CINCINNATI, OHIO, FEB 8-9—The V-Twin Expo rolled into Cincinnati for its 14th year with strategic intent. Show producer Jim Betlach explained that they’d had several requests to move the show off its traditional Super Bowl weekend date in years past, and this year Betlach and company gave them what they asked for. The V-Twin date wouldn’t be the only significant change in the 2014 show calendar. The Dealer Expo industry show formerly held in Indianapolis typically follows the V-Twin Expo, but this year the Dealer Expo will take place in Chicago in December. The Windy City also hosted the Progressive IMS show the same weekend as this year’s V-Twin Expo, and the Easyriders Invitational Bike Show took place to the north in Columbus, Ohio, the same weekend. Damn Super Bowl.
Without the distraction of the Super Bowl to deal with, downtown Cincinnati on Friday night before the Expo was teaming with the V-twin industry’s movers and shakers as temperatures dipped into the single digits. Many of the faithful packed into El Coyote on East 6th Street for the Chop-In-Block party. Concurrent with the Expo were the final days of Cincinnati Beer Week, and it was easy to distinguish the difference, as the Beer Week crowds were the ones on the PedalPubs. Brrr.
Big wheels keep on turnin’
When the Duke Energy Center doors opened at 9:00 a.m., nearly 200 exhibitors were at the ready, but none more so than Metalsport Wheels as they had the biggest wheel around the campfire. Their 32″ front wheel offerings and accompanying Vee Rubber tires were hard to miss. With retail prices ranging from $7,500 to $10,000, you aren’t going to see these at every rally this summer, but it’s about pushing the envelope. I spoke with owner Mark Ashton about the company and its products, and was surprised to learn that Metalsport’s roots are in the aerospace industry where they continue to hold a strong presence today. As with many in the industry, motorcycles were a passion that became a profession. Ashton is credited with making the industry’s first 26″ wheel, and it was on display on the Matt Hotch custom Vincent at Metalsport’s booth. The words “custom” and “Vincent” are rarely seen together, but in this case they fit just right. Four custom baggers around the convention floor sported Metalsport 32″ front wheels, and their new Corleone design was a showstopper.
Not all manufacturers offer—or are planning to offer—a 32″ wheel, but big wheels lift all bikes. Renegade Wheels’ Chuck Frederick explained the growth they have enjoyed in the custom wheel marketplace with a maximum diameter of 30″. As Chuck explained the theory of their new asymmetrically machined “Tulsa” wheel, it was easy to see his passion for wheel design was unparalleled. The machine techniques used to create the Tulsa allow for a wheel with more depth than a traditional, symmetrical design, and it allows this design to stand out. Realizing everyone is on some sort of budget these days, Renegade also has a new hub that allows the consumer to keep their stock floating rotors so they can minimize their initial investment in custom wheels and upgrade to matching Hawg Halter rotors when their budget allows. Renegade’s new “Warwick” design also caught my eye, literally, as its kaleidoscopic appearance has a hypnotic effect when in motion.
RC Components, Ride Wright, Performance Machine, Xtreme Machine and others offered new designs, so you shouldn’t have any trouble stylishly shoeing your steed this summer. A variety of support products for the big-wheel niche also maintained a presence. From rake kits like EZ ON’s no cut/no weld kit, which reportedly installs in 10 minutes and provides a 42-degree rake, to the custom made-in-the-U.S.A. bodywork of Bad Dad, the selection is seemingly endless.
After a full day of seminars and dealings, Saturday night’s official activities concluded with a welcome party featuring free pizza, beer and a Jasmine Cain unplugged concert. The V-Twin Awards were presented during the party and Jasmine squeezed in another set before she was whisked away to the Easyriders Invitational Bike Show after-party in not-so-nearby Columbus. After the welcome party, many enjoyed the Cincinnati nightlife.
As the baby boomers’ mantra changes from “don’t trust anyone over 30” to “don’t trust anyone under 65,” the trike market is alive and well. Paughco displayed several of its trike conversion kits and trike bodies for Sportster owners and additional kits for touring models—a painless way to get into the trike game.
“What about my 2014 Indian Chieftain?” you ask. “Does anyone make a trike conversion kit for that?” Roadsmith, the company that produced the trike industry’s first independent rear suspension, is leading the way for Indian trikes by displaying the very first 2014 Chieftain Trike. The package looks right, with valanced rear fenders to match the iconic Indian front fender, and the fit and finish are on par with the Indian’s factory finish. The kit also includes electric reverse. Roadsmith rode in with 42 years of experience and trike conversion kits for 19 different models.
From East Texas, Motor Trike Inc. brought their 2014 H-D-compatible trike conversion, including their trademark flawless, hand-laid fiberglass bodywork. Motor Trike, like many exhibitors on the floor, was challenged to adjust their products for use with the 2014 H-D upgrades. Many of the changes made in Milwaukee are far-reaching for the aftermarket, but manufacturers continue to adapt and overcome.
