Mac Motorcycles thinks differently
Setting up an interview with the boss of Mac Motorcycles, one of the world's newest motorbike builders, is a quirky experience to say the least. The first port of call is Tracey Price, the company secretary, except that Price does not go by her real name. She prefers to be known as the "Glamorous Assistant" and all her emails are signed accordingly. Quirkiness just about perfectly sums up Mac Motorcycles. The retro bike maker likes to do things differently, and that quirkiness stems back to the origins of the company, the brainchild of British businessman Ellis Pitt.
A passionate motorbike fan and bike collector, Pitt tells a story of returning from work one day around the time the seed of Mac Motorcycles was initially born. "Our view when we set this up was that we were guys passionate about bikes but were fed up about overly complicated motorbikes. We felt there was a real market place for retro, quality bikes. "I like to think of myself as a capable mechanic but I've got a Ducati Fireblade, a modern bike, and I didn't even know how to take petrol out of the tank.
"I was coming home from work one day and there was a girl parked up on a scooter on the side of the road. I pulled over to check if she was OK and she explained she'd run out of petrol. So I offered to help out but went home and didn't have a clue how to get the fuel out of the Ducati. "Thankfully I've got an old Harley-Davidson as well so I was able to use that to get the fuel, but it proved a point about modern bikes being too complicated. We just want to strip it all down."
Mac Motorcycles was not quite born that night, but Pitt set about pursuing the idea with gusto. He first opened discussions with Xenophya Design, a firm set up by Mark Wells and Ian Wride with 10 years of experience working in motorbike design with clients ranging from Aprilia to Yamaha. Initially, the project started as something of a pipe dream around about Christmas 2008 but slowly their dream became a reality.
"I'd known Mark and Ian for a couple of years and seen them on and off," says Pitt. "So we said, 'Why don't we do something', as we all had a bit of a quiet spell coming up over that Christmas period. We got a few sketches going and, initially, it was just a plan to do a one-off and it would be something we'd all ride. But they suggested running with it and it's all gone from there." Mac Motorcycles officially came into being in May 2009 and the business has gone from strength to strength.
There are four bikes currenty in the pipeline: the Spud, Pea Shooter, Ruby and Roarer, and the plan is to have them on the road come the end of the year. "The Spud is the first and it's basically our Frankenstein prototype," says Pitt. "We don't think we're far away with that one." The prototype is powered using an air-cooled, 500cc motor from now-defunct Buell, while the bodywork is an almagamation of what Pitt calls "off-the-shelf parts" as well as custom-made parts, such as the seats and fuel tanks.
He adds: "The four bikes are actually based around one main prototype. In fact, the tank and bodywork are the only real difference between the four - the rolling chassis and the wheels are almost identical from model to model. "The plan is to get the Spud on the road first and then work on the others, but we plan to have them all on the road by the end of the year. Obviously that's dependent on how the first Spud prototype goes and how it's received but we don't envisage any problems."
The bikes themselves will cost between £7,000 (Dh40,000) and £10,000 (Dh57,000), depending on specifications, a price that Pitt describes as "not oodles of money". As for the inspiration for the retro Mac Motorcycles, there is no single template. "Between our team, we've pretty much ridden every bike that's been made," says Pitt. "We've ridden everything from the old British bikes to the American and Japanese models, and basically just love anything on two wheels.
"There's influences from all sorts of bikes that we love: Harley Sportsters, Confederate, Royal Enfield and of course the Chopper. We're just as happy in a field with a bunch of Hell's Angels as we are at a British Superbike race track. We're just interested in making motorbikes and getting back to simplicity like the chopper-building community." Mac Motorcycles, though, is minute compared with most bike-building businesses. Despite that fact, Pitt's creation has already bagged itself global backing thanks to a massive surge of online interest, which has blown Pitt and his team away.
"We've had some great support in the media in the last year with magazine and newspaper articles, but the internet is the thing that's propelled us," he saysd. "We've got about 5,000 people on our database, we've had about half a million hits on our website. "On top of that, we get about 50 to 100 enquiry emails each week and we've already got about 60 to 70 concrete orders in for bikes, which is obviously the key thing."
Geographically, the interest has been fairly wide reaching from Russia through to India and the Middle East. "I think at the last count we worked out that we've had enquiries from 147 countries so far," he says. "There's been a lot of interest in the Middle East and we really have no comprehension how wealthy some of the people out there are, so that's great. Thankfully a lot of them seem to want to have one of our bikes.
"The interest in India has been surprisingly overwhelming, as well. Mark was out there recently and he was basically mobbed like he was some sort of minor celebrity. We had another guy in Russia who's become a big fan and has even set up a Facebook fan page for us." Currently the export market looks the biggest factor for the company, although Pitt admits his business is never likely to "look at producing thousands and thousands of bikes".
Almost as important as being a successful business at Mac Motorcycles is having fun at the same time. "I've worked in business for a while and too often firms tell half-truths and are insincere," says Pitt. "But with us it's a case of what you see is what you get. And we're trying to do things with fun. "We've got Tracey on our books, who bills herself as the 'Glamourous Assistant'. We don't want to be a faceless company. We want to have a real identity with our customers which is why we listen so much to our feedback.
"Our readership has been with us every step along the way, offering ideas from the moment we posted our first ideas online. In effect, they've helped us to design the bikes and they've shown amazing goodwill. I've been blown over by it. It's all been very illuminating." To find out more about the firm, visit mac-motorcycles.com
Published: August 7, 2010 04:00 AM