Writer's Ramblings

Doug Keim and the Metric Revolution

Written by  December 31, 2005

Stephanie and I got a rare treat recently. As you know, we have been covering the Metric Revolution Build-off series set to broadcast this winter. Much to our surprise, another builder from this series contacted us.

Doug Keim of Creative Cycles is a household name in the world of V-Twin builders, and I have to admit, I was surprised to see his name in the list of builders for a metric bike show. I was even more surprised to get a chance to interview the man known as the “Viking.” I prepared my questions for the phone interview with Doug when I got a call from him on my cell. I was shocked to find out Doug was in Independence, Missouri at a top secret frame manufacturing facility fabricating the frame for his Metric Revolution bike. It gets even better—he invited us to interview him live and to get a sneak peak at his creation.

Just as with the other builders I have interviewed, Doug proved to be a gracious, polite, and very passionate individual. He made Stephanie and me feel like old friends in a short time and was open to any question I asked. I learned that he has had several of his award-winning frames produced at this same facility, a facility that I will bring you more information on at a later date. I believe he has to be the man to beat in the Metric Revolution Build-Off.

CC: How long have you been building metric customs?
Doug: I’m not wearing a wrist watch so…Not very long.

CC: Why did you enter Metric Revolution in the first place?
Doug: Metric Revolution was something that I actually didn’t even enter. I know that they supposedly received something like 700,000 entries, and one day I received a phone call from Greg Hoeve from Ego Tripp Wheels, and Greg asked if I was interested in doing something different. He didn’t give me too much information. I said, “Sure, throw something at me. There’s nothing I can’t do. I’m pretty fortunate with the talent that my staff has and sure, what do you got?” He said, “well, I’ll let you know in a little bit.” And I’ll say about three hours later I received a phone call from a gentleman by the name of Doug Spandau who is the executive producer of Metric Revolution television, and he is originally from the Northeast and certainly knew my name and had seen quite a few of the bikes we had done over the course of time and asked me if I would consider building a metric bike. Why the heck not? Like I said, I have a very, very small staff of people. We don’t have tons of people hanging around. We have a very, very small, extremely close-knit group of individuals, and I truly believe our product is second to none, and why the heck not? Let’s try it.

CC: What obstacles do you expect to encounter building a metric as opposed to the V-Twins that you’ve been building?
Doug: First off is there is really no specs to pull from. Pretty much, it doesn’t matter whose engine case you’re using, of course we’re not talking Twin Cam versus Evo. Every Evolution engine is pretty much going to have the same bolt pattern and it is pretty widespread information, common knowledge, that the distance from the center line to the crank to the front motor mount center line, same thing to the rear and the height differences, etc. What you have to do to clearance a 280 tire or a 300 tire, where the motor has to be positioned, what offsets you need to do, where you have to go right side versus left side drive to keep the center line so you can keep the bike balanced. Pretty much none of that information is available for a metric motorcycle. And as you saw out here in the shop just a little bit ago, the fixture that we’re working on is not designed for that engine, and we have spent just about an entire day trying to find the center lines that we want to work from so that we can build the frame around it. There is going to be a tremendous amount of challenge, but again, Russ Bailey and myself, we have worked together for quite some time. Heck, for me to come all the way out from New Jersey to Missouri to spend a couple of days with Russ so we can do our CAD drawings and actually engineer this thing the way it should be built is expensive. It’s time out of my shop; it’s a commitment he is making to me, and we’re going to build something pretty tough.

