Saturday, August 30, 2008

Four-Tee-Five not your Average Motorcycle

The lanky vehicle isn't a run-of-the-mill motorcycle: Five seats and bars atop a quartet of vintage 1950s Harley-Davidson 45-cubic-inch motorcycle engines.

But for one Shawano County business owner, the unique motorcycle is not only a product of a desire to take on challenging projects, but it's also a tribute to the 105-year history of Harley-Davidson Motorcycles.
"I didn't even know I was going to build this four-engine motorcycle," said Stephen "Doc" Hopkins, owner of Doc's Harley-Davidson, near Bonduel. "I knew I wanted to build something out of old flathead motors — something told me to do that. Then one night it struck me to put four of them in a row."
He considered putting eight people on the motorcycle, but decided that would make the bike cumbersome.
"I started with a pile of iron … and just started cutting and bending, welding and making the frame," Hopkins said earlier this week, standing in the dealership's shop with the motorcycle in front of him. "I had a pile of old motors I'd bought at a swap meet in … Pennsylvania, and I started tearing those apart and rebuilding them."
The motorcycle was built in about 17 days. Hopkins said he wanted to get it done in time for the 105th anniversary parade in Milwaukee.
"I gave Willie G. Davidson, the grandson of the original Davidsons, not really a promise, but my best shot that I was going to get this thing ready for his parade," he said. "I did it, and that's what drove me to do a lot of it."
The motorcycle is heading for Milwaukee today and will be part of the anniversary parade. Hopkins said the bike will be displayed at the dealership afterward.
Plans for the Four-Tee-Five, as the motorcycle is named, were sketched out on a pair of white pieces of paper with pen. Hopkins opens the folded pages showing a design that looks like the finished product.
Written on one of the plans are the words: "Yes … We can do it!"
Hopkins said that phrase was written before building got under way.
"I just enjoy building things, and people like to stop in here to see what's next," the Algoma native said. "I like the challenge. I didn't do this to become famous or anything, I just did it because I enjoy the challenge."
Hopkins added a reserve fuel tank, a small Hamm's tapper keg, to augment the three gallons of fuel stored in the frame.
Harley-Davidson is putting on a four-day 105th anniversary celebration this weekend, and expects more than 100,000 people to show up and rumble the city where the storied company is based.
The celebration, which starts today, coincides with the 25th anniversary of the Harley Owners Group, or HOG. Last year, it surpassed the 1 million-member mark and has 1,400 chapters in 135 countries.
"Just riding on two wheels is really not the point; it's really more about an emotional experience, and an experience of self-definition as well," said Mark-Hans Richer, the company's chief marketing officer.
"Harley has been around for 105 years, and we have a unique credibility and authenticity that none of our competitors can match even though they desperately try to copy us."
Hopkins, who has also raced top-fuel Harleys, has been a dealer for almost three decades.
He's seen the ups and downs of Harley — including a time in the mid-1980s when he said the company was within 20 minutes of going into receivership — and has seen his own business continue to flourish over the decades, to the point where it does $7 million to $8 million a year in sales.
Hopkins, who bought his dealership for $30,000, attributes much of the business growth to an old-school approach to customer service.
"I don't care if you're a doctor, lawyer or some Joe working in a factory; it doesn't matter who you are or what you do we treat you all the same," said Hopkins, who pointed out he is more concerned about keeping customers happy and employees working than growing the bottom line. "We bend over backward to help each person as much as we possibly can."
Aside from motorcycles sales and service and a riding school, the dealership on Wisconsin 29 also houses a classic car and motorcycle museum, a zoo, Lighthouse Bed & Breakfast and pirate ship — which Hopkins also built.
"We have to give people a reason to come to farm country," he said with a laugh. "It's a draw. It's a destination. … We want to keep this place interesting for people to come see."
Harley says it has organized 105 starting points around the nation, which feed into 25 major routes bound for Milwaukee. Thousands were expected to arrive Wednesday, a day before the celebration starts.
"Now that's a ride home," said Bill Davidson, director of motorcycle product development, on a video posted on the company's Web site.

via greenbaypressgazette — The Associated Press also contributed to this story.

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