11.25.2008

"Industry Leader of the Year" Arlen Ness

The V-Twin Expo means three days of hard work as motorcycle shop owners and aftermarket parts manufacturers meet with each other to cut deals for new products on display. In the words of Jim Betlach, executive producer of the V-Twin Expo, “We have worked hard to make this show strictly business.” That means no Expo-sponsored parties after hours. However, once the show closes on Saturday, everyone—both shop owners and parts suppliers—makes a mad rush to the third-floor ballroom of the Duke Energy Center to attend the V-Twin Industry Leader Awards.

Follow up:

A nicely laid-out food buffet and several staffed bars await the press of people who can think of nothing better than a cold one and a bite to eat after roaming the aisles—or staffing their booths—for seven hours straight. However, the main event isn’t the free food and readily available alcohol; rather, it’s the time and place where the industry pats itself on the back for its innovation and successes over the past year.

Dave Nichols, Easyriders and V-Twin Motorcycles editor-in-chief, presided over the ceremony with his usual good humor and aplomb. Possibly as a nod to the present economy, he didn’t wear his usual tux, but instead was casually dressed.

The winner for Motor of the Year was S&S Cycle for its KN Series Engine, a result of the acquisition of Flathead Power by S&S nearly two years ago. The KN emulates the stock Knucklehead motor, but provides more power, longer engine life and better reliability. In another nod to the past, the Frame Designer of the Year award was handed out to Tedd Cycle Manufacturing for its Replica Retro Rigid Frame, a reproduction of the 1954–’57 straight-leg frame that can be fitted with a Panhead or Shovelhead motor.

RC Components, celebrating its 20th year in business in 2009, took the Wheel Designer of the Year award for its regal Imperial wheel. The Imperial is a forged spoke wheel available in two finish styles, with a matching belt pulley, brake rotor and sprocket also being available. Tech Product of the Year was handed to Bert Baker for BAKER Drivetrain’s Direct Drive 7-speed transmission. The DD7 is a direct replacement for Harley’s 6-speed tranny, and has many improvements such as a shorter first gear, smoother shifting and a quieter ride. Zipper’s Performance Products won the Performance Product of the Year with its ThunderMax EFI with Auto Tune. This module works with the ThunderMax EFI controller to create a wide-band closed-loop EFI system. The Auto Tune sensors provide continuous feedback for corrections to the fuel map values to provide optimum performance.

Accessory of the Year was given to KlockWerks for the company’s wildly successful Flare Windshield, a direct replacement for Harley’s touring bikes. Brian Klock quipped, “We thought we could sell 500 this year, and instead we sold 18,500 in 10 months!” The Teresi Prize for Innovative Product of the Year is one of the most highly sought-after awards in the industry, and in keeping with current customizing trends, Hoppe Industries took this award with their top-selling Quadzilla Detachable Fairing for Road Kings and Softails. John Hoppe was overheard earlier that day commenting, “We’re still swamped with work for a product nobody really needs. Life for us is good.” Pretty amazing for a product nobody knew they needed, and that didn’t exist until Hoppe created these pleasing accessories to the normally fairing-less Harley models.

The next category of awards involved motorcycle models, and was kicked off by announcing Star Motorcycles as the Metric of the Year for its V-Star 950. The Custom Production Bike award was given to Big Bear Choppers for its Paradox, a sleek Pro-Street with unique bodywork. Cruiser of the Year was awarded to Harley-Davidson for its strikingly retro FLSTSB Softail Cross Bones, the break-out poster bike of the company’s Dark Custom campaign. Harley took another award—the Motorcycle Design of the Year for the new 2009 Tourer platform chassis and powertrain.

Production Bobber of the Year was given to Brass Balls Bobbers for its Classic Bobber, which is everything the name suggests. The top motorcycle award, Bike of the Year, went to Big Dog Motorcycles for its achingly gorgeous 2009 Wolf. The Wolf boasts Big Dog’s proprietary S&S 121-inch X-Wedge engine, a right-side Baker six-speed tranny and BDM Balance Drive primary, all riding in the single downtube softail frame.

The final awards of the evening acknowledged those who have influenced and contributed to the motorcycle industry over the long haul. The 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award was given to Denis Manning, the world-renowned land speed racing maven who has designed and built most of the world’s fastest motorcycles. Five years ago, he took this commitment to another level by starting the International Motorcycle Speed Trials by BUB, where he regained the world speed record by having Chris Carr drive his “Seven” streamliner at a speed of 350.884 mph. Denis’ efforts have attracted many to the sport of land speed racing, and he was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2006.

Finally, the iconic Arlen Ness was presented with the 2009 Industry Leader Award. Arlen has spent the past 40-plus years designing and building unique, edgy custom motorcycles and top-quality parts, and years ago opened a motorcycle shop that’s currently located in Dublin, California. He has been inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame and the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum, along with receiving numerous other top honors. Arlen’s son Cory and grandson Zach now work with him to continue the Ness legacy. Being the humble guy that he is, Arlen’s only comment after thanking the judges was, “Hard way to make a living, huh?”

The big surprise of the evening was an award that wasn’t even on the official program. Christian Clayton of Sucker Punch Sallys rolled a customized SPS Traditional Bobber in front of the stage, and Dave Nichols announced that the bike was being awarded to famous motorcycle photographer Michael Lichter to commemorate 30 years of photographing for Easyriders magazine. Spontaneous applause broke out, accompanied by lots of hooting and hollering and a standing ovation while Michael swung a leg over the saddle.

No one other than the Paisano Publications judges know how the winners are selected, although there is some conjecture that special consideration is given to advertisers (Denis Manning, during his award presentation, quipped, “Why would they do this? I don’t advertise in Easyriders. Must be these compromising photos.”), or to entice companies like Yamaha and Harley-Davidson who have never exhibited at the show to finally join the V-Twin Expo fold. Regardless, the V-Twin Industry Leader Awards is still the most prestigious of awards and the most important acknowledgement of excellence in the V-twin industry.

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