Cincinnati, Ohio, Feb. 5—If I had to choose a credo for those folks who work in the motorcycle industry, it would have to be, “Work hard, play harder.” And nowhere is that credo more in evidence than at the annual V-Twin Expo, where I suspect as many deals are done at the myriad of after-hours parties as on the convention floor.
One gathering, however, stands out from the rest—the annual V-Twin Industry Reception and Industry Leader Awards. Held in the grand ballroom two floors above the giant exhibit hall of the Duke Energy Convention Center, this party provides a welcome respite from a full day of dealers trolling the aisles looking for the next great gewgaws for their customers’ bikes, or manufacturers standing at their booths waiting for those dealers to place orders for all the wonderful widgets on display. This is the time, and the place, where the past year’s top products—and people—are recognized. The free supper buffet doesn’t hurt the party’s attendance, either.
This year’s formula for the event pretty much followed those of the past. We grabbed as much food as would fit on our plates, balancing our drinks as we found a table. After an hour or so of drinking, dining and socializing, the evening’s emcee, Dave Nichols, editor-in-chief of Easyriders and V-Twin magazines, took the stage. The mood was upbeat as Dave commented on the increase in the show’s attendance over the past several years, thanked everyone for their support and kicked off the awards presentation.
It wasn’t surprising that S&S Cycle was awarded 2011 Motor of the Year for their KN-Kone motor, a striking Knucklehead hybrid design with modern improvements. S&S VP of Product Development Scott Sjovall accepted the award, giving Eric Wangen, Flathead Power product line manager, the credit for the design and getting the powerplant into production.
Value Product of the Year was presented to Enigma Concepts for their Continuous Airflow Oil Cooling System. Unlike many other oil coolers, this product cools your engine and engine oil while it’s sitting still—or inching along in rally traffic—as well as when you’re on the move.
Wheel Designer of the Year was given to RC Components for their new Zenith wheel, a unique two-piece design that can be totally customized. Belt Drives Limited (BDL) was awarded New Product of the Year for their EV-600 2″ belt drive that fits Softail models from 1990 through 2006, and features the company’s patent-pending Ball Bearing Lock Up clutch that’ll be standard equipment on all BDL drives. Although only the EV-600 Belt Drive was mentioned, one could infer that the award includes the EV-625 product for 2007-and-up Softails, as well.
The industry’s fascination with audio systems was reflected in the awarding of Accessory of the Year to J & M Corporation for their kickass 12-speaker Rokker Motorcycle Sound System. The interest in performance and tuning products has increased exponentially in the past few years as well, evidenced by the awards given to three manufacturers for their EFI tuning systems. Wiseco Performance Products, an industry mainstay celebrating 70 years in the motorcycle business, won Tech Product of the Year for their Fuel Manager Controller, a plug ’n’ play product that adjusts fuel flow with the touch of a button. Kuryakyn received the Performance Product of the Year award for their Perfect Storm Kit, an all-in-one tuning system that includes a Kuryakyn high-flow air cleaner, True Dual head pipes, the Crusher exhaust system and the TTS Master Tune. The coveted Teresi Prize/Innovative Product Award was handed to Superchips for its Vigilante V-Twin Tuning System, an engine control computer tuning system using flash technology. Superchips, specializing in automotive EFI tuning, recently turned its attention to motorcycles, making its first appearance at this year’s Expo. In fact, it wasn’t until the judges saw the product at the show that the decision was made to honor the company with this prize.
For the first time since the V-Twin Awards’ inception in 2001, no Frame of the Year Award was handed out. And a not-so-surprising omission was the Metric Award of the Year, which had been variously awarded to Yamaha, Star, Honda and Kawasaki every year since 2002. Metric motorcycle manufacturers have historically not exhibited at the V-Twin Expo, and last year Honda didn’t even bother to send a representative to collect their award, so one could surmise that the V-Twin Expo has decided to focus on the core constituency of the show—American V-Twin aftermarket manufacturers and dealers.
Recognizing the V-Twin market’s aging demographic, the Motorcycle Design of the Year award was given to The Trike Shop for their Roadsmith Trike Conversion. Victory Motorcycles won Custom Production Bike for the Zach Ness Signature Series Victory Vegas; and Harley-Davidson took home two awards—Cruiser of the Year for the Sportster Forty-Eight and V-Twin Bike of the Year for the Road Glide Custom.
The final portion of the awards ceremony focused on those leaders that have made significant contributions to the industry. A new award, Industry Trend Setter of the Year, was given to Paul Yaffe for his Bagger Nation. As Dave commented, “This industry leader turned on a dime; turned his whole company around to do something really different at a time when things were getting weird in the chopper world.” I won’t go into detail about Dave’s explanation of Paul’s broken ribs, but it made us wonder which wild party we missed the previous night.
Industry Leader of the Year was awarded to Mark Finnie, president of Performance Machine. Previously, Mark was director of operations at PM, followed by stints as VP and general manager at Weld Wheel Industries and then Advanced Metalforming Technologies/Forge-Tec Motorcycle. The Lifetime Achievement Award was given to Allen Alvarez, founder of Daytona Twin Tec, which in 10 years has become a multimillion dollar business. Alvarez began his career in the motorcycle industry in 1979 with Accel Ignition, going on to establish distributor programs for several other companies.
The final award of the evening was also a first-time accolade—the Keeping the Faith Award presented to Christine and Bob LePera Jr., in honor and in memory of Bob LePera. After years of customizing car interiors and creating custom motorcycle seats, Bob Sr. formed LePera Enterprises. Christine and Bob Jr. got involved in the family business more than 25 years ago, with Bob Jr. currently head seat designer, production boss and advertising lead, and Christine directing the sales force and managing the dealer and distributor network. Bob Sr. passed away in late 2008, and Bob Jr., in a halting, emotional acceptance speech, said, “My dad really started something back in 1972. He really did work really hard to keep LePera afloat through a lot of ups and downs in our industry. We’d like to thank Dad for always doing everything he could to keep the ball rolling and to create so many great relationships with so many of you, and to allow Chris and I to continue on in his name and show him in our own way to keep the spirit alive, to work hard and to keep the LePera name alive.”