Victory, though, has nothing else. And I really don’t think you can beat Muhammad Ali just by wearing the same colour of trunks as him. Being like Harley-Davidson (“Hey, we’re American, too. We’re also from the Upper Midwest. We also make nothing but V-twin cruisers and tourers.”) while still not actually being Harley-Davidson just doesn’t cut it.
I mean, if I ask myself, “What is a Victory rider?” I struggle to come up with a clear answer. That is to say, I struggle to come up with a unique idea of a person. Think about it: If I say that my friend will be arriving on a Victory Gunner, what sort of person are you expecting to show up? Male or female? Young or old? Race? Economic status? And are these attributes any different from those you would apply to the rider of any other cruiser?
Because the Notting Hill Carnival crowd is such a vast, untapped market…
Almost. I’m clinging to the fact that Victory is planning to produce an electric motorcycle this year. So, I won’t sign the death certificate just yet.
And to that end, Victory should be working extra hard to establish its own legacy, its own solid identity.
In fairness, there are already some scraps of such a thing. A very subtle string that runs through Victory’s advertising is its obsession with the modern American West. By and large, Victory chooses desert landscapes for its promo shots. The exception to this is when it chooses Las Vegas as a backdrop. Without really saying as much, or indeed adequately embracing what it means to say such a thing, Victory seems to be keen to sell itself as the bike of choice for Nevadans.
But, you know, OK, fine. There are concepts within that which you can use in developing a real sense of what Victory is. Not just open road nonsense, but practicality and the tolerant nonchalance of true libertarianism.
Though, if you’re really going to embrace the Nevada mindset you’re going to need to develop an adventure bike tout de suite. Which leads to the discussion of what Victory should be doing in addition to or, perhaps, instead of cruisers. Again, Victory simply doesn’t have what it takes to lock horns directly with Harley-Davidson. Meanwhile, there is a huge, gaping hole in terms of American offerings of other bikes.
An adventure bike would make a whole lot of sense. Firstly, because Victory has the pedigree. Its parent company is Polaris, which makes some of the best offroad vehicles in the world. Secondly, it seems to me that unlike with sport tourers or supersports, there is an easy transition for the bulk of American riders (although Victory seems to offer better products in Europe, I’m assuming the United States remains the market it cares most about).
Most adventure bikes are twin-engined, offering a somewhat similar experience to cruisers, along with the same sort of roomy ergonomics. Check the owners’ forums of various adventure bikes and you’ll find that a surprising number of the forum members are former or current cruiser riders. And it’s a style of bike that fits with the American psyche: the image of explorers and pioneers.
To that end, I’m not sure I’d listen too intently to those people who think Victory should be producing stuff that rivals something like the Honda CB500X in price and displacement. The profit margin is too narrow and the demand for lower-middleweight bikes isn’t terribly high in Western markets (unless you’re talking about 600cc supersports, and even there interest has been in dramatic decline over the past several years). Victory needs to deliver a bike that can serve as an entry point to the brand, yes, but that doesn’t necessarily need to come in the form of some cheap bike that would be better suited to Indonesia than Indiana.
Whatever Victory does, I think it needs to drop its blind love for everything the Ness family does. I respect custom builders, but it is the very nature of a custom builder to be niche, to only appeal to a certain style and taste. That’s part of what a custom build is: a bike that is keyed to very specific tastes –– the tastes of one, rather than 1,000.
I’d like to see Victory taking inspiration from the Vision and putting it into other models. It doesn’t have to be space age for the sake of being space age, but why not offer something that someone else isn’t already doing better than you?
I feel that Victory can turn itself around, but that will require a whole new level of thinking and some fearless leadership. Time will tell if Victory has those things. If it doesn’t, I fear it’s doomed to disappear in the wake of Indian’s success.