January 24, 2006 Victory Motorcycles have traditionally crafted motorcycles of the big V-twin cruiser, Harleyesque genre, but the signs are beginning to point to a more diverse product range in the not-too-distant future. The boutique American motorcycle manufacturer is beginning to flex some of its parent company’s muscle and has released a concept motorcycle that is VERY different – a long-wheelbase, 800cc, 4-stroke, liquid-cooled, parallel twin with a cast aluminium alloy frame, constantly variable transmission and radical yet arguably very practical styling. Given that parent company Polaris recently purchased a 24% share in Austrian motorcycle manufacturer KTM, don’t be surprised to see a serious new player in international motorcycle markets before the turn of the decade.

The Victory Vision 800 Concept Motorcycle emerged at the Cycle World International Motorcycle Show in Long Beach last month.

Firstly, let’s put Victory in perspective, because it’s easy to underestimate any motorcycle manufacturer you haven’t heard of. Victory motorcycles was established in 1998 and represents the first all-new American-made motorcycle from a major company in nearly 60 years. Its motorcycles are all of the big V-twin cruiser genre and with some exquisite styling and sound engineering, the company is making in-roads into the motorcycle cruiser marketplace pioneered by Harley Davidson and more recently joined by similarly-styled Japanese offerings from Honda, Suzuki, Kawasaki and Yamaha.

Victory’s motorcycles are competitive in just one significant but limited slice of the overall two-wheeled mix, and though they are gorgeous – see the image library for some excellent images of the current range – the competition between Harley, the Japanese quartet and the muscliest musclebike of them all, the Triumph Rocket III means that even a startling sales performance will never grow the marque beyond the niche stage.

Victory Motoryccles is a small part of Polaris, a much bigger company with annual sales approaching US$2 billion and a significant slice of global snowmobile, recreational watercraft and all-terrain vehicle (ATV) markets and an obligation to its shareholders to continue to grow and create profits, so the Victory “cruiser” niche was never going to be enough. This was confirmed last year when the company purchased 24% of the Austrian Motorcycle manufacturer KTM, and there’s no doubt that Victory/Polaris sees itself as a future force in the two-wheeled marketplace. So the Vision is indeed a manifestation of the vision, or perhaps a subset of the vision, of the company. It is showing its intentions to diversify into new areas and the press statements of the company and representatives are all along similar vein.

The press release reads as follows: With its Victory Motorcycle division continuing to outpace industry growth, an ongoing strategic partnership with leading European motorcycle manufacturer KTM and a recent organizational expansion of its motorcycle and international businesses, Polaris’ commitment to its motorcycle business has gone global - and has never been greater. Driven by zealot-like passion to deliver on Victory’s positioning as “The New American Motorcycle”, the award-winning Polaris / Victory Industrial Design Team never pauses in it’s exploration of both form and function.

We constantly study global design trends, as well as today’s motorcycle consumers to better understand, and deliver on, their expectations of the future,” says Greg Brew, Director of Polaris Industrial Design.

“Polaris has assembled a best-of-the-best team from around the world, and our mandate for Victory is to drive the future of custom-inspired American motorcycle design. The Vision 800 is but one example of the type of exploration our team pursues in order to continue to deliver the type of innovative design that fuels people’s passion for motorcycles.”

So watch this space – Victory, KTM and Polaris obviously intend to create some new motorcycles some time soon and the first concept is a doozy.

The nice thing about this concept bike is that it’s not the same-old-stuff. We rejoiced recently when Yamaha looked outside conventional motorcycle design with the Deinonychus and this bike, although waaaay more conservative than the adjustable-everything electric Deinonychus, still stretches boundaries and challenges the sameness of design that has existed for 125 years.

The Vision concept bike has a very long wheelbase of 61 inches, mainly because the 800cc motor has been adapted from a Polaris Sportsman 800 ATV where the cylinders are close to horizontal and hence the unit is very long - the benefits of the very low centre-of-gravity afforded by the motor have been further added to by using a bladder fuel tank behind the front wheel, leaving all the space traditionally taken up by the cylinders, heads and fuel tank for other things – namely storage.

Storage on a motorcycle has never been in abundant supply and although the Vision may look a bit hefty in its girth, it has as much storage space as those pannier and top-box festooned tourers and will handle infinitely better. For a fuller dissertation on this subject, read this article about motorcycle handling and why Buell understands it better than most and delivers on it better than any.

The additional benefit of having all that “boot space” without a fuel tank in the middle means it can be shaped aerodynamically and provide some protection for the rider. The layout of cruiser type motorcycles with high and wide handlebars and feet forward means that above sedate speeds, the riding position is not particularly comfortable unless there’s a fairing in the way. This motorcycle, although definitely not in the sports bike category, looks like it will be comfortable at highway speeds and beyond.

