You've heard the story before. An enterprising rider grows frustrated with limitations of commercially
available motorcycle products and services, deciding he can build something just as well, if not better.
In time, others notice his custom creation and demand one of them for their own. Before long, a new custom
motorcycle shop is born.
The origin of Steed Motorcycle Company back in 1989, it seems, is no exception to this cliche. I'm not going
to bother illustrating the details of Steed's company history as the story has already been told and can be
found on the builder's website at www.musclebikes.com. Besides, this article is not about Steed's past, it's
about the present state and future of this Alternative American motorcycle manufacturer.
Surgical-Steeds was one of the first custom bike builders to apply for and receive a federal manufacturers
license in the early 90's. In 2000, while going through the arduous and expensive process of updating their
EPA and DOT certifications the road became a little rocky for Steeds, and the custom bike building industry
in general. Several of their national competitors went bankrupt, leaving dealers across the country with
financed inventory on their showroom floors that they could not sell. The financial institutions that held
the paper on these albatross marques at the dealerships took quite a beating on their investment. So the
money for dealers to finance new inventory became almost impossible to acquire. All this coinciding with the
down turn of the economy, 9/11, the impeding war, and a lack of consumer confidence; it didn't look good for
Steeds ambitious plans of building a national dealer network until things settled down.
The lull gave John Covington, founder of Steeds, time to do some thinking and regroup. In the meantime, the
custom builder was content creating high dollar custom one-offs, for some high profile clientele not effected
by the economy. Steeds continued selling directly from their shop in Scottsdale, Arizona. In April of 2002,
Covington received a call from Larry Hoppe of the Avon Tyre Company that they were introducing a new 300mm wide
tire. Impressed with Steeds focus on building performance bikes, Avon gave Covington advance information on the
new fat tire and the opportunity to design the first 300-tire motorcycle in the country.
Nearly a year of R&D went into re-designing the proprietary Steed Monoglide chassis, positioning the engine on
center and eliminating any motor offset providing better balanced bike and overall improved performance. "You'll
see for yourself when you take it out for a ride," Covington says, providing just the invitation I've been hoping
for. A number of other innovations have been put into the new chassis, which not only improve performance, but
also simplify assembly. It stands to reason, if the bikes are easier to build they must also be easier to
service. At which point Covington reminds me all Steed Musclebikes include a two-year factory warranty. He
also points out all Steed models are built with an all-American drivetrain. "I don't see the point of building
an American motorcycle, then using a cheap Asian copy transmission."
I'm given a brief tour of the shop, which has recently been expanded to produce greater volume. The increased
production allows Steeds to offer a more refined motorcycle with a bigger motor, better suspension and better
performance at around $40k, about half the cost of some of their one-off customs of the past. Though Covington
plans to increase production to 125 bikes this year, he says he will limit production to three hundred in the
following years in order to remain a small volume manufacturer. "I don't need, or want to have the biggest
motorcycle manufacturing company. At three hundred units a year we don't need to have board meetings to make
design improvements, or a hundred and fifty employees to build motorcycles. At our projected production we
can have a nice place to work for a limited number of highly skilled, quality fabricators and builders; while
at the same time we can build some really cool custom bikes."
The reaction to the new models is very favorable. "I had a dealer in Houston agree to buy one bike on a
Thursday," Covington relates. "We shipped the bike on Monday, and he received it Wednesday. It sold within
24 hours, and the next Friday he ordered 10 more." Covington continues, explaining he's getting the same
response from several other dealers.
Covington leads me around the shop. Between the sharp design of his bikes and the organized layout of the shop,
I can tell he has put good use to his formal training in art and industrial design. I feel more like a
prospective customer than a journalist as he points out more features and refinements on the new models than
I can remember. Those that do stand out, aside from the graceful, flowing design of the bike itself, are the
LED tach, speedo, oil, neutral, and high-beam indicators hidden in the mirrors, the hidden wiring harness and
the inconspicuous LED brake lights and turn signals. It all comes together to provide a very clean, chopped
look while providing all the functionality and instrumentation of a full dresser.
The time comes to fire a couple Steeds to life. There's nothing like the crack and rumble of an American
V-twin. The bike I'm riding is a 300-CM Steed Thoroughbred, and Covington swings his leg over a 300-VM Steed
Appaloosa. I should have taken the time in the parking lot to familiarize myself with the balance, handling,
and location of controls, but my enthusiasm puts me on the road as soon as I get rolling. Babying the Steed at
first, I follow Covington's lead, powering into some of the long curves and straights.
We only ride for a mile or two, so I'll save the in-depth review for another ride and another article, though
the Steed handles just as good, if not better, than any other custom I've ridden. Unfamiliar with the bike,
however, I'm a little hesitant to lean too far for fear of dragging the pipes. When I voice this to Covington,
following our short ride, he provides a demonstration telling me to let him know when the pipes came close to
the asphalt. He then begins leaning the bike to the right and continues, using every centimeter of tread the
300 Avon has to offer. The pipes never come close to touching the ground, a design feature Covington seems
very proud of.
Along with the new models introduced in 2004, Steed Motorcycle Company is updating its name, dropping the often
misspelled and sometimes difficult to pronounce "Surgical." The name Steed originates from the term often used
to describe motorcycles in horse terms, which is also fitting with his Arizona location. In time, Covington's
modified Harleys have become known as "Steeds," since they were no longer "Hogs." "The term 'surgical' was
derived from precision," Covington explains. The company is now focusing on the brand, simplifying the name
to match their design philosophy...Performance, Style and Pride.
Late in the '90's, at the peak of the latest trend in craft brewed beers, I was told the proliferation of
microbreweries will increase competition in the industry. Eventually the inferior or less motivated will
have to succumb to market pressures, thus leaving only high-quality products. As a connoisseur of hand crafted
ales and lagers, I'm pleased this has proved fact more than speculation. The same will hold true for custom
motorcycle manufacturers. Self proclaimed the "micro-brewery of motorcycles," Steed Motorcycle Company's
innovative and growing success, following a somewhat stagnant economy, certainly indicates market pressures
are in their favor.
Ride safe, ride often...hell, just ride! - dpc