News that Polaris Industries is shutting down the manufacture of its Victory motorcycles is roiling the small but loyal group of Victory owners across the U.S. Yet, in a way, it comes as no surprise. It’s hard to find a Victory dealer when you’re out on the road. Polaris never really made owning a Victory a cult thing.
I have spent many hours in motorcycle dealerships, selling and signing my books. What impressed me most was the way Harley-Davidson not only enforces its brand, but encourages it. Walk into a Victory dealer, and you may encounter a jacket or two, some motor oil and some T-shirts. The motorcycles may share space with ATVs, snowmobiles or other motorcycle brands. Walk into a Harley dealer, and it’s all Harley. H-D clothing, motor oil, bar stools, drinkware — that Harley-Davidson shield is on everything! If there is a competing bike brand on the showroom floor, it’s probably been traded in for a Harley.
Two summers ago, we attended the national rally of the Victory Motorcycle Club in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Our Victory, a 2002 Deluxe Touring Cruiser, was easily the oldest of the thousands of bikes parked at the hotel. There was a distinct “underdog” camaraderie among the riders. We all knew Victory motorcycles were good. But, like car-rental firm Avis used to say in its advertising, there was also a feeling of “We Try Harder.” We all wondered what Polaris’ acquisition of the Indian brand would mean.
And now we know. Indian will once again go head-to-head with Polaris, and Victory will be no more. Indian will still have long way to go to take market share from H-D. Even if the Victory dealerships are replaced with Indian dealerships, they will still be too few and far between. Which is why we traded our Victory last summer for a Harley Road King. Harley dealers are much easier to find when you’re a long way from home.
Throttle fever is a common malady among motorcyclists, particularly those who live in northern climes. It’s like cabin fever, but a lot more insidious. You can go outside and walk off cabin fever. But when the snow is on the ground, the streets are full of sand and salt, and the temperature threatens to dive below zero, a biker with throttle fever is stuck indoors.
I never thought I’d get throttle fever. In high school, I was the poster child for Goody Two Shoes. Then my husband started riding. And then I hopped on the back of his bike. Two weeks ago, I tried riding a Harley at the International Motorcycle Show in Minneapolis.
Omigod, omigod, omigod.
It always amazes me how much more you can feel speed in a car vs. a truck. You feel it more on a motorcycle. I didn’t think I’d feel it even more, though, when I moved from the back of the bike to the front. And I wasn’t going anywhere!
Harley-Davidson is smart. They know the best way to attract new riders is to get them to try it. They had a small motorcycle (like the ones they use for training) set up on a stand. After giving H-D all my info (including my driver’s license number), I was allowed to throw a leg over the bike and receive a driving lesson. The instructor showed me how to start the engine, rev the throttle, how to shift with my left toe, and how to apply the brakes. I couldn’t believe 30 mph felt so fast! I also learned that you can’t really back off on the throttle or you’ll quickly lose speed. I spent a majority of my five-minute session watching the speedometer.
I wonder how long it takes for shifting and driving to become second nature. Perhaps I’ll find out this spring. I’m really thinking about taking the motorcycle safety course so I can back up my husband on our long road trips.
Recently, I’ve had the pleasure of doing book signings at Mankato Harley-Davidson and the Harley-Davidson Shop of Winona to promote my book, Ride Minnesota. It’s always fun to meet and talk with people who are passionate about something, and Harley owners are passionate about riding motorcycles. They’re also extremely brand loyal.
Years ago, it was not uncommon to walk into an H-D dealership and see a brand-new bike on the showroom floor with a piece of cardboard underneath it to soak up the oil that puddled on the tile. Fortunately, Harley cleaned up its act (and its motorcycles). It’s easy to see why it’s still the number one motorcycle in the U.S. (although Victory is making inroads).
When you walk into a Harley-Davidson dealership, you’re greeted with a smile. The place is spotless and the bikes are beautiful. The Harley-Davidson logo is everywhere, from the floor mat in front of the door to the restrooms, where antique-looking signs advertise H-D motorcycles from days gone by. The parts department carries Harley-Davidson branded parts and motor oil. The “motorclothes” department has and exciting array of jackets, scarves, hoodies, T-shirts, baby clothes — you name it, you can find it — all emblazoned with that distinctive shield. There are shot glasses, beer mugs, Christmas ornaments and a gazillion H-D trinkets. At the Winona store, I sat on a bar stool that had the logo carved into the seat. I stood up from time to time to make sure it wasn’t impressed into my rear-end!
