FAQ--FIREITUP

Here are answers to some of the most frequently or intensely asked questions over the years. If you have further questions, please review the remainder of this website, or contact us and we will respond.  Thank you.

Okay, is there one most frequently asked question?

No, however each year does seem to bring it's own set of new questions.  Certainly depends upon what period of time the company was in, and whether one was an ally or not. An interesting observation was a foe would make skeptical statements more than they would ask questions! Common statements were; "it can't be done, Harley won't let you make it, you'll never do it, you can't design a proprietary motor, no one's ever done this, etc..."  However, among the allies, there was usually the beaming face and attitude, asking questions with both enthusiasm and sincerity: "how can I help, can I get a job with you, can I be your factory test rider, etc..." The energy givers were the ones we focused on.

Where did the word FIREITUP come from?
It seemed like every year we would have new questions or statements as we solved the previous years. When we finally had the running proprietary prototypes built, immediately the last question would disappear of; "you can't design a motor," and instantly replaced with the next question or statement. At the public unveilings in Sturgis and Daytona Beach, prospective customers would come up to the bikes, and state; "fire it up!" We heard it so much it became a mantra, and we adopted it in the field, and soon made t-shirts proclaiming it. Of course we did, "fire it up," as our Road Crew sales staff was very obliging.

How did the company get started?
The spark that started it all began at a Christmas gathering in Dec. 1992 when various members of the Hanlon Family were gathered at the Hanlon Family farm in Derrynane Township, Belle Plaine, MN. There was a current attempt at reviving the Indian motorcycle marque, and brother Tom had the paperwork and was contemplating putting a down payment on a prospective new Indian motorcycle. Tom provided the paperwork to brother Dan to take and review--and shortly thereafter upon Dan's research of the current attempt, the industry and consumer enthusiasm, market forces, and improvement in the financial markets--decided indeed there was an opportunity for a new USA motorcycle entrant, but possibly not only Indian, but another American brand. So, Tom did not put money down on the Indian, and instead ultimately became one of the early investors in another new motorcycle company, Hanlon Manufacturing Company. So began the spark that led to further action, and the lives of some of the Hanlons would never be the same.

What's the story on the book, Riding The American Dream?
When the business was launched ultimately from the spark mentioned above, it was never expected to garner so much media attention. With any popular story, most frequently there are stories of fact and folklore that get told and retold, without ever really knowing what the real story is. Oftentimes, the truth is more interesting than the fiction! This book chronicles the concept from startup and post-production as written first-hand by Dan Hanlon. With the intense amount of media frenzy surrounding the company, there were many myths and folklore created--some by the company itself--that this book is designed to clarify the inside facts, recognizing some of the information may not be popularly viewed. If you have not read the book, it is highly recommended for the EH aficionado, even if you are not a book reader. It will answer many questions--all of the FAQs mentioned here are addressed in the book--and provide answers to questions you didn't know you had. Over 400 pages, so there is a lot of information.

Tell me a little more about the start of the company?
All of this is chronicled in the book Riding The American Dream, and the short story is, after the spark of 1992, most of 1993 was invested in drafting and perfecting the business plan, initiating contacts in the industry, and market research. Dan had previously sold a company he started earlier, and devoted full-time efforts to the venture. A venture such as this does not begin without a significant investment of time and capital to ascertain a correct plan that can be implemented with a likelihood to succeed. After exhausting all research, a decision had to made of either implementing the plan, or shelving it. The decision was made to launch and motorcycling history would soon have a new entrant...

How did Hanlon Manufacturing fit into all this?
During the research and development of the business plan since early 1993, the company name used was Hanlon Manufacturing (initially a sole proprietor). Upon the decision to implement the plan, the next stages required investor financing, lease agreements, filing trademark applications, design contracts, etc...all requiring the execution of legal documents. The name was  subsequently incorporated in December 1993 to facilitate the legal process, and all shares were issued to Dan Hanlon, as the founder and CEO. Dan provided a loan to the company of $50,000 from his savings. At this point most of the company's actions were proprietary in nature--not publicly disclosed--and the use of this name allowed the company to operate without distraction to the motorcycle brands it ultimately intended to design, produce and market. The mission and principles were created in the basement of the founder's home prior to the incorporation of the company, as this set the tone for the future. The name Hanlon Manufacturing Company would stay in place for several years until the spring of 1996, when the legal name of Excelsior-Henderson Motorcycle Manufacturing Company was formally adopted.

