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Backroad Ramblings March 2010

Thursday, March 25, 2010
US Highland Hopes to Take the Word “Custom” Off-Road
US Highland
Despite its confusing history, US Highland is one in a small group of American Motorcycle Manufacturers.

Until now the word “custom” has been pretty synonymous with the cruiser set, often conjuring up images of ultra-expensive corporate-sponsored one-offs with poor handling to offset the incredible paint job. The one place least likely to find the term thrown around has generally been the rough-and-tumble off-road arena: a place where customization typically entailed the plastering of stickers over scuffmarks on plastic and engine hop-ups are so common that it almost goes without saying that something has been upgraded along the way.

I bring all of this up because a new American company sees opportunity in the combination of the two worlds by offering off-roaders what boils down to factory customs assembled right here in the US of A. Their line of reasoning is this: Most everyone who purchases a performance bike or ATV for the track or trails almost immediately begins spending money to soup up the engine, breathe more freely, or shed some weight (or usually a combination of all three). Rather than waste precious time that could be spent in the saddle tinkering in the shed to get all of the mods dialed in, US Highland figures they could simply build you a machine specifically tailored around your body stats, type of riding, skill level and race class.

Setting up shop in Tulsa, Oklahoma, US Highland represents more than just a dealership going the extra mile to make certain customers would be happy with their Japanese or European OEM bikes and quads. No, these guys are pretty serious about customization as in actually building each and every unit to suit the needs of the individual customer. Kind of like Orange County Choppers for the dirt except that Highland’s creations aim to be lighter, better handling, and faster than the OEM’s stockers as opposed to just existing to get attention.

Originally designed in Sweden, the motor options customers will get to choose from include a fuel injected 450cc single-cylinder that allegedly puts out nearly 70 horsepower and, at the time of this article’s writing, a 900cc V-Twin open classer good for over 100 ponies. I’ll pause for a moment to allow the dune riders all around the globe a chance to pick up their jaws from their keyboard.

If early photographs are accurate, the engine appears to make use of a sliding barrel rather than the typical butterfly throttle body, which is supposed to feature a dual-chamber venturi so that the two intake valves will be fed fuel separately.

US Highland ATV
Unlike most small manufacturers, US Highland will offer a wide range models and styles to meet your on and off-road needs.
Frames too are custom units featuring aluminum spars and again, if the early photos are any indication, look like they will come equipped with many of the best aftermarket goodies the industry currently has to offer. From tires to suspension components and carbon fiber exhaust canisters to race mandated tether cable kill switches, as well as nerf bars on the ATVs.

Perhaps most intriguing is the teaser shot of the 950cc V-Twin propped into a stealthy supermoto package with all the DOT goodies to suggest street legality. Adventurer tourers may be delighted with the accompanying rumors putting engine output to the tune of 120 horsepower!

If like me, you find yourself wondering how in the world this American firm popped up seemingly overnight with plans of conquest and their sights set on all forms of off-road competition/ recreation, the first thing you’ll do is hit up Google for the straight facts. Unfortunately, even this seems to reveal rumor after rumor and the usual fanboy praise and proponent anger. Hell, even Wikipedia doesn’t have an entry yet! From what I’ve been able to piece together from the reliable sources (unfortunately my email directly to the company went unanswered), here’s the back-story:

US Highland’s tale actually spans nearly two full decades and begins with a Swedish manufacturer by the name of Folan. See, when the Italian company Cagiva purchased the Husqvarna motorcycle franchise and hence removed one of Sweden’s most ambitious and recognized off-road export, a handful of former Husky engineers who had been left behind decided to start on a new project. The result of their research and development was a V-Twin motor that was not only lightweight but produced impressive horsepower figures as well. Folan would later merge with Louyang Northern Enterprises Group Company Ltd to form what became known as Luoyang Luojia Highland Motors Co.

US Highland Motocross
These custom made to order motorcycles will offer the personal touch lost on many mainstream bikes but it will come at a price.
Of course the fruits of their labor, that magnificent V-Twin, vanished then resurfaced many times in the following years with notable mentions going to companies like Cannondale and ATK who, at certain points, attempted to secure the rights to the engine design with which to power their own machines.

Perhaps inspired by the positive press of revolutionary off-road concepts coming from the likes of Husaberg and the new Yamaha YZF450, it looks like the V-Twin is finally going to see the light of day after all in the form of a new made-in-the-USA manufacturer. Following a recent merger with Harcom Productions Inc., the tooling for the original V-Twin and a single-cylinder variation (both of which could potentially spawn countless engine displacements: already rumored are 750, 950, and 1150cc engine packages for the Twin and 250, 350, 450, and 550cc variations for the Single) are already in place in Bixby (just outside of Tulsa) awaiting completion of the website to begin production on the US Highland line of ATVs and motorcycles.

Allegedly each vehicle on the line is set to come equipped with automobile-style sensors and computer monitoring equipment to keep track of every rpm that the motor turns from the very first time it’s started, as well as gauges that document impact force placed upon the suspension.

Hitting up the company’s site (www.ushighland.com) reveals there’s still some fine tuning to go before they can begin taking customer orders - this coming from a guy who did all he could to get his well-worn credit card digits into their possession before his fiancée came home and took them away from him. It is, however, very refreshing indeed to witness the ambition and excitement surrounding a new domestic manufacturer choosing this period of economic uncertainty to give the big OEMs a run for their money. Oh and while final pricing has yet to be established, sources state to expect well upward of $12,000 for even the most basic configuration packages. Ouch, considering that’s beyond my limit, it looks like my credit card would have been of no use to them after all.
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Comments
John in Leeds -US Highland - the ride  April 24, 2010 11:01 AM
I have been riding the Highland 950 for 3 years. There's lots of info here http://www.advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=130990