WICHITA, Kan. – When the motorcycle market began to soften, the first companies in the industry to go under were small manufacturers making big bikes. Now that a rebound is in sight, Matt Moore thinks the time may be right for Kansas Motorcycle Works.
“After all the companies closed, we saw a niche and climbed in,” said Moore, former head of sales for Big Dog Motorcycles, which closed in 2011.
While KMW bikes bear a strong resemblance to Big Dog, it’s a separate company backed by a family-held private equity company with “no banks or third parties involved,” Moore said.
Moore wanted to create a brand that was easier to keep on the road. “Between 2011 and 2012, I was working with Sheldon and the guys from Big Dog and we thought it was time to redesign the bike,” he said. “We came up with what we thought would make them more robust and easier to service: standardized parts.”
Moore, 33, was also sales director at BDM Performance, the parts company that Sheldon Coleman started after the demise of Big Dog.
“When Big Dog closed in 2011, Sheldon hired me the next day to manage a parts company to keep the bikes on the road. We sold 35,000 big dogs and we wanted to keep them running,” Moore said. So far, about a third of KMW’s business is doing just that.
“One of the biggest parts of our business right now is fixing Big Dog [motorcycles]. It’s about a third of business right now,” he said. “It’s about 50-50 fixing them for dealers and customers. We do a lot of Big Dog customization; a lot of guys want radical customization and we have the tools and equipment for that. We also do Big Bear and Harley-Davidson. The Harley dealers in the area don’t like dealing with the customs and older models.”
Moore is taking advantage of that to build KMW slowly. The 6,000 sq. ft. shop does everything from heavyweight maintenance and customization to repairing carts for a company in New York to support the ultimate goal.
KMW reportedly is producing its own bikes, the Regulator chopper and the pro street Gunfighter, which start at $28,950. The bikes are homolgated for the European market and Moore is working on certification in the United States.
Meanwhile, KMW has established a distribution arm in Belgium, using the same people who set up European distribution for Big Dog in its day. Starting in Europe was a conscious decision, because factory custom prices in the U.S. market were still down from repossessions and distress sales during the economic downturn.
“The market over there was not saturated with custom production bikes,” Moore said. In the U.S., “you could buy a used Big Dog for 15 grand at that time.” But he sees domestic prices and demand rebounding, especially in the Northwest and Southeast.
“We’ve sold some here, and we are just getting ready to go hot and heavy here. We’ve pretty much seen that golf ball go through the garden hose, of bikes that were dumped on the market in 2009 to 2012. We’re seeing the value of Big Dogs rebounding. We’ve definitely seen it locally,” he said. “With smaller price discrepancies and disparities, you can justify the extra $10,000 for some people.”