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Custom Builder Big Bear Choppers' Kevin Alsop

Thursday, September 10, 2009
Big Bear Choppers opened shop in 1998 and has been making a name for itself in the custom production motorcycle world since.
Big Bear Choppers opened shop in 1998 and has been making a name for itself in the custom-production motorcycle world since.
“I don’t do this for fun.”
 
So said Big Bear Choppers’ Kevin Alsop. The line of glass-encased US Patents perched on his desk is evidence to the engineering aptitude of the man behind Big Bear Choppers’ success. Alsop wasn’t granted those patents by taking business lightly.
 
It was a hectic weekend for Alsop and Big Bear Choppers (BBC) when we visited. In between granting Motorcycle USA an interview and going for a quick ride around the lake with us, Alsop managed to squeeze in the city manager of Big Bear Lake as the two finalized plans for BBC’s yearly ‘Ride the Mountain’ rally while fielding a call from Criss Angel’s manager as the MindFreak star was coming to town to pick up three custom motorcycles Big Bear Choppers had built for him.
 
Big Bear Choppers is a small motorcycle manufacturer that specializes in custom-styled production choppers and Pro Street motorcycles. The company was founded in 1998 by Kevin and Mona Alsop in Big Bear Lake, California. Alsop is what you would call an American success story. Hailing originally from Australia, he grew up around motorcycles thanks to his father who was a professional racer. What started as a job building custom bikes at a small chopper shop in Pomona, CA, evolved into a repair shop run out of a small shed in Big Bear Lake that eventually grew into one of the most-respected factory-custom motorcycle manufacturers around.
 
When asked what contributed to Big Bear’s success, Alsop replied, “Passion, the love of motorcycling, wanting to build bikes that people are proud to ride. And pushing the design envelope.”

Freshly painted fenders come back from the paint shop.
Fenders with fresh paint come back ready to be mounted on the final product. Big Bear Choppers prides itself on doing most of its manufacturing in-house.
Pushing that envelope is easier to control when you make most of your own parts. The fact that Big Bear Choppers does most of its designing and motorcycle manufacturing in-house is a source of pride for BBC. From motorcycle frames to tanks, fenders, handlebars, front-ends, foot controls, primary drives, mirrors, down to minute details like pop-up gas caps are all made by the BBC crew. What better way to manage quality control than by doing things yourself?
 
Alsop and his wife Mona, who serves as BBC’s Executive Vice-President, are savvy businesspeople who run an efficient shop by utilizing lean manufacturing techniques derived from the Toyota Production System. Lean manufacturing means there’s not a bunch of excess inventory lying around gathering dust. In its ideal form, the system “produces goods using less of everything compared to traditional mass production: less waste, human effort, manufacturing space, investment in tools, inventory, and engineering time to develop a new product.” Alsop utilizes the proven Toyota system for lean manufacturing in every phase of his business, from engineering to warehousing to product scheduling and accounting.

Kevin and Mona prepare to unveil the official MindFreak Season 5 motorcycle to Criss Angel.
Kevin and Mona prepare to unveil the official MindFreak Season 5 motorcycle as Criss Angel anxiously watches.
Alsop’s success also hinges on his ability to keep his eye on the big picture. When Big Bear Choppers was invited to appear on Discovery Channel’s Biker Build-Off in 2006, Alsop entered the contest with the mindset that not only did he want to win, but whatever he built had to be capable of being released as a new model for the BBC motorcycle fleet. Alsop won with a stretched-out, heavy-raked chopper with Big Bear’s patented Devil’s Tail swingarm with a matching rear fender and in a build he dubbed ‘Athena.’ After a few modifications to make the motorcycle street-friendly, the Athena became a member of Big Bear’s production line the following year.
 
As far as pushing the design envelope, Big Bear Choppers was one of the first motorcycle manufacturers to utilize S&S Cycles’ EPA-compliant X-Wedge engine, a revolutionary new powerplant with three belt-driven camshafts, a completely new internal oil pump, and a one-piece crankshaft. His forward- thinking is also demonstrated by his G.T.X. bagger where Alsop experimented with the bike’s center of gravity and passenger positioning by adding a 12-inch stretch to the frame’s backbone and placing the passenger in front of the back tire instead of directly over it.
 