How many Hanlons were involved with the company?
Quite a few. The Hanlons are a large supportive family of gearheads and business minded folks, considering they all had an upbringing on the small family dairy farm that had been in the family since the mid 1860s. Many have post-secondary education and advanced degrees, and either own or have owned their own businesses. Of the eight siblings, many were early or later investors, and all lost their investment in the company--universally this is not a shared good feeling. Several family members used their Harley-Davidsons as collateral on loans to buy stock. Their parents, Jerry & Mary, invested a significant part of their life savings and lost it all. Whether directly involved as an employee, shareholder, or enthusiast, there was a lot of Hanlon family involvement.

How about the Hanlons that were employees?
A great quote; "The reality is that 'entrepreneur' is not a job title. It is the state of mind of people who want to alter the future," is from Guy Kawasaki. With that said, the Hanlon's never considered themselves as employees, but entrepreneurs responsible for implementing the plan. Dan's brother Dave was recruited to join in early 1994 and the company began marketing an additional founder (to position against Harley-Davidson having a family of brothers as founders). Three years later, Dave was appointed co-CEO just prior to the public offering in mid-1997. Dave's wife Jennie joined the company part-time in 1994, and grew into a full-time role. In the spring of 1998, the company decided to bestow upon her a founder status as it was believed a woman in that role would be helpful strategic market positioning, which was marketed going forward. Terry Hanlon, another brother, was an early volunteer, part-time employee, and later full-time employee and was the lead factory test rider. He was involved with the company in one facet or another since before the legal inception. Other siblings and children had various roles in either part-time or volunteer status. In either event, there were many Hanlon family members involved in the Excelsior-Henderson Hanlon-led revival.

What about the story that the company started on a hotel balcony in Sturgis?
It's a great story, and true that it's a story. Several Hanlon brothers, family, and friends rode together to the Sturgis motorcycle rally in 1992. For Dan, Tom, and Terry it was the first ride together to Sturgis with brother Dave and his wife Jennie, who had been going to Sturgis for many years. Several evenings while at the rally, the group would gather on the hotel balcony enjoying refreshments and the sights and sounds--if you've been to Deadwood/Sturgis, you know what it's about. Brother Dan was primarily going to research the wooden-engine Indian motorcycle unveiling (again see the book Riding The American Dream) as part of the due diligence of the Hanlon Manufacturing business plan. Later, when Dave joined the company, the balcony story was enhanced and promoted. Certainly, it was no secret among the Hanlon brothers what was being nurtured, and Dan would share his ideas with others and was discussed among the close internal group while at the rally, and on a hotel balcony. So, the hotel balcony story has a familiar ring, just with a twist of the marketing throttle, which is in part, what makes for great marketing, which motorcycle companies are prone to do!

So, what's the connection to Jay Leno?
Jay was an early supporter and enthusiast and became a friend to the family and company. Anyone who knows about Jay, knows he is an ardent motorsports enthusiast and continues to increase over the years. Just prior to the decision to launch the company, the founder received his copy of the current issue of the Harley-Davidson The Enthusiast magazine (Fall Issue 1993--if anyone has an original copy of that issue, please contact Dan H.). The front cover was depicting a Harley-Davidson ride with Jay Leno leading the HD riders on an old motorcycle. Upon close inspection of the cover photo, it revealed that Jay was leading the riders astride his very own old Henderson Four motorcycle! What a coup, having Jay Leno leading the HD riders on his Excelsior-Henderson! The invincible HD had a marketing chink-in-its-armor. Dan sincerely took that as a sign from above in many respects, and so sparked what would later become a connection to one of the world's most foremost motorsports enthusiast.

Why didn't you start smaller?
This is a common question, and there simply is no way to start a proprietary OEM manufacturer in a smaller capacity. The sheer nature of this question indicates the questioner does not understand the proprietary principles of manufacturing. EH by design was the smallest OEM manufacturer, and most likely would have remained so. A proprietary OEM is a big venture, as the key words are proprietary and OEM. Defined, proprietary means uniquely designed, engineered, and produced motorcycle, which primarily consists of proprietary main components of an engine, frame, fenders, fuel tank, look, etc... OEM meaning adhering to the Federally mandated EPA, DOT, and internal testing controls, development of a Rider's Manual, etc... We did start small by launching with one person, but in order to succeed in building the company, we had to volume produce motorcycles.

