Ten years in business is a significant milestone these days, regardless of the goods or services being sold. And continued growth in the face of a receding market is even more impressive. With industry bike sales down approximately 7 percent two years running, the Medina, MN company claims growth in the “low to mid single digits.”
This is how we find Victory Motorcycles coming into 2009: Modest growth where many are declining, 18 models (counting the various iterations) and growing parts, accessories and clothing lines. Additionally, Victory is reaching new markets like Germany and Australia, with more than 100 German dealer prospects on the hook.
Not bad for a company whose parent’s (Polaris) two largest endeavors (snowmobiles and ATVs) are in markets that are suffering so greatly that they make current bike industry woes seem like another day in Candy Land. To Polaris’ credit, its 2008 third quarter earnings are up 7 percent overall, thanks largely to international sales and the success of its Ranger side-by-side vehicle.
Claiming nearly 50,000 bikes on the road, Victory, as the only other mass-produced American V-Twin cruiser company, has bragging rights. However, we need to keep perspective. According to Paul James, Harley-Davidson’s director of product communications, in our State-of-the-Cruiser Address , claims Harley has a “48 percent share of the heavyweight (651cc+) [cruiser] market. This compares to Honda with 14.3, Suzuki's 12.7, Yamaha's 9.2 and Kawasaki's 7.5 percent. All other brands combined (Ducati, Triumph, Moto-Guzzi, Aprilia, BMW, KTM, Victory, etc.) equaled 8.3 percent.” No matter how much Harley sales falter it’s hard to imagine the Milwaukee giant will lose much ground.
To be clear, Victory doesn’t pretend to be David, slinging its tiny American-made slingshot. The company readily acknowledges that Harley’s success (to a point) is Victory’s success, and unlike so many other V-Twin makers, fully honors Harley for its own existence. Victory doesn’t really tout its products or the company to be a replacement for H-D, but rather an alternate take on the V-Twin formula.
Boldly going where no bike has gone before?
Fortune favors the bold, as the saying goes, and the Vision was the equivalent of Victory hopping off Easy Street, making a hard left down Rue de Risqué, and seeing who would follow. The Vision was a decidedly dangerous departure from the time-tested cruiser platform, especially for such a young company, but the vision for the Vision was more than just that. The company conducted heaps of market research, testing and querying current Victory owners, to see if the Vision’s acres of bodywork and heretofore unseen use of smooth, fluid lines would be well-received, or signal the company’s first major disaster. After only a year the gamble seems to have paid off. As we reported only last week in our First Ride, of 99 10th Anniversary Vision models for sale exclusively on-line, all were sold in a whopping 7 minutes.
The Victory team had no illusions about their first bagger’s divisive design. “Some people love it and some hate it, but that’s okay,” says Mark Blackwell, Vice President Victory Motorcycles and International Operations Polaris Industries. “We knew going in it would be polarizing, but that’s how we made it,” said Blackwell.
Taking a minute to editorialize, about the only issue I have with Victory is its chosen slogan, The New American Motorcycle. Its brashness doesn’t really fit with so much of the humility that comprises the entire Victory team. Victory should somehow market and capitalize on the impressive quality of its bikes rather than promote itself as the new kid in town. Word on the street is that many Victory dealers put themselves in a bind by carrying Victory: they simply don’t require the level of service of other brands. Sell a Victory, cling to the profit up front, and lose opportunity on the service end.
If Victory stays its current course of producing high-quality products, and is willing to flex and adapt to a market that will likely shift and morph, there’s no foreseeable reason why we shouldn’t anticipate Victory’s 20th anniversary.
From Victory to Freedom: Victory Engine Timeline
• 1999 V92/5: Fuel injected four valve OHC—67 HP and 85 Ft Lbs of Torque
• 2002 Freedom 92/5 Speed: Refined looks and performance —76 HP and 94 Ft Lbs of Torque
• 2005 Freedom 100/6 Speed: First with 6 Speed Overdrive — 83 HP and 103 Ft Lbs of Torque
• 2008 Freedom 106/6 Speed: —92 HP & 109 Ft Lbs of Torque; 100/6 Speed: — 85 HP & 106 Ft Lbs of Torque
2009 Vegas Jackpot/Ness Jackpot, Hammer and Hammer Sport
If the Vegas Jackpot wasn’t already full of attitude (we won’t even mention the flashy Ness models!), and the Hammer and Hammer S full of muscle-car toughness, all three models received an engine in ’09 to make more known the in-yer-face characteristics of each bike.
The powerful Freedom 106/6 engine, first seen exclusively in 2008 in the Vision, now wicks up the go-power of the Jackpots and Hammers. The 106ci (1731mm) 50-degree OHC Vee with 6-speed overdrive puts out 92 hp and 109 ft-lbs in stock form, but the Jackpots and Hammers get Victory’s Stage 2 cam treatment, boosting power to a claimed 97 hp and 113 ft-lbs. California models should expect about a 2 hp deficit according to Victory materials. Thanks, Cali!
More ponies make ‘Mericans happy, but what’s equally as crucial yet so infrequently achieved in cruisers is weight loss. In addition to the bigger, more powerful mill, this trio of trouble makers is graced with lightened wheels. The Stingray cast-aluminum wheels are claimed by Victory to shave between 15.9 to 17.8 pounds. The Jackpot gets a new one-piece seat, and all three models get a new headlight with improved lighting and a new, substantially brighter LED taillight.
