that that they are still built on a poor and unbalanced engine design. Most of the Victory riders we have met are individuals that like what they like and they don't care what "the pack" does. I think this is where the Victory riders stand out from the rest and a group that Victory should focus more on this. They have already done this with Indian, that's why you see so many used Harley trade-in's sitting at the Indian dealers. Yes Indian has the heritage and history to market from and Polaris has made the most of it. I believe they could do the same thing with Victory but they will have to build their own heritage, one based on new designs, technology, and longevity. Based on something that every American can identify with, the rugged individual. I think they already have a following based on individuals who want something different and should capitalize on it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm interested to know: Did y'all consider tourers like the Honda Goldwing, BMW K1600, BMW R1200RT, or Triumph Trophy? Or did these not rate with you? If not, why?

      Delete
    2. We considered early on what we wanted in a bike and decided we wanted to stay with a V-twin bike. I owned a Goldwing years ago and it was a good bike but the new ones have too much plastic and hardly even look like motorcycle to me anymore. As a friend who had one and sold it said, "it was a great bike but it was like riding a sewing machine. If I ever get another bike I want one that has some heart". His words not mine. We wanted an American bike if possible (other than a Harley) at a decent price and the Victory fit us the best. We love our Cross Country Tours, they are everything we wanted in a bike. To me they have more modern looking aspects but still look like a traditional American motorcycle. I'm sure the bikes you mention are all good and I have heard good things about all of them, they just weren't for us.

      Delete
    3. poor Honda, never gets any love... they should make it a point to design unreliable, unbalanced, "character-full" machines so that people come in hordes to buy them...

      Delete
    4. We own 2 and none of those brands were even on the radar. We ride with a club. Bike must be an American V-twin. Harley didn't have a single bike I felt comfortable on size wise, the cross country had so much leg room and was so comfortable it was the perfect fit.

      Delete
  4. Great article, I am with you. I sure hope Victory can find its place.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Perhaps your cynicism and negativity comes from being trapped in Socialist Europe for too long?? Just a thought. A couple of years ago I would have agreed with much of your premise. Today not so much. I think Victory did figure out you cant out Harley HD being the new kid on the block. That's why Polaris bought Indian. They are going to out Harley the HD "heritage" bull shit talk with Indian heritage. They aren't trying to do that with Victory anymore. They are positioning Victory as the performance race brand along side Indian. Hence all the racing linked sponsorship's from NHRA and Matt and Angie Smith and the Project 156 Pikes Peak program. You say nothing new for 5 years and I would agree.... until this year. This new water cooled platform in the Octane and Scout are a big deal. That platform has tons of potential for models including a dual sport adventure bike model. If you pay attention and notice on their web site they don't show the Octane as a model alone it's under the 1200cc group. The Octane is just the starting point for that platform. Other models will follow. It's light and nimble and incredibly fast. It is not just a re-badged scout as many have tried to say. The high performance possibilities with that mill and platform are many and in my opinion pretty exciting. That bike will kick the shit out of a 1200 sporty every day of the week and three times on Sunday. I've ridden both it and the Scout and it's amazing the difference in the performance and ride feel between the two. Perhaps you weren't paying attention to that??? At a MSRP of $10500 it's a hell of a base platform to put some serious performance mods on for a tiny bit of money that will make serious power. Victory is finding it's identity...that identity is American performance bikes. The emphasis is going to be on performance and targeting that younger demographic of adults that are done with the Cafe racers and Sport bikes but don't want to jump to a rolling recliner like a Harley or Indian. That's a pretty broad market in my view. Not to mention all of us guys riding our geezer glides that still want a sporty short ride cruiser we can thrash the crap out of once in a while. We sure as hell won't go to Harley for a top heavy ill handling 50 year old design in the 1200 sporty now that the Octane is an option. I agree Victory needs to get into the adventure bike/dual sport market and it seems to me this 1200 cc water cooled power plant is the mill for doing just that. Lastly look at the sales numbers. over the past 4 quarters on earnings conference calls HD has been getting roasted by wall street analysts over their dropping sales and continuing erosion of market share. The consuming public in America has been fundamentally changed by the banking collapse and the great recession. They want better value for their dollar and plunking down 43k on a dressed out Ultra isn't in that equation for nearly as many buyers as there used to be. Particularly when there are now several legitimate alternatives in the market for much much less cabbage from both Victory and Indian.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Check out the date on the post; it was written more than a year ago, when none of us knew about Project 156, the Isle of Man TT racing, or the Octane. I've written about all those things since this post.

      Certainly now (April 2016), we can see that Victory is starting to make strides forward. It didn't quite feel that way a year ago. But I'm very excited to see what the future holds.