Why did you have to volume produce motorcycles, why not just a few and grow from there?
This is really the same question about starting smaller, as the answer is the same--OEM and proprietary determined the size of the company launch--it's a mathematical formula to calculate a return on investment. This is covered in greater detail in the RTAD (Riding The American Dream, Chapter 16) book, however to summarize, the axiom of manufacturing is you need volume to lower costs. If you have low volume, you have high costs, and vice versa. Now add the proprietary to the mix, and that further complicates the cost structure as new tooling needs to be made. In general, in order to recover the upfront costs of design, tooling, testing, etc...you need to produce thousands of parts to recoup the cost. This is simply a mathematical equation and has been around as long as manufacturing has--and if you understand manufacturing you already know this. This is also why you do not see proprietary, independent OEM motorsports startups. To build a few bikes at a time would require hand tooling and hand building--much like anything custom--and the price each would have been in the $60,000 to $90,000 price range...unaffordable and would have been a planned failure. It has been stated, Excelsior-Henderson may have been the last independent, proprietary OEM startup witnessed in our lifetimes.

Well, then why did you need to be an OEM and proprietary?
Proprietary means developing your own products, not copying someone else and not using someone else's parts. Very difficult to use someone else's components to make your product, unless you get permission from them, and if you do, then basically you have the same product as everyone else, and they control your pricing, quality control, etc...and all you are is a clone, and no product or marketing value. There would be nothing unique hence there would be no real company to build. All vehicle manufacturing companies such as Harley-Davidson, Honda, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, etc...are proprietary OEMs building motorsports vehicles using their own designs and parts. They may share some common features (generally consumables) such as spark plugs, tires, oil, fuses, etc....

Why not use someone else's engine and frame?
Okay, by now you might be realizing if a company used someone else's engine and frame, fuel tanks, etc...then they do not have an OEM proprietary motorcycle, but instead have a clone of anyone else. First, most motorcycle manufacturing companies have their own engines, and they're not going to sell you their engine to another company to compete alongside. Doesn't make business or economic sense. In addition, at the time of incorporation of the company, there were no complete aftermarket air-cooled v-twin engines being made (S&S did not have complete motors yet). Even if they had, the company would have needed to use it's own engine, again otherwise it would simply be a clone of the many other aftermarket motorcycles that became available.

Okay, I think I understand the OEM and proprietary part. Why did you build the Taj Mahal?
This one is funny. There was periodically a media frenzy and some just couldn't resist creating myths to manipulate their readers and try to discourage the company. A couple of media journalists had a lot of fun criticizing and demonizing the efforts of the company, and some were fond of ridiculing the factory and called it the Taj Mahal. Most of us wouldn't even know what that means. This is covered in great detail in the Riding The American Dream book, however the short story is the factory was built frugally (less per square foot than the local Wal-Mart) but did have a nice distinctive look. Additionally, you may recall during the go-go mid 1990s, there were no vacant factory buildings available in the seven county metro area of Minneapolis and St. Paul. The media journalists were simply wrong and apparently had some other agenda or motivation. On a private note, if you ever have the chance to visit the Taj Mahal, it is in India and was constructed over a 21 year timeframe beginning in 1632, and is considered one of the great marvels of all time. Maybe the journalists were right, but not in the way they intended!

What do you think of the media coverage?
Many media in the print, radio, and television enjoyed covering our company, although a few may not have appreciated our efforts. There had not been a previously successful motorcycle company launch to chronicle, and some were not sure what to make of the company, as most motorcycle journalists simply focus on the end result of a motorcycle, and it took several years for the company to get into production. Approximately 90% of the media coverage was outside the state of Minnesota, and was mostly favorable and balanced, except for a few. Internationally, the company received great media coverage. Locally, there were a few journalists that were interested in fabricating stories and causing consumer mis-perception. For the most part, the media coverage was fantastic and we very much appreciated their interest and support.

Why do you think some journalists were and still are unfavorable on the Hanlons or the company?
Not sure, and good question. If you ever have a good answer please contact us. There was a writer in Canada that took a particularly harsh position against the Hanlons, and one in particular. Years later the founder had a chance to converse with that writer, and asked why he was so harsh on the company, the Hanlons, and particularly one of his brothers? The journalist was surprised (pleasantly), didn't recall the article, and apologized, stating, "I write so many articles and then just move on. I really don't remember what I wrote, and I'm sorry if it affected your family. I think you guys were doing a wonderful job!"  Wow. Now that's different, and better late than never.

What do you think of the Victory and Indian motorcycle startups?
Congratulations to them both on determining to enter a difficult industry with great barriers to entry. Excelsior-Henderson invested approximately $95 million, which includes $11 million for a new factory and $8 million for a finishing facility, whereas Indian invested approx. $240 million before succumbing to the forces of the market and didn't require building a factory or finishing facility. The Polaris Victory motorcycle project has invested nearly $200 million and also did not construct new facilities--it is widely known that without a profitable, patient, corporate parent, the Victory motorcycle line would be shuttered...it has not met it's production and sales goals. With the passage of time, the accomplishments of the Excelsior-Henderson motorcycle venture are better validated.

