Tuesday, 27 September 2016
The Ron Loynds story – the Californian wheel manufacturer Metalsport pretty much invented the “Big Wheel” craze with their 30 and 32-inchers.
Best known for their Big Wheels, South Gate (Los Angeles), California based Metalsport Wheels was founded in 2007 by Ron Loynds - but the background to the Metalsport story is one of a family owned and operated precision machining business with considerable aerospace credentials.
Ron, a life-long rider, started working in his stepfather’s “old school” machine shop when he was a kid. “I did the typical stuff when I started – cleaning machines, sweeping floors and such like. I guess he wanted to see that I could be trusted in “his space” without killing myself or breaking something!”
But he did neither, and after about 6 years was running the shop, and after being involved around 12 years in total, his father decided he wanted to retire, so Ron took over ownership and set about modernizing the business, “but without losing the sense of craftsmanship, precision and excellence that he’d schooled me in,” he says.
“In truth, the main thing I did was to simply roll my sleeves up and put in the hours. My father had been fine with his way of doing things, and that was fine of course – better than fine. But the equipment was antiquated and slow, and I knew that I had to bring it up-to-date and find new customers.”
Putting in the hours even involved sleeping at the workshop sometimes and having no other focus, a familiar story for many, I’m sure, but there is no substitute for sheer hard work and determination, and as for so many others, it worked for Ron.
As the business grew, he was able to start expanding. From having just the one “tin hut” to start with, as Ron puts it, he now has four businesses, with Metalsport housed in a 30,000 sq ft facility, employing 25 people, 22 of them in manufacturing.
Along the way he had developed a notable presence in the aerospace industry, designing and making tooling and components for the Apollo and space shuttle programs, and for military projects such as Minutemen and Sidewinder missiles - and others that he says he still can’t talk about publicly!
Ron’s first opportunity to turn his passion for riding into a business opportunity came in the early 1970s. Ed (“Big Daddy”) Roth turned up at Ron’s shop one day, saying that a friend had recommended he’d check Ron’s place out, and that he could maybe help him resolve a problem he was having with his VW Trike project.
The end result was that he designed and fabricated a new springer front suspension that immediately resolved the problems Ed had been having, and from that point the springer fork became a required part of Ed’s VW Trike kit.
Ron has had many very successful collaborations down the years, not least with Chip Foose. Ron’s involvement with the motorcycle industry deepened from that early involvement with Ed Roth by producing components for several aftermarket suppliers and specialty parts for noted custom bike builders.
Eventually Ron bought out the small motorcycle wheels division of a major automotive wheel manufacturer, and that resulted in opening up as Metalsport Inc.
These days the company offers over 30 forged and billet wheel designs in total over their 2D and 3D ranges, with front and rear fitments all the way from 16 x 3.5” up to 32 x 4”, all CNC-machined from 6061-T6 aerospace grade aluminum.
The most popular in their ‘2D’ design range are the ‘Don Juan’ and ‘Don Juan Torque’, and the ‘Corleone’, ‘Impression’ and ‘The Whip’ in their ‘3D’ program.
Major machinery investments have been made along the way, and in addition to finished wheels, Metalsport has also become a large scale producer of blanks. Additionally, the company is one of the V-twin market’s largest vendors of Vee Rubber tires, and has always offered a range of other accessories, such as the stylish new patent pending, contour-hugging billet trunk and side bag racks for Harley’s Tour Pak hard bags.
It was Metalsport who, thanks to their partnership with Vee Rubber, effectively gave life to what went on to become known as the “Big Wheel” craze.
With 26-inchers the “hot ticket” and largest readily available option at the time, Ron invested in tooling for a 30-inch wheel and tire, and when that proved successful, followed it up 12 months later with their now famous 32-inch wheel and tire package.
Along the way Ron also pitched a line of whitewall tires, which also captured the market’s imagination. Vee Rubber subsequently invested in the tooling for a line of 10 tire sizes that were not available in the marketplace at the time.
As a Vee Rubber distributor, Metalsport stocks the Big Wheel and Whitewall tires along with standard replacement sizes for most Harley applications. Ron regards this as the missing link that gave Metalsport the opportunity to offer a complete package.
From wheels and hubs with matching rotors and pulleys right through to the tires – pre-mounted and balanced if the customer wants, “we can offer a complete, ready to install package.
“We make every effort to carry the tire sizes our customers need,“ says Ron, “we still offer pre-mounting and balancing before we ship, and we strongly recommend taking advantage of this service, especially if ordering 26” and larger wheels.”
Blanks for the wheels are machined from aluminum billet or rotary forgings, with the 26” and larger designs machined from billet plate. The company has invested in the tooling needed to produce 30” and 32” ‘2D’ and ‘3D’ wheel blanks and installed a monster 4-Axis CNC mill that is capable of machining any size wheel. Indeed, Ron says that Metalsport “is the only manufacturer of true ‘3D’ wheels.”
Metalsport sells its blanks to the industry at a cost saving of around 50 percent against the pricing of typical “billet blanks” available from other factories.
In order to further reduce costs and improve production speed, efficiency and quality control, Ron has also invested in Metalsport’s own on-site polishing facility, installing three upright polishing units and one automatic polisher just for wheels.
The facility is run by a ‘Master Polisher’ with “years and years of experience,” and Metalsport is also actively exploring the possibilities of investing in their own chrome shop.
Ron told AMD that the thing that has given him the most pleasure and been the most rewarding is “to have the opportunity to be a friend to, and to work with, some of the most talented people in the industry.”
Oh, and BTW - you didn’t get it from us, but there is a new wheel size in the works, but that is still “hush-hush” at this time – watch out for news about it in an upcoming edition of AMD Magazine just as soon as Metalsport are ready to go to market with it.
See the feature in full from AMD here >>>