Said to be the first new American luxury touring bike to hit the market in nearly three decades, the Vision is a sight to behold. The curves and flow of the bike, slated for launch in the fall of ’07 by Victory Motorcycles, part of Polaris Industries (www.polarisindustries.com; Medina, MN), are more redolent of a beautiful swimsuit model than what is ordinarily designed for two-wheeled transportation. Greg Brew, chief industrial designer at Polaris and a former designer at BMW motorcycles (where he spent eight years before joining Polaris in 2004), acknowledges the Vision isn’t like the rest of the touring bikes that populate the market: “When we first showed the Vision to focus groups, people would tip over; they were amazed at the design,” adding, “Frankly, I expected more people not to like it because I did not want to make a bike that everyone liked.”
Designing a bike that is voluptuous is one thing. Manufacturing it is another story altogether. Traditionally, there are two approaches to making motorcycle bodies. One is with steel. That was quickly ruled out as too heavy a material for the Vision. The other material typically used for fairings and other body parts is ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene). The only problem with that particular material, Brews says, is that it was too labor intensive to process and the desired gap tolerances would be difficult to achieve. “We knew we needed to use a different kind of material that would provide more of an automotive-type finish while strictly limiting gaps. We also needed the body to be as light, yet as durable, as possible.”
Working with automotive supplier Delta Technologies Group (www.deltatechgroup.com; Auburn Hills, MI), the determination was made that the 26 painted body panels should be injected molded with PC/PBT composite (a blend of polycarbonate and polybutylene terephthalate), a material more commonly used for automotive bumpers and side moldings.
While PC/PBT is more expensive on a per-pound basis than ABS, according to Jason Hoeve, program leader for the Vision, there is a savings in processing. He explains, when painting ABS you have to apply an adhesion promoter as a primer, which adds a step to the process. That’s not required for PC/PBT. The consequence: “The total finished parts cost less because you don’t have to go through the primer process.”
Brew is happy with the gap tolerances being achieved and maintained throughout the various operating conditions because of the low thermal expansion rate of the PC/PBT (it wasn’t necessary to leave big gaps between mating parts because they don’t expand and contract like some other plastics do—which is a reason why, for example, Saturn is no longer focusing on polymer panels). “The back and trunk are very sophisticated from a design and manufacturing perspective,” Brew says, “and without the use of engineered plastics we would not have been able to pull off the design intent.”
And when it comes to a distinctive touring bike, design matters.—KMK