CC: Is Creative Cycles going to branch into more metric bikes because of this?
Doug: I would say that I would think yes, it’s a natural progression. The metric manufacturers have to… they somehow have to standardize themselves, as I said before with the Harley-Davidson issue. When you’re building American V-Twins, there is pretty much an SAE, or there is a standard that every engine case is going to be a certain dimension, every transmission is going to have pretty much the same pattern. I do not expect Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki and Suzuki to all get together and decide to use the same engine case; that’s not my point. But if Yamaha, for example, would decide to choose one style of frame, then take all of their metric cruisers, and I’m not looking at their sport bikes or their off-road vehicles. If they took all of their Yamaha Star cruiser motorcycles and took everything from their 800 cc to their 2200 cc, whatever, base the engine cases off the middle, say the 1500 and the 1600 and the 2200 is a bigger bored out version of the 1600, assuming the 1600 would be the meet in the middle, and if they wanted to build a 1000 or an 800 cc version of that same bike for the beginner, make it a lesser bore or a lesser stroke motor, but still utilize the same case, utilize the same cylinder height, utilize the same frame. Think about it. If they are utilizing the same engine, there would be more people that would jump on board and build exhaust pipes, jump on board and build air cleaners, jump on board and build wheels, and that would build frames. The deal with the V-Twin marketplace is not just the custom side, the production version, although our stuff is still handmade production. We are not in that robotics mentality. But when we build an exhaust pipe, we can build one exhaust pipe in a fixture knowing it is going to fit a wide variety of engines. It will fit your Harley, it will fit your TP, it will fit your S&S, it will fit your Rev Tech, it will fit your Big Dog, it will fit your Ironhorse, whatever you may have. It will fit a Red Horse motorcycle. It will fit a Titan. You can’t do that within the metric market. Oh… you have an 800…. Well.. the 800 is different than the 1100, and the 1100 is different that the 2200, and the 2000 is totally different completely. You can’t make enough money to justify making a production run of exhaust pipes when you know you’re not going to sell 10,000 or 5,000. You’re not going to sell 1,000. You’re going to sell 3 exhaust pipes. The cost of R&D, the cost of the fixtures, the cost of figuring out how to make that exhaust pipe…. If you spend $20,000 to build an exhaust pipe, you need to sell 1000 of them at $599 to justify the R&D, the fixture, and still be able to make a little money after you buy all the material and pay your people. If you are going to build that same pipe and only sell 3, common sense says you’re going to have to sell that exhaust pipe for $7000 a copy; how many are you going to sell? That is currently the problem with the metric market. There is no standardizing and they make changes every two years. “Oh…. Let’s revamp the product line.” Well, that sounds good, but you’re also chasing away the interest that so-called or perhaps customizers would take in that product if you’re not going to standardize it. In the Harley case, the Twin Cam, there was a little change that took place there, but after a little bit of time we realized that if you build a pipe to fit the Twin Cam it will still fit the Evolution. That was just a common sense thing, and I realized that after all those years, the EPA was going to force Harley to make some change. I don’t blame Harley for going to the Twin Cam. Again, brands became reasonably standardized again. We can’t find a standardized frame to fit every Kawasaki. You asked how do I see the future. I think we are going to have more participation in the metric side. From what I can see numbers-wise, almost 76% of the market is still metric motorcycles. Do I think that I can go out and capture all the Suzuki Boulevard series and all the Kawasaki Vulcan series and all the Yamaha Star series and the Honda Shadow series? Do I think I can go out there and be competitive and build a bike to fit every one of those? No. The Star thing is certainly very attractive, but it seems as though there is a ton of people playing in that Star area. The Kawasaki stuff, the Vulcan 2000 that we are building our frame around is amazing. I’m a little off kilter playing with a radiator but we’re going to figure out how to do that and do it cool. I think we’re going to be able to build something that will be really, really trick. The bike we’re working on again, is 125 cubic inches and 141 foot pounds of torque. It should be a pretty ballsy ride and if we can make it slick too, that will be even better.

