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The Insider: To Victory, and Beyond

Polaris Industries has announced that they are going to participate in the TT Zero race at this year’s Isle of Man TT.  In what was becoming the worst kept secret in the tiny world of electric motorcycle racing, the confirmation that Polaris was behind what organizers called an unannounced “high level” entry, surprised few.  However, that the brand chosen to carry the banner is Victory and not Brammo, reveals much.

Polaris Industries acquired the Brammo electric motorcycle business, late last year after the start up failed to get traction in the marketplace with its brand of high performance electric street bikes.  With Harley-Davidson’s commitment to electric motorcycles in the form of the LiveWire concept, Brammo was a logical addition for Polaris, who bolstered the initiative by buying another electric mobility company less than a month later.

Polaris is a highly successful manufacturer of powersports equipment that first ventured into the road bike market with its Victory brand more than 15 years ago.  Victory began as a modern cruiser alternative to Harley-Davidson but has since evolved into a diversified range of sportier offerings, while Indian Motorcycles, also acquired by Polaris, concentrates on the more traditional touring segment.

Brammo was founded as a maker of modern, but modest, electric commuter bikes when its first motorcycle, the Enertia, was introduced in 2008.  Touted for its economy and ease of use, the Enertia represented the first lithium-ion powered production electric motorcycle capable of real world speeds.

However, by 2009 the company quickly changed direction, developing racing prototypes for the inaugural TT all electric race at the Isle of Man, where they finished a very respectable third.  Brammo continued with an aggressive electric racing program as well as an aggressive marketing campaign, co-branded with Icon clothing, but went bust as revenue from actual motorcycle sales failed to materialize.

The Brammo TTX flat out at the Isle of Man in 2009. A very impressive debut.
The Brammo TTX flat out at the Isle of Man in 2009. A very impressive debut.

Wait, electric motorcycle racing is a thing?

The TT Zero is a single lap, all-electric race held within the two week Isle of Man TT event, first run in 2009.  It has gained world wide attention, more in the automotive field than in motorcycling, for its role in demonstrating what is possible with the current state-of-the-art.

Charge, a documentary film in 2010 about the race, raised the competition’s profile and that of American Michael Czysz, an architect turned racing motorcycle developer, who’s winning electric prototypes and personality inspired many.  The TT Zero has thus become an annual showcase for battery powered innovation, with all electric lap times now rivaling those of 600 cc production supersport bikes, less than six years since beginning.

American electric motorcycle heroes fight for world domination.
American electric motorcycle heroes fight for world domination.

What does this mean for Victory, America’s other cruiser brand?

The electric race bike Victory has presented is a re-branded Brammo Empulse RR, the very same race prototype used in the Icon era.  That makes sense, since it was by all accounts a reliable, fast and good handling machine that, backed by sufficient Polaris resources, ought to acquit itself well at the TT Zero in two weeks time.

What’s notable is that by flagging the effort under the Victory brand, it is crystal clear that Brammo is being dropped as a motorcycle brand completely, and more importantly, Polaris is preparing to pivot the Victory brand into the high performance sport segment.

Polaris has become the most dynamic company in the power sports industry this decade, spreading innovative products out in all directions.  From their pastoral headquarters in Minnesota they have expanded into the three-wheeled space with the provocative SlingShot, developed a truly exquisite new American cruiser with the Indian Scout, and now are pushing Victory into the realm of competition with the TT Zero effort and the Pikes Peak racer developed with Roland Sands.

Can you spot the difference?
Can you spot the difference?

Polaris is clearly determined to deliver all things motorcycle to all people, which given the company’s history of success, makes it America’s powersports superhero.  With America so dominant in electric transportation technology, and with the charismatic MotoCzysz out of the picture, Polaris is poised to take the fight to the Isle of Man TT Zero and show the world what Victory looks like.

It should be great.

20 thoughts on “The Insider: To Victory, and Beyond”

  1. Back to the whole brand name thing. I’m sure that the journalists here will agree, that words (and names) are important when telling a story.