Where did names like the Road Crew, Pioneer Dealers, Riders Handbook originate?
Part of the corporate culture of EH is to first break all the rules, then rewrite to our rulebook. The company was entering a century-old industry dominated by corporate goliaths that had written the rulebook and controlled the industry. It was the company's goal to not follow by the rules others had written, so in every respect possible, we chose a different path to mark who we are; Road Crew rather than employees, a Riders Handbook rather than Owners Manual, etc... You will see this in many facets of the company, and was part of our corporate culture.

Tell me more about the Road Crew?
The maximum employment the company had is approximately 240 positions during mid 1999.  With attrition factored in, over an eight-year timeperiod, there were approximately 275 people that comprised the Road Crew. Many of them today remain in contact with one another, and continue to progress in their respective careers. Some remain in the motorsports industry, achieving such titles as manager, director, vice-president, and president. The former Senior VP of manufacturing and engineering for EH is the head of Victory motorcycles production since EH ceased production--little wonder the Victory has improved! EH's lead designer is employed with Harley-Davidson in their design department. These are just a few of the many examples. Congratulations to all the Road Crew for their dedicated efforts in joining a company that was undercapitalized and for committing their valuable time and energy to build the company. Collectively, it was the most skilled team-driven force that many have worked with, and most likely will not be duplicated.

What are the mission and principles?
You will find them in the arrow Document Warehouse of this website. Every Road Crew member was presented with a small card preprinted on both sides with the Mission and Mission Principles. The company sought to operate by this vision and values, and designed them to be timeless--to transcend time to be effective 100 years into the future or 100 years into the past. In short, the company Mission is to design/build/sell profitably, legendary American motorcycles throughout the world. There are nine Principles the company fostered, the first two: (1) People are our greatest asset, and (2) We will work as a team.

Why did the company go public so soon (while in negative cash flow)?
It is not desirable to go public while a company is in negative cash flow as the nuances of the public investment marketplace likes predictable, stable, positive cash flow companies. That the company was able to go public nearly two years prior to revenue is a real testament to the management team and investment group. There was a financing event that occurred in 1996 that would require the company to become a trading stock within 18 months, so there was a trigger on the company. This trigger was created by a media event, wherein the company was in the midst of a $10 million private placement of stock, utilizing the SEC exemption from registration and adhering to the no solicitation rule. While the company was conducting the kickoff presentation to the brokers, an errant newspaper reporter tricked the receptionist into providing him a copy of the confidential document, in which he promptly wrote an article--which could then be deemed to blow our SEC registration exemption. We had to cancel the $10 million offering, and put the company into a pre-measured stall position. We re-wrote and reconfigured the offering, and later embarked on a private offering of registered stock that had a pre-determined lockup on the investors. A complicated deal, that with a bright and capable team, was able to execute and live to fight another day, knowing there was a loaded gun and trigger in the not-to-distant future.

What's the one reason the company shut down production?
There is no "one" reason--although it seems some believe there should be--and there are many factors that came together to create the perfect storm. The trigger mentioned above did not help either. The short story is the financial markets had changed dramatically in support of Y2K and the burgeoning internet boom, creating an environment where bricks and mortar were no longer in favor--and early stage investors abandoned the company in search of promising internet startups--remember the term clicks and mortar...now long forgotten. The company was not able to secure additional funding on any terms. Certainly there were some internal operational issues and external factors too. The internal issues were standard operating items that would get sorted out in time, and were not leading factors. Remember in the 1999-2000 timeframe how billions were invested into internet startups, and on some occasions with little more than a plan on a paper napkin? There were many indirect business casualties, and EH among them since the company by plan was not yet in positive cash flow. Had the company been in positive cash flow, then the outcome may have been improved...

Well, did Excelsior-Henderson fail, and/or is it a failure?
The company certainly had a lot of successes since its inception, and achieving a high quality proprietary OEM motorcycle...that years later has continually come to be recognized by the industry as one of the most modern and unique motorcycles ever built. With the dual-overhead cam, four-valve, fuel injected motor and unique anti-dive front suspension, and rigid low slung frames, the motorcycles are standing the test of time. Measured by one day--December 21, 1999 when the company halted production--then yes. Measured before and after, the company legacy continues to ride...  My apologies to all those who invested in the dream, and lost.

"To try and fail is at least to learn. To fail to try is to suffer the loss of what might have been." --Benjamin Franklin



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