Live by the sword, die by the sword? The cutting edge innovations that were unveiled during the V-Twin Expo were juxtaposed by some major cuts into this market niche. Meanwhile the buzz on the showfloor seemed to bounce between one cylinder full of what was seen and the second cylinder of what (and who) was conspicuous in its absence. Even some of the folks who were on the showfloor still appeared to have the Sword of Damocles hanging over their heads certainly the news of Custom Chrome’s bankruptcy filing filled the halls (see the V-Twin news on page 81 for more details).
Don’t get me wrong, the vendors and the visitors alike were genuinely upbeat in Cincinnati. Dealer pre-registrations for the show were very close to what they were last year; and even if the number of black dealer badges was down on the showfloor, there seemed to be more buyers and less lookie-loos.
"The market is down? Don’t tell my guys," joked Tucker Rocky president/CEO Steve Johnson. "We had a great year in 2007 and are really looking forward to this year," he added in a candid interview that should be available in podcast format from the link at www.mpnmag.com by the time you read this.
Nor were the dealers I spoke with crying the blues. My buddy Tim Buechele from Hammond Harley-Davidson down in the Bayou country was every bit as jazzed about the show as Biker’s Choice boss Steve Johnson, but it wasn’t just the products that made an impression on him. "Not products, but people … Individuals like Roland Sands and Brian Klock … they understand the value and savings of utilizing an OEM unit as a foundation for an awarding-winning custom or performance-oriented street sweeper," says Tim.
He also says not to blame the economy for all the woes suffered by the boutique builders dropping out of the show. "The government, for reasons that space will not allow, has made it quite a chore to build a bike … not to mention most of the major insurance companies do not recognize custom-assembled units. This later translates into a tough resale as many lenders shun custom builds as well," he explains. Good point: forget the economic factors, if you can’t sell it, why build it in the first place?
"The remaining V-Twin ‘OEMs’ need to continue selling units to keep the industry (suppliers, manufacturers and independent shops) in business, and the trend of using ‘stockers’ as a foundation should benefit us all."
Apparently our choice of Roland Sands for the cover story of January’s V-Twin Expo issue also met with Tim’s approval. "All these factors herald the return of bolt-on customization! These younger ‘visionaries’ have their fingers on the pulse of the industry and the ease of installation and success of their product lines is proof positive!"
Even Easyriders annual Industry Leaders awards presentation was a microcosm of both the industry as a whole and the shifts we saw on the showfloor. Venerable names and ideas from the past are being re-engineered by the reinvigorated young guns. Drag Specialties and Kuryakyn founder Tom Ruud’s well-deserved lifetime achievement award was countered by new contender Sucker Punch Sally’s old school homage 66 Bobber being named the Production Bobber Of The Year.
Old dogs can learn new tricks as well. Corbin bagged the Accessory Of The Year honors with the radical new Fleetliner kits and Harley-Davidson’s FXCW Softail Rocker being named Cruiser Of The Year would seem to prove new wave ideas can come from old school companies. Wedged right in the middle of the mix, and the perfect illustration of this changing nature of the industry is the fact that the X-Wedge engine was named Powerplant Of The Year, affirming that an icon like S&S can certainly keep up with the times.
Building on that is the fact that not only does S&S have 50 years of street cred to draw from, the future vision is in the hands of the next generation. Maybe that is why some folks were not surprised that S&S scion Brett Smith was named Industry Leader Of The Year; although Brett himself professed to be surprised.
Time for me to cut to the chase: For those pessimists who insists the sky is falling, get ready for a self-fulfilling prophecy. However, for the folks who were experiencing the positive vibe of the V-Twin market in Cincy, just keep twisting that throttle! Yes the market is changing, and the days of suckers waiting for $50,000 customs have waned, but there are still exciting things coming down the pike if the Easyriders V-Twin Expo is any indication.
Despite the down economy, the vibe for the V-Twin Expo was surprisingly upbeat… and that was before Mr. Jagermeister made an appearance! To celebrate the opening of the new NPA auction facility in Cincy, Justyn Amstutz hosted an impromptu party for a few friends on Friday night. MPN‘s January cover boy Roland Sands, fellow SoCal builder Jesse Rooke, Johnny from Strip Club Choppers and American Thunder producer Jay Barbieri made the scene.