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Eleven dealers so far have agreed to sell the locally made motorcycles.



Published: Fri, August 26, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Eleven dealers so far have agreed to sell the locally made motorcycles.

By DON SHILLING

VINDICATOR BUSINESS EDITOR

MASURY -- A new motorcycle maker says it has 100 orders and plans to begin building custom-made bikes in September.

Hardbikes is hiring now and plans to have 150 workers making 1,500 motorcycles annually within three to five years, said Gene Kirila, company president and founder. The Brookfield native, who lives in Transfer, Pa., has been hailed as a "hero in manufacturing" by Fortune magazine for a previous venture.

Hardbikes has remodeled a former medical billing office on Addison Road but is looking for a 200,000-square-foot manufacturing plant within a 50-mile radius.

The target market is the growing number of people who want to customize their motorcycles. The market is growing by 25 percent a year, with 45,000 custom-ordered bikes now being built annually, said Bob Kay, vice president of sales and marketing.

Hardbikes will succeed because it will allow more choices in options and deliver motorcycles more quickly, he said. A bike, which will cost between $20,000 and $40,000, is to be delivered within 90 days of an order.

Custom-made

At a dealer or using the Hardbikes.com Web site, customers can choose from 14 body styles off three main body styles -- the traditional-looking bobber, the chopper and the low-riding pro street. Hardbikes also offers a variety of color, graphics, wheel and accessory options.

"Every one of our bikes will have a customer's name on it before we start to make it," Kirila said.

Before an order is sent to the plant, however, a customer must go to a dealer and sit on a mock motorcycle to be fitted for the proper seat, foot peg and handle bar position.

"The ability to custom-fit somebody on a nice bike is a positive thing for us," said Dennis Arian, owner of Performance Cycles in Bedford Heights.

He is one of 11 dealers in the eastern United States who has signed on with Hardbikes so far.

What he likes

Arian likes the looks of the Hardbikes' line but is especially enthusiastic about the ways a bike can be customized. Other motorcycle makers offer some options but not enough that you can really call it made-to-order, he said.

"Plus, Hardbikes has the industry experience, especially Bob Kay. I've known him for years, and I have a lot of faith in him," Arian said.

Kay had been chief operating officer at a Texas-based competitor, American Iron Horse, which makes 4,000 customized bikes a year. He said he joined Kirila because Hardbikes is providing more flexibility to the customer.

Other managers have either worked in the industry or with Kirila in the past. Kirila said he also has a number of private investors, although he declined to say how much is being invested in the venture.

Kirila said the biggest challenge will be assembling a supplier base that can handle the company's expected growth.

Hardbikes is buying engines from SNS in LaCrosse, Wis., and having the frames welded and tanks assembled by suppliers. Hardbikes workers are handling final assembly.

Local companies

Kirila said he is working with area companies to advise them of Hardbikes requirements. He said he hopes to use as many local companies as possible, noting that steel tube production, machining services and wiring work are all done in the area.

Kirila has started several companies in the past, all of which are still running, he said. Fortune named Kirila one of six "heroes of manufacturing" in 2000 for his work at VEC Technologies in Greenville, Pa., which he since sold to Genmar Holdings, a Minneapolis-based boat maker.

VEC created a manufacturing cell that could be operated remotely over the Internet to blend composite materials, such as fiberglass and plastic, in a way that cut production time, cost and pollution.

shilling@vindy.com




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