Last week came the announcement that Victory Motorcycles was being shut down, but Victory’s death knell actually tolled in early 2011 following the announcement Polaris Industries had acquired Indian. All the good will in the world to keep Victory afloat is no match for bottom-line data, and in just a few short years the Indian brand has eclipsed Victory in growth, profit potential, consumer popularity, and overall coolness.
As motorcyclists, we all feel some pang of compassion for a fallen OEM, especially one of the few which comprise the small made-in-the-USA circle of motorcycle manufacturers. Don’t be surprised, however, when the hipster crowd (or whatever identifying title they use) discovers the abandoned brand 20 years from now and rejuvenates Victory from boat anchor to counter-culture custom star (No, that wasn’t a joke referring to Yamaha’s recently deceased cruiser brand).
Victory was known as a cruiser brand, but the company tried to expand the rules of cruiser tradition when it came to style. The Vision best represents the company’s hands-off approach when it came to curtailing the imaginations of its designers.
Here’s how we described the Vision in our 2009 10th Anniversary Review. “For those unfamiliar with the Victory Vision in any form (Street, Tour or Anniversary), just imagine a Honda ST1300 and a Vegas Jackpot having a wild night in Las Vegas. Toss in some old-school cruiser ideals with futures yet unseen, and you’ve got a collision of style only Victory can create.”
Victory never put a big enough dent in Harley’s market share to make the Bar-and-Shield folk nervous, but some of Victory’s models were good enough to win occasional MO shootouts against similar H-D models. In our 2014 Big Gun Blow-Out, Victory’s Gunner sank Harley-Davidson’s FXSB Breakout.
“While the scoring was close, I think it’d be easy for me, given the situation of spending my own money on one of the two motorcycles, to purchase the Gunner and use what I save to buy some new riding gear, bike accessories, then take the wife on a weekend ride to a fancy resort … The Victory Gunner is less expensive, more comfortable and smokes the Breakout in every performance category. Shootout won.”
Chasing ultimate low seat height has boxed Harley-Davidson into a situation of minimizing rear suspension travel to achieve the desired result. Victory, on the other hand, engineered three inches or more of rear wheel travel into its models, even its price-leading Vegas 8-Ball. The comparatively extra suspension travel always gave Victory an edge when it came to comfort and handling performance.
“The Cross Road’s suspension is probably the best-balanced system of the group, rivaling the Triumph’s setup,” said Kevin Duke in our Leather Baggers Shootout from 2014. “It offers good control while having the ability to soak up large hits without much disturbance to the rider.”
“Victory motorcycles always have outstanding brakes, that aren’t tuned to feel like a handful of mashed potato-potatoes,” we said in our review of the 2005 Victory Hammer. Many Victorys were fitted with Brembo calipers, which gave them an advantage over other cruiser brakes, and in later years Victory-manufactured calipers also proved to be quality items with strong stopping power. Victory’s single-disc front brake arrangements weren’t quite as stellar as the Hammer’s twin front-disc setup but they generally tended to outperform other cruiser brakes when battling in a shootout, forcing H-D to up its braking game by incorporating Brembos on some of its recent models.
It was a big deal when in 2004 Arlen Ness leant his name to a signature series version of the new Vegas model, followed by his son Cory, and grandson Zach (Ness Café pictured above).
From our 2014 Victory Ness Cross Country Limited Review: “Since Arlen Ness first applied his signature touches to a Vegas in 2004, the First Family of Fabrication has collaborated with Victory on a Ness Signature Series each year. Cory soon followed his dad’s lead, and it wasn’t long before Cory’s son Zach got the itch and started contributing his distinctive vision to the line. For the last few model years, each Ness has customized a limited-edition Victory as part of the series – with sexy results.”
When John Burns returned to the MO fold as a full-time staffer a couple years ago, he did it in auspicious fashion by somehow finagling to be out of the office for three of the four weeks that comprise a month.
“I miss that 3-week vacay I managed to sneak in a couple years ago on that CC Tour dammit,” says John. You can read all about JB’s misadventures here: 2014 Victory 15th Anniversary Cross Country Tour Limited-Edition Review, and here: Great Places To Ride: Nebraska Sandhills.
Last summer Motorcycle.com Group’s Editorial Director Sean Alexander, MO’s Senior Editor John Burns and Dirtbikes.com Editor-in-Chief Scott Rousseau spent a week in America’s midwest touring the Polaris factory, H-D museum, and Springfield Armory.
“Polaris Industries’ Plant Manager Jesse Barthel (middle) took us on an extensive tour of Polaris’ Osceola Engine Assembly Plant, introducing us to a lot of neat folks inside the place, like Phil Wallander (plaid shirt), who built the very first Indian engine after Polaris bought the brand in 2009,” penned Rousseau in our American Iron Road Tour story. For Indian, there’s no more sharing production lines with Victory.
The industry was all in a tizzy about Victory’s Project 156 Pike’s Peak racer when it debuted mid-2015. “We have an intense focus at Victory Motorcycles to prove the performance of our vehicles,” said Rod Krois, Victory General Manager, at the bike’s official unveiling.
But, instead of letting Indians be cruisers and turning Victory into a performance brand, making a production version of the hand-built one-off in the image above and capitalizing on the current naked superbike trend, Polaris ultimately determined Victory would join the list of American motorcycle companies that no longer exist. If we’re lucky, Project 156 might turn into the basis of a Scout Sport or other such spinoff. The same can be said for Victory’s Empulse electric Isle of Man TT racer.
The hardest thing now is figuring out which model will be demanding a princely sum in 20 years. It’s not so apparent now, but there’s a Vincent Black Shadow hiding in Victory’s 18-year portfolio of motorcycle models. For us, we’re betting on the Octane pictured above.
Burnsie says it best in his recent column Whatever: What’s In A Name? “I was doing a little research for an upcoming Bobber comparison test, and realized the Victory Octane is a deal at $10,499; the less-powerful Indian Scout is $800 more. An Octane with the Going out of Business discount tacked on could be a screaming deal, and when you’re old you’ll be able to explain to the kids how it’s really an Indian…”
Naming a new anything is difficult, but, considering the current circumstances, the Victory name is now poised to be the greatest misnomer in American motorcycling history. We stated our case in #3 on this list for what we hoped would have been done to keep Victory relevant – possibly victorious – but we’re just a bunch of motojournos with no understanding of how money works, so we are forced to bid Victory a surrendering farewell.