    Victory is a dumb name for a racing motorcycle. Only headline writers could like it, especially when losing is the outcome.
    Brammo. Ranks right up there with Ronco and Norelco in the prestige nameplates. Won’t be missed.
    MotoCzysz – I can’t imagine a worse name for any company, in any market.

    Polaris – Not bad at all. Long corporate history, inspiring, simple, easy to type into web search… Polaris should do whatever it can to distance the race program from the less than stellar (get it??) performance of the ‘Victory’ brand.

    I’m not saying a good brand name will guarantee success, but a bad one certainly can.

  2. TK4

    Great discussion.

    Zealotry aside….

    No one is dismissing anything, but your response about power generation is a deflection from the thrust of your own, original line of questioning. Electric vehicle technology like the batteries are just energy storage devices, just as liquid gasoline or diesel are. Where that energy comes from is a separate issue.

    From a vehicle design standpoint, internal combustion of gasoline is terrific being compact and reliable, until you are forced to squeeze out ever more efficiency from its energy storage device (liquid gasoline). Every government in the world is demanding significant increases in fuel economy, lower particulate emissions, and lower cradle-to-grave costs. With combustion we are at the end of the line.

    Its not a question of choice, it is empirical fact. That is why every car maker is diversifying into micro hybrids, series and parallel hybrids, and full EVs. The laws of physics will not allow much more than maybe a 2-3% improvement on combustion efficiency. Getting fleet-wide consumption to the mandated 54 mpg by 2020 requires electrification. Best case *theoretical* scenario with combustion is 37% efficiency. Electric motors hit 92-95% efficiency right now.

    Engineers and designers are just looking for technical solutions that give you the product you want, but that is legal. Its just that simple.

    In a giant, stationary power station that burns diesel, you don’t need to worry about weight or as much about cost, so you can make it really thick and recover much of the heat lost in combustion and get more energy out or it. In a car or motorcycle engine, weight, high performance demands and cost limitations mean big radiators, and enormous amounts of heat generated that is just thrown away. That heat represents close to 75% of the energy stored in the gas tank. The waste didn’t matter before, but society has decided that now it does.

    So power generation aside, not because it is an easy thing to solve or to dismiss, the industry is actually all aboard the EV train. The present, not just the future, of surface transport is electric. Be it from batteries, hydrogen fuel cell stacks or generated by a small gasoline generator (like a Chevrolet Volt or BMW i8). Today electric-powered cars in all forms account for 1% of new car sales globally, but they didn’t exist 8 years ago.

    I love a V-8 motor and my big parallel twin motorcycle. This is not a zero sum game. We can all play with our own toys until the end of fossil fuels and thanks to clever people that transition is happening right now with no loss in performance and flat costs.

    Happy, safe motorcycling.

  3. ” Do you really want to bet against the largest, richest, fastest growing and most strategic technology in the world?”

    I should think that would be gun powder.

  4. Spoken like a true engineering zealot.
    The money being spent is absolutely worthwhile, please keep at it.
    Dismissing my arguments because you’re ‘nearly, mostly, almost, closely there’ is not the same as ‘being there’.
    Yes, I present that argument again- as I said earlier in the thread “I’m not betting against anything – it would be like betting against petroleum based transportation options back in the days of coal and wood. I’m just suggesting you aren’t there YET.”
    Keep working on it, more power to you, call me when you’re done…

  5. “I come back then to initial cost and recharge time – when you can build one to sell for $20K and recharge (or exchange batteries) in 2 minutes, you’ll be there,”

    I appreciate your metrics, because they are completely reasonable. Fortunately, $20,000 today buys you a Zero SR, which can do 150 miles of riding at said reasonable road speeds. It charges in 30 minutes from a public DC electric car charger. Its not 2 minutes, I’ll grant you. But after riding for 150 miles, taking a half hour to relax, grab a coffee and pee is hardly going to ruin your outing.

