So many booths, so little time. The floors of the Duke Energy Convention Center would soon be flooded by thousands of V-Twin industry reps, custom builders and exhibitors in a flurry of activity that had the atmosphere of the Stock Exchange floor.
The massive doors to the cavernous exhibit halls of the Duke Energy Convention Center opened last Saturday, unleashing hordes of enthusiastic wheelers and dealers who flooded the floors eager to strike a deal at the 8th Annual V-Twin Expo in Cincinnati. Banners dangled from the ceiling as companies hoisted their colors like pirates, barkers and babes enticed passersby to stop and shop in a frenzy of action as small distributors looked to sign the deal that could transform them from small time player to industry giant. Established players perused the seemingly endless rows of booths with hopes of spotting the one item that could distinguish them from their competition. Business cards were dealt with the dexterity of black jack dealers as people formed new alliances and old friendships reignited with a simple handshake hello.
The topic at the top of everybody's list this year is the impending sound and emission changes. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is scheduled to enforce the California Air Resources Board (CARB) stringent Tier 2 standards in 2010, which has thrust S&S Cycle's EPA-compliant X-Wedge engine into the limelight. Case in point.
Big Dog Motorcycles
debuted its 2009 Wolf at the V-Twin Expo. The Wolf is a Pro Street model with signature BDM traits, stretched and slammed, with a healthy rake out front. And while the styling doesn't venture far from what we'd expect from Big Dog, it is powered by the 121 cubic inch X-Wedge. Whether this will be the mill of choice for all bikes in BDM's 2009 lineup remains to be seen, but Big Dog is demonstrating good foresight in selecting the S&S lump in an effort to appease the feds and the enviros, because this situation is not going away. At a time when people are talking recession and sales have slumped, a fat fine from the EPA could send manufacturer s that are teetering in the black over the brink.
I'll give Big Dog props for putting out the first 2009 bike I've seen. Its huge 23-inch front tire caught my attention before I realized it was a 2009 model. The 56-degree V-Twin is housed in a in a tubular frame with a thick single downtube. The early specs I could glean from the BDM booth says that the 2009 Wolf has electronic fuel injection (the 2007 Bulldog was the first Big Dog with EFI), a Baker 6-Speed transmission and the proprietary BDM Balance-Drive system. A six-piston caliper will put the squeeze on the 130/60R-23 front tire, while the 220/50R-20 rear tire rolls in a "radical swingarm." It has a drive side brake and an extensive standard chrome package. Big Dog also stated that it has a highly-styled saddle bag option, which I'll wager will be color matching hard packs. In standard Big Dog tradition, I'm sure it will come in a slew of paint and graphic options as the custom coup de grace. The display bike had a sharp red paint and flame graphic combo that was a real eye-catcher, evident by the constant stream of admirers filing past the bike while I visited the Big Dog booth.
We're barely into 2008 and manufacturers are already breaking out the '09s. Big Dog Motorcycles was first out of the gate with its 2009 Wolf, the first BDM equipped with S&S Cycle's X-Wedge engine.
Big Dog is not alone in allying with S&S. Big Bear Choppers
was also on hand with its X-Wedge powered G.T.X. Bagger. BBC's Kevin Alsop was the first builder among the small custom production houses that I know of to get a product to market with the innovative engine as its power source. I've wanted to check this bike out in person since featuring it in a First Look
article back in October. I was not disappointed. Long and low, Alsop stretched the 2008 G.T.X.'s midsection 12 inches after the tranny and placed the pillion on the back of the frame, lowering the bike's center of gravity in doing so. Even though it's a bagger, the aggressive design of the G.T.X .is tailored more toward the Pro Street performance-based end of the spectrum than a casual weekend tripper. And just because the X-Wedge is environmentally-friendly, don't think it's been neutered. S&S aimed to increase both power and torque numbers with the engine in "a smooth, rider friendly package."
