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.
All the rain we’re getting this weekend reminds me of the tail-end of our trip to the Grand Canyon. We left Valentine, Nebraska, behind a storm system that was destined to dump record amounts of rain on Minneapolis. It was gray, misty September day. Our objective was Aberdeen, South Dakota, and a straight shot home on US 12 the next day.
The previous day we’d left Colorado, its spectacular mountains gradually fading in the distance as we traveled the Great Plains. The hills of western Nebraska reminded me of a rumpled brown blanket; I half-expected to find a giant asleep beneath them.
The rain got a little heavier and a little colder as we rode north on US 83 toward Pierre. We stopped at a truck stop somewhere along the line. The farmers and truckers just glanced at us as we drank some hot coffee to warm up. We had no choice but to ride in the rain that day. We had to get home.
Yesterday there was thunder and lightning and driving rain. We had a choice, and we opted for my 2000 Saturn as we headed down 35W to Motoprimo to do a book signing. Sales manager Bill Bassett set up a table next to the Victory motorcycles, and Ralph and I spent the day chatting with folks from around the area. The local chapter of Women on Wheels had met at the store earlier in the week, and Bill had ’em primed and pumped to buy a copy of Ride Minnesota.
One of the book buyers was a lively little motorcycle instructor from the Minnesota Motorcycle Safety Center, Laura Shaffer-Munson. Saying, “Only an idiot rides a motorcycle in a thunderstorm–you’re nothing but a lightning rod,” she told us a story about a motorcyclist who was hit by lighting. Witnesses said the rider continued down the road for a while, then ran into the ditch. He was dead long before he reached it.