In the midst of a hectic Dealer Expo, we talked with Steve Christini, founder, president and inventor of Christini Motorcycles, about the launch of his own in-house brand of all-wheel-drive bikes. With his name on the bike, he has much to gain from a great response at the year’s largest powersports trade show.
If you’ve never heard of Christini, he has been perfecting his mechanical AWD kits on existing motorcycles for almost a decade. Two models will launch the brand: a 450cc four-stroke powered by a new Christini engine that will retail for $6,995, and a 300cc two-stroke powered by a Gas Gas motor that sells for an estimated $8,995. Each features the all-mechanical Christini drive system to power the front wheel, which adds less than 15 lbs. to the bike and leads to less than 1 percent in power loss, according to Christini. The result is a bike that is claimed to be a revolutionary step forward for both racers and regular everyday riders.
Dealernews: What made you decide to bring AWD bikes to market?
Steve Christini: We’ve been developing and testing the AWD system since 2002, with the first magazine tests in 2004. Since then we’ve built test bikes for Honda, Kawasaki, Husqvarna, Gas Gas and KTM. Most people don’t know that all of the above companies have worked on AWD systems in the past internally. But none were able to come up with one that had minimal effect on steering and was as simple as our system. We initially had planned to work together with one of the OEMs that showed interest, but the current economic conditions and some big-company politics have made the deals difficult to lock down. So we decided to find other suppliers that will work with us and launch our own brand. Critical to our business plan is to enter the market as a new brand, at a price point that is competitive to the stock bikes currently out in the market.
DN: What were the key technical development issues faced along the way?
SC: The AWD hurdles have been worked out over the last several years. On average, the AWD system lasts significantly longer than the base bike parts and requires very little maintenance to keep it running strong. With that said, the biggest hurdles have not been on the technical side. They have revolved around the funding of such a large undertaking without the resources of the larger companies. We’ve been able to find partners along the way that see this as an opportunity to launch a new brand with a truly differentiating technology, one that customers will see as a reason to buy a new bike.
DN: Do you plan to sell your bikes direct or through a dealer network, and what are the requirements? What is the typical margin?
SC: We will use a dealer network that we are in the process of building. We are making this the easiest entrance possible for dealers with only a single bike buy-in to become a dealer. Dealers must currently sell new or used vehicles to qualify. The margin will be initially $1,000 for the AWD 450, but it has yet to be determined on the 300. DN: Will you offer training for dealers on how to sell and service the AWD system?
SC: This is a dealer differentiator and possibly disruptive technology [to the established products in the marketplace]. Our recommendation to dealers is to position this bike as a product they can sell to a customer that otherwise might not currently be in the market for a bike — a product that will set them apart from the dealer down the street or the bike-in-a-box dealer. The competing bikes that are out there are not significantly different from the previous-year models. Those that are different have incremental changes. The Christini AWD is radically different, and we’ve seen that even customers with two to three bikes find this as something that they want. As a dealer, having this bike on the floor (remember that only one is needed to buy in) will bring plenty of new customers into the store that might not otherwise need to come in. As part of that process, they may pick up a few other sales of other products in the bargain.
We will be providing dealers with technical assistance. The nice part about our AWD system is that there are no special tools or knowledge needed to work on the AWD system. In general, even our customers can work on it without a problem.
DN: Parts infrastructure can be a concern with new bikes. How will dealers order replacement parts for the new line?
SC: For the purchase of one bike, you get $150 retail in spares. We will have all the parts available at our facility in Philadelphia and will recommend to dealers what parts to keep in stock. And as I mentioned above, the AWD system requires very little maintenance if taken care of, which is a plus for dealers and customers.
DN: Will there be accessories and tuning parts available for your 450 engine and the AWD system?
SC: There will be some upgrades available for the AWD system as we move ahead. We’ll be creating carbon guards and other accessories as well as graphics, etc. The 450 engine will have tuning parts (as with the 300) through Gas Gas parts dealers.
DN: What can we expect next from Christini?
SC: The next big step is getting the 450 DOT-approved at some point in the future. This will make it a true dual-sport. We will also be creating a supermoto version of this bike, likely later in 2012. More than that, I cannot say at this time.
And you might want to keep an eye out for Geoff Aaron, who’ll be riding an AWD Christini-equipped Honda 250R in Endurocross and the X-Games this year.
For more information on Christini All Wheel Drive Motorcycles, check out www.christini.com or call 215-351-9895.
This story originally appeared in the Dealernews April 2011 issue.