Those other American V-twin makers
January 1, 2003
Filed under Features
Though Harley-Davidson is celebrating its 100th birthday this year, other younger companies are also offering American-made V-twins. If you’re looking for another brand to take on, or just want to learn more about these bikes, here’s a quick sampling of some players in that market. Note: We do not cover Indian here because we ran a major story about them recently.
Clones? Many people refer to these bike as “Harley clones” because most are powered by air-cooled, 45-degree V-twin engines that strongly resemble Harley Evolution engines. They’re often made by S&S Cycle or by RevTech. If they were true clones, why would anyone buy one? Instead, the reason these young Americans sell is precisely because they’re not exact clones of Har leys. They offer features a conservative company like H-D is unwilling or unable to provide. These include custom frames including rigids, radical rakes, special wheels, 100-plus horsepower from an air-cooled engine, huge 250-series rear tires, custom paint and dramatic styling.
Customs, or Factory Built? Unlike custom bike builders who make “special construction” machines, these bikes are built on assembly lines. What makes them factory built is that they comply with the mandates of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Transportation, they carry a VIN number and are fully compliant with DMV requirements. They are listed in the NADA Guide and Kelly Blue Book. These factors make these bike much easier to license, finance, insure and resell.
They Deliver. The alternative American V-twin makers told me their customers had usually already been through several Harleys and now wanted something more radical. Or they wanted to ride a customized bike, but did not want to go through the long build process.
The Trends. What’s hot in this market is wide rear tires of the 240- or 250-series persuasion, huge motors with 100 horsepower or more, rigids, wild rakes and whatever gets attention.
Be Careful. There has been turnover in this market. Some manufacturers have gone away. Ultra Kustom Cycles and Titan have been sold, but have returned as new companies.
The Market. The main players, as far as we can determine, are Indian, Victory, American Ironhorse and Big Dog. We talked with the latter three, and several other smaller companies to get a cross-section of these types of manufacturers. Estimates of the size of this American V-twin market other than Harley-Davidson is approximately 10,000 to 11,000 units annually. Considering that H-D plans to build more than a quarter-million units for its 100 Anniversary year, all of these combined are a mere drop in the bucket. Still, with that said, any can represent a tidy little profit center for the small shop.
Here’s a quick look at this market, the 2003 lineups, and some quotes as to why these companies are optimistic about the future.
2052 Corte Del Nogal
Carlsbad, Calif., 92009
Number of Dealers: In transition
Year Started: 1996
Bikes sold in 2002: In transition — project 5,000 for 2003
Warranty: Six months, extended five-year available
After several years in Hollister, Calif., American Eagle is in transition to Carlsbad in the southern part of the state, so its production is temporarily low. At one time the company had 35 dealers, but is now re-evaluating its dealer base.
According to Don R. Logan, CEO, American Eagle’s bikes are, “The lightest, fastest, the prettiest sport cruisers in the business, and they appeal to both males and females. Our vibration system is patented.”
The company is also building a plant in Europe. It buys parts from S&S, then builds those 100-cubic-inch engines to its own specifications with 105 horsepower.
“The future is phenomenal for the entire market,” Logan says. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t be putting my time, money and energy into the company. The population growth favors the motorcycle world, young people are coming up. People will be getting into our style of bike as they have more time and money.”
For 2003, American Eagle offers four models with five-speed transmissions. The STX Sport Cruiser is designed for lightness (460 pounds dry) and sportiness, with a 180-series rear tire, four-piston front caliper and a 54mm inverted fork.
STC Chopper: It’s a sport-tail chopper with adjustable shocks, polished five-speed and 180-series rear tire.
STM Cruiser: Offers a Pro-Street frame, adjustable chrome shocks and 180-series rear tire.
HTC Extreme Chopper: Features a custom paint scheme with six-inch-rise handlebar and 200-series rear tire.
The company is actively seeking dealers who have financial strength and marketability. American Eagle offers training, and a leasing program. It will soon offer a trade-in plan and a complete line of apparel. The company plans to offer its own proprietary engine for 2004.
4600 Blue Mound Road
Fort Worth, Texas, 76106
Number of Dealers: 80
Year Started: 1995
Bikes sold in 2002: 1,700
Warranty: 36 months, unlimited miles
According to Beth Owens, the company is seeking dealers primarily in the West and Southeast. It wants those who have an established V-twin shop, are well staffed, and committed to customer service. The company is unique, in that it manufactures more than 300 of its own parts.
