Saturday, February 19, 2011

Indy Scene (and heard)

The motorcycle industry's big 'Dealer Expo' had a slow opening yesterday. It used to run Sat-Mon and this year the schedule was changed to Fri-Sun. Today the show was pretty busy and while only a few of the big OEMs were present, the mood amongst upstart manufacturers and the myriad parts and accessories suppliers was, I thought, cautiously optimistic going into the 2011 riding season.

Here are some of the people and things that caught my eye walking around the show...

Not surprisingly, there was a bit of buzz in the electric scene...

I was surprised to see that Vectrix is back in business. Vectrix sort of had First Mouse Syndrome, and after an early flurry of interest in its nickel-metal-halide battery-powered maxi scooter, the company folded some time in '09. Its name, tooling, assets and IP were acquired by Hong Kong-based Gold Peak Batteries International company, and the bikes are now powered by Gold Peak Li-ion batteries.

The line is comprised of three bikes: the original maxi scoot, which is seen at the far left above has been joined by a smaller and lighter entry-level scooter and a rather cool electric version of the Piaggio tilting three-wheeler. This latter bike retails for around $14k, and has a claimed 70 mph top speed. The new Vectrix company is honoring the old Vectrix' warranties, and has reestablished relations with many of the old dealers. It's also looking for a few good dealers, while focusing on fleet operators. It has a relationship with a separate company that outfits the machines with extra lights for police work.
Ultra Motor was at Indy with a new, beefed-up version of its electric bicycles (or, for such a green vehicle, maybe I should say, "Now with extra tofu"?) This bike requires a motorcycle license, and is capable of 30 miles an hour. Like the other A2B bicycles, there's a battery in the frame, but this one also has a bigger hub motor and that thing on the back that looks like a bread box is a secondary battery. That one is easily demountable, so you can leave the bike locked up outside and bring that battery inside for charging. Ultra Motor North America is based in San Francisco; the company's HQ is in London; the machines are designed in Germany and manufactured in Taiwan.
Zero now claims that 40 dealers have signed up, and they've got another 20 "talking." They're still looking for about 10 more. "All we ask," one Zero acolyte told me, "is that they put a couple of bikes on the floor, so they can demo them. Then, we can deliver bikes as they sell them, in about three days." The bikes no longer have the clean white look; there are colors and more graphics. Maybe that appeals to conventional motorcycle dealers. Zero told me they now have over 60 accessories, too.

New-to-us manufacturers were desperately seeking distributors...

There were several Asian manufacturers I've never heard of, looking to sign up dealers or even distributors. At a glance, some of the machines looked like competitive offerings...
...while others were almost so ugly they were cute.

Some of my friends desperately needed sleep...

Erik Buell's batteries were drained getting this gorgeous EBR1190RS ready for the show. The $40k machine really looks the business. "I'm here looking for dealers," Erik told me. "I want guys who are passionate about sport bikes."

I mused that one problem for the old Buell company must have been Harley dealers that didn't 'get' the sport bike market. Erik looked at it slightly differently. "Some of the dealers were great," he told me. "But a lot of them were great at selling cruisers. So one of the things I learned from Harley was that your dealers have to be passionate about the thing you give them to sell. Some people here today hear the price and think it's too high, but lots of people have told me, 'I can sell a few of those.'"

Rotax bought all the rights to the 1125cc Buell motor back from Harley-Davidson, and supplies fully assembled 1125s to EBR. In Wisconsin, the motors are torn down and bored out to 106mm, for an 1190cc final displacement. Needless to say the pistons are replaced, but that's nowhere near all -- the rods and crank are changed, the heads are CNC milled and fitted with Ti valves. Buyers will have the option of a Suter mechanical slipper clutch or the Buell vacuum-assisted one.

