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Kulture Clash: The inside lane

By Bob Kay

I have known your THUNDER PRESS Editor-in-Chief, Shadow, for more than a few decades. A little while ago she asked if I would consider writing a column for THUNDER PRESS seeing as how I had worked in almost every aspect of the industry. Before I start rambling on about what is right and wrong with the motorcycle industry I thought a little personal history might be in order. I am a third-generation Harley rider, though I started my motorcycle industry career in a race shop that sold Bultacos, Pentons, CZs, CanAms, Hondas, Kawasakis and Suzukis.

My first attempt at college was heavily influenced from four days spent in upstate New York at Woodstock and lacked a certain focus on academics. While working for a motorcycle group in Boston I realized a business education would be beneficial. Since then I have built my reputation as a passionate Harley enthusiast, a product development and marketing professional, a custom bike show feature producer and an activist for the custom bike-building industry, especially when it comes to protecting our right to modify.

During my first decade working in the motorcycle industry, I was often reminded that my grandfather was probably turning over in his grave because I was not working or riding on Harleys. While I enjoyed every day working on anything with two wheels I knew someday I would know I was truly home when I was working in the American V-twin segment of the motorcycle industry. So after many not-so-successful attempts at short track and road racing (I had great hole shots but always came up short of a podium finish) and graduating with a business degree I entered the wholesale aftermarket business supplying custom and performance products to independent and Harley franchise shops by joining New England Motor Parts Company (NEMPCO) as a partner.

I will never forget my first day of work at NEMPCO. I was one proud mother; I was working in the Harley business. I asked Larry Coppola, the president, what he wanted me to do and he promptly said, “There is a desk in the hallway over there. When you figure it out, let me know.” I guess I figured it out because 10 years later I was not only still there as vice president and partner but helped to facilitate our national expansion with the sale to Tucker Rocky, and I continued on another 10 years as vice president and general manager of Bikerʼs Choice.

During the mid-’80s I started producing a few charity bike shows mostly sponsored by our suppliers and staffed by volunteers. When we went national so did our support of charity bike shows. After Bikerʼs Choice I spent a few years building factory customs with American IronHorse and Hard Bikes. About that time I expanded my show experience, joined up with Jeff Najar and founded Biker Pros Media producing bike show features for the likes of Harley-Davidson, AMD, IMS, OC BikeFest, MIC Events and the Cherokee Blue Ridge Run. I was involved with custom bike building back when you were thrilled to get back the parts investment when you sold your build. It was still in the ’90s, when any Tom, Dick and Harry with a checkbook could be recognized as a builder and make a ton of money on their bike builds even if they couldn’t go down the road straight.

I am still in awe when some very talented young men and women struggle to make a living on a quality build they poured their heart and soul into. Even today motorcyclists are a small portion of the general population and there are many so-called do-gooders that would just as soon legislate two-wheel transportation into oblivion. I have discovered what makes motorcycles so special is our desire to personalize them and make them an extension of who we are. This is not so true with cages in general that tend to fill a basic transportation need.

Whether you are building a full-on, ground-up custom or just changing your bars and exhaust, you are making a statement and that is why the custom bike influence is so important. The new motorcycle happenings like The One Moto Show, Garage Brewed, Mama Tried, Hand Built and Born Free are combining moto art, custom bikes, craft beer, great music and good times into events that draw attendees beyond biker enthusiasts to come in and enjoy all that motorcycling has to offer. Protecting our right to modify is as basic as protecting all our basic freedoms. I try to keep an eye on all that threatens our freedoms as bikers, especially our freedom to build and ride what we choose. My column will be focused on what affects you and your freedoms as a biker. Sometimes it will be about changes in the industry, sometimes legislative issues, sometimes new events influencing the biker scene, sometimes a great ride I just went on and all the time just what you need to know to enjoy living in the wind. If you have questions or thoughts feel free to share then with me at bkay@abikersgarage.com and I will do my best to keep you informed and entertained.

 

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