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With Victory Already Racing Two Distinctly Different Sport Bikes (Albeit, “Prototypes”) Is There Any Question About the Company’s Ambitions? We Don’t Think So.

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We’ve already reported on the Project 156 ICE powered Pikes Peak racer, which CycleWorld editor Don Canet will pilot at the iconic mountain climb this year under Victory badging, and you may have heard it reported that Victory is also racing the Isle of Man this year with an electric superbike.

These projects represent no small investment by Victory and its parent company, Polaris Industries, which recently acquired the electric motorcycle business of Brammo.  Although the Isle of Man will be attacked with an electric bike, the Pikes Peak machine is a separate, gas powered prototype.

Victory Directory of Motorcycle Product, Gary Gray, has stated that the Isle of Man machine makes more than 150 bhp, and 160 foot/pounds of torque … yielding a top speed greater than 165 mph. Make no mistake, Victory speaks humbly of their goals, but they want to win the electric event at the Isle of Man TT this year. They have hired two road racing stars, William Dunlop and Lee Johnston, to pilot identical machines — see Lee Johnston testing in the video at the bottom of this article.

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The Project 156 Pikes Peak effort may be slightly less ambitious, but it will still be costly. Undoubtedly, CycleWorld will feature many exclusive behind-the-scenes stories of Canet’s effort on the Victory.

So what does all of this mean? Let me give you my perspective. I have tested Polaris products, including Victory and Indian motorcycles, for many years. I have had numerous conversations on the road, at lunch and dinner with company press representatives, engineers and designers. I know this much – Polaris and its brands act in a very sophisticated, calculating manner, and they don’t waste money on promotions without a well-defined goal in mind.

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So I think it is not a question of if, but when, Victory will debut its first production, high performance motorcycle to complement its current line-up that exclusively consists of cruiser models (including baggers and tourers).

Victory has clearly been working on these two race bikes for quite some time (the electric machine clearly has Brammo dna), and I wouldn’t be surprised if they announced a production sport model for the 2016 model year. Will it be an electric or ICE powered bike? One of each? Time will tell, but I would be very surprised if Victory does not produce a production electric motorcycle in the near future – Polaris already had experience with electric vehicles before acquiring Brammo.

The near death of Eric Buell Racing (my way of referencing the receivership proceedings) has nothing to do with Victory’s plans, which were clearly formed prior to EBR’s announced financial troubles. Nevertheless, if Victory proves to be the only American-based manufacturer of high performance motorcycles (and by this I mean sport models, not cruisers) it won’t hurt the effort.

Although Indian has a high performance heritage, in my opinion, Polaris chose the Victory brand for high performance motorcycles rather than Indian, because Indian has the only real opportunity to take significant heavyweight cruiser sales from Harley-Davidson. Victory has tried to do so for years, and failed. I believe Polaris now wants to leave Indian as a “pure” cruiser manufacturer, and a more direct competitor to Harley-Davidson.

I also believe Polaris understands there is a risk involved in expanding a cruiser brand into the sport bike arena, and Polaris would rather take that risk with Victory than with Indian.

Here is a video produced by Victory promoting its Isle of Man TT electric race bike:

79 Comments

  1. Ian Helleer says:

    Polaris grew its motorcycle sales by 59% in 2014, with both Indian and Victory expanding over 2013. http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20150127005250/en/Polaris-Reports-Record-2014-Fourth-Quarter-Full#.VXL9Z9q9KSN

    Harley Davidson grew its sales by 3.9% in 2014; dealer sales to consumers only grew 2.7%, meaning on-hand inventory expanded slightly (not a good thing). http://www.cycleworld.com/2015/01/29/harley-davidson-sales-and-financial-figures-for-2014/

    While HD remains a juggernaut, Polaris is obviously taking share and succeeding with its motorcycle brands.

    I believe Victory’s “156” project is intended to help them build an adventure-style bike, not a sport bike. If you look at the chassis and drivetrain, the bike looks much more like a Multistrada competitor than something to head-to-head with a Panigale. Also the adventure bike segment is one of the fastest-growing niches in the industry. As an interesting side note, Don Canet, who is riding Pikes Peak for Victory this year, came in 3rd overall for motorcycles last year and was riding a Multistrada…

    Styling is obviously subjective. While I love nearly all motorcycles (including Harleys), I prefer the styling of most Victory’s over other cruiser brands (although personally I don’t like the Vision at all). I bought a 2014 Cross Country Tour last year and still admire its looks. Having said that, I decided to wait on buying an adventure bike this year because I want to see what Polaris introduces into the market in 2016 (or perhaps 2017).

