THERE'S BEEN NO OFFICIAL announcement, but it's pretty clear that pop culture has found a new two-wheel darling. World, say hello to your new motorcycle honey: the custom sportbike.
As evident in the pages of 2Wheel Tuner and Super Streetbike magazines, on speed TV's "SuperBikes!" show and in countless music videos, custom sportbikes have emerged from the underground of the Deep South and the Northeast. Even the major OEMs are embracing the custom crowd (see story, "How the OEMs Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Custom Crowd"). Distributors like Tucker Rocky and Parts Unlimited have added custom P&A to their lineups. Pirelli just developed a Z-rated 240 mm rear tire. And you know something's gone mainstream when the business world latches on: Customized Hayabusas and tricked-out ZX-14s are becoming commonplace in Madison Avenue media campaigns.
But weren't large-displacement sportbike sales flat in 2007? Yes, but consider the many years of new unit sales growth before that. In 2006, Suzuki alone reportedly sold more than 41,000 GSX-Rs and at least 10,400 Hayabusas. New-unit sales have dropped off a bit, but there are also a lot of service, P&A and accessory sales to be made to existing customers. Given the Bolton nature of many sportbike upgrades, it might be a good time for dealers to notice what guys like Nick Anglada, Gregg DesJardins and Steve Kehler are doing.
"If you have a stock Hayabusa sitting on the floor, it's going to move," says Anglada, owner of Custom Sportbike Concepts in Florida. "But if you have a Hayabusa with a 240 kit and an exhaust, it's going to draw a little bit more attention. There's so many things out there that can be sold to a customer to change the appearance of a bike — for example, chroming the swing arm and putting frame covers on. It's as simple as taking off the bodywork [and] taking off the seat, and with some adhesive tape and a couple of bolts you have what appears to be a chrome frame."
All types of people are into custom sportbikes, Anglada says. "I have customers who have regular jobs. They work at the oil change place and come in every week and buy a different part for their bike. Eventually they have the custom bike," he says. Other customers include real estate developers, doctors, dentists, attorneys, celebrities and athletes. "They're anywhere from 18 years old to as old as 75 — 75-year-old guys on Hayabusas who will outrun you."
There also seems to be a crossover from the chopper industry. Jesse Rooke, Roland Sands and Hank Young are just some of the builders now designing bikes and marketing parts for the sportbike crowd.
Getting into the custom sportbike market is relatively easy, according to Anglada. But dealers need to make sure they stock an assortment of parts, because sportbike customers tend to value availability over variety and price. Dealers need to learn not only what parts are available, but also what their customer base will want. Keep in mind that the custom scene maintains a lot of its regional roots: While the East Coast and South embrace the long, low and fat bikes that look good and go straight, the West Coast sportbike market has evolved around performance — necessary for riding the region's twisty roads and canyons. This is where Gregg DesJardins comes in. Gregg's Customs in Northern California designs products with a performance bent. "You look at what an R1 is built for and what a Gixxer 1000 is built for. To do certain things to it and take all the functionality away seems counter-intuitive," he says.
Gregg's Customs manufactures fender eliminator kits, countershaft sprocket covers and a wicked single-sided swing arm that picked up a Brappy Award for best engineering from 2Wheel Tuner. (Note: 2Wheel Tuner is published by Advanstar Communications, parent of Dealernews.)
DesJardins believes the custom sportbike market is good for dealers because it draws in business and keeps existing customers enthused. "Nobody owns a sportbike because they have to," he says. "Everybody owns a sportbike because they want to. It's purely a luxury item and you're going to want to augment it. Nobody really leaves luxury items 'as is.'
"The draw is to have these unique showpieces in stock," says Steve Kehler of Tricked Out Custom Cycles, near Philadelphia. "The [custom/stunt] world is a new market for these dealerships. If they think everybody is going road racing or using their bikes for daily commuting, they are absolutely mistaken."
Kehler says that if he had a dealership, he'd offer a full range of services, including chroming, painting and fabrication, on top of all the aftermarket components he'd sell that could be financed into the cost of a new bike. For now, he's content building one-offs and handling dealer referral work out of his 3,000 sq. ft. shop in a Philadelphia suburb. Which leads him to ask dealers this question: Rather than refer out the service, why not offer it yourself?
DesJardins echoes the sentiment. "If a dealership can give a person the ability to really personalize their bike, I think that's going to put them above everybody else," he says.