Who the hell is Scott Colosimo?

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The unassuming 29-year-old in this photo is Scott Colosimo. He doesn’t look like it, but he plans to sell something in excess of 12,000 motorcycles in the US next year. How? He’s pioneering a new wave of motorcycles designed in America for Americans, but made in China. His new cafe racer, the 250cc Cleveland CycleWerks Misfit, will go on sale early next year for just $3,195. A price that undercuts every single competitor, yet a product that looks more expensive, not less. We figured we’d start the interview off by asking Scott where he gets off sending jobs to China.

How dare you build bikes in China when Americans need jobs?

“I started looking to manufacture motorcycles when I was 27. I got nothing but resistance in my hometown of Cleveland. I had every intention to do everything there and just couldn’t get any traction. I love Cleveland, that’s why I named my company after my city. Given unlimited funds and time, I’m sure we would have manufactured our bikes there.

“There’s millions in grants we went after from the government and we were awarded none of them. Since we’re using small displacement engines, we’re getting close to 100mpg, but that’s not enough, it has to be some sort of ultra-green technology that no one’s heard of, some sort of wizardry.

“Then we started to go to manufacturers, hooked up with several, but all of a sudden their lawyers got involved and said, ‘Well, is this for motorcycles? We can’t do parts for motorcycles, it’s too risky.’ The same thing with getting parts like calipers cast. ‘Oh, well this is more of an automotive part.’ But, I’m like, ‘Well you guys have the ability to cast right here in Cleveland, why can’t we do it?’ Their insurance didn’t allow them to.

“We got that sort of thing over and over and over. We had a deal with a manufacturer to bend our frames, then they found out they were for motorcycles and bailed. We tried for six months to get going in Cleveland and we started to run out of money and hope.

“It didn’t help that I’m telling people in the the midwest that I’m going to start a motorcycle company and the first thing I always got was, ‘Well, you look like you’re 16.’ it pissed me off. I would go into meetings and people would be expecting some old dude, some 50-year-old guy, to walk in. But I kind of have a baby face and the first thing people would say was, ‘Well, where’s your dad?’ It pissed me off!

“It was six months of my partner and I banging our heads against the wall and wondering how we could make this happen. So we said, ‘Fuck it’ and decided to go on a short world trip and see where we could manufacture these things.

“People say, ‘How dare you?’ but I don’t think they really understand the manufacturing situation right now. What they also don’t understand is that Cleveland CycleWerks is responsible for employing over 100 people in the US.”

The secret to ensuring good quality from Chinese production.

“You get what you pay for. That’s about it.

“The consumer is the one pushing for cheaper, cheaper, cheaper. We push for better quality. Good companies only want to work with other good companies. If we find, say, a gas tank manufacturer that we’re happy with, we say, ‘Hey, do you have any other factories that you work with?’ And we go visit that factory. Are they ISO certified? What quality controls do they have in place? Can we see some samples? Can we talk to your customers? And we have our own quality control engineers over there monitoring everything too.

“We’ve investing in quality where other people only invest in making the cost as cheap as possible.”

On what defines Cleveland motorcycles.

“It’s a whole philosophy of less is more. We’ve got a 250 now, we’ve got a 500cc in development, we’ve got a 450cc liquid-cooled in development and we’re going to stick to the small to mid-displacement bikes because they make more sense. We’re an all-round motorcycle manufacturer and we’re we’ll have a well-rounded range of motorcycles.

“We’re riders. We ride bikes and this is our passion. I started looking at the market and I said, ‘I really like small-displacement, four-stroke supermotos, but I have a hard time spending eight, nine grand on a dirt bike.’ I love the KTMs, but for me to spend that on a dirt bike that has some flashy wheels, it loses its appeal. So we said, ‘Why don’t we do a 250, four-stroke motard and just make it a little hooligan bike?’ It’s going to be a bike to be hooned. Then we started looking at mopeds. No one’s really addressing the moped market, so we have a moped coming out.”

“My generation of riders is so different from my dad’s generation, or what I call the ‘billet-barge generation.’ Take the idea of buying an old CB350 and bolting on a couple parts. Most people our age are certainly capable of that and it’s appealing. All of our bikes have that same feeling. Stock sucks. I produce bikes knowing that they’re nice and simple and you can take them apart, you can understand them. I guess that’s what will link all the bikes in the range together, we’re going to be a fun, affordable bike manufacturer.”