This is the prototype for the motorcycle Big Bear is releasing to the international market called Rage. A 21-inch tall billet wheel with PM brakes sit out at the end of a long Springer fork. The back end of Rage features a 250mm tire mounted in a Devils Tail swingarm.
Here's the prototype motorcycle called Rage that Big Bear Choppers is releasing on the international market. It features a 21-inch tall billet front wheel with PM brakes mounted on the end of a long BBC Springer fork. The back end has a 250mm Avon tire mounted in a Devil's Tail swingarm.
Besides innovations in motorcycle design, Kevin and Mona have also realized that with a slumping domestic economy, the time was right to look toward the international marketplace. The chopper craze may have reached a crescendo locally, but owning an American-made chopper powered by a big V-Twin is still en vogue overseas.
 
That’s why Big Bear Choppers has recently passed strict European emission standards. All 18 Big Bear Choppers, including carbureted and EFI engines, meet Euro III certification. This has led to a stronger international network of dealers, and BBC now has six dealerships in Canada, two in Germany, two in Australia, and has branched out into Switzerland, Germany, France, South Africa, and Brazil.
 
“We realized that making such a large investment in time and money to obtain Euro III certification was a risk, especially during a recession and credit crunch, but we are convinced that this will pay huge dividends as we will stand out as the leader in international market for high-end American motorcycles,” said Alsop.
 
Big Bear has created a motorcycle aimed exclusively at the international market called ‘Rage.’ The chopper features a clean tank mounted high on the stretched backbone. The tank is as high as the triple clamp holding the BBC handlebars that angle down both sides of the bike. The bars are connected to a BBC Springer fork set out at a 48-degree rake angle, with a 21-inch tall billet wheel squeezed in between. The 100ci S&S SMOOTH engine is built by the Wisconsin-based engine manufacturer based on specs supplied by Alsop, and connects to a Baker 6-speed transmission that propels the 250mm Avon rear tire via a chain final drive. The meaty rear tire is mounted on Alsop’s patented Devil’s Tail swingarm, and a chopped rear fender prominently displays the muscular back-end. A cone-shaped, forward-facing air filter juts off the engine’s right side, adding to its custom-bike cred.
 
The motorcycle is very similar to one that BBC built for TV star Criss Angel as his daily rider. There are a few cosmetic differences, but for the most part, the motorcycles are the same. This is another demonstration of Alsop’s business acumen and his adherence to Toyota’s lean manufacturing system. Not only did he create a one-off custom for a high-visibility client, but the prototype laid the foundation for a production motorcycle. It is loaded with Big Bear proprietary parts, which gets them off the shelf and into the money-making arena, and fills a niche in the newly expanded international market.
 
Criss Angel talks to Kevin about the three custom motorcycles Big Bear had built for the MindFreak star.
Criss Angel was excited as he talked to Kevin about the three custom motorcycles Big Bear built for the MindFreak star.
But don’t think Alsop is forgetting about the market right here at home. He’s also working on a new chopper to debut here in the States for under $20K, a magic price point that no other Big Bear Chopper to date has been able to match. The new chopper is going to be built for the working-class guy who wants to own a high-styled scoot without sending him to the poorhouse. It’s something Alsop has wanted to do for three years.

“It’s flat black, with raw machined aluminum and yellow or silver cad plate. All components are US-made,” stated Alsop.

And while stretched-out choppers and beefy Pro Street motorcycles are his forte, Alsop also has a need for speed. His father was a racer, after all, so it’s in his blood. We learned this firsthand when he ripped off a half-block long smoky burnout pulling out of the shop on our very first ride together. Later in the day he zipped past a ¼-mile long line of traffic in the left-hand lane around blind corners. Needless to say, we didn’t have the sack to follow. His penchant for going fast can also be seen in the project he built for S&S Cycles’ 50th Anniversary, a V-Twin sportbike.
 
Alsop’s ‘Super Sport’ project bike features a 114 cubic-inch X-Wedge engine and BBC’s proprietary primary drive. The high, rounded tank and twin air scoops built up front have a Buell-like appearance. It has duel fuel cells, with the second one hidden under the seat, an extended swingarm with a built-in belt compensator, and a monster 23-inch front tire. Ohlins suspension, Brembo brakes, a Scott steering damper, and carbon fiber bits on the fenders and belt guard add to its racing credentials. Knowing Alsop, who doesn’t do anything without ulterior motives, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Big Bear Super Sport on the market in the near future.
 
