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Big Bear Choppers targets new market – January 22, 2007

January 22, 2007
Filed under Features

The vice president of Big Bear Choppers has seen first-hand the transformation of the female motorcyclist, from a mere companion seated at the back of the bike to the owner and operator of the motorcycle.
“When I started riding motorcycles,” said Big Bear Choppers’ Mona Alsop, “it was mostly the blue-collar guys (riding) and chicks belong on the back. That’s what Kevin pretty much believed when we started riding together.”
Kevin, Mona’s husband and the founder of Big Bear Choppers, has seen enough change that the California bike builder has begun developing a custom motorcycle for women. The bike, which will be shown at the V-Twin Expo, will feature a lower seat and a shortened wheelbase and more conservative rake to improve handling.
“Those are the main changes that I had brought up because those are the things that scare me when I get on a big bike,” Mona Alsop said, noting she shares many of the same concerns as other women riders do. “I’m one of the ones who want a nice, comfortable little bike. Give me something that I can be comfortable on and maybe I can graduate to one of our bigger bikes if I want to.”
That thinking, if shared by other women riders, could help Big Bear Choppers increase its transformation from primarily a kit builder to a complete bike builder. That transformation started a year and a half ago as the Big Bear Lake, Calif.-based manufacturer built a 25,000-square-foot building and more than doubled its employee base.
Instead of building seven bikes a month, the company is now averaging about 50 bikes per month, said Andy Meadors, who handles marketing for Big Bear Choppers. To achieve that growth, Big Bear Choppers not only increased its employee base to about 75, but also changed its distribution system. Instead of selling only direct to consumers, the company now has a dealer network that is 35 strong and growing.
“We were doing great selling retail direct,” Meadors said. “But as Kevin wants to grow this company, he saw the need to have a national network of dealers.”
Not surprisingly, the increased focus on building complete bikes has resulted in a decrease in kit bike sales. Meadors believes the 15-percent decline in kit bike sales is a result of many consumers simply opting for the more convenient and quicker way of purchasing Big Bear Choppers now — through dealers.
The company’s newest model, dubbed Miss Behavin after the World World II bomber plane nose art, will be available both as a kit and a complete bike, like the company’s other 12 models.
“There is not a lot of custom motorcycles that can fit two people comfortably,” Mona Alsop said, “and the guys want their ladies to ride with them. I think that has opened up a big market.”
The Miss Behavin bikes will share several components with the manufacturer’s popular Venom ProStreet model, including a proprietary 100 S&S engine, a Baker six-speed overdrive transmission and chrome front-end. The bike also will have a patented fuel tank design borrowed from the popular Sled ProStreet, patented oil tank design holding five quarts and a 250mm rear tire. MSRP will be $28,900.
“The bottom line is — and this is something I’ve taken into consideration — the guys have to accept this in order for it to work for everybody,” Mona Alsop said. “We don’t want the guys saying it’s a chick bike” that has “all the stigma that comes with the Harley-Davidson Sportster. We don’t want that. We want to welcome the guys to build one of these bikes for their wives or their girlfriends.”
That’s why some of the marketing of the Miss Behavin bikes will be done in traditional V-twin magazines, Alsop said. But the company also will look into different advertising options, including women rider magazines and other new venues.
There is some concern, however, with going into these new marketing arenas.
“I don’t want (the new bike) to come across as a fashion accessory because motorcycles are dangerous pieces of equipment,” Mona Alsop said. “This is something you have to be skilled to ride. That was a concern of mine.
“I believe the guys are actually going to be one of our bigger sale points because they’re going to want to let everybody know about this,” Alsop said, noting the company already has received orders on Miss Behavin strictly via word of mouth.
“My hope for this bike is it will do the same thing that the Venom ProStreet did for us,” Alsop said, “just to break the market wide open.” psb

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