The market Cleveland is shooting for.

“What we’ve found is that people in the US want to ride. It’s a purchase that people are willing to make some sacrifice for, but many can’t quite make the stretch to an $8,000 price tag. Dealers are left having to stock used bikes, there’s a huge hole in the market for this.

“Instead of dealers having to sell someone a mid-‘90s bike, what if we could sell them something that’s got a 12-month warranty and dealer support? I think we can convert the dreamer into a buyer.

“That’s kind of our key, taking this person that wishes they could afford a motorcycle and showing them that they can. You can afford a cool bike that makes you feel good, it doesn’t have to be a dream.

“It’s an opportunity for dealers to get people into motorcycles and all our bikes lend themselves to customization. So, the dealer can either sell the parts to the person or it can drive service. The dealer really has a product that can generate business in several ways; the sale, the aftermarket sales and the service.

“There’s two interesting markets we didn’t think about coming into this; the step-down market and the female market. The step-down is a guy that has a 650lbs bagger and he’s saying, ‘You know what? I just spent too much money on it, $15 grand on the bike and $30,000 in chrome. I’m afraid I’m going to scratch it.’ The idea that they’re going to cross the country has faded and they just want something they can ride to the bar without worrying about someone dinging it or scratching it. I’ve also had at least six women tell me their husbands bought them Sportsters, but it’s still too heavy, still too big.

“We’ve tried to nail a demographic so we can try and market to it, but there’s no nailing it. There’s guys in their 30s who have a Harley and use the Heist as their around-town bike. We’ve got a lot of young people buying them because they’re extremely affordable. We’ve had traditional Harley shops buy them and thrown a v-twin in ‘em. But right now, our biggest demo is youth.”

Sales now and in the future.

“For 2010 we’re on par for 600 up to 1,000 bikes depending on when shipments arrive. 2010 is a building year for us. We kept things small because the first year of any production run is essentially a prototype run and we didn’t want to have ridiculous orders that we couldn’t fill and we’ve occasionally needed to update a tool or change something. We set up distributors, we got all our parts in place, our bikes in place and really kind of concentrated on the product development and manufacturing aspect.

“We’ll be extremely happy with 3,000 sales for each bike, thats our goal. That’s US. We’re fairly confident that we’ll meet that. We hope to have six new models released in the USA for 2011.”

On flying-by-day.

“We’re essentially privately-funded and fully-funded for another three years. We thought we’d need like another $3 million just to do distribution, but the deal with PIT does that for us. It worked out so perfectly because the quality, integrity, the knowledge, everything about their organization was there. They were looking for some better product to deal with and some honest people. That’s not easy to find in this industry.

“This is the most unique industry I’ve had to deal with from a business standpoint. there’s $100 million businesses where the owner has no idea about motorcycles and then there’s the exact opposite. We’re not Honda, but we’re not going to be going out of business tomorrow.

“We’ve seen where other people have failed tremendously. All the dealer issues, having parts in stock, having a good warranty in place; a big part of it is not only making a good product, but having the support structure in place. All of that will support our projected sales. Without the support, we couldn’t have the sales.”

The burden Chinese production brings.

“We’re extremely realistic about the anti-Chinese sentiment and the aversion to Chinese products American motorcycle consumers have. I don’t lie to people. There’s other companies — I won’t mention names — where I’ve been to their factories in Taiwan, I’ve been to their factories in China, but they’re saying, ‘Oh, our electric bikes are made here in the US.” Well, bullshit. If you bolt tires to the bike and you bolt handlebars onto the bike, that’s not ‘Built in the USA.’ We could say, ‘Built in New Jersey,’ we could say ‘Made in the USA,” but that’d be bullshit. Just because we bolt a few parts on doesn’t make it true.

“It’s an uphill battle. We’re an unknown brand, there’s a lot of this anti-Chinese sentiment, but we’re kind of an oddball case. We’re doing small-displacement motorcycles for the US market. The key is, our bikes are extremely affordable.”

Why aren’t more people designing bikes in the US and manufacturing them in China already?

“I’ve said to myself repeatedly, ‘Either these people are aliens or we are aliens.’

“You can go to China, you can spend a week or two there, but you don’t really understand the culture. to really get into business in China, to deal with government officials, to deal with factory workers and understand Chinese life…China will either make you or break you.

