This text was initially printed within the June 2003 concern of Bike Cruiser.
If imitation is the sincerest type of flattery, then Harley-Davidson is as much as its neck in reward. What’s ironic is that The Motor Firm basically created its personal competitors. The so-called “American Different” market is partly the results of Harley’s failure to fill rabid shopper demand for product. Any science trainer will let you know that nature abhors a vacuum, so naturally a couple of savvy entrepreneurs jumped on the likelihood to fulfill the ache. And due to Harley’s success, aftermarket alternative elements—and ultimately complete engines—have been available.
BUILD IT AND THEY WILL COPY
At first, the cloning course of resulted in crude examples that suffered from an absence of high quality management (to place it properly). However in the course of the bullish 1990s, something custom-built in America bought simply. Again then, Harley’s personal high quality was spotty sufficient that an enormous aftermarket had emerged to fill the necessity for improved elements that may very well be individually accessed. This flood of “Harley elements” hastened the rise of the hybrid producers, whose machines so carefully mirrored Harley’s personal large twins that they earned the moniker “clone” bikes. Deservedly or not, the identify caught, and shortly there have been dozens of firms churning out Harley-patterned V-twin pushed customs.
The clone producers appeared to have reached the peak of their reputation within the mid-’90s, when the market grew to become saturated. Quickly afterward, the economic system went tender, and more and more cautious patrons started demanding greater high quality and decrease costs. Extra just lately, Harley-Davidson manufacturing reached an all-time excessive (230,000 items in 2001 and climbing), nearly eliminating ready lists for its bikes. The brand new Twin Cam engines additionally put Harley a technological bounce forward of its imitators, who’re nonetheless largely utilizing the older Evolution design as the idea for his or her bikes. Since Harley itself has caught up with demand, the clone section has produced extra Chapter 11s than success tales. Now that the vacuum not exists, what’s left for the survivors?
Thankfully, Darwinism has weeded out the informal wannabes and strengthened the remaining gamers, many who’ve adopted trade requirements like manufacturing unit warranties, improved customer support and tighter high quality management. Their bikes have developed far past mere reinventions of present Motor Firm fashions. They’re now so distinctive they actually shouldn’t even be known as clone bikes. We investigated two of those successful firms which can be breaking the mildew.
DOG AND PONY SHOW
The American V-twin market has matured to some extent the place its choices are viable merchandise quite than merely copies, however many of the producers nonetheless use an analogous Evo-patterned V-twin engine structure (sometimes an S&S 100-plus cubic-inch motor), suspended in an extended, low, double-cradle metal body topped with a one-piece, seamless gas tank. The hook is that every motorbike is constructed to the client’s specs, usually with a alternative of transmission, wheel design and engine measurement. The higher builders take it up a notch from there, including high-end componentry, richly textured finishes and dozens of paint and trim choices. Every firm has its personal twist on what constitutes a successful recipe.
American IronHorse Bike Co. purports to be a “main producer of custom-made, high-performance bikes and luxurious cruisers.” Because the seven-year-old firm manufactures over 300 of its personal elements in-house and has proven regular double-digit gross sales progress within the final three years, that assertion may not be too far off the mark.
Huge Canine Bikes, based by enterprise mogul Sheldon Coleman, additionally has racked up sturdy manufacturing numbers within the big-twin market since its inception in 1994. The corporate has been worthwhile the final two years working, and claims to be the “largest quantity and oldest producer of American high-performance customs.”
Dallas-based American IronHorse Bike Co. grew from a small store to one of many largest American bike builders within the American-hybrid trade. Based by Invoice Rucker and Tim Edmondson in 1995, the corporate just lately introduced gross sales progress of 150 p.c in 2001 over the prior interval, for its first full worthwhile yr. Edmondson credit a lot of the corporate’s success to a powerful seller community and dedication to customer support after the sale. American IronHorse has just lately expanded to 70 sellers nationwide, and presents seven completely different 2003 fashions, ranging in worth from $22,490 to $33,900. Together with your alternative of 107- or 113-cubic-inch S&S engines in stretched DayTec inflexible, rubber- or soft-style frames, the bikes additionally present a alternative of five- or six-speed transmissions. Elements produced in-house embrace calipers, swingarms, decrease fork legs, triple timber and wheels.