    Finally, Consumer Reports rated motorcycles for the first time in their annual Owner Survey results. Victory came in #1 vs all other brands in terms of owner satisfaction and was the most reliable brand after the Japanese makes. Victory satisfaction not only beat Harley but also BMW, Ducati and all other brands handily. http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine/2015/05/motorcycle-reliability-and-owner-satisfaction/index.htm

    Polaris is indeed experiencing a great deal of success and is on a roll. I can’t wait to see how Harley Davidson reacts because they can’t continue to let Polaris take market share at this extraordinary rate. Ultimately, Polaris’ ambitions and results will be very good for motorcycling overall and even better for the future of American brands specifically.

  2. mechanicuss says:

    Polaris has good running gear, and could have made inroads with less lurid & garish styling exercises. It may be too late, since the mention of Victory or Polaris motorcycle to the average cruiser rider now conjures up the image of angular swoopy space pods painted metal flake chartreuse. Why in heaven’s name did they become associates with Arlen Ness? Didn’t anyone up there do a market survey? Anyway, the bike in this article does seem to indicate a change in direction – can’t wait to see the future product!

  3. jason says:

    What about MotoCzysz? Are they still working toward a production bike? Both their gas and electric bikes seemed to have the looks and the tech. Haven’t heard much about this Portland group lately. http://motoczysz.com/

  4. What can be learned about the state of the art electric propulsion from bikes like this? Assuming 1) they’ll use state of the art equipment, 2) they have a chance at winning, and 3) the lap record is currently just under 120 mph, is it is possible to estimate what sort of performance might be available at more typical street speeds?

  5. Trpldog says:

    Victory – A rip-snorting V-twin American sport bike PLEASE. I think Erik had an uphill fight from the git-go. First the Buell unreliability question that began with the tubers and had always lingered just below the surface in motorcyclist conversations. (Although my 3 XBs have been stone reliable.) Secondly, having to deal with Harley dealers in any way, shape or form usually ended in absolute frustration. I cringed even thinking I may have to enter Poser World. They could talk intelligently about chrome polish and HD stenciled underwear, but if it turned to rake and trail numbers, suspension set up, or tire compounds they soon became the proverbial deer looking into headlights. I hope I am proven to be very wrong, but unfortunately for Erik, (for whatever the business reasons),any prospective EBR motorcycle buyer that had any confidence built back up in him and EBR, lost it in one instant at the news of EBR going into receivership. I still yet hope that something will rise out of the EBR ashes – but to be honest, I myself, as others possibly may be, are too far shell-shocked to fork over $16,000-$18,000 for even a great bike, that may possibly become orphaned by the company two weeks after the purchase. I sure hope someone takes up the mantle.

  6. Norm G. says:

    pish posh, enough of this electric nonsense. behold again beholders, the engine (ICE ICE baby) for project 156…

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mudViD3y1Lc

  7. YellowDuck says:

    Make a true sportbike (i.e., track bike) electric and I will be very interested. Electric drive and top quality chassis. I like being weird.

    • Jeremy in TX says:

      Mission makes a pretty purposeful electric sportbike. A cool $35K for the lower spec one. I wonder if you could keep the battery charged up enough between track sessions to make a full day out of it. Assuming one could live with the irony of charging your electric bike with a gas generator after each round.

      Dirck, a test is in order!

      • YellowDuck says:

        Yeah, charging it trackside would be idiotic. The best setup would have a swappable battery, at not too huge of a cost.

        • Random says:

          Unfortunately, it seems batteries are the single highest cost part on e-bikes. For me quick charging capacity are the compromised, real world next best setup.

        • c dubble yoo says:

          Actually…

          I think the best setup would be a standardized, modular, exchangeable battery design that allows track facilities themselves to provide a constant supply of charged batteries for swapping.

          Use theirs and save the wear & tear on yours for getting back home and running to and fro for work, groceries, whatnot.

          • Random says:

            If manufacturers couldn’t agree on a charging plug, it seems even harder there will be an universal motorcycle battery given the different target designs each project aims to achieve.

  8. Mugwump says:

    How cool would it be to see a contemporary Indian on the flat track?

  9. Tommy See says:

    Polaris will have a sport touring machine with the new scout engine! Designed with a bit of adventure. A touch of FJR and a pinch of V.Strom. Beautiful and American Made ! Electric model also .

  10. When e-bikes were first mass produced, they were very awkward-looking. I wondered when they’d someday build on their strengths, maintaining their unique qualities, but look like real, bad-ass motorcycles. If it hadn’t happened yet, it happened with this Victory e-bike. Righteous. If the future of bikes is this, we’re good.

