Apr 27
A Victory for Indian
icon1 Guy | icon2 Bikes, News | icon4 04 27th, 2011| icon3No Comments »

Indian head figure head on the front fender of a modern Indian motorcycle.

Polaris Industries, which owns the Victory Motorcycle brand, acquired Indian Motorcycle last week.
Indian is America’s first motorcycle manufacturer, beating Harley Davidson into production by two years and producing its first bike in 1901. Two years later, Indian sets the world motorcycle speed record of 56 miles-per-hour. Indian continues to update its designs until it eventually produces the classic, and much sought after, 1935 Indian Chief.
The 1940s see lean times for the company, with it being sold twice during that decade. Indian puts in its final appearance at Daytona in 1948 with a win by a 648 Scout. The company struggles through the post-war years, finally ceasing production in 1953.
Several companies attempt to revive the brand resulting in a 1999 complex merging of trademarks and brands into a company named Indian Motorcycle Company. But the venture proves unsuccessful, and 2003 is the last year it produces a bike.
In 2004, two entrepreneurs acquire the trademark and intellectual property rights. Production begins at a small plant in Kings Mountain, N.C., in 2008. The first model is released in 2009. Producing quality bikes, the company still struggles in a depressed economy with low production numbers, high production cost and barely two dozen dealers nationwide. Small volume keeps the per-unit costs so high that Indians start at $25,000.
Polaris Industries introduces the Victory motorcycle in 1998. It offers Harley Davidson-alternative cruiser-style bikes with V-twin engines. These are not simply Harley knockoffs, though, as the Freedom engine at the heart of Victory eschews style constraints over engineering. Using a 60-degree, overhead cam, dual-valve, oil-cooled, fuel-injected V-twin engine that quickly builds a reputation as “bullet proof,” Victory becomes America’s newest major motorcycle manufacturer.
Most of the articles I find in the motorcycle community are enthusiastic about the acquisition. And I will be too, if it proves to be a true acquisition, and not a merger. Polaris will no doubt be temped to cut production costs by simply branding some of their models with the Indian name. But these would not be Indians.
The Indian bikes use classic air-cooled, push-rod engines. It is a very different looking bike from anything currently in the Victory line, and is not likely to use many interchangeable parts or manufacturing equipment. So Victory must resist the temptation to sacrifice the integrity of the design to cut production costs. But doing so may keep the unit costs to high for a reasonable figure on the price tag.
But Victory’s parent company, Polaris, has very deep pockets. If it is willing to invest for the future, it can build the Indian infrastructure to support and match the Indian brand name. There is a lot of loyalty to the name out there in the motorcycle riding world. The next year will tell whether Polaris/Victory really respects Indian, or whether it simply made a cynical purchase. Time will tell if what it offers is an Indian, or a Victory with an Indian sticker.

- Guy Wheatley

Apr 22
Motor Dog

Motorcyclist Mary Gregory and “Hunter” don their helmets to join TxDOT
in launching the 2011 motorcycle safety awareness campaign. Since drivers
are often at fault when a car and a motorcycle collide, the “Share the Road”
campaign reminds motorists to look twice for motorcycles. It will run through
mid-May, which is Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month.
Photo Jody Horton

May is motorcycle safety awareness month. Link to press release. It may well be more appropriate this year than ever before with gas prices possibly on their way to $6.00 a gallon. The convergence of milder weather and higher fuel costs riding the crest of the boomer trend toward motorcycling means this year has the potential to add more new, and inexperienced, riders to the road than ever before.
The Texas Department of Transportation is launching a state wide public awareness campaign called, “Share the road.” They also kicked off the Look Learn and Live website featuring the 2nd central Texas motorcycle safety fair. They hope to impress upon the operators of larger vehicles to watch for motorcycles. They remind drivers that a motorcycle, “is a vehicle with all of the rights and privileges of any other vehicle.”
Be that as it may, a motorcycle doesn’t have the mass of any other vehicle. What may have been a minor bump between two cars can easily be a fatal incident between a motorcycle and another vehicle. And sadly, the new riders, driven to bikes by economic concerns, will have less experience in recognizing dangerous conditions, evading danger, and being prepared for an unfortunate event. The average driver will then be presented with more targets that are less capable of getting out of the way.
Texas Department of Transportation offers four bullet points for motorists.
• Do a double take. In other words, look twice and check for motorcycles.
• Be respectful. Motorcycles have a right to be on the road also.
• Give them space. Motorcycles have to avoid obstacles a car could just run over.
• Anticipate next steps. Leave the biker room to maneuver.
These are actually good practices for any driving. They just have more dire consequences for a motorcycle, when ignored.
The biggest single improvement to safety that the public can practice is to simply stop tailgating. I rarely see any car on the road that isn’t following too closely. In the larger metropolitan areas I go to, it gets absolutely ridiculous. And that is what concerns me most about the expected new wave of riders. These are likely to be people riding in metropolitan areas during rush hour traffic. This puts the most vulnerable riders in the most dangerous environment.
One statistic that may change could be the percent of alcohol involvement. Currently, TexDot says in the Drink, Ride, Lose campaign that 46% of motorcycle fatalities include some level of alcohol involvement. Although the total number of alcohol related deaths is unlikely to change, the percentage may go down as novice commuters ad to the death toll with out drinking.
Eventually, things will improve. More riders, and possibly more accidents, will increase public awareness of motorcyclists. And eventually natural selection will weed out those riders who will not, or can not ride responsibly.