      Delete
  6. I really think Victory has a good following like it should have.They are by far a superior motorcycle when compared to the HDs.Better ride,more power (with tons more to pap into for a very low cost),better handling and a progressive look.
    Before you jump on me you need to know I DO own two HDs(2007 FXDB and a 1972 FLH) and a Victory (my second one in 6 yrs).
    What Victory does NEED is a wider and more compatible dealer network.I do see a merger of the Victory and Indian brands in the future which may be a good thing.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Even with the article being a year old, you missed several key points. Such as H-D's sales dropping by more than 15%. Recall riddled, and that even continues to this year. Factory lay-offs so they can put more into advertising (sound business practice) Your claim that H-D has better fit and finish I cannot agree with, at least for seats and bags, I'll give you that their paint is nice.Power wise, bike for bike, any Victory bike for bike against H-D will win every day of the week, and you don't have to drop thousands of dollars into the engine to really wake them up. Just a though on why you didn't get that writting position you mentioned, could be you don't know what your talking about other than repeating old H-D riders uninformed opinions.

    ReplyDelete
  8. As you point out, this post was written more than a year ago. Back then I probably would have agreed with you. Things looked pretty bad for Victory for a while. But I am really optimistic about their future now. Your idea for an adventure bike is probably pie-in-the-sky thinking, but don't be surprised to see them doing some really interesting things in the coming years. Especially as Indian gets more (re)established.

    ReplyDelete
  9. 2011 cross roads comfort and dependable

    ReplyDelete
  10. The buffeting on the cross country should have been fixed by now. Maybe Victory will get more customers if you can by a bike off the floor without have to figure out how to fix their problems.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Ironic to read all of this now. I just bought a Cross Country 8-Ball last July, and while I love the bike, I now find myself resenting Polaris a bit. Not because a business decision is being made, but because of the "why." Why devote so much capital and resources into Indian when you have a homegrown American motorcycle company that had reached moderate success....and why the hell put the ridiculous Slingshot ahead of the great brand they'd built in Victory.

    Truly a disappointment.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Ride review: Harley-Davidson XL 883 L (aka Sportster SuperLow)

Yes, as a matter of fact, it is like riding a tractor.
That's the criticism so consistently levied against Harley-Davidson motorcycles: that there is something agrarian to the experience. And I can now say from personal experience that all those critics are right. But I can also say those critics are leaving out a key piece of information, which is this:
TRACTORS ARE FUCKING AWESOME!!!
It's a tractor that hurtles forward with roller-coaster intensity, a tractor that goes really fast, a tractor that makes you feel like Brock Lesnar in a children's ball pit. A tractor from the Land of Bad-Ass, with which you can sow the seeds of awesomeness.
But let me back up a bit...
A few days ago, I decided to take the day off, solely for the purpose of getting a chance to ride around and finally make use of the free breakfast coupon sent to me by Thunder Road. As I was gearing up, I suddenly decided that since I was already heading west, I might as well push a few miles further and che…

Ride review: Yamaha XV950 / Star Bolt

Imitation, Charles Caleb Colton famously noted, is the sincerest form of flattery. If that's true, the flattery the Harley-Davidson Iron 883 receives from Yamaha's XV950 is enough to make one blush. Put the two bikes side by side, and the inspiration for the latter is undeniable. Yamaha claims its bike has a "new neo retro Japanese look," but that's clearly just nonsense –– lorem ipsom that was used instead of "totally looks like a Harley-Davidson Iron 883."
Certainly the XV950 –– known as the Star Bolt in the United States –– isn't the first example of a Japanese OEM adhering faithfully to the styling cues of America's best-known motorcycle manufacturer. The orthodox members of the Church of Jesus Harley Latter-day Davidson write these bikes off as "wannabes," and tend to be pretty dismissive of anyone who would dare consider purchasing one. But I'm going to commit blasphemy here and tell you that the XV950 is unquestionably the …

Ride review: Triumph Bonneville

"OK," I said. "I want one." "Well, you know, maybe you should ask your wife first." "She loves Triumphs," I said. "Still, Chris. You should give it a think. Go home, discuss it with your wife, give yourself a chance to think clearly. After all, this is one of Triumph's most popular models; there's plenty of stock available."
The voice of reason in that conversation was Drew, the salesman at Bevan Motorcycles. He was doing his best to talk some sense into me after my test ride of the 2014 Triumph Bonneville. I was wild-eyed and yammering like a teenage boy who has touched boobies for the first time. This, my friends, is what the Bonneville does to you. It is an instantly rideable, instantly enjoyable, instantly lovable motorcycle that surprises you in just how good a simple motorcycle can be.

The Bonneville, of course, is a storied machine that's been around in one form or another for 55 years. It is a classic. Partially b…