The company uses S&S 107-inch engines, with upgrades available to the 113-inch. It has just signed an agreement with S&S that its 124-inch engine will be exclusive to American Ironhorse, with around 120 horsepower. Its 2003 lineup includes:
Tejas: This entry-level bike is a rigid ($22,490).
Outlaw: Offers a large-diameter frame, bobbed rear fender and six-speed transmission ($26,990).
Legend: A hidden-shock model, it features a 240-series rear tire, matching wheels and polished engine ($26,460).
Ranger T: The touring model, it’s a rubbermount with quick-release bags, two-up seat and sport windshield ($24,900).
Texas Chopper: This radical bike runs the 107-inch engine, 240-series rear tire, six-speed and dual front disc brakes ($25,950).
Stalker: New for 2003, the Stalker is a collaboration with Arlen Ness. It offers Ness’s Y2K frame, six-piston front brakes, and Ness wheels, fenders and mirrors ($29,995).
“We’re the biggest custom motorcycle factory in the world,” says Owens. Bob Kay, formerly of NEMPCO, joined them in July; the company will make a major announcement soon regarding a new project involving Kay.
BMC (Big Mike’s Choppers)
63018 Plateau Drive, Suite 2
Bend, Ore., 97701
Number of Dealers: 32
Year Started: 1997
Bikes sold in 2002: 300
Warranty: One year
According to Big Mike, owner, “Having our bikes gives a dealer variety. If someone is already an Indian dealer, with the Scout and Chief, our choppers give them an edge. They’re on the more radical side.
“It’s all about price point nowadays. People used to ask about the bore and stroke, the cam, the gears. Now they ask the price first, then quality.”
For 2003, BMC has upgraded its bikes’ fuel tanks for a sleeker look. Its Notorious line ranges in price from $19,995 to $23,995.
918 Rigid Chopper: Is their entry-level bike–it has a 180-series rear tire.
918 ST: Rides in a Softail-style frame and is available with a RevTech or Harley Twin Cam-B engine.
Big Daddy: This chopper features the 100-inch RevTech engine, five-speed transmission, 250 rear tire and flame paint.
For the No Limits, BMC stands for “bring my checkbook.” It has a single-downtube frame, 10-over front end, open primary and is available in gold metalflake or green, with flames. It’s $29,995.
As for his view of this industry, Big Mike told us, “The wide-tire craze is going strong. The 1955 Chevy has never gone away. Likewise, the chopper has never lost its popularity. The pro-street has lost its popularity, but it will be back.”
Big Dog Motorcycles
1520 E. Douglas
Wichita, Kan., 67214
Number of Dealers: 75
Year Started: 1994
Bikes sold in 2002: 2,000
Warranty: Two years
According to President Nick Messer, Big Dog’s best dealers are those who service and sell American-made V-twins: “A strong service background is more important than sales. Victory, Indian and Big Dog are a good mix. Our customers want something more edgy, like a 250 rear tire. They bought a Harley-Davidson to be unique, but when they produce 280,000 motorcycles, it’s hard not to see a guy with a motorcycle that looks like yours.” Big Dog uses the S&S 107-cubic-inch V-twin engine.
Pit Bull: This rigid with the aggressive styling and the 250-series rear tire was their best seller last year.
Mastiff: Offers a 240 rear tire with a wide, beefy 21-inch front. It’s a low-slung bike with hidden-shock rear suspension.
Husky: An easier everyday ride, it’s a hidden-shock model with 180-series rear tire.
Boxer: It’s the smoothest riding because it offers a three-point rubber-mount engine with 21-inch front tire and 180-series rear.
Chopper: It’s radical with its 40-degree rake, six-speed, narrow 21-inch front tire and 250-series rear.
Bull Dog: This top-line Big Dog offers right-hand drive, hidden shocks, one-piece tank, wide 21-inch front tire and 240-series rear.
