Goodbye to Victory

Parting is such sweet sorrow

Magnum X-1
The Victory Magnum X-1 in it's Stealth paint scheme was one of our favorite bikes of 2016, and definitely Morgan's favorite. He's in a rough spot today.Monti Smith

If we learned one thing in 2016, it’s this: the most qualified doesn’t always come out on top.

Despite raves from critics, despite top-notch scores in satisfaction surveys, despite a small but dedicated fanbase -- and despite making an American V-Twin cruiser that was in many ways far superior to its more-lauded competition -- Polaris Industries today announced it is "winding down" its Victory Motorcycles brand, effective immediately.

“Our focus is on profitable growth,” Polaris Industries Chairman and CEO Scott Wine said in a statement released overnight. Citing flagging sales, Wine said the “incredibly difficult” decision to pull the plug on Victory was made so Polaris’ motorcycle division could focus on its energy and investments on its resurgent Indian and upstart Slingshot brands.

“In an environment of finite resources,” Wine continued, “this move allows us to optimize and align our resources ... enhancing our focus on accelerating the success of those brands.”

Throughout its 19-year run, Victory has struggled to establish market share. Despite insisting it would compete with Harley-Davidson and maintaining the reincarnation of Indian would not affect the brand, consumers didn’t necessarily agree. Polaris claims it’s lost money on Victory in each of the last three years; after peaking in 2012 Victory sales have declined consistently, and today the brand makes up only about 3 percent of total Polaris sales. Less than 25 percent of North American Polaris dealers (about 400) actively sell Victory -- and those dealers only averaged about 20 sold units per year.

Evil Ethel
Rick Fairless's Evil Ethel Octane from the Operation Octane contest this year, which produced some amazing motorcyclesVictory Motorcycles

Meanwhile, Indian sales are relatively steady, and the global motorcycle market is about the only one still growing. Combine those factors with the sluggish nature of the overall North American motorcycle market, and Polaris ultimately decided it simply could afford to make the brand globally competitive.

“This decision will improve the profitability of Polaris and our global motorcycle business, and will materially improve our competitive stance in the industry,” said Wine, noting it was the success of Victory that gave Polaris the confidence to take on the reincarnation of Indian. “Over the past 18 years, we have invested not only resources, but our hearts and souls, into forging the Victory Motorcycles brand, and we are exceptionally proud of what our team has accomplished... I would like to express my gratitude to everyone associated with Victory Motorcycles and celebrate your many contributions.”

It's been a bumpy 19 years for Victory. Since its debut in 1998, the Spirit Lake, Iowa company insisted it was going to battle toe-to-toe with Harley-Davidson, and after a somewhat inauspicious start (V92, anyone?) the company finally hit its stride by the mid-2000s under the tutelage of motocross legend Mark Blackwell. Two developments were key to Victory's fruition: bringing in the legendary Arlen Ness as a style consultant; and the introduction of the Freedom V-Twin.

In an era of gaudy, American Chopper-excess, Victory began to carve a name for itself through quality, craftsmanship, and service. In fact, J.D. Power gave the company a five-star rating as early as 2006.

Victory Motorcycles
Victory Motorcycles final lineupVictory Motorcycles

In 2008 the company unleashed its Cross Country and Cross Roads bikes, simultaneously bumping the Freedom's displacement to 106 cubic inches and boosting its transmissions with a sixth gear. The bikes, particularly the faired Cross Country, were by far Victory's most successful. The Motor Company will never admit it, but those bikes absolutely forced Harley-Davidson to up its own bagger game. Simply put, if there were no Freedom 106 there would be no Milwaukee Eight -- Street Glide riders would still be pegging their throttles all the way up mountain passes. Like it or not, those Victorys were instrumental in the rise of what we affectionately (and sometimes derisively) call "Bagger Nation."

Victory Magnum
The Victory Magnum X-1 got more miles in 2016 than any of our other testersMonti Smith

Victory maintained a solid presence on the rally scene over the years, and in 2016 a Victory team had the brand's first top ten finish on the NHRA Pro Stock drag racing circuit. Just last year Victory celebrated its 18th birthday in style. Even with all that, the brand never really grew, and despite several great models and the continued involvement of the Ness family Victory could never match the heights attained with its baggers.

The loss of Victory stings, particularly for those of us who were lucky enough to put thousands of miles aboard them. Some of my favorite moto-memories were made with Victorys, including a cross-country run to Sturgis, jaunts up and down each coast, and a cruise up Fifth Avenue with the Gunny in the New York Veteran’s Day Parade back in 2014. I’ll always remember each and every one of the bikes -- and the people -- that made this rider/writer’s Victory experiences special. Share your Victory reminiscences and experiences in the Comments below.

For those interested in the fine print, here are the financial details I found too boring to regurgitate: “Any one-time costs associated with supporting Victory dealers in selling their remaining inventory, the disposal of factory inventory, tooling, and other physical assets, and the cancellation of various supplier arrangements will be recorded in the 2017 income statement in respective sales, gross profit and operation expense. These costs will be excluded from Polaris’ provided 2017 sales and earnings guidance on a non-GAAP basis.

Polaris (NYSE:PII) will release its fourth quarter and full-year 2016 financial results and provide 2017 guidance on Tuesday, January 24, 2017. A webcast and conference call will be held at 9:00 a.m. Central Time on January 24, 2017 to discuss the results. A slide presentation and link to the webcast will be posted on the Polaris Investor Relations website at ir.polaris.com. To listen to the conference call by phone, dial 877-706-7543 in the U.S. and Canada, or 478-219-0273 Internationally. The Conference ID is #45015597.”