Similarly, the bike is low weight and low height, meaning it can be ridden comfortably by a small person without the need for training wheels.

But the piece-de-résistance of the bike is the choice of transmission.

More than three decades ago, during a period of motorcycling incapacity due to a broken left hand, Honda kindly lent me an automatic CB750 motorcycle concept bike on the condition I didn’t write anything about it - it was a secret machine that had been sent from Japan for evaluation but they saw my dilemma and offered it under a permanent embargo. It was a lovely gesture, but more than that it was a fantastic motorcycle, with a sweet motor and no need to think about gear changing and clutching. The "secret" CB750 never got noticed because it looked like a normal Honda 750 and apart from an occasional observant biker enquiring where the clutch lever was, I rode the bike for several months, parking it in city bike parking areas and at motorcycle gatherings and it raised not a whisper.

I was captivated with the sensation of riding the bike because I felt, and still do, that the lack of the need to shift gears fitted perfectly with the freedom afforded by riding a motorcycle and to this day, with hundreds of road test bikes behind me, it still rates as one of the most enjoyable ever. Indeed, I was so captivated with the idea that I lobbied Honda to produce it and could find no-one within the organisational upper-heirarchy who would agree with me.

At that time, the astute marketers within Honda had the view that the testosterone-impregnated motorcycle world (as opposed to the commuter-minded scooter world) was not ready for an automatic motorcycle, though they’ve clearly changed their mind in recent years as we have seen a spate of concept bikes (the Griffon, the DN-01 and the Elysium) with constantly variable transmissions (CVTs) and there’s no doubt that niche markets exist for motorcycles with automatic transmissions, as is evidenced by the existence of niche manufacturers such as Ridley Motorcycle which produces automatic V-twin cruisers.

Of recent times, we’ve seen some fantastic concept bikes with CVTs, such as Suzuki’s G-Strider and we’ve ridden and raved about two bikes with CVTs in the Benelli Adiva and the Suzuki Burgman.

There’s much to be said for a CVT transmission when outright ten-tenths performance is not required because it offers a leisurely ride. One day the CVT could become the performance alternative, but for now it’s just more pleasant when enjoying the wind in your hair and without foot controls or clutch, it no doubt lowers the learning curve of riding a full-size motorcycle. Similarly, the bike has linked brakes, another simplification of the learning process and one which offers better braking for 98% of riders.

Suspension-wise, the Vision is standard sports-bike, with 43mm inverted front forks and a cast aluminium, single-sided swingarm controlled by a fully-adjustable single rear shocker.

The promise of the future

We’re a fan of KTM, so the Polaris shareholding of the razor-sharp Austrian bikes holds immense promise for the future of the brand. Apparently the ownership will be reviewed in 2007 and at that time there’s every possibility that the 24% stake will be raise considerably and closer ties forged. If that happens, Polaris’ American dealer chain and market muscle will be mixed with KTM’s race cred and knowledge and anything is possible.

KTM is only recently becoming interested in motorcycle road racing, but has already gone within a whisker of winning a World 125cc Championship, has acquitted itself admirably in its debut 250cc season and has even supplied a competitive 990cc V4 engine for the MotoGP class.

In all other forms of racing in which it has competed, it has quickly moved into either competitiveness at the highest level, or complete domination – in the recent Dakar Rally (the toughest off-road event in history), KTMs filled ten of the first eleven places.

Perhaps the most interesting chemistry between Victory and KTM is the similarity of their largest motors – both V-twins, and although the 50 degree Victory engine displaces 100 cubic inches (1638cc), it produces a different type of power to KTM’s compact 75 degree 990cc and 950cc variants which have been used in some of the most delectable machinery yet seen on two wheels – the RC8 Concept Bike, the 990cc Superduke, the 990 Adventure and the oddball 950 Supermoto which has the world’s motorcycle media raving. Indeed, a measure of the "outside the square" mentality at KTM can be seen with the company's experimentation with such concepts as 2WD motorcycles and innovative protective gear.

Though the KTM motor wouldn’t translate well into the Vision’s chassis, it could certainly power some interesting road bikes, and it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that the V4 KTM engine might find its way into a road bike, and beyond all of that, it’s clear that both companies have some genuine assets to bring to the table in terms of collaboration on many fronts.

The Victory Vision has helped to alert the world beyond America’s shores to the existence of the company. Based on the promise shown in the concept, we suspect it will not be the last the rest of the motorcycling world hears from Victory.

Mike Hanlon

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