Harley-Davidson recently announced some rather deflating but realistic news about its plan to reduce shipments in the third quarter of this year, due in part to cooling consumer enthusiasm. While attending the 2008 Victory model press ride, Motorcycle.com asked Mark Blackwell, Vice President of Victory Motorcycles and International Operations, Polaris Industries, if Victory has as a response similar to Harley's toward a slowing motorcycle industry: "We have a goal of 10-15% retail growth next year," Blackwell stated. Those figures seem in line with Victory's 13% increase in sales in 2006, which, coincidentally, was also the motorcycle maker's first year of profitability since launching in 1998.
Citing the current state of macro economics in the U.S., Blackwell explained that the core of the bike market consists of people who carefully consider where money earmarked for the purchase and maintenance of a bike could be spent otherwise. "The guy driving the hundred-thousand-dollar motor home isn't going to notice an extra two hundred dollars to fill his tank, but most buyers are going to be holding back and waiting to see what happens," Blackwell commented. In order to achieve the modest growth for the coming year, Victory is planning to gird up its dealer network (360-strong) rather than expand it, by "focusing on training" of existing dealer sales staff.
Another weapon in Victory's arsenal against a retracting market is its unique-looking entry into the touring category, the Vision. By reaching beyond the custom cruiser market with the Vision, Blackwell sees Victory as nearly "doubling" its sales opportunities. Of the polarizing appearance of the 106 cubic-inch 50-degree V-Twin, aluminum-framed tourer, Blackwell said, "We knew people were going to love it or hate. We're okay with that... we're glad to have the growing number of people who do like it."
Even if less and less bike buyers waltz euphorically into dealers in the coming months or years, and Victory Motorcycles (presumably other manufacturers too) suffer, Victory, like so many teenagers and twenty-somethings, has its parent to lean on. Speaking on behalf of Polaris, Blackwell highlighted the company's successes in the ever-strong ATV segment, the burgeoning side-by-side category and even the wheezing snowmobile industry.
"Even though we're [motorcycle industry] coming down, it's from an all-time high."
As an indication of confidence in the ATV market (or maybe mankind's propensity for self-destruction) Polaris ATV has gone full-force into the military arena. A key objective of Polaris' mission in providing U.S. Armed forces ATVs and the like was to be able to offer a vehicle that fills the gap between the "solider carrying a 60-pound pack and a Humvee." Blackwell acknowledged that motorcycles are currently being utilized in the military, but is confident that the relative ease-of-use of ATVs and their carrying capacity makes them ideal candidates for military action.
So, with Harley reeling in year-end projections, and Victory being cautiously optimistic as well, should the motorcycle consumer recoil in fear? Perhaps revert to riding the rusty, dusty, unmaintained UJM hidden under blue tarps in the dark corner of the garage, and pass on that new bike purchase? "Don't jump off the bridge yet," quipped Blackwell.
Even though the industry appears to backing off a 15-year climb, Blackwell reminds us that "this kind of growth can't last forever, and even though we're coming down, it's from an all-time high."
2008 Victory Line-up
With the exception of the all-new Vegas Low and Kingpin 8-Ball, we've seen and sampled all the major changes in Victory's line-up. The full Vision introduction was held in June of this year, and the New American Motorcycle company detailed revisions to the remainder of its products in July. So, nothing new that's under the sun at this point, but in the interest of awakening your new-bike cravings without burdening you with a full recount, we'll touch on some of the changes and give a few impressions.
Victory's signature Freedom V100/6 air/oil-cooled, SOHC, 50-degree V-Twin received a number of refinements and enhancements this year. The compression ratio was reduced from 9.8:1 to 8.7:1 in order "to prevent spark knock and add more ignition timing...more horsepower and torque," larger 45mm throttle bodies are fed by a new, fully-sequential, closed-loop injection system and a change to the oil-cooling system wrap out the major upgrades to the mill.
By altering the path of oil flow to cool the critically hot "exhaust valve bridge," Victory avoided reducing the size of the 31mm exhaust valve, an alternative used in a four-valve head that would achieve a similar cooling effect but would also pinch off some power. A benefit of the redesigned oiling allowed the use of an oil cooler that was not only smaller, it also integrates into the bike's design far better than the previous cooler.
Noise pollution was on the mind of Victory engineers this year. Some of the target areas included: a taller sixth gear (first gear is shorter, but not for noise reduction purposes) that purportedly reduced tranny meshing noise and reduced cruising rpm by 3%, a split-gear clutch and a "re-tuned" compensator, a primary cover with more sound-deadening ribbing, a quieter alternator and finally, slower valve closing speeds combined with longer closing ramps are said to reduce annoying top-end "tick."