CC: Out of your competitors that you will be facing in the competition, who do you think will give you the most competition?
Doug: I really don’t know. I would love to be real cocky and say I don’t have any competition, but that’s purely bull crap. I know Mike Stafford from MGS, and I think a great deal of Mike. His style and my style are certainly very different, but he is an amazing craftsman, and that’s not to discount the craftsmanship of anybody else. Mike is going to be a challenge. I think Dusold DeSigns. Mike Dusold’s stuff is very, very cool, very well thought out, and he is methodical as hell. He’s amazing. Jaxon Fyffe from Wildcard. He won the Rat’s Hole deal. There might be some question as to how ridable a bike with 70 degrees of rake is, but Jaxon is going to surprise a lot of people. Brad Ruel. People know Brad’s name. Don Gray… Don is probably more comfortable with the metric stuff than me, but I don’t know…. I’m hoping that that comfort zone might be his downfall. Antonio, you know, pretty much the same thing. He’s very comfortable in that area. I’m going to stick with the guys that are playing with the American stuff. I think that Mike Dusold, Mike Stafford and Jaxon Fyffe. I think Jaxon Fyffe is going to be the guy that shocks most of the guys in the Pro Builders class. Then again, I hope that I shock all of them. We’ll have to see.

CC: As things change, and we all know sooner or later Harley-Davidson is going to have to go to their Revolution motor to make the EPA numbers that they’re going to have to have somewhere down the line, air-cooled V-Twin is not going to be a production motor forever. Do you think that’s going to force the metric factories to standardize like you spoke of to give them competition, or do you think Harley is going to get lost somewhere in the shuffle?
Doug: I think when Harley goes to their showerhead deal, which is the V-Rod, it’s certainly going to change the market a lot. On that note, I think that Harley played really dirty ball with the nonsense that is now being placed on the shoulders of every custom builder in the industry. Harley in their infinite wisdom, whether it be greed or stupidity, or all of the above, went to the EPA with their statements that some of the after market spin-off bikes were not EPA compliant in an effort to recapture that market share. That’s pretty much greed. The companies that essentially kept Harley-Davidson alive for all these years are now Harley-Davidson’s largest enemy.

CC: Like S&S?
Doug: I was just going to say S&S is a perfect example. A company for years that made products that made a Harley-Davidson reliable seems to be Harley-Davidson’s enemy. If it weren’t for the interesting custom motorcycle, I don’t think that Harley-Davidson would have experienced the growth that they have. They would have gained some of it all by themselves, definitely, but with the advent of television shows and radio interviews and what we’re doing right now, it brings readers’ interest into our market. Not everyone can afford or wants to afford a $100,000 truly handcrafted motorcycle, but they want to ride. And whether they chose to ride a Harley because it was the closest American-made motorcycle to the custom that they really desired, or they buy one of the spin-off bikes like a Red Horse, Titan, Swifter or a Bid Dog, or they go to a handcrafter, they are all part of that Harley-Davidson visualized as being the stereotypical Harley-Davidson rider, and yes, it is going to change the market place. I am kind of ashamed to say that I have had some association with Harley-Davidson in the past, because I do think they played dirty ball. To answer your question about going showerheads, it is certainly going to change the balance. I don’t think the V-Rod was accepted as well as Harley-Davidson had initially planned. I think in my take of the short-sightedness of Harley-Davidson, was “oh look, we’re coming out with something new, and all of our flock is going to come back in and trade in their air-cooled motorcycle to buy one of our new water-cooled models.” As we all know, that didn’t quite happen. I think that Harley left themselves with their pants down realized that they had to find a way to keep their air-cooled line still going. Hence, they did the only thing they could do which was to try to go back and eliminate the other air-cooled builders. When Harley has to bring out the Revolution motor they are going to have some serious competition from the metric manufacturers. It’s amazing when you look at bikes like Suzuki’s Hayabusa 1300 cc engine that is producing nearly 3 horsepower per cubic inch, and the damn thing is reliable and EPA compliant, and you look at bikes like the new GSXR. I think it’s got 190 horsepower at the crank out of 1000 cc. And, again, reliable. You have 600 cc sport bikes producing 135 horsepower. Harley-Davidson is going to have to dig deep to hit that horsepower and the numbers that people are looking for and still keep themselves EPA compliant and still somehow build something that is so-called tradition, which is right now the only thing that Harley-Davidson has over every manufacturer out there. You can out-technology Harley-Davidson, you can out-class them, you can out-produce them, and you can do all kinds of things. But you can’t buy tradition. Harley-Davidson holds that over everybody.

Interview and Photos by Loney and
Stephanie Wilcoxson