With the expansion into the international marketplace while still currently building all the bikes in the Big Bear shop,
Big Bears Kevin Alsop is the King of the Mountain. Dont let the looks of his bike fool you  that thing can rip!
BBC's Kevin Alsop is the 'King of Big Bear Mountain.' Don't let the looks of his bike fool you, that thing can lay down the wickedest burn-outs!
there’s little down time for Alsop. He and Mona recently traveled to Europe to attend each of the product launches and international grand openings. They also traveled to Sturgis to participate in the 2009 AMD World Championships. When asked about what he likes to do in his spare time, he laughed.
 
“I think about bikes. If I’m not doing that, I’m worrying about it.”

It’s this type of dedication and passion to the art of motorcycle building that has established Big Bear Choppers as a major player in the custom-production biz. He’s already made a name for himself in the States. Now he’s got his sights set on conquering his niche in the global marketplace.
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Comments
Mac -sprintcar man  December 11, 2010 04:59 PM
Ten yards for piling on, make that a thousand yards. Good grief, is BBC where the devil lives? Journalists? There are few journalists left in this country----at least during the past two or three years. Don't think I've seen or heard a negative word from the major newspapers and ABC,CBS,NBC or CNN about 'da Bum in charge of the country', which he's damned near wrecked. All the BBC/OCC type chopper builders do little if any quality control. 50% of all custom choppers in the world probably have problems within a couple months.
bayu cakra aditya -april11,2010  April 10, 2010 03:59 PM
wah aku ingin sekali mempunyai motor seperti itu.
What on earth? -- You're kidding right?  September 24, 2009 06:02 AM
"" ..Later in the day he zipped past a ¼-mile long line of traffic in the left-hand lane around blind corners. Needless to say, we didn’t have the sack to follow...."" He did WHAT?! What a total buffoon - you think that's cool?? It needs "sack" (nice way to "eloquate" yourself) to follow? That makes you a buffoon too... two total idiots - as new reader of this site I will avoid Harley's articles like the plague and inform anyone who listens about the kind of half assed outfit Bad Bear Choppers is...
Dennis T -Bryan...  September 17, 2009 03:30 PM
You know, when you write a steaming pile of cr@p and it gets pointed out, articulately, by a bunch o'folks - maybe it's you who are the keyboard cowboys.... just sayin'
Tom -Couple of things I wanted to add  September 16, 2009 03:59 PM
I was the first to reply here with a critical comment. After reading Bryan's rather pathetic and pretty low reply, I feel the need to add a couple of thoughts in my defense, and then I won't be coming back here.

What he does is a classic example of a 'straw man argument'. (look it up) It's not at all relevant to the discussion by myself and a few others. My expectations regarding his journalistic abilities were already pretty low, but by replying the way he did like a spoiled infant, my esteem is now rock bottom...

Since when has this become a 'p*n*s contest' about who has the most patents? It's so laughable, I'm not even going to bother ... Were you serious? Since when does owning a totally random number of patents give me more or less credibility regarding an informed opinion about anything. So if I were to have one patent more than him, I could have an opinion, otherwise I don't? So, where are your patents, Mr. Harley??! By your own definition you're not worthy to comment.

It's not even about the patents, it's about how you decided to write that garbage piece of reporting. (!!)

And let me tell you, I work for a company with hundreds of patents, most of them are not in the least bit that spectacular or groundbreaking, or even valid. A concept you would appreciate if you had any kind of understanding about the world of patents at all, instead of being blinded by a mere meaningless number, coming right out of a press release. I can understand though how hillbilly's would be easily impressed with things they do not understand at all, hence to need to bring it up like a proud schoolboy. Enough about the patents, unless you want to file one for being an internet jackass...

Also, the amount of bikes I sell or don't sell is not the least bit relevant. It's a totally ridiculous statement, and again, makes me question your credibility as someone who writes editorials for a major motorcycle website. I know I don't want to be reading your stuff if those are the type of arguments you come up with. I wonder how your colleagues in the street/race department feel about this statement. How many self-made bikes have they sold? That makes them by definition inadequate reviewers or opinionated writers? I would start thinking about a way to backpedal out of that one. Or you for that matter, how many have you sold? What a load of crap.

