#310 – In Search of a Definition – Slingshot

The Polaris Slingshot has opened a whole new discussion about motorcycles.

In search of definition

I have to admit that our longtime contributor, go-fast guy, and wheelie man Bertrand Gahel finally convinced me—or at least partially convinced me. It’s a car, I said, as we debated the Polaris Slingshot. “You have to look beyond the three wheels and the steering wheel,” he said.
It’s a motorcycle because Polaris tells us it’s a motorcycle? I countered.
“Go beyond that,” he suggested. “What is a motorcycle?”
Something with handlebars? That was my response—I wasn’t going to be a pushover here. But what he meant was, what “IS” a motorcycle in the “I am the Walrus” kind of way. He wanted me to think outside the box.
Bertrand is a motorcycle guy through and through, yet he was trying to convince me to see the Slingshot as some kind of motorcycle or, at minimum that it shares some motorcycle characteristics or spirit, if you want to get mystical. Okay, I’ll get in the spirit of things: Show me how it is a motorcycle, I challenged. And in this issue he has tried to do just that. To be fair Polaris has been hammering the motorcycle press hard with the Slingshot. They call it a motorcycle because in the legal sense in many jurisdictions it is, though no one has ever seen a motorcycle like it. If it is a motorcycle then it needs to be in the motorcycle magazines to substantiate Polaris’s claim. Hence, on our behalf, Bertrand was at an event in California where the Slingshot was available for testing in the classic motorcycle hot spots—the Mulholland curves and Rock Shop parking area. There’s great fun to be had on this famously sinuous piece of road—even in a shopping cart. But would Bertrand have as many thrills in a Slingshot as on a sportbike? You’ll soon find out as you read his story, “The Emotional Overlap.”
There will be an increasing number of vehicles that stretch the boundaries between segments as manufacturers try to build their customer bases. Are electric motorcycles going to be the next big things? They’ll have their fans but they won’t draw more customers into the “motorcycle” fold. If you are willing to ride an electric motorcycle you are probably just as likely to ride a combustion-powered motorcycle.
This issue, in my story “Living in the Three World,” you will see that the idea of three wheels has been around for a long time. Beyond the products that we know of today there are more coming and some that preceded them. Almost all make reference to the motorcycle at some point because, as Polaris knows, motorcycles are exciting. With the exception of an actual bonafide automobile, Polaris has its fingers in almost all the recreational moto-segments and is aggressively seeking more. As you will read later in the issue they have just taken control of Brammo, an established electric motorcycle builder. Rather than build an electric bike from the ground up, they bought a brand that was already charging and looking good doing it. Whether the Slingshot remains a motorcycle or morphs into something else, it is a segment of the market Polaris now has to itself. Having been to the motorcycle industry shows across Canada this winter I can tell you there were always people in or around the Slingshots. They drew a crowd. And these people are motorcyclists. That they paid for admission to the show proves it. Sure, they invariably called the Slingshot a car, but that didn’t seem to diminish their interest. Polaris appears intent on staking a claim on fun when it comes to wheeled vehicles, be they Victory, Indian or Brammo motorcycles, ATVs, Side-by-Sides or Slingshots. If you want to recreate on wheels, Polaris wants to be your source.

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