Buell hopes to homologate the  new bike for AMA Superbike racing by the Infineon round. To conform to AMA Pro Racing rules, he has to have 18 bikes completed, and promise to complete 100 this year. That's about all his12-person shop can make. I asked if he had to show the AMA parts for 100 bikes and he laughed and said that he couldn't afford that many parts. "I have to sell a few bikes, first."

I know that he'll have no trouble selling the first few, as there was a ton of interest in this machine.
Gorgeous triple clamps, carbon 'tank' and all-business fuel filler. Does the EBR1190RS look like a $40 grand bike? It's not far off, that's for sure.

Lee Conn and Brian Case are behind the soon-to-be unveiled Motus sport tourer. The company's based out of Birmingham, with motors coming out of Pratt & Miller, up in Michigan. They're working around the clock to prep for a couple of pre-launch 'private screenings' and a public unveiling at Daytona. This is a really interesting story I've been following for a while now and I'll hold off on details for another couple of weeks. Lee showed me a nice-looking bike on his phone, but wouldn't hold it up in this picture. "Your camera looks like it has too many megapixels!"

And there's yet another new American OEM! Steve Christini has also been pulling all-nighters to bring two Christini 2WD bikes - not kits - to the show. Both bikes are basically made in China to his specs, and brought to the U.S. where his front-wheel drive system is fitted. He's standing in front of the 450 four-stroke, which is basically the carburetor-equipped previous-generation Honda 450. This bike will retail for less than $7,000 (yes, in 2WD!) and will be available in a street-legal dual-sport version as well as the trail-only version shown here. Christini also has a higher-spec trail bike powered by a Gas Gas 300cc two-stroke motor.

"This should have been the hard part," Christini told me, patting the bike and meaning, engineering the bike should have been the big challenge. What he hadn't counted on was the red tape involved in becoming a manufacturer. It took three months just to get a letter from the EPA allowing him to bring in the bike in this photo... for EPA testing.

It's been a long road for Christini; I remember seeing one of his first prototypes, back in about 2004 when Dirt Rider and Motorcyclist shared a lockup under the Petersen building on Wilshire Boulevard in Hollywood. Since then, he's installed about 250 kits. He's been courting an OEM, like KTM for years. Now, with Gas Gas dealers suddenly interested in carrying his two-stroke, he's hoping to sell 150 bikes this year, 500 next year, and looking at maybe a couple of thousand in two or three years.

With OEMs showing even more caution than usual right now, becoming his own manufacturer makes good sense. I think that the sharply priced four-stroke will appeal to casual riders, who are the very people who benefit most from 2WD. As soon as he has a dual-sport version of the 450, I'll be pestering him for a loaner to test.

...and others desperately needed sponsors.

Around Christmas, David Lloyd told me that ENI/AGIP had withdrawn sponsorship of Lloyd Brothers Motorsports brilliant Ducati flat track program. I hope the presence of his bike in the ENI booth means that they've found a way to keep their program on track. I'll check in with David soon and report back.

Finally, some were just plain desperate...

"Hmm, what will get people's attention? I know, tight miniskirts." "No way, dude, it should be free beer." "Tight miniskirts." "Free beer!" "Tight miniskirts!!" "Free beer!!!" "Wait! Why are we fighting?.."


  1. I posted to my FB page awhile ago that if you were in this industry and did not support the Dealer Expo, you were not as in this industry as you think you are. I saw many people doing business. the NPA auction was a big hit, and the sense that people were there to do business was palpable. I know of a few who roamed the aisles to do business (saving the big display fees etc) but they MUST have felt some discomfort when they walked past the competition display full of cool bikes and new accessories.

    I will say that a return to good old fashioned salesmanship is greatly needed. People get lazy and they need a kick in the ass to get into gear. 2009 was that kick - if you are not going by now - sell the business to someone who cares more than you do.

    The new show format with all the displays in one building allowed for looking at all the new stuff in logical manner by trolling up and down the grids. Hosting the dealer Top 100 this year is inspirational - many many good dealers to learn from. If you have any capacity to learn that is.

    Thanks Mark - all the best.


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