The most impressive aspect of these dealerships, however, are the people who work there. They’re enthusiastic and friendly. They know their customers and treat them like extended family. In fact, I know of no other store where folks can just hang out all day and shoot the breeze.
Most Minnesotans have put their bikes in storage for the year. But you can still dream about motorcycling, and read about it, too. Go to Amazon and order a copy of Ride Minnesota. It makes a great Christmas stocking stuffer!
The motorcycle season is short in Minnesota. It says so right on the back cover of my book, Ride Minnesota. Now that we’ve left winter behind, we’re in the rainy season when thunderstorms can crop up just in time for rush hour and dampen your ride home from work.
A lot of people ride their motorcycles to work. I temped recently at Thomson Reuters in Eagan and entire sections of the parking lots (there are multiple lots) were designated solely for motorcycles. It’s nice to have a motorcycle-friendly employer. Motorcycling to work not only saves money on gas, it also gets you there sooner, thanks to the diamond lanes on metro freeways.
Still, there’s nothing like riding two-lane blacktop on a sunny day. Discovering what’s just beyond that next curve lends an air of mystery to a ride, whether it’s another set of curves, an uphill climb or a cow grazing peacefully in a nearby pasture.
Today’s gray, rainy weather gives me another chance to work on building my retail network. Here’s a list of places where you can purchase Ride Minnesota. Here’s to sunnier days ahead!
Eat My Words Bookstore, 1228 2nd St. N.E., Minneapolis. MN 55413
Harley-Davidson Shop of Winona, 1845 Mobil Drive, Winona, MN 55987
Indian Motorcycle Twin Cities, 2967 Hudson Rd., St. Paul, MN 55128
Mankato Harley-Davidson, 1200 N. River Drive, Mankato, MN 56001
Northway Sports, 21429 Ulysses St. N.E., East Bethel, MN 55011
Route 65 Classics, 14954 Aberdeen St. N.E., Ham Lake, MN 55304
St. Paul Harley-Davidson, 2899 Hudson Blvd., St. Paul, MN 55128
Trav’s Outfitter, 7315 Hwy. 65 N.E., Fridley, MN 55432
Twin Cities Harley-Davidson-Blaine, 1441 85th Ave. N.E., Blaine, MN 55449
Twin Cities Harley-Davidson-Lakeville, 10770 165th St. W., Lakeville, MN 55044
SubText Books, 165 Western Ave. N., St. Paul, MN 55102
Zylstra Harley-Davidson, 19600 Evans St NW, Elk River, MN 55330
I am so sick of this long Minnesota winter I could chew roofing nails! It definitely was a lot more fun when I was a kid and played in the snow and didn’t worry about breaking my bones. Ah, but there are signs of spring, despite below-zero temperatures (at the end of February? Ya gotta be kidding me!).
The first sign is a review of Ride Minnesota in the March issue of Thunder Press, a tabloid that reaches some 60-70-80,000 Harley Davidson owners. I can’t wait to see it.
As a result of that review, I received a call from Audrey Johnson, who organized the Motorcycle Life Expo that Ralph and I attended earlier this month (in a snowstorm). She’s got a booth at the upcoming Donnie Smith Motorcycle Show at the St. Paul River Centre, and asked me if I’d like to join her and sell my book at her booth. Would I! I’m already checking my booth supplies. I think I’ll need to order more books.
The third sign is an invitation to do a reading of Ride Minnesota at Eat My Words Bookstore here in “Nordeast” Minneapolis. I’m so excited that Scott and his son, Peter, are hosting this event. It happens at 3:00 p.m. on March 22. The store already has copies of the book on consignment, but I’ll bring more copies.
The headline in yesterday’s Minneapolis Star Tribune says it all: “Indian Motorcycle shifts into overdrive as spring nears.” Polaris isn’t the only one shifting gears. As Minnesota weather continues to stay in the deep freeze, there are signs of spring in the motorcycle world.
I’m getting more and more emails for motorcycle gear. And last week, the editor Thunder Press called to ask for a high-resolution photo of the cover of Ride Minnesota. He’s publishing a review in the March issue. The tabloid reaches around 70,000 Harley Davidson owners, so I’m looking for a boost in sales.
A couple of weeks ago, Ralph and I attended the International Motorcycle Show at the Minneapolis Convention Center. While Ralph sniffed around the new motorcycles, particularly the Indians and the Victories, I handed out book marks with a photo of the book cover on it and the words, “Available from Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.” I’ve seen a slight uptick in sales on Amazon since then.
It’s time for me to shift into gear, too, and start promoting spring sales of Ride Minnesota. And to start writing another book, about our Lake Superior Circle Tour.