There have always been differences between production bikes and custom choppers. One difference being the price and another being that most production bikes look like…well, production bikes.
Production machines modestly cruise down the road blending into the background. Their engines may scream, but the bikes don’t scream for attention. Custom choppers on the other hand yearn for the gaze of a wandering eye, but typically cost too much for Joe Schmo and me, thereby leaving the average middle-class professional in a quandary. And this is where a moderately sarcastic but strangely appropriate transition comes in: Is there a way to combine the two worlds in order to fulfill the needs of this growing market?
Ironworks Motorcycle Co. is blurring the boundaries that separate high-priced custom motorcycles and production bikes with a line of reasonably priced choppers that have most of the amenities flaunted by tricked-out rods, but won’t require a second mortgage on your house to pay for them.
Ironworks originated in 1996 out of Bradenton, Fla., with relatively humble beginnings. They started out building 20 custom bikes a year, but have evolved into a company that sells 200-300 rods annually. This growing business looked at building choppers from a different angle and it definitely paid off. Instead of taking a production motorcycle, pumping it up and chroming it out in order to make it look unique but still be affordable, Ironworks took a custom rod design and built it with production parameters. This strategy has allowed them to manufacture bikes that have an original custom feel but cost tens of thousands of dollars less than many of the one-of-a-kind customs on the road.
Randy Brown, the chief designer at Ironworks, has been spearheading this operation for the last two years. “Our bikes come with everything; in-tunnel throttle cables, single-side rotor brake set-up, and wild paint jobs,” Brown explains. “What I’ve tried to do in creating and designing these bikes is take the custom one-up world, put it into the manufacture world, and therefore we can get the cost down.”
In order to decrease expenses, Ironworks builds many of their own parts including the frames, wheels, handlebars, and grips. This gives them more control over product supply, and it also alleviates problems that companies have with back orders and items not being in stock. Of course it’s nearly impossible to manufacture everything in-house, which is why Ironworks also calls on several other companies for motors and gas tanks.
“There is a point when you start to get into production and cost, that when you get into some of the fabrication work there are other companies that can actually do it cheaper than we can do it in-house, but we still buy a quality product,” the retired pilot turned motorcycle designer points out. “We don’t put a $300 gas tank on our bike. We put a $700 independent tank on there. You can get into too many employees and too much machinery. Some people are better at dealing with that every day, and they can do it cheaper than we can because they are on that production side of it.”
Another effort made by Ironworks to compete with regular production bikes is the addition of written warranties. They warranty all of the parts they build, and also make sure that the other major components on the bike have factory warranties. These parts include the RevTech engine and the transmission, which come with two-year and five-year warranties, respectively.
“There are several unspoken warranty programs out there,” Brown mentions. “I believe in those programs and I believe in the other builders, but the intelligent buyers today are looking for that program in writing. They are looking for that backup program in longevity. They want to be able to pick up a phone and get their bike fixed. So when you look at aspects of the bike and products that are on the motorcycle, it’s not just us. All of the companies that make the aftermarket products that go on the motorcycle stand behind their products as well.”
Extensive market research, advertising, traveling to 25 shows a year, and having a quality bike that can be sold for around $35,000 have helped Ironworks become successful in the custom bike world. But there is yet another factor that plays into the popularity of their choppers; they’re comfortable to ride. In an industry where radical designs and curb appeal play a huge role in the creation of many bikes, Brown wanted to make sure his customers enjoyed riding them too.
“We design comfort into the bike,” the business-conscious bike designer describes. “In Daytona we had a gentleman take delivery of his new Monster chopper, which we introduced at Daytona, and on the Saturday at Daytona he rode it 270 miles leading a pack of 15 other motorcycles. He said that when he got off the bike after riding 270 miles he felt more comfortable than he had after riding his Harley for that long.”
In addition to the Monster chopper, the Torrid is a new model for 2004. Brown decided to incorporate this bike into his product line because many of their buyers, especially in the female market, didn’t have the body size to comfortably ride their bigger bikes. The Torrid’s frame was designed to take the stretch out of the backbone and bring the handlebars closer to the rider. Its seat height is lowered from 23.5 inches to 21 inches to give shorter riders even more confidence.
The Torrid is powered by 100 cubic-inch RevTech V-Twin engine. Standard equipment includes a digital speedometer, chrome wheels, a 5-speed RevTech transmission, custom motor mounts, and custom exhaust. Like all Ironworks bikes, a customer can upgrade just about anything on the bike. The only thing they won’t do is copy a previous paint job.
Brown brought more than just a desire to design and build custom motorcycles to Ironworks. He has also taken advantage of his aeronautical background by manufacturing the truly unique Jet Trike, a street-legal, 14-foot long trike powered by an Allison 250 turbine jet engine. “Coming out of the aviation world I always wanted to incorporate a turbine engine into something. It’s street legal. I drive it all the time,” Brown reiterates.
Ironworks Motorcycle Co. has proven that a production-oriented custom bike shop can be successful by building a lot of features into their custom bikes for a relatively reasonable cost. Their bikes are distinctively unique and yet include comfort, reliability and safety. Brown is already thinking about what 2005 will bring, and what innovative and tricked-out ideas he can forge for the future.
What to learn more about Ironworks. Check out this quick Q&A.
MCUSA: You say the Jet Trike has an estimated top speed of 250 mph, how close have you come from making that estimate a hard fact?
Randy Brown: “Real close. We don’t advertise it because the insurance company goes ballistic, but when you look at the horsepower-to-weight ratio, it’s quite a machine. It has a turbine engine coupled to a (GM) Turbo 400 transmission. It has park, reverse, neutral, and drive, just like your car.”
MCUSA: So that makes it louder than a normal bike?
Randy Brown: “The only way I can explain it, is go to the airport and listen to a jet run. It is a jet engine and it’s burning jet fuel, so it’s screaming. I do have it baffled through both sides of the exhaust, but the heat coming out of there is still 600-700 degrees because it is a pure jet engine. It burns jet fuel at about a gallon a minute.”
MCUSA: Besides the Jet Trike, do you have a favorite bike that you make?
Randy Brown: “My favorite is the new Monster. It’s 11-feet long. It’s an incredible machine. It’s 10 up in the downtube, 5 out in the back bone, 45 degrees in the neck, six degrees in the trees, and 21 over on the front end.”
MCUSA: Do you have any pointers for someone looking for a custom bike?
Randy Brown: “It’s a fun process to buy your first custom bike. Find someone that will take the time to teach you, someone that will work with you to make sure that is the motorcycle you want, you know what you are getting, and to make sure the bike will be comfortable for you so you can enjoy riding it.”