- Guy Wheatley

Apr 14
icon1 Guy | icon2 Small Talk, Wrenching | icon4 04 14th, 2011| icon31 Comment »

Closeup photos of various parts. The mechanic is explaining what to look
for in determining damage, or explaining how to install them.

I spend a fair amount of time on the Valkyrie tech board. Any time I plan to work on my bike, I check the tech board to see if somebody else has done something similar. I’m looking for tips, tricks and warnings about potential problems. It’s also easy to wind up chasing rabbits. I’ll be scouring the board looking for something about a planned project when something interesting will catch my eye. Before I know it, I’ll have spent hours reading about something completely unrelated to my original subject.
Another thing about the tech board is the disembodied nature of the sages from whom I seek knowledge. Many of them live in different regions of the country. I know them first by their screen names and the avatar they select for their account. As time goes on, I begin to build up a nebulous image in my mind based on their postings, and the response to them by other board members. Some folks are like me, more prone to ask questions than offer opinions. Others are more likely to answer questions. A select few become the go-to people on the board. They will be the ones others address questions to. These members are quickly vetted by the accuracy of their suggestions. Blowhards are swiftly identified by the value of their advice. If somebody gives bad information, usually a more knowledgeable member will be quick to point it out. The ensuing discussion gives those of us seeking knowledge a good idea of who to listen to.
Many of the good wrenchers will post photos or video of their projects. And this is where I can wind up wasting so much time. I’m fascinated by those bold characters with the courage to tear that deeply into their Fat Ladies.
I was perusing a set of photos showing parts from the deep innards of a Valkyrie one day. This was deep enough in the machine that I hope to never see those parts of my motorcycle. The mechanic was holding parts and taking closeup photos showing various aspects of how they were mounted or what a particular sort of damage looked like. This guy obviously knew his stuff, boldly digging into the deepest recess of the injured machine.
Looking at more images, something began to catch my eye. I noticed that the slightly greasy hand holding the parts and tools had red fingernails. Honestly, my first thought was to wonder how the heck he could hit every finger bad enough to discolor them all. Of course what I was looking at was actually red fingernail polish.
My curiosity peeked, I did a little research and found that this board member going by the screen name, “Ladydraco,” was, in fact, a woman. Any other preconceived notions quickly died as I checked her other galleries and discovered her to be a very feminine woman, not at all hard on the eyes. I almost felt cheated. Where was the grizzly bearded, beer-gutted mechanical genius I had been following in my mind’s eye? Imagine, all of this technical prowess, and not a Y chromosome in sight.
I guess Ladydraco taught me about more than just motorcycles.


Ladydraco, working on her Valkyrie.

- Guy Wheatley

Apr 11

What looks like a rural road is actually south State line Ave, inside the city
limits and just a couple of miles from my house.

It was a beautiful day, but we had chores to do. I decided that I could at least make the quick runs to the store on the bike. My wife loaded up behind me and we hit the streets.
Heading home on the last run, we decided to take a short ride. It couldn’t be very long, and I didn’t want to get very far from home, so where to go?
I remembered seeing a couple of roads on previous trip as I headed out of town.
“I wonder where that goes?” I remember thinking. Well, today was the day I was going to find out.
The road in question was on the edge of town and ran parallel with the city limits. Leading off it were other roads that also beckoned with narrow shadowy lanes. We explored some of them that day also. Others await another day.
These roads were fun in that they were unpredictable. They might pass through affluent neighborhoods for a while, then dive through a rural area. Some sections were well maintained while others narrowed to almost a single lane filled with cracks and potholes.
And I was rarely sure what lay ahead. I didn’t know if the road was going to suddenly turn to gravel, dead end or meet with another road. Often, as I was preparing to turn around, the road would suddenly widen and smooth out as it entered a more prosperous area.
We rode for an hour-and-a-half, but barely put 30 miles on the bike. Most of the time we were doing 25 miles-per-hour or less. We climbed hills and dove through woods. We passed in front of mansions with private ponds, and shacks with so little paint I couldn’t say what color they had been. And all of this time, we were no more than 10 miles from our front door.
This adventure took place in the southeast corner of Texarkana. I’m not sure how much of it was inside the city limits and how much was out. But it was all close to home. There are still some roads out there to explore. Once they all become familiar, we’ve got three other quadrants waiting for us.
Not all rides have to be long.

- Guy Wheatley