Grant Bester is maybe The Man of Indian Motorcycle. He is one of the main people keeping the myth alive, and responsible for rebuilding the legendary brand of Indian. As a major achievement, the company has already beaten their main rival by winning the US Flat Track championship.
But this is not enough for him. His most important goal is to see the young generation of the old continent discovering Indian.
Please introduce yourself.
I’m Grant Bester, the Vice President and General Manager EMEA of Indian Motorcycle. Before this I was working as a manager for a medical equipment company. I arrived to Switzerland ten years ago. Earlier I’ve lived in the USA, in Australia, France… many places around the world. My education is on marketing.
How did you get in touch with bikes?
Motorcycles have always been a passion for me. I was born and raised up in Cape Town, South Africa. My first bike was a Kawasaki KX 250, and I used it both in the city and in the dirt too, I was sixteen, I think. I raced for a while, but just for fun. I wasn’t too successful, but I enjoyed it a lot. On some races I was more off than on the bike, but I didn’t care about it. After, as an adult I rode across Africa with a KTM, and later across Europe with a GS, so I wasn’t too picky about the bikes, riding was the most important thing.
How did Polaris – the owner of Indian Motorcycle – arrive to Europe?
Polaris arrived to Europe sixteen years ago, so it’s been a long time. Of course, our main profile was the market of watercrafts, snowmobiles, and ATV’s, recreational vehicles. The most significant were the Scandinavian countries, Germany and France. In the beginning we tried to keep the contact with our customers through distributors, but since then, our situation has changed a lot.
How did you enter the scene?
The company, where I worked earlier, had a big reorganisation, and some of my employees came to Polaris. They asked me to try my chances, and in the end I decided why not… I enjoy new challenges. Then I met the President of the Company, the meeting was successful, and I quickly accepted their offer.
Do you have any memories with Indian motorcycles?
I didn’t hear so much about them in South Africa, but later, of course, I got acquainted with Indian motorcycles, and got to hear old stories from the time after the WWII. Then I understood, what Indian exactly stands for.
My first personal memory was when I rode a Roadmaster in Spain. It was an official event, it was raining, and I had to ride it through some tight hairpins. First I was a bit afraid, but I realized, how precise and well handling the giant bike was. It’s a great memory.
The company came back with the bikes in 2014. What do you think, how big the role of the movie World’s Fastest Indian was in your success?
It was big, no question about it. The movie is unbelievable. After reading the script, Anthony Hopkins decided to act for free. The movie shows how a human can have a spiritual relationship with a machine. So you can’t miss it and when you watch it, you can’t miss us. Of course, our message is that Indian is the first motorcycle company in the world, and it’s really important. But the movie is very important too; it brought us many fans before we had done anything. For instance my neighbour told me that after his son watched the movie, he drew only Indians for days. So we don’t need better communication to involve a younger generation, but we have to pay attention to them.
We must grasp any chance to keep Burt’s memory alive, so that’s why we organized Lee – Burt’s great nephew – to pay homage to Burt’s speed record in Bonneville, and asked Baume & Mercier to make us a limited series watch commemorating the legend of Burt.
What was the reaction of the public to your comeback?
In consequence it was positive. Yes, Harley’s leading position was unquestionable, and most of the people believed it’s a mission impossible. Now I can say they were just waiting, what will happen with us. Today everybody can see, we are here, we are producing amazing bikes, the best bikes on this segment, packed with modern technology, and with very high quality, so the potential customers started to turn to us.
Why was it so important the strong appearance in motorsports? After all, initially Indian took the cruiser segment, while Victory profiled as a sporty alternative.
Really, in the first business plan we made, the main task of Indian was to resurrect the classic models, while Victory had to make a strong appearance in the racing scene. This way we’d put our bikes on the map. Finally we accepted that Indian’s heritage is not only about classic cruisers, racing is also a part of our history. So we made the decision… for marketing reasons it was much better to unite the two brands, because Indian seriously has legacy on both areas. I can say it was the best decision, because we could keep all Victory’s racing oriented personnel, cut the budget a bit, and achieved great success in the US Flat Track championship.
Yes, but I think you spent lot of money on that.
That’s right, racing is never cheap. The US Flat Track championship was very important for us, and we focused with all of our energy to win it, and we did it. It was an important message from us, here we are, we are back, we’ve arrived again. The importance was really high from historical reasons too. In the 1940’s, after the WWII, the company’s role in the sport was significant. Three guys, who were called „The wrecking crew”, won races from week to week on their old Indian motorcycles. Flat track was the cheapest sport in the motorcycle racing scene, and modifying the bikes was easy. In fact, we wanted to win the championship in their honour, and to show to everybody, that history really started with us. We not only won, which is the most important, but also took the first three places of the championship, and the manufacturer championship too. All this with a bike, which was developed in less than a year.
I think with those results we proved that we are here for win and we want to be the best in what we are doing. Anyone can produce a good ad-video, but nobody can take our results away from us. That’s the real message of Indian. Everybody can see our potential and passion.
What are your plans for the future?
It’s very important to continue to build up the network, and to keep communication the lifestyle, and to involve the younger generation.
While in the USA, the sixteen per cent of the customers prefer the big cruisers, and spend 20.000 USD for a bike, in Europe, this segment is only six per cent, and they spend around 10.000 EUR.
Yes, the US market is strong, but on average, Europe is not too far behind. In Europe we have to pay more attention on the sporty segment and that Scout and Scout Bobber are cool enough for the European customers. That’s why we showed the Scout FTR1200 Custom version in EICMA, and why we have announced that we’ll build the model. I believe it may be a very big success in Europe.
Among our other European plans is to participate in some racing. I mean in the Hooligan category of the UK Flat Track championship, as well as some drag races, but we’ll focus on the flat track. Some cool guys worked with us already in this year, like the Young Guns Speed Shop or the ex-GP rider, Katja Poengsen, who rode on their bikes in Glemseck.
It’s a bit of a secret, but we are working to bring some 750cc factory bikes to the UK flat track championship.
Being in the public is very important. We are trying to involve more and more famous, and less famous young people into our projects, but sometimes it just happens without trying. When for instance David Beckham’s son, Brooklyn, posted a photo in an Indian t-shirt, and got 500.000 likes in less that thirty minutes, we can be happy.