What I wish Victory would do

I talk a lot about Victory motorcycles on this blog. Sometimes I feel apologetic about that — I realise not everyone is as interested in Victory as I am — but then I remind myself: this is my blog. I can write what I want.

Anyway, a few months ago, I wrote a post in which I suggested ways to “save” Victory from the dead end it seemed to be speeding toward. Then the company surprised me and everyone else by producing two (a) amazing new bikes designed to compete at the Isle of Man TT and Pike’s Peak. Most notably, neither of these bikes are cruisers. 
My extreme excitement over these bikes led me to writing a piece for RideApart a few days ago, in which I declared: “I think it’s entirely possible that we are sitting presently on the cusp of a new American motorcycling renaissance. At the very least, though, we are witnessing the rebirth of Victory Motorcycles.

Thanks to Sash being super awesome and letting me have a peak in her little black book I was able to get a quote from Victory’s head of PR, Robert Pandya, for that piece. I asked him how likely it is that we will see a motorcycle coming from Victory that is anything other than the cruiser-centred platforms we presently see from all three American motorcycle companies.

His reply was artful (b), offering no solid information but allowing the mind to run wild in speculation. You can read the full quote in the RideApart piece (please also leave comments there; comments and shares are ways of showing the editors I’m worth the money they pay me), but the sentence that stood out to me most was this: “There are spaces where American bikes are not currently present, and maybe there’s an opportunity for us, but we also have to look at it as an overall business.

Let’s start with the first bit of that sentence: Opportunities in spaces where American bikes are not currently present. That’s a lot of space. Sport bikes, standards, ADVs, and on and on and on.

Project 156: the beast designed to tackle Pike’s Peak.

Some of those spaces we can eliminate straight away. Supersport bikes, for instance. Say what you want about bad luck, but from a bottom-line perspective Erik Buell has twice proven that sport bikes are not a terribly viable business venture in the United States.

Meanwhile, I think any calls for Victory to produce a bike that costs $5,000 are naive. Victory (and Indian and Harley-Davidson) sees itself as a high-end brand. There’s not enough profit in making cheap bikes, and arguably doing so damages your overall brand image. This is why Suzuki struggles to get people to pay top dollar for its products.

Here’s why I’m right:

If I somehow held clout within the fortressed walls of Victory HQ, I would be pushing aggressively to see the company produce an ADV-style bike.

Although BMW, Ducati, Honda, Kawasaki, KTM, Moto Guzzi, MV Agusta, Royal-Enfield, Triumph, Suzuki, and Yamaha already have or will soon have one or more ADV-styled bikes in their line ups, I think there is still room for additional players. Partially I think that because there are so many different directions in which to take the ADV class. You can pursue the indestructible dual-sport route of the Kawasaki KLR, the high-end techno-wizardry route of the KTM 1290 Super Adventure, or the tall-sport-tourer tack of the Ducati Multistrada.

Personally, I’d like to see Victory putting together a machine to rival the likes of the KTM 1290 Super Adventure and the BMW R1200GSA. There are several reasons I feel this would work.

Firstly, those bikes are high end — luxury items with the sort of price tag that Victory would like to command. And BMW and KTM have proven that there are people who will fork out big bucks for these machines. The R1200GSA is BMW’s best-selling motorcycle worldwide.

In the United States, a KTM 1290 Super Adventure will set you back upward of $21,000.

Secondly, these type of ADVs fit with American sensibilities. There’s no denying that Victory’s thoughts are first and foremost with the U.S. market, and history has proven over and over that’s a market that likes big things. The R1200GSA and 1290 Super Adventure are huge machines, and when equipped with aluminium panniers they occupy an even greater amount of real estate (c). That sort of thing appeals to the American id; we like to look as if we are going to war even when we’re just popping down to the grocery store to get milk.

It goes without saying that any Victory ADV would be powered by a twin engine. That configuration produces the grunt and rawness that Americans have come to expect from the motorcycling experience. And it lends itself to some pretty great acoustics. I’ve heard some R1200GSAs with aftermarket exhausts that sounded bad-ass.

