Gear up, South Valley workers and bikers everywhere. Rey Sotelo
has put the battle for Indian Motorcycle behind him and now plans
to storm the industry with a new line of bikes, built right in his
Gear up, South Valley workers and bikers everywhere. Rey Sotelo has put the battle for Indian Motorcycle behind him and now plans to storm the industry with a new line of bikes, built right in his home town.
Sotelo and business manager George Nobile, of Santa Clara, haven’t settled on a brand name yet, but they plan to start building the motorcycles this fall at Sotelo’s Gilroy warehouses.
They’ll start “real lean and mean,” Nobile said, with a team of 15 to 20 employees picked from the hundreds who used to work for Indian. They plan to build 800 bikes for 2005, 1,200 the following year, 1,500 the third year and then kick into “very dramatic increases,” according to Nobile.
“By year five, it’s very conservative to say it will surpass anything Indian ever did,” Nobile predicted.
In the workshop beside his country mansion on the outskirts of Gilroy, Sotelo on Tuesday gave South Valley Newspapers the first public peek at a prototype bike he recently built.
The first thing you notice is the fat (250 cm) rear tire, arched gas tank and supersized (3-inch-wide) drive-train belt, features that have become popular among modern choppers. Look closer, and you’ll see a flame pattern hidden in the glossy black paint job, giving the effect of a heavy-metal album cover.
“People want beef,” said Nobile, commenting on the muscular look. By comparison, the bikes Sotelo built with Indian and California Motorcycle Company just a few years ago look like gentlemen’s machines.
The real innovation, though, isn’t quite ready yet. For the time being, this bike gets around with a stock motor made by S&S Cycle, but that’s about to change.
A Revolution-ary motor
The new engine will be what turns heads, Sotelo and Nobile say. By June, they expect to have it powering three prototypes.
According to Sotelo, the motor’s new brand name says it all: Revolution.
After quitting Indian in frustration in 2002, Sotelo was attracted to the brainchild of Alan Root, who designs and builds racecar engines for Ford. Root had conceived a V-twin motorcycle engine unlike anything used in other bikes, Sotelo said. Sotelo proceeded to find foreign and domestic investors interested in developing Root’s plan, and they started Revolution Motor Company. Sotelo became chairman and asked Nobile to join as president.
“I had seen this technology five or six years ago, and I was trying to get Indian to buy into it,” Sotelo said. “But they didn’t want to do it.”
Root is now putting finishing touches on the engine prototype at his home in Ventura.
The Revolution engine is “very reliable, very powerful,” Nobile said. While the former will be tested over time, the latter is made evident by the statistics Nobile provides. No Revolution engine will have less than 100 horsepower.
Revolution Motor is still very small – its corporate headquarters is in one of Sotelo’s Gilroy warehouses – but according to Sotelo, “The long-term impacts of what we’re trying to do could be huge.”
Revolution is a separate company from Sotelo and Nobile’s motorcycle operation, but they have considered using the name on their bikes. There is another Revolution motorcycle company, however, so they’d first have to make arrangements to avoid a lawsuit.
Resurrecting the CMC nameplate is another option, Sotelo said.
Nobile and Sotelo wouldn’t speculate on an initial price range, but they said it would start out high. By their fifth year, Nobile said the goal is to offer some bikes for as little as $18,000 to $20,000, about what Indian charged.
If Sotelo has proven anything over the years, it is that he wants to stay in Gilroy. When he was an upstart custom-bike builder with CMC, Indian followed his lead and set up shop here. Within the past couple of months, he says, he has turned down high-profile jobs with Orange County Choppers of New York and American Iron Horse of Texas.
“I’m grounded here,” Sotelo said. “I’m not going anywhere.”
Nobile, meanwhile, says he passed up a job with Big Dog Motorcycles of Kansas to work with Sotelo.
Sotelo, 47, and Nobile, 46, have been friends since 1976, when they met as teenagers working for an electronics company in San Jose. Nobile stayed with electronics when Sotelo moved on to motorcycles but eventually joined him in Gilroy, working for CMC and Indian.
Of the two, Sotelo is the more outgoing, hands-on guy – the designer/builder/salesman/leader. Nobile manages the books and business plans.
With their new company, Sotelo says they’re trying to return to their roots. At CMC, he said, he not only knew all 60 employees personally; he knew most of their wives and girlfriends and kids as well.
“We’re trying to keep this local, trying to keep it homegrown … like it was when we did CMC.”
As far as they these men are concerned, home town or not, there is no better place to build motorcycles than Gilroy. In addition to thousands of bikers, there are hundreds of former motorcycle workers within commuting distance. Nobile says he gets 30 to 40 calls a week from them, asking about future employment.
“We’ve established that Gilroy is a motorcycle manufacturing town,” Sotelo said.
Chance at Indian
Sotelo says he hasn’t completely given up on buying the Indian brand, but he doesn’t hold out much hope.
“We made them a real decent offer … about three months ago,” Sotelo said of Audax Group, an investment firm that is Indian’s majority owner. The problem, he said, is that the company is fraught with lawsuits that Audax wants to pass along to the future owner.
Nevertheless, he said, “If there’s any way on hell and earth we can get that name back, we will.”