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V-Twin Expo 2011

By Ernie Copper

Cincinnati, Ohio, Feb. 5–7—Industry trendsetters, dealers and dreamers gathered at the Duke Energy Center for the 11th annual V-Twin Expo by Easyriders for three days of wheeling and dealing. Throw in the annual V-Twin awards banquet, more after-hours industry parties than any reasonable person could attend—all within walking distance of Cincy’s downtown hotels—and you can see why this event is viewed by many as the crystal ball for the year to come.

While the weather in Cincinnati at show time was the best in recent memory, Mother Nature continued to be a factor for many, as the now-annual “V-Twin Expo Winter Storm” rocked the nation’s midsection early in the week, affecting flights from Denver to Texas as well as icing roads for exhibitors hauling into the show. For instance, “Kiwi Mike” Tomas faced ice-covered roads between his Kiwi Indian Motorcycle Company in southern California and the Expo in Cincinnati, at times forcing his progress to a labored 4 mph.

Those who faced the weather and beat it were rewarded with the first upswing in dealer attendance the show has enjoyed in four years, according to Jim Betlach, the show’s producer. The doors swung open to the 200,000 sq. ft. exhibit hall Saturday morning at 10 a.m. to let the moderate crowd of dealers and industry types in, and the show swelled to full swing status by lunchtime. One vendor claimed he sold more during three days this year than he had in the previous three years at the Expo.

The general public, which includes many of you, need not check the mailbox for an invitation to this event. It won’t be forthcoming. This is a show for dealers only, and for good reason. The decisions those dealers make during the three days of the Expo determine who will and who won’t be featuring those parts in their catalogs, shops and showrooms this year. It also is largely responsible for what will become the trends as well as the oddities in the coming year.

This is a V-Twin industry trade show, and the people attending this show, while concerned with quality, reputation and value, are also concerned with making a profit. While that may be uncomfortable for you as a customer to think about, it is actually in your best interest if you’d like to have a dealer to go back to if things ever go wrong with your purchase. And let’s face it, things occasionally do go wrong.

Like most other trade shows, the V-Twin Expo features a full slate of seminars on topics of interest to people in the industry, and attendance is included with Expo registration. Here’s a sample of what you’re missing: Effective Customer Marketing; Trikes: How a Third Wheel can Impact your Business; and Internet Marketing to Increase your Bike Sales. Other offerings included Full Throttle Profits and Marketing Tech Tips and Tricks. There were also seminars designed to educate dealers on performance products: Growing your Business with Thunder Max, and Power Commander V & Autotune: Set Up and Operation.

All of the show displays were contained in the cavernous main exhibit hall this year. That includes the Handle Bar Café and the New Products Showcase, which just didn’t fit several years ago. Second floor meeting rooms held the above-mentioned seminars and the third floor Grand Ballroom was the site of Saturday evening’s V-Twin Awards program.

Sounding off
I’m not sure if “electronics” is the right term to describe what’s happening in the industry right now, any more than the word “telephone” describes your 4G smart phone. Let’s say technology is sure to be in your future, from performance management of your fuel and ignition systems to lighting and audio. Things are changing fast. Show Producer Jim Betlach agreed that there are more EFI tuning and fly-by-wire performance products than before. “I’m guessing, but I’d say there’s at least 12 or 13 this year on the market. Before there were just a couple, and now in addition to folks like ThunderMax and DynoJet who have done that forever, now companies like RC Components and Kuryakyn have them. We also have Superchips in here, which is a huge automotive company. They have gotten into the fracas, if you will. It’s very competitive.”

The Superchips Vigilante V-Twin tuning system was awarded the Teresi Prize at the V-Twin Awards Saturday night, and that could be a great representation of where the aftermarket industry is going. According to Bob Earley, Superchips engineer, the system offers a variety of options to its user, who can tune for a multitude of conditions with the help of a laptop. A “cooler” map can be selected for city riding and a “performance” map chosen for highway speeds, both at the flip of a switch. Superchips can also program the delay out of your fly-by-wire EFI system at the wide-open throttle position.

