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STEED: Innovation
by Douglas Chasar
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



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