In addition to providing a familiar, cruiser-esque experience in engine torque and sound, big ADVs also serve as solidly viable two-up machines. According to Harley-Davidson CEO Matt Levatich, in an interview he did with Cycle World, 80 percent of the motorcycles his company sells in the United States “are purchased by couples who ride two-up.” So, it’s an important consideration.

Thirdly, where ADVs excel over the cruiser experience is in their performance aspects. Bikes like the R1200GSA and 1290 Super Adventure are faster, more powerful, lighter, and better handling than any cruiser-based bike could ever hope to be. Victory is keen to put itself forward as a performance brand, so I feel an ADV is a good fit within that ethos.

Most importantly, with the heritage of Polaris as its parent company, Victory has the credibility to produce an ADV that people would believe in. The challenge for Victory in any attempt to move beyond the confines of cruiserdom is the cynicism of buyers toward its ability to deliver a given product. Imagine if Harley-Davidson were to come out with a supersport motorcycle tomorrow. The response from the peanut gallery would not be, “Yay, Harley’s pushing America forward,” but instead: “What the hell do these guys know about supersports? This thing is probably a steaming pile of crap. Boo!”

Through its Polaris heritage, however, Victory can overcome that hurdle. If Victory were to produce an ADV, I think there would be a lot of people who would think: “Man, I’ve seen people do some insane things with a Polaris RZR. I’ll bet Victory has access to engineers who know a thing or two about off-road vehicles. So, when they tell me this new ADV bike is a world-crossing son-of-a-gun, I believe them!”

Here’s why I’m wrong:

I could spend all day coming up with “evidence,” working myself into a state of believing with 100-percent certainty that a Victory ADV will be unveiled at this year’s EICMA. But then take a look at the second part of the aforementioned sentence from Pandya: “(W)e also have to look at it as an overall business.

Bikes like the Gunner are more familiar territory for Victory.

In the God-blessed United States of America, Harley-Davidson, a company that makes nothing but cruiser-based motorcycles (d), controls more than 51 percent of the market for motorcycles of 601cc or more. Add to that all the cruisers you see on the roads from Indian, Victory, Triumph, Honda, Kawasaki, Moto Guzzi, Star, and Suzuki. It’s clear that Americans like cruisers. A lot. A whole lot.

And, as I say, the American market is clearly very important to Victory. If I had a dime for every time Victory mentions in its promotional/marketing material what country its from, I’d have enough cash to buy one of its bikes. Although Victory exists on the worldwide stage its focus is primarily on what happens at home, and it may be that Victory feels the not-cruiser side of the American market isn’t quite large enough to vindicate the R&D expenditure that an ADV would demand.

To that end, it’s perhaps worth remembering that Victory is actually a small company. It is small part of a much bigger machine, yes, but in and of itself it’s not huge. So, the budget required to deliver the right kind of ADV, one that competes against (and even beats) the R1200GSA and 1290 Super Adventure, may be beyond Victory’s budget.

For instance. many people would expect the bike to have shaft drive (e). That’s a technology not present on any other Victory, so it means R&D, which means money. To command top dollar, many buyers would also expect things like cornering ABS and electronically adjustable suspension; more R&D, more money.

Lastly, I think it’s worth asking who Victory thinks it’s competing against, and who it wants to compete against. Figuring that out offers an indication of what the company thinks is relevant. For example, I doubt BMW sees itself as competing head-to-head against Suzuki. I don’t imagine anyone sits at the table at BMW and shouts: “Ach mein Gott! Zey are stealing away from us the sales of motorcycles for squids and cheapskates!”

So, it doesn’t care about coming up with something to beat the Inazuma; it doesn’t bother.

If Victory sees Harley-Davidson as its biggest rival, there’s little reason to develop an ADV or any other bike that the rest of the world might be interested in. If it saw BMW or Triumph as a worthy adversary, however, we might see some very exciting things in the future.

Only time will tell.

(a) Well, actually, three. Victory raced two bikes at the Isle of Man.

(b) The man is a top-level professional after all.

(c) If you’ve ever seen one of these bikes fully loaded and equipped with additional lights you know there is no way a driver could honestly claim to have not seen you.

(d) For the time being. Still waiting for that LiveWire to be released, guys.

(e) Though it’s worth noting that the KTM 1290 Super Adventure is chain-driven and that hasn’t stopped moto-journalists from wetting their pants over the thing.