There were no less than seven exhibitors featuring audio products of some kind, not to mention the variety of fairing and windscreen manufactures incorporating audio into their systems. It seemed that everyone who sold a fairing had an audio package of some sort to go along with it. Jim Betlach commented to Thunder Press, “I can tell you where all the attention is here at the show. The audio end of it, the speaker systems, the ways of mounting your iPod or iPhone—any of the electronic stuff is very hot this year.”

Expo sponsor Cardo Systems featured their Scala rider system, which is a Bluetooth unit capable of intercom and multi-bike communications in addition to the capacity for audio entertainment inside your helmet. Rival manufacturer Sena SMH10 offers a Bluetooth/intercom system for helmeted riders, as well as a prototype for riders with their heads bare. Both Sena systems offer a convenient two-button rider interface and unlimited pairing with other like units. Personal audio will take different forms from full-blown bike-mounted systems like Hawg Wired’s 400 watt RMS “Four in Your Face” with an MSRP of $1,499, to the company’s Road King Media System at $599. J & M’s Rokker audio system was the recipient of the V-Twin Accessory of the Year Award and attracted a crowd every time the rep cranked up AC/DC’s You Shook me All Night Long.

If the only sound you want to hear when you ride is the sound of your engine, you’re in luck, too; because there are plenty of exhaust systems to choose from at the Expo. Rinehart Racing featured a carousel of products installed on bikes and plenty of unmounted products for display and inspection. Their 2-into-1 setup for ’09–’11 touring bikes is sure to be a hit with riders looking to hot up their late-model touring machines.

Tri Glide owners with a need for extra clearance will be happy to hear that Vance and Hines is offering a new setup that offers improved ground clearance over the stock system and a stylish exit design, similar to their Monster Ovals. They are a stainless steel, rolled tip design. V&H is also offering an extended head pipe for their Power Duals so you can use them on the Tri Glide. It may seem like a little thing, but the company is also offering 25′ Heat Tape wrap kits that come complete with a stainless steel clamp to finish off the job.

In the front of the hall, Bassani Xhaust was out in full force. They featured slip-ons for Sportsters and V-Rods as well as a new-style, full-coverage heat shield. There were muffler and exhaust systems displayed by other companies, too, and most were available in your choice of polished or matte black finishes.

Build, buy or browse?
If you’re looking for a new engine for your project bike, S&S seems the obvious choice this year. Their KN-Kone engine garnered Motor of the Year at the V-Twin Awards. The 93″ engine combines the retro styling of a Knucklehead with an alternator-style lower end. It’s said to be a bolt-in replacement for any stock ’70–’98 Big Twin chassis and will also fit ’99 chassis originally equipped with Evo engines.

Heartland USA was getting a lot of attention with its 240 D conversion, which included hard bags, for the Harley-Davidson Dyna. They offer a wide variety of wide-tire conversion kits for Softail models up to 280-series tires, as well as several bobber kits for late-model Harleys.

Safe, secure storage has always been a topic of concern to bikers and there were several solutions for that. If you carry a sidearm when you ride you may, on occasion, like to take your piece out of your boot, but where to store it safely? Top Shelf Saddle Bag Organizers can handle the job for your hard-bagged Harley with only three different product numbers covering 18-year-old through present-day model years. The hard bag organizer tray mounts to the existing hardware and is reversible for either left or right applications, and has an MSRP of $39.99. Handy knockouts are molded into the product to allow the addition of power ports for charging devices, etc. The organizer comes with a slip-resistant mat to keep things in place and you can purchase foam inserts for an additional $15.95. Each tray is only 3″ deep, so the impact on your storage is minimal.

Kiwi Indian Motorcycles debuted its stunning new Chieftain Classic model. The Classic joins the Chief, Roadmaster, Board Track Racer and Bobber in the Chieftain lineup. Kiwi also featured a simple new product for FLH and Softail models that creates a convenient strap-down location for those bikes. It mounts to the bike’s tank mounts and helps make things easier on your handlebars by creating another attachment point in the event that you need to strap your bike down for transporting.

