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Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Comment by Editor-in-Chief, Robin Bradley

Low hanging fruit is high 'Octane' stuff

As anticipated, the new Victory Octane dares to go where Harley has feared, or failed to tread.
Clearly aimed at the contemporary taste for post-streetfighter street-performers, it marks yet another bold initiative in what is increasingly looking like a slam-dunk for Polaris. With Indian competing (convincingly) head-on with Harley's core legacy cruisers, then picking off what looks like a major business opportunity with the Victory 'Octane', and thereby making one of Harley's pathways way more difficult than it would have been if Milwaukee had struck first or managed to better evolve their initial V-Rod offerings by now.
The Scout is likely to compete hard against the Sportster, and the Springfield will offer yet another option against Harley's core Big Twin market. The news that an, albeit at this stage race-only, 750cc twin, set for flat-track, is proving to make it even more imperative that the much vaunted new models that Harley is expected to unveil this year had better be about platform and not just capacity.

"those perpetrating the fraud couldn't see the paradox"
Strategically 'Octane' is not rocket science. The niche it is likely to now define has been pretty apparent as a yawning chasm of opportunity for some years. With other 'low hanging fruit' just waiting to be picked-off (adventure Tourers and urban Enduro in particular), it is stating the blindingly obvious, but the motorcycle market has emerged from the downturn much changed.
Our demographic is increasingly more broad based in terms of its riding and ownership tastes and expectations, and increasingly less tainted by the tribalism of the past, less weighed down by motorcycle culture baggage and a lot more inclined to want their choices to offer stretch and challenge rather than conservative reinforcement of preconceptions and stereotypes.
From a custom parts and accessory industry perspective, all this is undiluted good news.
The platform of choice no longer needs to be limited to someone else's take on 'cool' and, at last, well gone are the days when "custom" had itself fallen under the spell of "cookie cutter". The irony of the mainstream of the custom market as seen at the majority of shows and in the majority of magazines between the late '90s and around '09, especially in the United States, is that custom had become conservative.
It had descended from an expression of individuality into class structures that forced custom motorcycle design and engineering back into the box it was supposed to break free from - righteous disdain rather than "nice idea, way-to-go" had become the response to anything adventurous. The so-called 'keepers-of-the-flame' purists, uncritically greeted innovation with indignation, censure and downright hostility - yet those perpetrating the fraud just couldn't see the paradox.
When the events program that eventually became the AMD World Championship of Custom Bike Building first appeared on the scene, we attracted no end of criticism from those who "liked it the way it was" and who championed a status quo that would see it forever remain thus if they had it their way. We were always all for the market's heritage being preserved and celebrated, but someone needed to showcase the also much needed unrestrained way forward that would be needed for the industry to be able to reach future generations of riders.
Fast forward 10-15 years, and much of what we were doing has itself morphed from radical to mainstream (mission accomplished!), and as a whole new generation of builders and shows take that forward further still, "the child truly has now eaten the parent" (to resurrect a much used phrase from this column in years past). Now the mainstream OEs are falling over themselves to offer platforms that kick sand in the face of conventional productionization to instead embrace platforms that are canvases for personalization - a concept that was once their enemy is now their friend.
The Victory 'Octane' is self-evidently a major opportunity for the aftermarket. As you'll see in next month's AMD Magazine edition, the likes of Yamaha with their 'Yard Built' program, and Ducati with the their 'Custom Rumble' competition, are aggressively targeting the riders that might otherwise have felt no option but to be drawn to conventional air-cooled 45-degree V-twins to get their self-expression kicks. Above all though, they are targeting those who would never have realized that you didn't need to be a so-called "Master Builder" in order to be able to go to the party. Please sir, can we have those consumers as our customers too?
In the early 1990s, especially in Europe, that "conventional" custom platform attracted many from the 'metric' and especially from the then burgeoning 'streetfighter' style market away from the yards of plumbing and acres of plastic that characterized the wrap for Japanese power plants - precisely because of the versatility that the V-twin offered as an "engineer's canvas".
Some 25 years later, and what goes round has spun again. The 'retro-vibe', the garage-build, and the scramble for Scramblers and new beard styles are in the vanguard as a market that was once niche has itself become the primary driver of overall international motorcycle industry growth - certainly in the northern hemisphere.
The news that Erik Buell may again be back in business is, of course, welcome, but it is a very smart move to make the first model to come out of the re-financed factory - the 1190 SX - the 'streetfighter' styled 1190 variant that EBR had just started building when it all went smelly for them a year ago.
With BMW using their R nineT as their weapon of choice, and the slew of new-for-2016 Triumphs about to be augmented by a production 'Bobber', Indian and Victory are only the tip of the iceberg of competitive pressure that now haunts Harley-Davidson.
Meanwhile, over in the lil' ol' aftermarket - bring it on I say! The more OE capital that is being sunk into the message of individuality the better it is for custom parts makers, designers and retailers of all kinds.
The more that consumers are encouraged to think of life beyond the crate, the better. Another few more years of this, and even though the metal may be a different shape and carry a different badge, perhaps finally we'll be back where it all started.