Other names on the X-Wedge client list include Orange County Choppers
, who debuted its 2008 OCC Bagger Friday night at the Expo. The Teutul clan claims to be the first to rubber mount the potent powerplant in its Bagger, a move which should further reduce any engine vibrations coming off the efficient mill. S&S Cycle's President Brett Smith mentioned that Roger Bourget plans on using the X-Wedge in his Drifter line, adding to the growing list of accomplished builders getting on board the X-Wedge train.
In accordance with the emissions standards, noise regulations were also a hot button at the Expo. But unlike the well-defined parameters of the 2010 EPA restrictions, ambiguity surrounded the discussions pertaining to noise. At what decibel level is a bike's pipes determined to be too loud? The general consensus from a panel discussion that included Bassani Xhaust's Darryl Bassani and Samson Exhaust's Kenny Price is 80db. This is not the level they believe it should be at, but all agreed that this was the maximum level at which states have started establishing noise emission laws. The two hotbeds of contention in the battle against loud pipes once again is California, while Denver has also instituted a strict policy against noise emissions.
"If you've got a set of straight pipes, you're going to be in trouble," said panel member Grady Pfeiffer of GH Marketing.
The first complication comes from a lack of standardized testing criteria for noise regulations. We heard reports of riders getting popped by the "stick in the pipes" test. If a policeman can stick his nightstick straight up your pipes, you're busted. Others complained of situations where patrolmen had been given decibel readers and went out using them in the field with no formal training. While the standard procedure is to take the reading 18 inches from the exhaust opening at a 45 degree angle, in more than one occurrence motorcyclists reported police taking the reading directly from the pipe. All cruisers will fail the test under these circumstances. Finally, there is the 80db at 50 feet drive-by test. And while this is probably the fairest, most practical way to get an accurate reading, there were no reports of this method being used by lawmen. Even the fines levied against riders were all over the board. This points out the need for a standard, nation-wide method for testing noise emissions. Until riders know exactly at what decibel level they are breaking the law, we're all guilty. The standard is also biased against motorcyclists, as there is no such mandate against cagers. I can hear my neighbor's Glass Packs on her Honda before she hits our street, so there is definitely a double standard in place.
Fine brunettes in hot pink were show stoppers, regardless of what a vendor was selling. Do you think the old guy in the background is really checking out what wares they were peddling at this booth?
Maybe these disparities can be challenged by the fledgling Custom Bike Association
(CBA). The CBA is a recent collaboration of industry insiders and custom builders who "recognized a need for a centralized, education-focused organization within the V-Twin industry." The CBA states that its primary goal is to establish a standardized education and certification process based on universally accepted specs and standards. The CBA looks to be an advocate for members as they try to promote the industry in a positive light. It is a non-profit organization with Paul Cox Industries namesake Paul Cox as its spokesman, and in its quest to serve the needs and interests of the custom V-Twin and metric community, EPA compliancy is going to be an issue it is going to encounter repeatedly. A centralized body that educates and supports custom builders in the dynamic world of custom building where it's no longer a simple matter of nuts and bolts can only be a positive influence in the V-Twin world.
The CBA could have gotten a jump start on recruiting at the 2008 V-Twin Expo because there was no shortage of star power in attendance. The first person I saw when I walked into the exhibition hall was Roland Sands
. Shrewd businessman that he is, Sands' booth was located primely just inside the front doors to the left entrance. Sands was promoting his Venturi Air Cleaner, a five-spoke exposed filter design aimed at increasing performance, and other RSD products like his popular Tracker 2-into-1 exhaust, which is a sharp-looking 2-into-1 system with black ceramic coated pipes and drilled chrome heat shields.
I ran across Arlen Ness
next at the Arlen Ness Leathers booth in the center of the Expo. Ness is about as cool as they come, and stood out in the crowd with his tailored grey suit. And though he may have been promoting his leathers, it was the Ness customs spread out strategically around the booth that was bringing the people in. Cory Ness' customized Victory Vision Street was among the numerous bikes on display. Knowing that Arlen also has a slick custom Victory Vision himself highlighted by plenty of hand engraving, I asked him where that bike was.
"That's my personal bike. It's at home," Ness said with a smile.
When asked whether he had any plans on doing a custom version of the Victory Vision similar to the Ness Signature Series that he already designs for Victory's power cruiser division, Arlen said that such a bike could be in the works within a year or two.