I hope you at least agree that there's no need for owning patents or selling bikes to have an opinion about bikes. That's also a bitch slap to all the dedicated users who take time and effort to write their experiences and opinions in the comment sections of this site.

Sure, it's easier to be a 'journalist' (*ah-um*) if your writings go unchallenged. Maybe you need to grow up and realize it is part of the game.

Replying with very low blow irrelevant comments and 'keyboard cowboy' insults to dedicated readers on your site makes you look like the fool many already thought you were. Quite below the standard that your colleagues adhere to in the other sections of this site. Respect to them.

One more thing
--"Don't be jealous because I can eloquate myself in more than linear, monosyllabic dribble."-- Bryan Harley... is absolutely the cheapest way to counter some valid thoughts. People with your argument skills obviously think that insulting someones language abilities makes the CONTENTS of what they say null and void at the same time. I don't particularly feel it applies to me, but it says more about you than it does about me. I've seen some comments here that were much worse than what I wrote, even coming from born Americans.

For your information, English is my third, or actually fourth language I got learn at school. Again, way to go, Shakespeare.

Anyway, coming back to my first statement and wrapping things up, this will be my last visit to the cruiser section of this site. Literally ALL THE ARTICLES here are written by you. I already chose not to pay attention to your vids on the youtube channel. Well, this does it. I don't care much for fools like you and am certainly NOT the least bit impressed or interested in reading your articles anymore. I'll turn to motorcyclecruiser.com and motorcycle.com for the real in-depth and quality stuff about cruisers. Not drivel from an overeager, blatantly ignorant journalist who didn't even do his homework before going there. Instead of learning something interesting, we got to read a glorified press release

last time reader -Integrity vs payola  September 16, 2009 09:56 AM
Yea, Alsop is smart. He obviously saw you coming and along with his shinny patents lined up he had a piece of paper on his desk with line after line of press ready praise he has written over the years about himself and his company, just waiting for you to come along and give him free advertising. First your article about his 40k POS called the GTX-F, which you couldn't say enough great things about in your article titled GTX-F Quick Ride. I'm sure you read the comments there yea? (I'm guessing the burn out you mention in both articles is the same one, right?) And to top it off now you write this, complete with bad boy Criss A. pictures and name dropping. C'mon dude, it seems pretty obvious to the rest of us who your writing this piece for, and it ain't us. Hell, if it wasn't for your desire to get out and cruise Big Bear back country and meet criss angel, these articles could of been phoned in by Alsop. AND, By the way, ripping past a 1/4 mile of traffic on a blind corner doesn't make him a racer, it makes him a huge egotistic prick A Hole show off that doesn't care that he might have crashed into me on my bike coming the other way. I hate punks like that. F*%& him!
Racer1 -Thanks "nobody" and "Seventex"  September 16, 2009 07:55 AM
It doesn't take a genius to realize that this article was a form of flattering fan worship - as you say, devoid of any critical thinking, analysis and not bothering to mention the recall and warranty issues. I wasn't surprised when Bryan then personally attacked his detractors as neanderthals capable of only "linear, monosyllabic dribble" - which clearly wasn't the case, but probably made him feel better to type it. This from a guy who elicits a response from Hopper's mom when he mistakenly strays away from cruisers and decides he's now a racing correspondent! Journalism is about more than conjecture (Hopper) and fawning tripe (BBC) and I think enough people have articulately stated that the readership of this site expect more.
Seventex -100 cc?  September 16, 2009 05:51 AM
I would expect the S&S Smooth Engine is 100 cubic INCHES... not cubic centimeters. Then again, it would be pretty easy to pass most emissions standards (even in Europe) with a 100cc motor.

I have to laugh at the notion that a chopper is for the "working class guys" because it squeezes under the $20k price point. I don't know what class they think we're working in, but that's a lot of scratch and a roughly 25% premium over a decked out HD or Victory (where you'll probably get more agreeable terms on financing). I suppose those companies are struggling with sales because they're just factory bikes, not "factory-customs" and what the working guy is looking for is the chance to spend a lot more money.

