Indian promises the future, but for now we get a fringed monstrosity
Ever since Polaris decided to shut down Victory Motorcycles after 18 years and go all-in (motorcycle-wise) on resurrecting the Indian brand, just about every public comment by company executives has reassured us that they know they have to attract new customers, that they will expand the product line beyond heavy cruisers and great things are coming. For now, though, we have this 900-pound fringed monstrosity.
It’s the new 2017 Indian Roadmaster Classic, a $26,999 barge (in black; two-tone paint costs more) distinguished from the regular Roadmaster only by being slathered in fringed leather (which also means you can’t lock that luggage, so the bike is less useful). In other words, Indian took a bike that hardly anybody under 40 would pay attention to and turned it into a bike that young new riders or young potential riders might actually look at — but only to gag a little.
Polaris promises the cool stuff is yet to come.
“We will invest more in Indian to accelerate and expand our product introductions and innovations, and you will see the proof of that investment over the next few years,” Polaris CEO Scott Wine said during the company’s first conference call after closing Victory. That message keeps being repeated. Great things are coming, they tell us. Just wait and see.
Frankly, it’s hard to trust Polaris these days, and if you think I’m skeptical, just go talk to some of the dealers who got stuck with orphaned Victory motorcycles on their sales floors when the rug was pulled out from under them. Some of them also had to carry other Polaris products, such as snowmobiles, that they didn’t necessarily want, and then there’s the expense of signs, fixtures and other brand-related stuff dealers have to buy. Finally, any Victory motorcycles in dealer inventory right now are unlikely to sell except at a steep discount. Dealer opinions cited in the recent issue of Powersports Business ranged from shrugging it off (if they aren’t hurt that bad and Victory is a small part of their business) to hopping mad.
For us consumers, too, it’s hard to trust Polaris. This is the company that built the Project 156 race bike to compete in the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb and hinted that it would be spun off into a production street bike. Lots of consumers who have yearned for years to have a performance bike made by a U.S. company were intrigued. Then, instead, we got the Victory Octane, which was little more than an Indian Scout with the cylinders bored out 5 mm — so a nice enough motorcycle, but miles from anything groundbreaking. Polaris claimed we just misunderstood.
After all that, I’ll be surprised, and very happily surprised, if Polaris comes through and expands the Indian brand into something other than bloated nostalgia wagons and the fun but still very cruiserish Scout. The execs claim they understand that they can’t just keep building retro monstrosities like this Roadmaster Classic forever. This one is just for the hardcore Indian fans, they say, but the cool new stuff is coming.
All I can say is it better be, or else the Polaris version of the resurrected Indian brand won’t last as long as the 18 years Victory endured. The people who want a Roadmaster Classic are fewer in number every day, and fewer yet still have knees robust enough to hold up 900 pounds of fringe (approximate weight after you add the optional leather floorboard and hand grip fringe).
We humans tend to think our personal experience is the norm, but that’s not the way trends flow. George Washington thought it was perfectly normal to wear a powdered wig, but don’t expect Donald Trump to do the same now he’s president. Many Baby Boomer riders assume Millennials and Gen Z riders will embrace cruisers as they age, just because that’s what the Boomer generation did, but we already see that those young people have their own sense of style. They’ve already moved on from building cafe racers to scramblers and street trackers and whatever comes next, it won’t be copying the Boomers and, for the vast majority of them, it won’t be lusting for a Roadmaster. They might wrap their exhausts, but they won’t put fringe on their floorboards. Or even have floorboards.
Indian can either live up to their promises and build some exciting new motorcycles or they can try to keep milking cruiser nostalgia with bikes like the Roadmaster Classic. If it’s the former, I’ll be really interested in seeing what they come up with. If it’s that latter, I won’t miss them much after I write the inevitable story about Polaris getting out of the motorcycle business.