Watching the motorcycle business of Polaris Industries evolve over the past few years has been compelling, and, as the corporation balances how Victory Motorcycles coexists with Indian Motorcycle, it’s now well on its way to becoming fascinating.

Polaris’ re-launch of the Indian Motorcycle brand in 2013, with the debut of the all-new Chief lineup, rocked the cruiser world. It was a Herculean task to bring the legendary Indian brand from nothing to a lovely bespoke engine and aluminum chassis only two years after Polaris acquired it. The platform was so good out of the box that even the Harley-Davidson faithful seemed to respect it. In fact, this was the subject of a previous Duke’s Den. The massive splash Indian created made me wonder where the Victory brand would find room to play in the Polaris org chart.

2014 Indian Chief – Reinventing An Icon

“We see the brands going this way,” Polaris’ VP of Motorcycles, Steve Menneto, told me at the Chief’s launch, splitting his hands apart in different directions. Menneto noted the Victory brand would be pointing in the direction of a younger demographic, hinting at sharper and sportier models than what would come from Indian.

Victory’s new stunt team of Tony Carbajal and Joe Vertical (pictured) is another tactic for Victory to reach a younger demographic who is excited by performance. Photo by Barry Hathaway.

Victory’s new stunt team of Tony Carbajal and Joe Vertical (pictured) is another tactic for Victory to reach a younger demographic who is excited by performance.

Amazingly, the Chief platform was followed just one year later with the exciting Scout, an excellent alternative platform with its own bespoke V-Twin motor and aluminum chassis. At the time, I wondered aloud if the Scout was intended to be the next Victory platform before the Indian acquisition. The Scout was so good that it took on and won against six other cruisers, including the iconic H-D Sportster, in our Bout With A Scout shootout last September.

With so much focus on Indian, we wondered how much life remained in the Victory nameplate. Plenty, it turns out. American muscle and American performance are Victory’s new taglines, and the company has recently taken several steps toward that new mantra.

Last October, it was proposed to Victory’s General Manager, Rod Krois, that Victory should enter the NHRA Pro Stock dragracing category, which was quickly green-lit for the 2015 season. Engaging Matt and Angie Smith to race a Victory-branded Pro Stock bike was a relatively simple way for Victory to leverage its new performance bent.

Victory’s American muscle theme on display at the American Victory Rally held earlier this summer in Colorado. NHRA Pro Stock racer Matt Smith launches his dragbike a low-7-second pass down Bandimere Speedway’s quarter-mile strip. Photo by Barry Hathaway.

Victory’s American muscle theme on display at the American Victory Rally held earlier this summer in Colorado. NHRA Pro Stock racer Matt Smith launches his dragbike a low-7-second pass down Bandimere Speedway’s quarter-mile strip.

Then, last January, Polaris purchased Brammo’s motorcycle business, culminating in the recent launch of the Victory Empulse TT, which was held at a roadrace circuit – quite a departure for Victory. The Brammo acquisition also brought forth Victory’s entry to this year’s Isle of Man TT races in the TT Zero electric class where rider Lee Johnston finished on the podium behind the pair of high-dollar Mugens.

Victory Isle Of Man TT Zero Racer On A Dragstrip + Video

Keep your browser tuned to MO so you can see my ride report on the Victory electric bike that finished on the TT Zero podium at this year’s Isle of Man races. I saw 145 mph on its speedo while testing at High Plains Raceway in Colorado. Photo by Todd Williams.

Keep your browser tuned to MO so you can see my ride report on the Victory electric bike that finished on the TT Zero podium at this year’s Isle of Man races. I saw 145 mph on its speedo while testing at High Plains Raceway in Colorado.

Meanwhile, the gestation of what became known as Project 156 began in February of this year. To my eyes, this is the most interesting new Victory development of them all.

Project 156 (named for the number of corners in the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb) is a collaboration between Polaris and Roland Sands, who teamed up to build a naked sportbike to race in the hill climb last June, and it’s a real work of art. It’s builtd around a one-off chromoly frame from the Roland Sands Design crew, with a fairly steep rake (less than 24.0 degrees) and a short 98mm of trail, according to Sands himself. If you look closely, you’ll recognize a swingarm, fork and upper triple clamp from a Ducati 899. The lower triple clamp has three sets of holes for fasteners, but Project 156 uses only two sets as a way to tune chassis flex. The racebike is said to weigh in the mid-400-lb range.