Every bike comes with a pile of chrome accoutrements, an unlimited-mileage guarantee and “practically twice the horsepower of a inventory Harley,” in line with its press package. Bikes just like the Slammer—a $33,500 work of billet artwork—are beautiful, show-winning examples of the IronHorse philosophy, however the lineup chief of the sequence is the Tejas ($22,490). This hot-rod quantity sports activities a extra muscular 113-inch mill, a stretched body with a hardtail design and a five-speed tranny, all with an attractive worth and seductive styling. American IronHorse has been savvy too, astutely recognizing market shifts and reacting appropriately—its merchandise have developed into an interesting mixture of efficiency and premier styling. The corporate locations 2002 manufacturing at roughly 1700 bikes.
In a flashy, ego-driven trade, Huge Canine Bikes has constructed its success by monitoring stock and thoroughly controlling progress whereas shying away from hype. The Wichita, Kansas, firm has ignored many of the bandwagon temptations by limiting manufacturing and seller growth, and so they’ve made their nine-year run a profitable one. However then, founder Sheldon Coleman isn’t any stranger to profitable enterprise plans—he’s a former president of Coleman Industries, famend maker of outside and tenting gear. A spokesman instructed us the corporate’s enterprise mannequin is strongly based mostly on “sustainable progress,” and that long-term success is a excessive precedence.
This firm seems to be heading in the right direction. After shifting operations into a bigger facility the earlier yr, Huge Canine introduced a 22-percent improve in gross sales for 2002. We have been instructed that manufacturing has elevated, inventories have been decreased and guarantee prices have dropped since then. The corporate maintains 80 sellers nationwide and has grown from a mediocre machinemaker right into a full-fledged, high-quality bike builder.
For 2003, Huge Canine presents an aggressive six-bike lineup, which incorporates its new Tremendous-Fats (extensive rear tire) fashions. All bikes are powered by a 107-cubic-inch S&S V-twin motor mated to a Baker six-speed tranny, with side-mount license brackets. The bikes are outfitted with Efficiency Machine four-piston calipers with a raft of different high-end elements from stem to stern. The corporate additionally presents dozens of handmade graphic designs and paint finishes for a really product. On the prime of the meals chain is the $28,900 Bulldog tender tail, which incorporates a right-side drive practice that’s claimed to supply superior using steadiness and improved dealing with traits (as a result of it facilities the engine and transmission in the course of the body). Their best-selling bike is the Pitbull, a lower-priced hardtail mannequin. As we went to press, Huge Canine knowledgeable us its 5000th bike had rolled off the road. The corporate constructed 1600 bikes in 2001, and expects 2003 numbers to be even greater.
HOT DOGS AND COOL HORSES. WE RIDE ’EM
We had the chance to instrument round on two bikes from every of those premiere builders. We got here away impressed and pleasantly stunned with the standard and straightforward nature exhibited by the large twins and even the acute choppers.
Huge Canine provided us its top-of-the-line Bulldog ($31,150 as examined). Although an enormous 250 sequence rear tire screamed “hot-rod,” the bike’s inviting 24.5-inch seat peak and pearl white flame-and-pinstripe graphics immediately put us comfortable.
A squat on the solo saddle proves extra comfy than it appears to be like, and the cockpit of the Bulldog is properly completed with a barely pulled-back drag bar, glossy single-face instrument gauge and a superbly stretched, seamless one-piece fuel tank. The construct high quality on this bike is impeccable. Firing up the bike engenders a hearty rumble from the 107-cubic-inch, meticulously polished S&S engine, and though the chunky 54mm inverted fork and fats rear tire combo is heavy at a standstill, the load appears to soften away when you’re rolling. For all its heft, the Bulldog handles nimbly, turning simply on the beefy 21-inch entrance tire. Nonetheless, proper hand turns took extra effort due to the motor/tranny offset.
