Imagine you’re a motorcyclist who craves the power of modern sport bikes yet prefers the comfort of a classic-styled standard. Pretty common rider description, right?
Now, imagine you’re a mechanical engineer who has the itch to design, build and sell a top-of-the-line motorcycle. An engineer who spends a small personal fortune to make his dream a reality, and has a wife who enthusiastically embraces the business and becomes a valuable partner in its execution.
This is the life of Donald Atchison, the man behind Ecosse Moto Works, Inc., and the 120hp, 470-lb., V-twin Heretic.
Based in Denver, Colo., and dubbing itself a “niche motorcycle manufacturer,” that “builds limited-production, high-quality motorcycles for discerning enthusiasts,” the firm plans to build and sell only 100 Heretic before possibly going about a similar business plan with a few subsequent models.
For a lesson on the short history of Ecosse and its Heretic, Powersports Business spoke with Donald’s wife and Ecosse’s co-founder, Wendy Atchison.
Powersports Business: Why this idea?
Wendy Atchison: My husband, a mechanical engineer, always has wanted to build a bike like this. He didn’t enjoy the aggressive style of sport bikes on the street, though he did ride his Bimota DB4 to run errands, and a Harley couldn’t provide him with the performance he was used to.
Though we had ideas for several bikes, we wanted the first Ecosse model to be the ultimate street bike that Donald craved. We feel no one has built a high-performance, handcrafted motorcycle for limited production using only the best components in the world. They all seem to cut some corners to keep the accountants happy at the expense of the customer.
PSB: When was the idea turned into action?
Atchison: We got serious about turning the design into reality in late 2000. We started looking for funding and began putting the drawings into a CAD format. Testing of the bike began in 2002 and continues as we finalize the new titanium version, which will have a mainframe, swingarm and subframe all manufactured from titanium.
PSB: Where is the funding coming from?
Atchison: The initial $200,000 in funding came “courtesy” of a loan from the Clear Creek Economic Development fund in Colorado, which was a huge deal, complete with a rigorous set of presentations, proposals, etc. It turns out it was the biggest loan ever awarded to a business from that group, and we signed over everything we owned to get that loan. Another $250,000 has come from iconoclast (303/246-3080) and personal finances.
PSB: Is more needed?
Atchison: Yes. We are currently interviewing investors so that we can move into production properly and comfortably. The process has been slower than we’d like due to our desire to limit the number of investors to either one person or one group. Not many people have $2 million lying around. And we refuse to go the route of using customers’ deposits to limp through production.
PSB: How many suppliers do you have?
Atchison: We have a few suppliers in Italy, two in Sweden and a number in the U.S. So, probably in the neighborhood of 20 suppliers.
PSB: How were these deals set up?
Atchison: Some relationships existed through the dealership while others were initiated by Donald. Most suppliers were very intrigued when we described the bike to them. It was encouraging to have most of these vendors either provide us with prototype parts at no charge and/or spend a great deal of time re-engineering their product to our specs.
PSB: How do you plan to sell this bike?
Atchison: We are selling the bikes out of our dealership and we are also reviewing dealer apps at the moment. We will be very strategic about dealer selection. There will only be six to eight nationwide and some distribution overseas. We don’t want 20 dealers, each with an allocation of five bikes. We’d prefer a handful of focused dealers who can cover large geographic areas and have the knowledge to properly sell the bikes.
PSB: Are the bikes being built, then stored until sold? Or are the bikes being built to order?
Atchison: All the bikes are made-to-order, though we are not a custom shop. However, we are very cognizant of ergonomics and thus have considerable adjustability in our foot and hand control positioning. And, of course, we entertain our customers’ desire for different paint colors and metal finishes.
PSB: How many of the 100 Heretic are already spoken for?
Atchison: We have a growing list that stands in the 20s, but we just returned from Daytona, where response was great, so we’ll have to see what it’s up to now. We are anticipating that all 100 units will be spoken for by summer.
PSB: Is the Heretic the first model you’ve come up with?
Atchison: Yes, since street bike riding always has been our focus, it seemed to be the most logical model to begin with.
PSB: Earlier, you mentioned there may be plans for four bike models from Ecosse. Would these be produced and sold in a similar fashion?
Atchinson: Yes, the four or so other models will be built in limited-production numbers, as we want to maintain the exclusivity. All the models will share the idea of "form follows function," therefore; they should be readily recognizable as Ecosse. Since Donald seems to be spending more and more of his time competing on the racetrack, I suspect the roadracer will jump up in the ranks as the second model.
PSB: Are any problems arising as a result of this business plan?
Atchison: The primary issues have been on the investment side. Assuming that the potential investor is legitimate — over 50% have not been — they have fallen into two categories: Either they don’t understand why we’re different from the bankrupt clone companies, or their investment goals require us to ship 5,000-plus units in the first year. It can be frustrating to have a prototype that is generating so much excitement from customers, dealers and vendors, but still not close an investment deal that is right for us.
The only other issue was when some early team members overstated their abilities. Naturally, they are no longer with us. We are very serious about integrity as the foundation of our company, and we pride ourselves on producing exquisite, innovative and thoughtfully engineered motorcycles.
PSB: How are you overcoming these issues?
Atchison: We are currently in discussions with a couple of legitimate investment groups. The investor needs to be a motorcycle enthusiast who believes that a limited-production format will benefit not only us, but also our dealers and our customers. They also have to be comfortable with the fact that we are targeting a very small portion of the motorcycle market: 99% of the consumers can’t afford the Heretic.