The billet-aluminum crankcase and sand-cast cylinders of Victory’s Project 156 would never make it to production, but I’ll be very surprised if we don’t see a variation of this mill in a Victory streetbike within the next two years. Photo by Duke.

The billet-aluminum crankcase and sand-cast cylinders of Victory’s Project 156 would never make it to production, but I’ll be very surprised if we don’t see a variation of this mill in a Victory streetbike within the next two years.

Packaged within its 59-to-60-inch wheelbase is the real star of the show, a liquid-cooled Twin with cylinders separated in a 60-degree vee. Wait, isn’t the Indian Scout’s motor a 60-degree V-Twin? Surely this is indication Victory will use a version of the Scout’s motor in an upcoming model, right?

“There’s bits and pieces in that motor from Polaris, for sure,” admitted Gary Gray, Product Director for Victory and Indian. “It’s certainly a Polaris engine,” he continued vaguely, refusing to take the bait when I surmised that a version of that engine would be a perfect fit into Victory’s performance ethos.

I don’t see how Polaris could put a Victory badge on Project 156 and not eventually use a version of that motor in an upcoming Victory model. If it does, don’t expect to see the billet engine case or the rumored 170 crank horsepower of the race motor. Both the bore and the stroke were opened up from the Scout’s 1133cc displacement, perhaps enough to approach 1300cc if my reading between the lines is accurate. Accommodating for emissions and durability concerns assuredly will lop off considerable power, but I think I’d be happy with 130 hearty horses and 75 lb-ft of torque when measured at the rear wheel.

“As people see new bikes coming out in the future from Victory, you’re going to see more crispness, more sharpness around American muscle and American performance,” Gray continued, noting how Project 156 fits with Victory’s refocused intentions. “Victory always had a general brand clarity around performance, but it’s never been as sharp as it is now. Now that we have Indian and we’ve re-looked at the Victory brand, it’s sharper and crisper and clearer than ever.

“Honestly,” Gray continued, “for me, it’s almost like (Victory) is reborn. It makes it more fun, and it’s resonating. It’s been more positive than I can ever remember. For us, it’s like, ‘Can we go here?’ And people are clearly letting us go there and they’re cheering us on –- and they’re asking us to do more, so I think it’s really good.”

Roland Sands has built dozens and dozens of custom motorcycles, but I believe he’s most proud of Project 156. When I asked Sands who gets to keep the bike after its race career is over, he glanced up slowly and grew a boyish s#*t-eating grin that revealed he’d be taking it home eventually. Cross your fingers Victory will design a variant for streetbike production. Photo by Duke.

Roland Sands has built dozens and dozens of custom motorcycles, but I believe he’s most proud of Project 156. When I asked Sands who gets to keep the bike after its race career is over, he glanced up slowly and grew a boyish s#*t-eating grin that revealed he’d be taking it home eventually. Cross your fingers Victory will design a variant for streetbike production.

Gary Gray has been working on Polaris two-wheelers since the first Victory, some 19 years ago. Today, as Project Director, when he thinks something is really good, he’s got the organizational horsepower to make it a reality.

  • Alexander Pityuk

    Thanks for summing it up, Kevin. I was a bit lost in all this polaris’ news and the mess it created.

    • Kevin Duke

      Happy to bring it into focus. It’s a good American story!

  • JMDGT

    It is good to see a manufacturer wanting to improve their offering. A foundation in performance is a good place to start. The effort should produce some very interesting bikes. I wish them well.

  • TalonMech

    It would be nice to walk into an American motorcycle dealer and find more than just cruisers for a change. I’d like to see Victory build standards, sport tourers, adventure bikes, and maybe someday a full on sport bike. You know, the kind of options one can find at ANY Japanese or European bike dealer. It’s time the US got in the game for more than just chromed out land barges.

  • Old MOron

    Great story, Duke. Fingers crossed for a production version of the 156.
    And please can they price it competitively, like the Scout.

    • Kevin Duke

      I think they can. The Scout’s got an aluminum frame and a version of the same motor, so I’d bet a Victory with a hot-rodded motor and aluminum frame would be priced within about $1000, depending on the level of equipment. Also, I wouldn’t be surprised if such a Victory would have a hybrid frame of steel and aluminum, a la MV Agusta and Ducati.