  11. ricky says:

    Anyone notice the motor is mounted to the swingarm? This is not a racebike!

    • Francois says:

      Why not? It works well with the BMW F800’s and they are good on a track.

      • ricky says:

        Wrong. BMW scooter may have the motor mounted to the swingarm, but no race machine is going to have 100 lbs of extra unsprung weight on it.

    • Jeremy in TX says:

      I am pretty certain that the motor is not attached to the swingarm.

    • Hot Dog says:

      So? It looks like a pivot point on the back of the motor. I think the bike is beautiful. I hope they do well at IMTT.

    • todd says:

      It does look that way. It also looks like the swingarm is hook shaped to bend around the motor. That would be worse. If the motor is attached it would allow constant chain tension which is always a design goal. It’s not like the motor would move very far being so close to the pivot.

  12. Kevin says:

    It’s understandable that Victory has not cracked the Harley-Davidson market. A large percentage of Harley buyers will never consider any motorcycle that is not a big V-twin with Harley on the tank. Period. It has been shown that a smaller percentage of Harley buyers can be wooed by new motorcycles with panache and a classic marque; thus the growing success of Indian. But Victory motorcycles, despite being big V-twins, are designed to be an engineering and styling departure from the Harley tradition — thus their limited success in drawing away market share from Harley. But like Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, and Yamaha, Victory can sell enough V-twin cruisers to make a good profit, and because they don’t have to hew so closely to the Harley model, they are free to expand in all two-wheeled directions without damaging their cruiser niche. As the Japanese brands did, Victory is slowly but surely building itself through engineering excellence, reliability, and customer satisfaction. A broadening variety of models will only help that strategy.

    • Krisd says:

      Nicely said Kevin- and quite possible the most intelligent and succinct article written by a reader I have ever read on this site.

    • Grover says:

      Many of the buyers of Victory motorcycles are Harley riders that want to try something different. After having tried both brands myself, I can willingly admit that the two motorcycles are night and day. Harleys do have a character of their own, for better or worse. I prefer the look and feel of a Harley big twin even though Victory has an edge in performance. Who is racing around on these beasts anyway?
      One thing that Victory doesn’t do well is style. One needs to look no further than the Vision to understand that their styling department is in desperate need of help. Someone mentioned in another post that they no longer pay Arlen Ness to pen their designs. Well, that might be true, but their bikes still come out looking “Nessified”. Victory is its own worst enemy when it comes to design and has so far hobbled an otherwise great line of bikes.
      It looks like their Sportbike line (if they do decide to manufacture them) might fare a better aesthetically. Only time will tell and I’m one hoping that they can pull it off.

      • Kevin says:

        With a big V-twin and cruiser configuration, Victory obviously hoped to attract some riders of other brands of V-twin cruisers, including Harley. But they were also clear in going their own way with clean-sheet engineering of the engine, frame, suspension, and styling. Their swoopy styling is purely their own and not meant to look like a Harley.

        • Jeremy in TX says:

          I agree that Victory wasn’t trying to copy Harley in the least. Although the “Ness” stuff looked very silly to me, I always thought most Victory bikes looked pretty nice: better than their competitors to my eye. In comparison, the Japanese cruisers always seem over-styled, and I must be one of the few people in the world that find most Harley Davidsons to fall somewhere between ho-hum and ugly with respect to visual appeal.

      • carl says:

        Have you ridden a Vision?? Not just looked at one but ridden it?? I came off a GL1800 and can only say when your riding it your not looking at it, has to be one of the MOST comfortable mile munchers out there!!!

  13. Vrooom says:

    I know they appeal to some people, but I’ve never found Victory bike’s to be terribly good looking. Hope they get some fresh design blood for the sport/electric bike. The photo’s attached are better than the cruisers, but no 996.

    • mickey says:

      Yea, don’t expect anything as sexy as a 996 from Victory…..ever

    • Seth says:

      Sports bikes appeal to younger guys. Polaris makes ATVs so its nameplate should be on the racing bike and street version, not Victory which is for middle aged guys with short legs. Electric bikes are too quiet, which is a buzz-kill for sports bike fans.

  14. Jeremy in TX says:

    I’m glad to see that someone in the know is getting the same vibe I am about Victory’s ambitions. This is exciting. A smartly managed, market savvy US company with some real muscle behind them potentially breaking into the “other” motorcycle market: it can’t come soon enough. This is exciting. I hope it happens, and soon.

    • mickey says:

      Would be nice wouldn’t it? Personally I’d rather see a sport tourer than a pure sport bike but nice to see they are thinking beyond cruiser.