Conspicuous by their absence were the “Production customs” that roamed the V-Twin exhibit hall just a few short years ago. I’m not naming names, but most of them are long gone from the industry and those who aren’t were not in evidence for this year’s offerings.

Equally conspicuous in their massive presence was Custom Chrome; and with good reason, according to CEO Holger Mohr. “This show has been very exciting for us, because it feels like all the dealers are really optimistic about the market and about this year and about the season,” Holger told Thunder Press. “We’re just excited with them and we want to make sure a lot of riders put on our parts. We’ve seen a promising 2010 but we’re really excited about the new year. Custom Chrome has picked up a lot of new lines such as James Gaskets and Medallion, and we’re the only distributor for Rinehart. We are also developing a lot more proprietary products like handlebars, grips and lot of other bolt-on products for daily riders. We also have an exclusive agreement now with FBI. We are distributing a lot of their products including their famous drop-seat program.”

The National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa, Iowa, was well represented by Mark Mederski and a host of vintage bikes. It was the first time the museum had exhibited at the Expo, and for some in attendance, the booth provided their first look at a 1915 Flying Merkel. For others, the ’21 H-D board track racers or the ’52 Vincent were all it. In all, seven bikes offered a preview of what can be expected in terms of quality and style from the museum, and it looks to be awesome. Mederski, the museum’s special project director, offered that this museum, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, features “all brands, all forms and all functions of motorcycles.” The museum will also be hosting a vintage rally, swap meet and show at the museum’s dedication on June 3–4.

Expo eye candy
The hot ticket on Sunday evening was the Drag Specialties Super Bowl Party for its dealers. As a Steelers fan, the outcome of the game didn’t suit me, but the Drag Specialties party was, as always, a big hit.

The father-and-son team of Jerry and Andy Brogden of Brogie’s Bikewear also scored big with their officially licensed line of NFL Logo Helmets. Super Bowl weekend was the perfect setting to debut the line, featuring the entire NFL lineup, with helmets available in DOT-approved half- or three-quarter-style. The Johnstown, Pennsylvania, duo also have a pink-hued Steelers helmet to support awareness of women’s cancer issues, but by Monday morning, the Packers helmet reigned supreme in the booth.

Angie “Topless Tech” Savage was at the Easyriders/V-Twin booth and was also the trophy girl at Saturday night’s award program. Editor-in–Chief of Easyriders and V-Twin magazines, Dave Nichols, was pleased with the show, too. Taking a minute from tirelessly posing with Angie, he was excited to see new products on the floor of the convention center this year. BaggerSkins, an affordable custom graphics package, was one of the new products that caught his eye.

Renowned artist Danial James was at the Expo to reveal some eye candy of his own; Uhl Works, a new high-end T-shirt apparel line that is a collaborative effort with artist David Uhl. A little naughty, a little gritty—Uhl Works is fine art you wear. Their booth was slammed with dealers all weekend.

Biker bourgeois
Our industry is fortunate in that our celebrities are also down-to-earth metal benders, painters, designers and machinists. This is where they come to do business, too. Arlen Ness could be seen on duty in his booth, and Dave Perewitz was checking out the new products when he wasn’t signing autographs in the PPG booth. Ron Finch teamed up with Jon Kosmoski at his House of Kolor booth, where Jon informed me he was “beating water” with his solvent-based Shimrin2 finish line featuring a Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) level of 2.8, well under the 3.5 level required by California law. Paul Teutel Jr. was signing autographs at Renegade Wheels on Saturday. I must report that a significant number of people continue to be mesmerized by the Teutel family and will stand in line for an autograph and photo op. Nicky Bootz was back on the scene (less his trademark crazy canines) and Milwaukee Iron’s Randy Simpson is back in the fender-spinning business.

All in all, it looks like many of us will be enduring another year of doing more to, and with, the bikes we already own. But there are plenty of high-quality, reputable and enthusiastic manufacturers, distributors and dealers to lead the way.

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