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Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Comment by Editor-in-Chief, Robin Bradley

Keep Those ‘Evo’ Engines Running

Welcome to 2019, and with it comes what, for me, is a significant anniversary! While last year was the 60th anniversary of the Sportster, believe it or not, this is the 35th anniversary of the ‘Evo’. That was the Harley platform that was current at the time I came into the market - which was five years after its introduction, so this is also the 30th anniversary of my first experience of the motorcycle parts and accessory market.
The memories of first walking into the exhibition hall at the ‘old’ Cincinnati trade show are still vivid. That was in the days when all of the then available exhibitor community from the whole of the industry, V-twin and ‘metric’/dirt, was squished into every available square inch of, at that stage, a pre-remodel exhibit hall that was only around 60 percent of the size that the specialty footprint of V-Twin Expo would go on to overfill in its own peak years 15 to 20 years later.
So much changed in that time, and so much has changed again since. Personally, I still miss the V-Twin Expo and still have the utmost respect and thanks for the job that Jim Betlach and the Easyriders team did for creating such a shop window for our market, one that had a profound effect on shaping my time in the industry, just as it did for hundreds of other people.
As I write this, we are ‘girding our loins’ for the spring distributor dealer expos, and that is just one of the ways in which post-downturn market evolution finds expression now.
When I first walked into the Cincinnati show hall - as an experienced publishing geek, but utter newbie where the motorcycle industry was concerned - my first impressions were of a ‘bright and shiny thing’ that I didn’t understand, but right there and then I made it my solemn mission to decode it and continue my education.
Above all I wanted to meet the people. At that stage I had been around the market for some 18 months and had decided I would be quite happy to call it home if I could carve out a niche for myself simply because of the people. 

Sure, compared to many of the markets I’d been in by that stage in my career, the subject matter wasn’t too shabby either, but above all it was the characters and passion of the people I had started meeting that quickly got under my skin. As an antidote to a decade of rising up the greasy pole of a corporate London publishing career, it felt liberating. Rather than a life spent breathing the same air as bean counters, attorneys and HR types, this was fresh clean air.
I was always somewhat a fish out of water in my formal career years as I had print under my finger nails, and had done so since my early teens. Now I was meeting people with passion, enthusiasm and oil under their fingernails - and it felt much more of a natural habitat to me. Even though it would still take me years to decode it and find my way around the motorcycle market, I was finding myself driven and motivated by the challenge and, as it would unfold, ‘Cincinnati’ was one of the primary fields of play that gave me the opportunity to try and understand enough to be able to find my place.
It was some five years after that first time that I returned there with my own booth for the first time and with the launch of the first editions of our all-new dealer magazine under our belt. At the time I didn’t know, realize or understand that, actually, I was entering a market which was at that stage in a down cycle and that what I was doing, bringing specialty trade-level ‘channel’ readers together with matching specialty content, was what these days one hears being described as ‘disruptive’.
Just as I didn’t realize that the late eighties marked a market in a slump, neither could I (or anyone else) have realized just where the market would go in the years ahead. Timing, as they say, is everything, and in retrospect I can now see that for once in my life I had gotten it spot on!
The people I met, and the passion I found myself immersed in, manifested itself in many ways. The friendliness and welcoming attitude to someone who was all too ready to state his knowledge limitations saw me finding myself neck deep in a fast track learning experience. Above all with squish bands, flow rates, bore and stroke and all the bells and whistles of a burgeoning performance parts and accessories market that those I was meeting were able to take for granted but that was, for me, an all-new language that often defied understanding.
The opportunity that saw the market itself able to raise its businesses by the boot straps was, of course, what we now think of as that good old venerable ‘Evo’ - at the time of course, while recognized even then as not exactly state-of-the-art in the context of what was going on elsewhere in the motorcycle industry, it was the ‘new block on the block’, and being largely oil tight and reliable had already started to set a course towards growth for a market that had been languishing - indeed as Harley themselves had been.
It is sad that Harley are at bottom dead center of the cycle again now, but we can maybe take solace from history. Provided the impatience of the investor community and competitive pressure can continue to allow Harley time, we all hope that the ‘More Roads’ strategy will turn their wheel again in the medium to long-term.
Strictly speaking, history does not repeat itself, but it is cyclical. While all cycles look, feel and taste different from each other, there are common denominators, and the ‘Evo’ was, in effect, the Harley ‘More Roads’ strategy of its day.
So, the theme for AMD in 2019? To celebrate the 1984-99 Big Twins that did so much to rescue Harley and stimulate the aftermarket that we know today.
Any vendors reading this, who have ‘Evo’ specific parts and accessories, get in touch. Pictures and info sheets welcome. We are not looking to showcase generic products, universal accessories or variations on a theme that could be used by riders of any platform, or G&A.
What we are looking for are chassis and front end parts that are ‘Evo’ specific and, of course, engine and driveline components, assemblies and products - stock replacements and performance and handling upgrades that dealers can buy, sell and use to keep those (now officially) ‘venerable old Evos’ on the road.
As price point sensitivity and the ‘retro vibe’ continue to inform our market, the ‘Evo’ platform offers a great start point for projects, as seen by the increasing number of custom ‘Evo’ bikes now turning up in custom bike shows, our own included.
With Matt Levatich himself stating that “used is the new entry level of a couple of years ago,” the ‘Evo’ offers a genuine performance engineering canvas and a simplicity that can also engage home-wrenchers.