Titan Motorcycle Company of America
2222 West Peoria Avenue
Phoenix, Ariz., 85029
Number of Dealers: 27
Year Started: 2001
Bikes sold in 2002: 500
Warranty: Six months, extended available
After the original company was liquidated in 2001, assets were purchased by Donn Proudfoot and the new company going strong once. “We have a custom manufactured product that works,” Proudfoot says. “We want enthusiastic, knowledgeable dealers who offer service.” The company uses S&S engines of 97, 107 and 112 cubic inches in solid and rubbermounts.
The rubbermounts start with the Gecko RM Stretch, which has a stretched tank, 180-series rear tire and 34-degree rake.
Gecko RM Retro: Like the above, with more classic styling.
Phoenix ZRM: Is a custom-styled bike with abbreviated fenders and a higher bar.
Phoenix ZRM Custom: Is a value-priced bike with stretched tanks and 180-series rear tire.
Phoenix TRM: A more retro-style bike with 160-series rear tire and 34-degree rake.
Among the solid-mounts, the Phoenix ZSX has a very custom look with a wire front wheel, disc rear and hidden shocks.
Phoenix ZSX Custom: Same as above, but with stretched tanks and custom paint.
Phoenix TSX Custom: Is a hidden-shock custom with a stretched tank.
Gecko SX Custom: Its most popular model, it has a 21-inch front tire and 180 rear with billet wheels.
Ultra Motorcycle Company, Inc.
3810 Wacker Drive
Mira Loma, Calif., 91752
Number of Dealers: 40
Year Started: 2001
Bikes sold in 2002: 960
Warranty: Four years
You may remember Ultra Kustom Cycles, which went into foreclosure in 2001. The new company purchased the assets of the old, and now does business as Ultra Motorcycle Company, Inc.
According to Owen Blatt, General Manager, Ultra is seeking, “Quality dealers who have been there for awhile, and who take care of their customers. We have no problem if they handle other V-twins.”
The company’s bikes are custom painted, and based upon the polished 113-inch S&S engines, with about 106 horsepower.
“Most of our buyers already have a Harley-Davidson,” Blatt told us. “The trend is more and more to custom bikes. But Harley-Davidson will make their 265,000 bikes in 2003; nobody will put a dent in that.”
As for the future, Blatt added, “The industry will only go up. The state of the economy won’t affect us or Harley-Davidson. Today, motorcycle financing can go up to 108 months, so you have nine years to pay off your bike, and can have your toy for under $300 per month. The reason they’re willing to do that is that depreciation is nil.”
Since the new owners purchased the assets of Ultra, the entire line has been redone. It includes the Chopper 250 Series, the Pro Street, Fat Pounder in suspended and rigid, Chopper 250, Ground Pounder with a 200-series tire, and the Wide 3.
2100 Highway 55
Medina, Minn., 55340
Number of Dealers: 300
Year Started: 1998
Bikes sold in 2002:
About three-quarters of Victory Motorcycle dealers also handle the parent company’s Polaris snowmobiles, ATVs and/or watercraft. The other 25% are specialty motorcycle dealers, often dual dealers with other brands.
Mark Blackwell of Polaris told us that the company expects to expand to 350 dealers in 2003. “Our dealers are less about the physical commitment, and more about someone in the V-twin market — or who wants to get in — who feels like us that the outlook looks good for cruiser motorcycles for the next eight to 10 years.”
Victory offers three models. All are powered by an oil-cooled, 50-degree, 1,507cc (92-cubic-inch) fuel-injected, four-valve engine.
Classic Cruiser ($13,699) is the base model with pull-back handlebar.
Touring Cruiser ($14,999) comes with windshield and hard saddlebags.
Vegas ($14,999): The custom with stretched tank, 26.5-inch seat height and flush-mounted LED taillight.
As for the future of the market, Blackwell stated, “Our retail side is up 50% in the last year. The market is doing very well, we’re the fastest growing brand, and we represent the best new opportunity. If you want a Harley franchise it’s going to cost you millions. Victory is a nice addition; we just ask you put in a 400-square-foot footprint, our display, and dedicate one employee who loves the Victory brand — lives it, breathes it — who actively does demos. This year we’ll have the Victory Challenge where riders take a test ride and we’ll give them a t-shirt. We did 15,000 demo rides in 2002.”
Blackwell added, “Sixty-five per cent of cruiser riders are buying American. One of the reason they choose Victory is we’re priced between the Japanese and American brands. Our Vegas is newer, more modern, it has better brakes, better handling and superior value among American cruisers.”