In a modest booth toward the back of the exhibit hall, I found Yelvington Trikes of Largo, Florida. Their Sportster trike conversion looked nice enough, but what got my attention was a small display tucked away at the back of the booth. On display was a preproduction prototype of a rear-wheel replacement pulley that will allow your V-twin to enjoy an engine-powered reverse gear without any other modifications! The pulley and its mysterious innards were designed by a former NASA engineer, and I say if it took going to the moon to come up with this, it was worth it. Reverse engagement will be simple, operating by either lever or solenoid depending on testing results, and once engaged the pulley rotates normally while the wheel rotates in reverse. The product is slated for an October release. Keep your eye on this one, as it could be an industry game changer.
With the advent of electronic fuel injection, the doors were flung wide open for the “tune by technology” crowd as this continues to be an opportunity in the industry. It seems there are essentially two markets here. First is the flash-tune market: products and services that allow tuning of an engine by using a product that modifies the existing ECM (electronic control module) or “computer” settings. Installing these new programs within the parameters set by the ECM is called flash tuning. These products include the Vance & Hines Fuel Pak, Dynojet Power Vision and the TechnoResearch Maximus. More technologically aggressive are products such as ThunderMax that replace the stock ECM with their own, allowing a broader range of adjustment to air/fuel and spark. Improvements in these fields are, frankly, over my head, but seem to be incremental, not revolutionary. These include enhancements that are matters of convenience to the user—such as the Vance & Hines Fuel Pak phone app—or slight improvements that your bike will love, but you may not feel, as with the ThunderMax with Wave Tune.
S&S continues to set the standard for aftermarket V-twin powerplants and related parts. This year’s new products included a 1250cc CNC-ported head kit for ’04-later Sportsters, and the T2 crankcases and T124″ long blocks for ’07–later Big Twins. The latter was nicely illustrated by a cutaway display. Their Stealth series of air cleaner covers was also new.
BAKER Drivetrain’s new Cruise Drive Smooth Shift for ’07–later Big Twin models seemed to be a hit. You could feel the benefit of the shift kit in a side-by-side comparison with an unmodified factory transmission. Bert also has a pre-prototype automatic transmission up his sleeve and promises it will be a torque converter-based product.
Bert Baker of BAKER Drivetrain hosted one of several informative seminars at the Expo. His ability to remember all things drivetrain-related including ratios and gear overlap is astounding and I attribute it to his “I love my job” attitude. Baker has recently been bitten by the go-fast bug, and his test-and-tune race bike named “Organ Donor” has spawned another Baker enterprise by the same name, specializing in driveline performance and race products for V-twins.
Battery Tender displayed their new lithium batteries, thoughtfully made with side and top attachment points in each battery. Five sizes cover the entire Harley lineup and they all feature a three-year limited warranty, 60 percent weight savings over flooded or AGM types and five times the customary life expectancy. They come in 360 cold-cranking amp (CCA) and 480 CCA with retail prices from $229.95 to $299.95.
The Chop-In-Block co-op rolled its rig into the Expo for the first time. Principals Ron Harris and Gary Maurer explained the concept. Members pay dues and get their decal on the rig for one year and have access to the show rig and other privileges. They have awnings for the rig that increase work and display space for rallies, and the members—currently numbering 28—will be working on projects and other bikes at the rallies. One of their partnerships is with Lincoln Welders, so look them up the next time you need a part welded during an event. Other members, like John Harrow, will use the rallies as a place to do pinstriping. Members can also haul bikes to and from rallies in the company rig for a nominal fee.
Apparel, helmet, seat, fairing and windshield vendors also displayed their wares at the Expo. Café fairings are still gaining popularity. Memphis Shades displayed those and a new adjustable windshield that allows you to enjoy the same protection from a shorter windshield. Cleaning products, seats and bags, leathers and sound systems were also displayed, but gone are the early days of bike audio when you could hardly have a discussion on the floor over the thump of mega-watt systems. The National Motorcycle Museum displayed five bikes that reminded us where we came from and where we could go to enjoy more like them in Anamosa, Iowa.
It isn’t possible to cover all of the creativity displayed at the V-Twin Expo in the space we have. The innovation and love of craft displayed is staggering, and the knowledge shared on the hall floor, in the seminars and after-hours is what makes this industry unique. The reason the Expo continues to be in Cincinnati instead of a warmer climate, explained Betlach, is pure economics. “Fifty percent of the dealers are within a 500-mile radius of Cincinnati. We couldn’t afford to have the show someplace like Vegas as many of them may not be able to go.” And so it is that we the faithful actually look forward to freezing our asses off each year in Cincinnati to find out just what they will think of next.