      • Stuki Moi says:

        Aside from purely, and ultimately self limiting and destructive, “Buy American” type considerations, a prime motivation to design and build non cruisers in America, is that America, just like Europe and Japan, plays home to lots of talented, young engineers. Some of whom are interested in motorcycles that are dynamically cutting edge. Currently, the options for guys like that, are to move far, far from home, learn a new language, and fight bureaucratic immigration/work permit rules; or to develop yet another inane Iphone app, hoping than it will pay enough to allow them to at least buy the kind of motorcycle they may have been involved in designing/building, had they happened to be born somewhere else.

        The guys I’m referring to tend to be younger. Young enough to value the kind of purity of form inherent in the absolute cutting edge of something. Like a sportbike. Rather than the inherent compromise that is a sport tourer. Like presumably most readers of this site, I’m no longer young enough to fully share that sentiment, hence would also personally be more inclined to buy a sport tourer. But I realize it is harder to get a 20 something fresh out of engineering school excited about saddlebags, than about an Isle Of Man (Or MotoGP) win….. And of course, should Polaris prove successful in their venture, the engineers and test riders that enabled them to be so, will eventually age as well. And will by then have access to enough fundamental high performance motorcycle technology and know-how, to be in a much better position to build a world class sport tourer as well….

        • Jeremy in TX says:

          Not sure I see how the availability of young, inexperienced engineers in the US would be motivation to design and build a sport bike. Ever. An aim to market success (i.e., $$$) is the ONLY motivating reason for a large company like this to initiate this venture. Polaris obviously already has all the technology and know-how they need, and they can easily afford anything they might feel is lacking from their tool set.

      • Jeremy in TX says:

        Who knows what they are planning, but I would have suspected some type of transitional model like a street-tracker-ish sporty standard to consumers used to the idea of Victory moving their image away from being a cruiser company and into becoming a motorcycle company before dropping the hammer down on a full out sport bike or even sport tourer. But perhaps going full sport right away is the right strategy after all? I know this brief coverage of these two projects has really upped my opinion of the brand.

  15. You left out their NHRA pro stock motorcycle drag racing team

  16. Daimyo says:

    I am really excited about the possibility of Victory/Polaris making motorcycles that corner, brake and accelerate – a modern motorcycle.

    They seem to have a great set of engineers, and with Indian at least, designers as well.

    I hope the pikes peak project is indicating the direction of the production bike i.e. a modern/liquid cooled/large-displacement/v-twin/naked then I will be first in line.

    The traditionalist in me wants Indian to be the one pushing the performance envelope given their history, as Dirck mentioned, but I understand the business rationale for not doing so.

  17. Jamo says:

    Regarding Victory’s attempt to cut into Harley sales, I think they went with the wrong design. Their cruisers just aren’t good looking. They look overdone and clownish. The “Nessie” derived look I’m talking about. It never looks classic, just dated and odd. The early Victory cruisers looked better. JMO.

  18. chris says:

    Great new’s for people who want to see Polaris and Victory succeed by having them push the envelope and broaden their horizon’s by developing cutting edge new platforms and racing them ,Harley are you listening? I don’t think so. There used to be a time when HD cared about racing and the actual sport of motorcycling ,but when you look at how they killed off the Buell brand and purchased M.V. Agusta and basically gave that away it is plain to see they (H.D.) only care about the stock holders it appears they are not run by motorcycle enthusiast’s any more. I personally spent stupid money on Harleys in the past but I will never own another one other than my 2011 XR1200X. I refuse to support a company that continues to look at the past as their future, and cares more about selling an image ,as well as the bandana’s and fingerless snot picking gloves they sell.

  19. Michael H says:

    I admire the energy and enthusiasm Polaris brings to product development, be it motorcycles, the Slingshot, ATVs, electric vehicles or watercraft. It’s refreshing, and from a consumer’s point of view, really exciting. Polaris doesn’t need to think “outside the box” because they seem to never have put themselves into a box to begin with.

    A line of American sportbikes? Awesome! An American high performance electric bike! Super! Polaris is aiming at a young (or young-ish) market by bring out new and different products. They get it. And for the life of me, I can’t remember the last time Polaris brought a product to market that was a clear flub. They do good work.

    • halfbaked says:

      You know Polaris hasn’t made watercraft for a least a decade. They do however make a very extensive line of snowmobiles.

  20. rider33 says:

    The HD marketing and product development teams where fairly sharp in the 80’s, significantly less so in the last 10 or 20 years. Polaris had some teething problems with Victory but they were calculated: they were learning a new category. The relaunch of Indian has been flawless and I fully would expect them to reposition Victory to broaden their appeal in the category. The sad thing is HD was in great position to do so 15 years earlier with Buell but they hobbled the brand with too much HD baggage. 10-to-1 Polaris will not be making that mistake.

