Crossover? Hybrid? Is it getting harder to tell what is what these days?
Stretching the Definition
Polaris is on a roll. In this issue we ride the Indian Motorcycle division’s 2015 Scout, which was unveiled in Sturgis and features a new liquid-cooled motor. Also unveiled was the Victory Motorcycle division’s Magnum—a slammed cruiser that rides the hot trend in baggers. Motorcycles, ATVs, side-by-sides, and snowmobiles only scratch the surface of the different segments in which Polaris Industries has products. As John Campbell can attest from being at the Indian and Victory launches in Sturgis there is a “give ‘em hell” attitude within the organization—the absolute certainty that the company can compete and excel within any segment they enter. If tomorrow Polaris were to launch a friendly little robot, the employees would believe it to be the cutest, friendliest and happiest robot ever, and make Honda’s little ASIMO, our favourite, seem HAL-like in comparison. Give the company credit, if you are going to set out to do business, be absolutely certain within your organization that you are building the best product possible.
So along with the rapid-fire release of a couple new Indians, a new Victory and whatever came out of the ATV division, Polaris also unveiled the Slingshot. Where it gets a little fuzzy is that the Slingshot, according to Polaris, is also a motorcycle. Yes, you do have to look at the fine print and listen a little but amid the smoking tires, drifting, canyon carving and euphoria, it says right there that the Slingshot is a motorcycle. Does it look like it would be a lot of fun? Definitely. Is the wind in your face? Check. Nothing between you and the great outdoors? Check. Are you wearing a helmet? Apparently. Are you gripping steering wheel with sweaty palms while your foot is to the floor? Check. The sound you just didn’t hear was ABS bringing that train of thought to a shuddering stop. Steering wheel, gas pedal? Huh? Full disclosure: the Slingshot also has an automotive four-cylinder engine, three wheels and side-by-side seating for two. But it is, according to Polaris, a motorcycle and not a car with the associated equipment that you might expect in a car like airbags, doors and a roof to keep the rain from puddling in your seat. Sure, you’re going to get just as wet on your Gold Wing as in your Slingshot but the definition of a motorcycle is getting very stretched.
Mr. Webster defines a motorcycle as “a two-wheeled vehicle propelled by an internal combustion engine.” A little vague and not apparently a fan of electrics, but that is what he says. The vehicle that Polaris most definitely has in its sights is the BRP Spyder, which has been enjoying unchallenged success in its small niche for several years. It’s a motorcycle-style experience on three wheels, with no lean but virtually all other motorcycle riding cues from the handlebars and saddlebags to the engine. But nobody gets to monopolize a good idea forever and Polaris has now taken the three-wheeled segment far more toward the car side of the equation. There are seat belts.
Would I like to ride (I mean) drive the Slingshot? Absolutely. A few years back I drove a Super Seven powered by a Hayabusa engine. In concept it was much like the Slingshot: minimalist, low to the ground and blazing fast. I may even have felt a little of that euphoria that is so prevalent in the Slingshot promotional material. But it was absolutely a car with the four wheels to prove it. With either vehicle, what’s not to like for those who enjoy slamming through the gears while listening to the engine sing? But a motorcycle? I am afraid not.
A Tri Glide or a Spyder are closer in spirit to a motorcycle—one even sort of began life as a motorcycle. Polaris has their own reasons for calling this a motorcycle and I don’t know that it is to entice riders of BMW, Harley, Honda or even their own Indians and Victory to join the fold. Is the Slingshot different, fun and outside the box? Yes. But not quite a motorcycle.