    “Oh, and by the way, where does the electricity to charge them currently come from, places like Ontario Hydro ? That’s reassuring…”

    That argument again? Are conventional oil extraction reassuring? At least electricity generation has several sustainable possibilities. I am a proponent of smart engineering, not some environmental purist. My ambition is better vehicles that do exactly what we want them to do, better, and waste less energy.

    When you go pump gas into your car next time, remember that 75% of the energy in that gas is being lost to friction. Three-quarters of the money you pay to drive is being tossed into the atmosphere. Never mind the environment, we are trying to save your wallet.

  6. “We (the industry devoted to electrification) does not need to talk, it has action and scientific facts on its side.”
    And you have a vested interest (with lots of research $$$ behind you) to make it work.
    See you in 5 years..

  7. I come back then to initial cost and recharge time – when you can build one to sell for $20K and recharge (or exchange batteries) in 2 minutes, you’ll be there,
    Oh, and by the way, where does the electricity to charge them currently come from, places like Ontario Hydro ? That’s reassuring…

  8. TK4

    One lap (37 miles – 60km- actually) at an AVERAGE speed of 120 mph is one hell of a commuter. Those machines would be able to ride over 150 miles at regular road speeds that average 60 mph. They are so efficient that they are using only about 450 WH/mile even when hauling up the mountain at 150 mph, at least three times less energy than a 600cc doing the same thing.

    That is more than an amazing commuter, but actually better range than many 1000cc sport models get at similar speeds.

  9. I’m not betting against anything – it would be like betting against petroleum based transportation options back in the days of coal and wood. I’m just suggesting you aren’t there yet. Bill gates once said that personal computer technologies effectively double every five years, so when it comes to electric vehicles we’ll talk again soon I’m sure.
    One lap (32 miles ?) of the IOM TT does not a daily driver make (IMHO)…

  10. We (the industry devoted to electrification) does not need to talk, it has action and scientific facts on its side.

    Range has increased by 10% a year since 2008, effectively doubling while cost has gone down a staggering 75% in the same period.

    Charging stations now number more than 25,000 in the US alone, and you can safely cross the Trans Canada Highway from coast to coast and never be more than 100km from one.

    Charging times have been reduced by 300% in 5 years.

    Lithium and Aluminum, the two principal ingredients in modern electric vehicle batteries are among the most recyclable materials in modern industry, with little degradation and much lower extraction costs than petroleum products.

    And finally, the entire world of consumer products (including the device you are now using to read CMG) is powered by lithium battery technology. Do you really want to bet against the largest, richest, fastest growing and most strategic technology in the world?

    This year, electric motorcycles will be faster than supersport class at the TT. In four years, they will be capable of two laps. Already today a top shelf electric racing cars and bikes can crush gasoline powered equivalents on regular circuit races over short distances, and all this took was six years?

    Sit back and watch. Pistons in surface transport are about to be relegated to history, just like pistons in aerospace were.

  11. What Larry said – range, recharge time (and facilities), recycling and initial cost all all issues that continue to limit electric vehicles.
    Get all that sorted out and we’ll talk…

  12. No laughing about the effort and cost involved, but I still think the whole thing is ridiculous until there’s a quantum leap in battery life and recharging times.

    As for the numbers, I won’t call you wrong until I have time to look it up, but I do find them hard to believe; I was there in 2010 and I only recall three bikes going by where I was watching.

    Mind you, I WAS in a pub … 😉

    1. I don’t think it’s as ridiculous as you think. There are many other components to a motorcycle beyond the battery that still need to be tested as a platform, the battery is just a part of it.

  13. Actually 9 teams finished out of a total of more than 15 entrants that showed up for qualifying. You can laugh if you like, but these people had to *design and build* their own motorcycles, as well as race them. Not really the same as buying a used, race prepped R6 from Ebay.

    http://bit.ly/1PIM3xA

  14. What I think would be really awesome is if Victory never produces a gas-powered sportbike, sticking only to electric, and actually making them practically affordable. They’ve all mostly been $$$$ niche products, perhaps with the exception of Zero, and we need more of those.

  15. “the inaugural TT all electric race at the Isle of Man, where they finished a very respectable third” … out of three, if I recall correctly …

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