I think, Mr. Harley, that your critics have merit. This is a puff piece devoid of critical thinking or analysis.
nobody -recall???  September 16, 2009 05:33 AM
You're like the mass media continually stumping for President Obama. If you're in the business you must know that a major recall has been looming over BBC and it's customers for almost 2 years now. If you check the NTSB website you'll see that less than 10% of bikes have been fixed and if you check any MC related forums you would know that most BBC dealers won't do the recall work because King Kevin isn't giving them enough money to do the work. As a journalist, if you're going to interview someone, you should do research ahead of time and ask some tough questions. You obviously were paid to do a commmercial for BBC. NOT to conduct a meaningful interview.
Luc Van de Velde -Indian Motorcycles  September 15, 2009 05:57 PM
As an airbrush artist I have only had the chance to admire a beautifull Indian Chief with sidecar,since then it is one of my top 3 goals in life to obtain one of this beauties; I'm an Indian fan since I've read the 'biography'-book, which has been stolen from me years ago. Nevertheless, I still look out for special bikes on the internet, my brother in law is a roadster affiniciado and my airbrushing work still keeps me,more or less, on line with the bikerworld. I don't own anything that rides on an engine , 'cos I don't care for a license unlesss it's to ride an authentical Indian or a custom trike.Yours truly Indian fan,
L.V.d.Velde
P.S. I do own an original Indian Zippo(ain't that a drag)
Barry -temper temper  September 15, 2009 04:49 AM
Plain and simple fact is Bryan Harley is a another paid off idiot .
Racer1 -Monosyllabic?  September 11, 2009 11:09 AM
I'm not sure either Tom or myself can be fairly accused of "linear, monosyllabic dribble" (did you mean drivel)? I have read plenty of inarticulate post,s filled with poor grammar and spelling, and I sincerely don't believe that our posts reflect that kind of ignorance. I'm also unsure of what "conjecture" you are referring to... I make no conjecture at all in my post - I was actually merely defending good journalism and pointing out that giddy puff pieces do not serve your readers well. My comment about the "ugliest bike in the world" was opinion, not conjecture... maybe you need to calm down a tad and comment on what was actually posted, not on what wasn't?
bryan harley -keyboard cowboys  September 11, 2009 10:02 AM
I love haters. Kevin's got more class, intelligence, and talent than you keyboard cowboys. How many patents do you have? How many bikes have you sold? BBC is good at what they do, otherwise they wouldn't still be alive in a cutthroat market after 11 years in business.

Don't be jealous because I can eloquate myself in more than linear, monosyllabic dribble.

Unless you've ridden a particular motorcycle or inspected the quality of somebody's work firsthand, then your conjecture doesn't have much credibility.
Racer1 -Got to agree with Tom  September 11, 2009 09:22 AM
It's one thing for a motorcycle web site or magazine to reprint Press Releases with a line saying who supplied the copy and images. It's another thing entirely for a magazine to write - as editorial - press releases for companies without any objectivity, critical appraisal or journalistic integrity. This fawning puff piece would be alright - sickly, but alright - if it came from BBC's PR department - as a piece of journalism, it's insulting. The last BBC piece (the ugliest bike in the world) was equally disingenuous and vapid. As to Tom's point about the XR1200 being called a race bike... 550lbs and 90bhp is not a race bike - it's an overweight, underpowered standard... but I do take your point that it's a race bike compared to these things. Also doing a burn out does not make you a "racer"! It just means you have tires to spare and like to show off by doing easy stuff!
Tom -Oh man...  September 11, 2009 04:40 AM
Where to begin

- Criss Angel is gonna be real happy. Thinking he ordered himself a 'one-off' bike. Next thing he knows there will be thousand similar bikes riding around. Indeed, great way to alienate your 'high visibility' customers. But sure, everything related to BBC is great...

- Can someone else please do these articles? The moment I see bryans face in the top, I already know what kind of article it will be. He's always all over this stuff like a giddy little schoolgirl. Everything they do or come up with is 'fantastically magical' and of 'unparalleled grace, style and beauty'... Yawn. It seems like he's too much of a fan-boy or too close a friend of the BBC family to express anything else but endless praise and admiration.

- Who are you calling 'a racer'? and what kind of 'race bike' was he riding? Anyone capable of twisting the throttle and laying down some rubber on a sculpted exhibition bike like those fat heavy cruisers is NOT a racer. I don't care if you think there's only one type of bike in the world and that these relics can serve as racers/tourers/all round/... but that's just delusional. Put that thing on any track against any real race bike and it will be eaten for breakfast. I hope you were talking about something else than a cafe racer style V-twin behemoth racer. (I can accept harley trial bikes and the XR1200 being called racers)