  21. allworld says:

    What Polaris needs in a couple new and modern power-plants. Perhaps they should purchase Duke Engines.

  22. peter harris says:

    Motus seems pretty high performance.

    • allworld says:

      I test rode the Motus and yes it has great performance,it is designed as a sport touring bike, not a race bike.
      Polaris could and should do a SPORT-touring bike and transition into sport and street-fighter/naked sport bikes.

  23. Matt Gustafson says:

    I think HD threw away a great opportunity with Buell. I would love to see an American company succeed in the sport bike arena, and Polaris seems to have all of the resources needed to make it happen.

    • allworld says:

      I agree. HD has sort of limited itself, Polarish has the vision and drive to cast a wider net.
      They should consider Adventure bikes and scooters as well.

    • KenHoward says:

      I am quite tired of perpetual references to H-D’s “trashing” of poor little Buell. They were a bad fit for Harley-Davidson, and their recent repeat-demise certainly can’t be blamed on H-D, thank god. They were odd, questionable-reliability bikes that never held any appeal at all for me. I have only high hopes, on the other hand, for Victory’s success.

  24. Krisd says:

    Another great article- thanks Dirck.

    So you haven’t heard anything of Polaris acquiring EBR then I assume? (just wondering if you, with your finger on the pulse, have?)

    • Dirck Edge says:

      No.

    • azi says:

      I don’t understand why there is so much talk about Polaris expressing interest in EBR. It doesn’t make any sense. EBR’s assets appear to be end-of-the-line orphan tech – how much equity can be squeezed out of those design patents in the next 10-20 years (e.g. fuel-in-frame, perimeter disc brakes)? Electric bikes hold much more potential per investment dollar.

      • Dave says:

        There may not be a lot of immediate equity potential but EBR has proven to be a master of packaging and optimization, which could translate well to future electric products. We must remember what he was working with – HD twin & transmission, OE part suppliers, not proprietary in many cases.

        • Jeremy in TX says:

          That’s why they bought Brammo. Don’t need EBR for that.

          • Dave says:

            They didn’t need Brammo either, buying them just accelerated their position in electric development, the same way EBR could for racing and advanced sport bike design & engineering. Just spit-ballin’ here..

          • Jeremy in TX says:

            The e-bike is an area of expertise that you don’t find in abundance I imagine, so the purchase of Brammo makes sense (though I suspect Polaris was mainly buying patents) to accelerate development.

            But making a sportbike or racing? Polaris has demonstrated that they are quite good at building a motorcycle company from scratch. Given the rate of product development they have demonstrated, I don’t think they need to buy anyone. What could EBR really bring to the table that Polaris couldn’t provide on its own, or if necessary, acquire much more cheaply by hiring any savvy engineering group or racing guru? Why pay a lot of money for a company with no value to achieve those things?

          • Dave says:

            Re: ” savvy engineering group or racing guru”

            I don’t think EBR is much more than this. If developing aportbikes were easy, more companies would do it. There’s also the issue of the US’ relatively small market. Because of that I agree that the threshold for investment is low.

      • Norm G. says:

        re: “I don’t understand why there is so much talk about Polaris expressing interest in EBR”

        polaris has the one thing critical to success for EBR.

        Q: what’s that Norm G…?

        A: an established dealer network.

        • Jeremy in TX says:

          “A: an established dealer network.”

          Wonky bikes don’t sell well at established dealer networks, either.

          • mickey says:

            Lol yea ask Honda how DN-01 and NM4 sales are going

          • Norm G. says:

            re: “Wonky bikes don’t sell well at established dealer networks.”

            oddly enough, NON-WONKY kit like MV Agustas and Aprilias don’t sell well. hey, how ’bout that…? see, I can come up with better examples of a vehicle not selling.

            however (comma) notice how neither of these 2 statements alters the fundamental best practice (ie. business 101) that dictates “at all times keep your cart in front of your horse”.

          • Jeremy in TX says:

            “NON-WONKY kit like MV Agustas and Aprilias don’t sell well.”

            Fair enough, but the company formerly know as Buell couldn’t sell wonky bikes at one of the most wide-spread dealer networks in the US, either. So wonky is a liability no matter what your retail network looks like. It’s the undeniable law of NARCOWAK in action: No Amount of Reach Can Overcome Wonky Ass Kit.

        • azi says:

          Q: What thing does EBR have that is critical to success for Polaris?

          A: Ummmm…