Each whack on the throttle is trigger for ear-to-ear grins. The gobs of arm-pulling torque is delivered in a really easy trend by the six-speed Baker transmission (with proper aspect drive). The cogs shuffle easily and positively and, though the clutch pull is just a little heavy, it engages predictably. The Bulldog’s low-slung, cleanly designed Daytec 250 body hides a single shock out again which we really feel is a bit harsh on sharp bumps. The entrance and rear PM brakes sluggish issues down convincingly, and we’re instructed the 2003 mannequin Bulldog will get a brand new, stretched headlight and side-mounted tag bracket, too.
All in all, our first Huge Canine experience revealed a surprisingly balanced, well-handling motorbike with a decent really feel, superior construct high quality and loads of type and energy. In every class, we thought the Bulldog did in addition to or higher than the mainstream large twins we normally check. The Huge Canine Chopper ($27,650 as examined) was a blast too, in a very completely different approach. When you get used to the insane rake of the fork and the swinging-in-the-breeze using place it necessitates, the wallop of the 107-cubic-inch S&S engine just about ensures rollicking good enjoyable.
Huge Canine says it’s impressed by traditional choppers of the previous, however this Chopper takes the idea to a brand new degree with a fats 250mm rear tire working below a hidden shock body. A Baker six-speed, just like the Bulldog’s, ensures straightforward freeway efficiency and shifts easily. The 40-degree whole rake appears to be like radical and presents fully hard-core angle, however we didn’t discover it as tough to experience as anticipated. The clutch and brake lever are awkward to entry, the bottom clearance is maddeningly quick and the steering takes some getting used to, however we received appreciative appears to be like in all places we went on the Chopper, even in our full-face helmets and armored jackets. We didn’t really feel the Chopper was as straightforward or enjoyable to experience because the Bulldog, however we admit we preferred being in contact with our internal Dangerous Ass.
American IronHorse’s glossy $26,990 Outlaw caught our eye immediately with its sculpted and stretched one-piece fuel tank—its superior match and end is much more spectacular than the Huge Canine’s at first look, and the paint and graphic design is especially beautiful. The 2-inch Daytec body rolls on a 240mm rear tire, with a 21-incher up entrance. The seat is easily built-in into the traces of the tank, and the rear fender is strutless, for a clear total design.
It was a false sense of promise, although, since as soon as we began to roll on the Outlaw, issues have been removed from ultimate. The 107-cubic-inch S&S engine began up positive, however the Outlaw’s throttle required an absurdly heavy hand, and the bike was tough to steer into corners. The 2-into-one exhaust system is properly formed and totally chromed, nevertheless it’s too loud for our tastes. The clutch can also be heavier than it needs to be, though the six-speed JIMS transmission did shift easily. After a pair dozen miles, we discovered ourselves combating over the corporate’s straightforward going chopper.
AIH’s eye-catching new Texas Chopper ($26,460), which additionally comes with a sophisticated 107-cubic-inch engine, and a fats 240mm, 18-inch rear tire, was way more agreeable than the Outlaw. Its design is outlined with a four-inch spine stretch, an eight-inch-over downtube stretch and an elongated tank, mixed with pullback risers and twin disc entrance brakes. And though we liked the look and the texture of the chopper, it popped and backfired like a mom and we discovered our check bike’s belt drive rubbing towards the swingarm.
Other than the quirkiness of the Outlaw, we liked the Huge Canine and American IronHorse examples we rode. In truth, in our quick check, they outperformed most of the large twins sitting in your seller’s showroom. To say we have been pleasantly stunned is simply too delicate. It will be extra truthful to say we have been plainly awed and left wanting rather more time on the bikes. Definitely, we left wholly satisfied that Harley “clones” are a factor of the previous.
In some ways these machines have surpassed the originals.