Hey buddy, the Raiders didn't make it to the Super Bowl! Actually, the Motorcycle Monster's website has an extensive listing of motorcycle events.
After debuting two new production bikes Friday night, Orange County Choppers Paul Sr. and Paul Jr. hit the floor Saturday and slowly made their way to the OCC booth near the back of the Expo. I say slowly because they couldn't get two steps without fans stopping them. While amicable to a point, Senior didn't appear too enthused when he sat down in director's chair for a little break from the demanding throngs and a silver haired lady loudly professed "I just love your show" and shoved a small, black stuffed dog in his hand and asked for a picture. For a minute I thought he was going to bite the stuffed animal's head off because the lady was very forward and obnoxious, but he weathered the intrusion with a half grimace, let her get her picture, and she went on her way.
Other popular custom builders I ran into included Big Bear Choppers' Kevin Alsop, who spent a good deal of time at the BBC booth fielding questions and shaking hands. He also had the G.T.X. Bagger on hand that I mentioned before with a hot custom paint job. Russell Mitchell made a quick cameo appearance wearing his trademark sullen Mitchell scowl while promoting black Exile Cycles'
aftermarket pipes. While making my way upstairs for a seminar, I almost bumped into a cameraman following American Thunder
producer Jay Barbieri. First we see Jay in Hollywood at the Cross Bones intro, now we bump into him again in Cincy. The way our paths keep crossing, I'm sure I'll see him next month during Bike Week. The final motorcycling icon I ran into was NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle champion, Angelle Sampey. It blows me away that such a diminutive, attractive woman is a world class drag racer that muscles some of the most powerful bikes on the planet down the strip at break-neck speed. Talk about not being able to tell a book by its cover. Sampey graciously signed autographs and mingled with fans of the queen of the NHRA drag strip.
As far as building trends in the industry, baggers and bobbers are still riding the wave of popularity. At the forefront of bagger builders is Sucker Punch Sallys
out of Scottsdale, AZ. Sucker Punch Sallys builds no-frills old school bikes, and its Traditional model and 66 Bobber both received industry awards in 2007. Another Arizona-based builder doing good things with the bobber is Swift Motorcycles
. Its 2008 Lil Drifter is marketed as a softail chopper with its chopped front end, but its small peanut-style tank mounted high on the backbone, sprung seat, and round Moon Eyes-style oil tank give it plenty of throwback bobber styling cues. We also admired the work of Zero Engineering's Hiro Sasaki, who builds industrial strength bobbers that look like they really rip. The bikes are very minimalist, meticulously crafted without a bunch of excess chrome and frills. Zero Engineering
originated in Okazaki City, Japan, and has a style that melds both Japanese and American custom building practices into artfully crafted machines.
Exile Motorcycle's head honcho Russell Mitchell ducked out before I could get my camera out so I had to take a picture of his rep who was handing out Exile flyers. I didn't think you'd mind.
And while we already mentioned the release of OCC's 2008 Bagger and Big Bear Choppers' 2008 G.T.X., another company worth watching in the near future is Fat Baggers Inc.
(FBI) out of Chariton, IA. FBI started out with a bolt-on Bagger Fat Tire Kit for FLH Harley owners who wanted a wider 200mm. It has evolved into a small production house, with three baggers in its 2008 line - the 2008 Razor Glide, the 2008 Razorback, and the 2008 Razor King. With its big bags, fat rear, small, sporty front fairing, low seat height and a 120 cubic inch JIMS engine, the 2008 Razor Glide looks like it could make those long road trips a little funner while getting you there a little faster.
Attending the 2008 V-Twin Expo by Easyriders was an excellent way to see the latest the industry has to offer up close and personal. We have a slew of custom builders we hope to feature in the coming year, but don't want to tip our hat about who they are yet for fear that our competitors might try to move in for the scoop. My feet began to feel the burn after pounding the pavement for miles, and my shutter finger was sore after shooting hundreds of pictures, but it was an incredible networking opportunity. Is it too early to sign up for next year?
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