I rode a Jackpot from my home in greater L.A. to Del Mar, CA (just north of San Diego) where the 2009 line-up launch was held. The Lucky Lime w/Extreme Graphics ‘Pot was fitted with a Victory two-into-one exhaust for better flow and enhanced throttle-blipping buffoonery. And during the press ride the next day I spent at least half my time on a standard Hammer and then a Hammer S.
It’s difficult to perceive a claimed 14 percent increase in power from the seat of a bike, but riding bikes with the “closed-course competition only” exhaust seemed to have a more visceral quality. Not only in regards to sound, but in acceleration as well. The motor simply didn’t feel as muted as a bike with a standard exhaust, not that the cammed-up 97 hp is anything to scoff at. The Jackpot with the exhaust seemed to come on the cam ‘round 90 mph (most models do not include tachs). Roll-on power at freeway passing speeds is plentiful even in top gear.
As for the lightened wheels, well, there’s no question that virtually everything about a bike’s handling, acceleration and braking will benefit, though I couldn’t say definitively that I felt a big change in handling. Save for the Jackpot’s resistance to maintain the arc of a turn thanks to the 250mm rear tire, initial turn-in and rapid direction changes come easily.
Historically, the Hammer, like the Jackpot, has suffered the same resistance to maintaining a smooth turn, and for the same reason: a 250mm rear. Since its introduction I often lamented the poor handling of the Hammer, noting the need for a good shove on the bar and constant pressure on the inside bar to prevent the bike from wanting to center itself while attempting to hold a line through a bend. Along came the Hammer S two years ago, and with it came a supremely better handling bike.
During the fall 2006 introduction of the Hammer S, Victory would say only that they changed the type of handlebars from the standard Hammer’s V-shape custom style to a more relaxed pull-back type on the S model. For such dramatic improvements in handling, I wasn’t buyin’ that as the only alteration, and I learned at this year’s press event that I wasn’t alone in my suspicions.
A number of us rider/writer types couldn’t believe that a bar swap was the only fix for the Hammer’s handling, and the most plausible theory was that despite claiming a constant rear wheel size since the Hammer’s introduction, perhaps Victory changed the wheel design just enough in order to alter tire profile, thereby overcoming the big 250’s desire to stand up. It’s also conceivable that Victory had the tires manufactured with slight changes from the initial tire model, yet we’d never know as all the markings on the sidewall would still be the same.
I’m on board with that. Now that the Hammer has an all-new wheel set, riding it revealed a bike that handles just as well as the S model. Fighting the standard Hammer to complete a turn seems to have been cured for 2009. Sneaky Victory!
Ride quality on the Hammers and Jackpots was excellent despite low seat heights that usually equate to limited suspension travel. Riding the Jackpot over 140 miles to Del Mar gave me plenty of time to consider how well-behaved and forgiving the chassis can be, with only the big bumps and potholes taxing the bike’s springs. The Hammer and Hammer S offer equally competent suspension and comfortable rider ergos. Just don’t be surprised when you get Popeye forearms after blasting the freeway at anything over 80 mph.
The transmission retains that reassuring built-in-America ka-thunk, especially when using the hydraulic clutch that requires a heavy pull. Opt for clutch-less up shifting and transitions between gears smooth out to near Japanese-quality.
Other new models and updates
The next biggest news is the introduction of an “all-new” model in the Kingpin Low. Victory stats claim that of the purchasers of last year’s Vegas Low, 43 percent were women. Lowering seat height to 25.2-inches and pulling back hand and foot controls two-inches seems like a successful plan, so in ’09 the Kingpin followed suit. In addition to its lower stance, the Kingpin Low, like the Vegas Low, loses pillion capacity by eliminating passenger pegs and seat. Along with all Kingpin and Vegas models, the Low gets the lighter Stingray cast wheels, brighter headlamp, and improved LED taillight.
Since the Vision was unveiled earlier this year we can’t expect much in the way of updates, yet Victory found a way. Improved stereo speakers were added, and premium models receive billet wheels and chrome fork lowers. Speaking of the Vision, the Ness name wasn’t left out of the 2009 line-up. Father Arlen took his pen to the Vision, adding custom stitching to the lower, carved-out rider saddle, did some fancy flipping of the paint brush, and in the process created a Limited Edition Arlen Ness Signature Vision based on the Street model.
I put in some miles on the Ness Signature Vision as well as a Vision Tour and readily report that rider ergos on both the Street and Tour rival the comfort of the venerable Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic Electra Glide and Honda’s time-tested Gold Wing.
The Vision’s aluminum-framed chassis performed extremely well, never once pitching, flexing or resisting steering inputs. Ground clearance, or lean angle depending on who you talk to, is exceptional and required a concerted effort by me to find its limits. This was my first ride at length on the Vision and I came away impressed during my relatively short time in the saddle.
Finally, rumor has it that Arlen likes his Victory Vision so much that he talked the infamous Sonny Barger into trying one. Barger is allegedly now a die-hard Victory Vision fan. Will wonders never cease?