ATK Motorcycles brought its 2012 lineup to Sturgis to test the waters among the cruiser crowd. Ranging in displacement from 250cc to just under 700cc, ATK is targeting colleges and new riders as potential customers.
“ATK. Who’s that?”
This was the million dollar question posed by curious onlookers at Sturgis when we rolled into the Broken Spoke Saloon. Just who was this company bringing low- to mid-displacement V-Twin cruisers into the domain of heavyweights? ATK is an American manufacturer out of Centerville, Utah, which has been producing off-road motorcycles and ATVs since 1984 who last year partnered with S&T Motors, parent company of Hyosung. The partnership meant ATK would expand its portfolio to include a handful of streetbikes with displacements ranging from 250cc to 680cc. The first motorcycles would be comprised of Hyosung surplus with the goal of establishing an assembly plant in Utah by 2012 where it would begin producing the new ATK line in the U.S by 2013. Among these models are a couple of classically styled cruisers, an entry-level model with a 250cc V-Twin and a mid-displacement ATK 700 Cruiser.
The company created quite a stir when it announced its modus operandi for distributing its newly acquired stable of cruisers and sportbikes would be as a second motorcycle brand offered in Harley-Davidson dealerships. ATK President and CEO Frank White perceived his entry-level motorcycles as a conduit to bring the younger generation of riders into Harley dealerships. According to White, ATK isn’t looking to compete with Harley but instead wants to complement them by bringing prospective new riders into Harley dealerships. The lowest displacement motorcycle currently in the Harley-Davidson lineup is the 883 Sportster. ATK’s highest displacement is its 687cc ATK 700 Cruiser. White knew this proposal wouldn’t fly with a consensus of Harley dealers, but hoped he could persuade a small percentage to buy into his plan. Last I heard, ATK is now being sold in approximately 20 dealerships around the country.
But if a company really wanted to gauge whether its motorcycles would be engaged by its targeted demographic, the litmus test for cruisers has to be Sturgis. There was a time when riding a metric was grounds for a fight in the Black Hills. Fortunately, that attitude has somewhat softened, but there are still plenty of the old guard who believe foreign bikes don’t belong. And that’s one of the biggest hurdles ATK has, convincing the masses that their product is American and has an extensive supporting network for service and parts.
White rolled into Sturgis in a black Sprinter van loaded with four 2012 ATK models, two similarly styled cruisers in the form of the 2012 ATK 700 Cruiser and the Honda Rebel-like 2012 GV250. He also brought along a sportier 2012 GV650 which has an older V-Rod vibe to it in addition to a f
We made a quick pass through the Broken Spoke Saloon on the sporty looking GV650. Luckily, we made it out alive.
ully faired beginner’s sportbike, the 2012 GT250R. With a few hours to spare, we fired a couple of them up and set out for a quick run to the Broken Spoke on the outskirts of Sturgis.
Long, low and sleek, the 2012 GV650 was the first bike I wanted to ride. Stretched to 67 inches between the wheels, the GV650 situates riders low in the saddle with hands and feet punched out to reach the forward mounted foot controls and pullback handlebars. The bike feels lighter than its claimed 480 lb dry weight, thanks in part to a low center of gravity. Lever action at the clutch is light and the bike turns in with minimal input. Unfortunately, the run out to the Spoke included too much stoplight-to-stoplight action and not enough open road to let it rip. We were able to get up to just over freeway speeds on the spunky four-stroker, which still had more to give at 70 mph with a 225 lb. rider onboard. Just how much we could have squeezed out of the 647cc mill remains to speculation though as South Dakota State Troopers stationed around every other corner prevented us from pushing it any further. At 180mm, the rear tire on the GV650 adds to its sporty looks without sacrificing handling. The fact that both its 43mm fork and twin rear shocks are adjustable is surprising for a motorcycle with a $6995 price tag.
To get the full Sturgis experience, we made a few passes straight through the Broken Spoke Saloon. Literally. The garage doors are open so bikers can ride right through the bar. But the bait had been dangled and soon the hook would be set. No sooner had we parked the bikes outside of the bar than a couple of guys followed us out wanting a closer look at the GV650. After the inevitable “What’s an ATK?” question, they admittedly walked outside to get a closer look at the sporty styling of the motorcycle and to find out who made it.
For our next stint on the 2012 ATKs, a more sporting route through Vanocker Canyon was planned. This time I rode the 2012 ATK 700 Cruiser. Within the first few twists of the throttle, I was enjoying the bump in power. The 700 Cruiser also sources a 90-degree V-Twin, but sports a slightly larger bore to push its displacement up to 687cc. Though not a huge difference, the Cruiser felt peppier at the throttle than the GV650. Power output overall is modest, but on par with competitors. The bars on the ATK 700 Cruiser are set wide, its seat is nicely padded and ergos are upright and relaxed.
With its combination of usable power, light handling, and a smooth gear box, the 2012 ATK 700 Cruiser made a positive first impression.
Action on the front end is very light and rider-friendly. The smoothness of its gear box surprised me, both in ease of engagement and quietness. It has a healthy 4.8 gallon tank which should give it excellent range for riders contemplating using it as a commuter. From a distance, fit and finish is clean. Closer inspection reveals flimsy shift levers, a plain engine void of the traditional V-Twin fins and chrome on the cylinder heads, and plenty of cost-saving plastic, from the bulky radiator shroud to the oversized belt guard. Though none of these detract from the motorcycle’s performance, curb appeal is big factor in the decision-making process of the cruiser set. The plastic bits are a little easier to swallow considering the bike stickered for $7499 last year.
After getting my first opportunity to hitch a leg over an ATK, I believe they fit the niche White is targeting. The bikes I rode were modestly powered, comfortable, and easy to handle. For newbies, first-time riders, or people seeking an everyday commuter, the ATK’s fill the role admirably. Assembling the motorcycles here in the U.S. will only boost its marketing position. ATK is also launching a Women Riders Program to target the fasting growing motorcycle demographic.
But its current campaign targeting college students might be its best bet to boost sales. White earnestly wants to encourage the next generation of motorcycle riders and is testing the waters at universities in Utah, Florida and Ohio with a “Back to School Special” where anyone who purchases an ATK by Sept. 30 receives their choice of an iPad2, a gaming system or a rider’s safety course. The catch phrase says “Buy an iPad2 for just $3 a day and get a Free motorcycle!” Adding incentives like iPads and XBoxs to college students is a savvy move. And an ATK would be a fun way to get around a college campus.
So did ATK pass the Sturgis test? Well, we didn’t get beat up, so that was good. And the motorcycles garnered a lot of attention, from people who dug the looks of the bikes to the curious who mainly wanted to find out what an ATK was. While the trip to Sturgis this year was mainly to test the waters, ATK intends on having an even bigger presence in the Black Hills next year.