In the halcyon days of the 1990s, things were pretty good if you were in the business of selling motorcycles. Baby boomers had discovered the joys of cruising, and sales were up; there was an abundance of different models to choose from, and several new manufacturers had entered the marketplace. Excelsior-Henderson, Indian, and Victory all had brand spanking new V-twin models vying for the attentions of disaffected Harley riders, and, if you were a fan of heavy-duty cruisers, times were good.
As it turned out, Excelsior-Henderson and Indian went the way of the Great Auk (although Indian has since staged yet another rebirth), and Victory, after toughing it out through some very lean times, has hung on to establish a toe-hold in the North American heavy cruiser market. Victory, which is owned by snowmobile/ATV manufacturer, Polaris Industries, survived mainly because the company had deeper pocket than anyone else.
I actually bought a Victory V92C, back in 1999. It was the most unreliable motorcycle I’ve ever owned. And that includes all the various British bikes I rode during the 1960s and ’70s. That bike made me mental; I suffered through an unending series of mechanical breakdowns, electrical issues, oil leaks, and sloppy repair jobs. Among other things, it wept oil, stripped its axles, burned out fuel pumps, developed mysterious electrical glitches, and sometimes, simply wouldn’t run. I was so choked at the bike’s non-dependability that I mounted a phone/e-mail campaign directed at the company’s Canadian headquarters, in Winnipeg. I wanted to be rid of this motorcycle ASAP and demanded a full refund. Never mind the unreliability factor, I complained, having a motorcycle suddenly quit on you or break traction at 130 km/h is no joke, and I got kind of tired of having to worry whether or not I was going to survive every time I threw a leg over the bike.
I didn’t get that refund, but Victory Canada did take back my V92C and gave me a new 2002 model, straight across. You can’t ask for fairer than that, I reasoned at the time, and decided to give the company a second chance. I was less than happy with the bike’s dependability, obviously, but when it ran, it had buckets of power, decent handling and brakes, and a nice big fat power band that seemed to go on forever. I also thought that vintage and model of Victory was a knockout, visually, which is what drew me to it in the first place.
I’d like to report that things worked out nicely, but that wasn’t the case. My new Victory was just as unreliable as the first, and twice left me stranded in the middle of nowhere with a broken fuel pump. More than once, I’d be blithely cruising along and it would just die, and I actually was on a first-name basis with the local tow truck driver. His name was Mike. I wasn’t the only one; Victory essentially used its customers for R & D and to add insult to injury, when I tried to sell the bike, nobody wanted it. I practically gave it away to my local Harley dealer, and my two-year relationship with Victory motorcycles set me back at least $12,000.
But that, as they say, was then and this is now. Although it’s not exactly laughing all the way to the bank, Victory has survived; last year, the company sold over 23,000 bikes in North America, despite a bleak environment for motorcycle manufacturers. More importantly, the company seems to have gotten its act together in terms of customer satisfaction. In 2006, a J.D. Power Motorcycle Competitive Information Study awarded Victory motorcycles five "Power Circles" in terms of product, cost of ownership, and service. These are the marketing researcher’s highest rankings.
Things are far from perfect, however. "Our outlook for the North American economy remains weak," said Polaris’ CEO, Scott Wine in the company’s annual report. "We expect our core markets to remain very challenging, particularly the motorcycle business." Nonetheless, he says, parent company Polaris will be "allocating resources" to help dealers lower current inventory levels.
At the heart of all Victory motorcycles is an air/oil cooled V-twin that displaces 1600 to 1730 cc and, depending upon the model, develops from 90 to100 horsepower. Unlike Harley’s V-twin engines, Victory’s powerplants have overhead camshafts and a 50-degree configuration. In terms of revving power, they’ve got the edge on their Milwaukee rivals simply because the technology is more up to date. I’ve got some misgivings about their styling – especially the full-zoot tourers – but Victory bikes also feature a belt final drive, which gives them an advantage over some of their off-shore competitors, at least as far as I’m concerned.