Last year you could climb aboard any Victory model and expect the venerable name of Brembo to be there with you. Not so this year, as the brakes on all models now proudly display the name Victory. A little poking and prodding discovered the calipers to be of the Nissin variety. For reasons not disclosed, Victory chose to go Asian this year. Unfortunately, the Victory-branded four-piston binders lack the excellent feel and power of the Brembo units.
It wasn't all about number tweaking and reducing noise for '08. A few aesthetics were considered. Redesigned handlebar grips, the aforementioned oil cooler, elimination of the fast-idle lever and a smaller airbox cover clean up the look of returning models. Heated grips were added to the growing line of parts and accessories.
The Freedom V100/6 (five-speed on 8-Ball models) and V106/6 of the Vision models have torque o' plenty on tap at virtually all times. The tranny was and still is easy to use, albeit with a reassuring thunk in first gear. Fueling is glitch-free and instantaneous. Truth of the matter is that these were already good powerplants, but Victory felt compelled to institute the changes cataloged above to improve and enhance "drivability." You have to like a company that wants to make what was good, better.
2008 Kingpin 8-Ball
Taking its styling cues directly from the Vegas 8-Ball, the Kingpin 8-Ball retains the good handling and comfortable ergos of the Kingpin, but does so with a blacked-out badass attitude. The unfortunate part about 8-Ball models is that they run a five-speed transmission as part of the "cool value package," rather than the six-speed gear-set on all other models. About the only impact this might have on prospective buyers would be the loss of the true overdrive experience that makes cruising endless freeway miles a breeze. Snick into sixth, and watch the revs drop as you drone on the slab.
This is one good looking cruiser. About the only things that aren't blackened are the exhaust, headlamp nacelle, speedo housing and clutch and brake levers. Otherwise, it's lights out on this dark beauty!
The Vegas Low represents the only truly new model this year besides the Vision Street and Tour. Though it's the new kid on the block, the Low is simply a Vegas with a two-inch pull back on the bars, footpegs set 2.25 inches farther back, 1.5-inch narrower sidecovers, lowered rear suspension, an adjustable brake lever, and a low 25.2-inch (ladened) seat height. Can you tell where Victory might be heading with such a model? If you said it's one for the ladies, you're on target. Of course anyone can ride the thing, but for the first time Victory has openly embraced the female audience with a bike that can make riding more accessible to many women.
But being a modest 5-foot-8 myself, I can tell you that many men will appreciate this bike. The two-inch pullback on the bars is the most obvious announcement of this bike's diminished dimensions. They create a very comfortable, upright riding position without feeling cramped, or cramping the cruiser style. The other big ergo change are more rearward pegs. The shortened leg extension really makes for a cozy rider triangle when combined with the handlebars. The one drawback to the Low is no passenger seat or footpegs.
Though ground clearance is cruiser-typical (a half-inch less for the Low), the Vegas models and Kingpins are fun and capable mounts, thanks especially to their more reasonable 180-section rear tire. Steering is light, and save for the occasional peg grind, the bikes track well through turns with plenty of torque propelling you to the next bend.
A Vision of the Future?
As we get closer to the end of one year and the beginning of another, do you find yourself asking, "Hey! Whatever became of that weird, bulbous scooter-looking thing that Victory unveiled at the International Motorcycle Show two years ago? And didn't they call it the Vision?"
Well, we asked ourselves that, especially as Polaris' Director of Industrial Design, Greg Brew, reminded us of it.
Believe it or not, the Victory team used that wacky Vision 800 as a type of litmus test to gauge rider reactions. Brew highlighted the fact that, though unconventional, the 800 held all of what Victory calls its DNA: smooth flowing lines, long and low proportions, frame the engine and pipes (hard to see that point on the Vision 800), voluptuous and inviting forms, modern and distinctly American design. Not only was Victory gauging public reaction, it was also using the 800 as a way to "get people to think of Victory as a modern motorcycle and prepare them for the Vision," explained Brew.
So, if you're someone who doesn't like the looks of the Vision of today, you may only have yourself and your riding buddies to blame for not poo-pooing the Vision 800 sooner.
In what is becoming classic Victory methodology, Brew included as part of his presentation a slide of a bare-bones Vision frame in order to highlight the chassis, then asked, "What's coming next?" After leaving us high and dry for an answer to that question, I can't help but think the Victory team have taken a note or two from Hollywood hype machines as they've become masters at tantalizing us with glimpses into their future plans.
Will the next wave of radical Victory design be just as polarizing as the Vision? We'll simply have to wait and see.
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