  • http://www.themotorcycleobsession.com/ Chris Cope

    I am deeply hopeful. Because I was part-raised in Minnesota I have tendency to see Victory as my “home team” and I want so much for them to be a, you know, real brand.

    I mean, isn’t it mystifying that America’s major manufacturers have stuck so religiously to one kind of bike? Even Royal-Enfield is now branching out.

    I feel nervous, though, because of Victory’s track record. They’ll often have an idea, half commit to it, then shy away from it. For example, the Judge. Or, the fact that the Vision –– which is definitely different within the American touring spectrum –– hasn’t received updates in a very long time. Meanwhile, even those things don’t stray far from the orthodoxy of the Church of Jesus Harley Latter-day Davidson.

    I’m really, really, really hoping we’ll see something truly different and original from Victory within the next 6-8 months. I’m really worried I’ll still be saying the same thing two years from now.

    • Kevin Duke

      As much as I believe Victory will some up with something cool in the near future, I don’t think the months-long window you give them is enough. Within two years, though, you won’t still be saying the same thing.

  • Andrew Capone

    I would like to see a Victory ADV bike, to take on the Asian and European manufacturers in a space that we created on the automotive side with the Jeep. Victory, bring us the Jeep Grand Cherokee of American motorcycles.

  • SRMark

    I would love to see a Judge with a more standard design.

    • Kenneth

      That would be a sight to see, but I think the lighter engine of the Scout would be more appropriate for a standard.

  • kenneth_moore

    I recall test riding a very early Victory in the late 90’s that was sold às a performance model with upgraded components. At the time my daily ride was a Shovelhead FX. The first time I hit the front brake lever I almost went over the handlebars. The handing was equally impressive. Obviously the HD wasn’t much of a benchmark, but the Vic was good nonetheless. Seems they’re coming full circle, and I think its a good plan.

    • Kevin Duke

      Yep, it was the V92 SC for “sport cruiser.” Sold like crap, so it was abandoned after a couple of years. Maybe the buying public will prefer “sport” without the “cruiser.”

  • halfnelson_73

    What? I was all set to go out and get Suzuki’s new gsxs 1000, after waiting all summer for it to be released. Now I may have to wait and see what Victory has up its sleeve.

  • Phil

    Read the forum around the interwebs and the tone isn’t so positive on the future of Victory. When the 2015 line was pared down, we understood that Polaris was taking time to focus on Indian. But when the 2016 line was announced, reactions ranged from disappointment to outright concern at the very future of the Vic line, especially those of us who remember a far more robust Victory line-up from years past. It seems like they’re setting Victory up for failure so that they can later play the “Oh, well, they stopped selling well” excuse to kill the line later.

    I love my 2012 Cross Country. But unless 2017 offers complete revolution in the Victory line-up (I mean both in design and overhaul in their long-in-the-tooth technology) it will likely be my last. With the Vic line seemingly on life support in 2016, we’ll know in 2017 if the situation is terminal. Nobody wants to one of those “Hey, yeah, didn’t they quit making those?” sorta bikes.

    • Kevin Duke

      Have those people on the interwebs read this article and see what they think. Victory got shortchanged for a few years while Indian got revved up with two completely new platforms in just two years. It’s now Victory’s turn for attention.

      • Cord Scott

        I hope they do give Victory some attention, but I don’t want to see them abandon the customers and bikes that helped them build their business. If they want to build sport/adventure/electric/sport touring bikes, fine, I won’t ever buy one as my “sport” days are long gone, but I’m sure lots of people will.

        But if they abandon traditional cruisers/baggers and try to force sport bikes or some version of a sport touring bike with a variation of a scout engine on me, well I’m sure HD will have no problem taking my money, as I won’t switch to Indian and reward Polaris for destroying the brand I love.

  • spiff

    I feel Victory will go down the road that Buell was on, performance road bikes. l know that is the general consensus, but no on says the word “Buell”. Eric Buell was, and possibly still is, on to something. I rode a tube framed S1 in 97 and thought it was fun. I think it is what the Superduke, Tuono, etc have evolved from. I also hope that Moto Guzzi joins in with a new LeMans. I have no urge for a race replica, yet want performance. The ability to strap some bags on it for a weekend cruise just make it all the better. I really like the way this is going.

    All that said, I hope Victory continues to make performance cruisers. With and without bags.