“The Japanese don’t really like to make stuff in China because they take such great pride in their manufacturing. The Germans won’t touch it because they take such great pride in their engineering that they think it’s beneath them. The Americans kind of have such a fear of the Chinese that they don’t want to get into it. There’s so many social, economical and cultural reasons, then, on top of that is the language barrier.

“There’s at least 20 or 30 times when we could have given up. The difference between an entrepeneur and your average worker is where most people give up, you just have to say, ‘This is it, there is no fail.’”

On bringing production back to the US.

“We are trying to bring more manufacturing back to the US. All of our aftermarket parts are made in and around Cleveland. We’ve partnered with numerous small volume manufacturers and custom builders to produce parts for the Heist — everything from handlebars to suicide shifters, headlights, tailights, all that stuff — some are 20 pieces, some are 250. We’ve talked about setting up a final assembly plant here in Cleveland or in New Jersey or even California. It’s a shame we had to prove we could do it before people would work with us.”

On long-term goals.

“If we can continue to, every couple of years, produce a new bike that’s kind of cool, that meets market demand and stay a low-volume manufacturing business, then we’re certainly happy with that.”

On corporate identity.

“I tell people all the time that I own a small motorcycle manufacturer and they’re, ‘Oh, like OCC? You’re building bikes in your garage.’ No, absolutely nothing like OCC.”

  • Mattro

    excellent interview. i wish it’d been four times as long. i’m very excited about this manufacturer and i’m very much exemplary of their target market — young, value-conscious bike enthusiasts who are tired of only being able to buy old, decaying bikes to suit our preferences and match our budgets.

    i’d like to know what (even if nascent) their intentions are for factors like financing, distribution expansion, the bolstering of customer culture, marketing, international sales, race sponsorship.

    and i can’t wait until more builders get hold of these bikes and find out what extant parts can be made fit/work on them.

    • http://twitter.com/JamesLeeFoley# J Foley

      I’m curious too, but mostly about the marketing.

      If I wasn’t into sites like HFL I’d have never heard about CCW, so how will people who aren’t already into bikes?

      Rider to prospective rider evangelism will only go so far and I’d really like to see them grow.

  • Clayton

    You have to admire his spirit. I wish him the best of luck. “Tha Misfit” would be my choice.

  • Nick

    So how long until we see a HFL road test?

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      He’s got to get the EPA certificate back for the Misfit before we can take it for a spin.

      • http://twitter.com/chaosfart Sean

        This was an excellent first write up. Thumbs up guys. I am really looking forward to the review. I am sure you will give an honest review with none of that press release spewing bullshit found in other reviews. Things like this are why I was willing to sign up for a subscription.

      • Nick

        Looking forward to it! I certainly appreciate the insight as to why Chinese production came to be. Sad that it is so difficult to build here. Thanks guys and best of luck to you, Scott!

      • Devin

        Will this be available to get a registration on it in Canada or is that a separate set of hoops to jump through?

  • http://pinkyracer.com pinkyracer

    What a genius!!! There is a serious lack of cool starter bikes! Anything that gets more Americans on 2 wheels is cool with me. Even if it’s (gulp) made in China. His experience with Cleveland vendors is the same as many fashion designers go through here in LA. They want to manufacture locally, but it’s so much easier (and cheaper) to do it in China. sigh.

    When will manufacturers decide they want some business and at least be flexible? As for consumers being cheap, they should be ashamed of themselves for being such suckers and letting Walmart dictate their values to them.

  • Kevin

    My heart sank listening to why he couldn’t build in the US. I’ve told my tea party friends for ages that our problem isn’t taxes, its the fact that it’s damned hard to start a business in this country because of all the lawyers and rules.

  • Turf

    I dig this guy and where he’s coming from. Sign me up for a 500cc Hooligan!

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/1962_cb77_restore/ Scott Pargett

    This could be huge.

  • smoke4ndmears

    I really dig the misfit, and if it’s a good fit for my 90lb girlfriend well, CCW will be getting my money.

  • Turf

    Re the first picture, are those two particular Chinese guys giant or is Scotty not built to scale?

    • seanslides

      I didn’t want to be the first guy to ask, but seriously… What’s going on with this picture?

      • http://www.ClevelandCycleWerks.com scottydigital

        Haha, YES those are 2 of the tallest Chinese guys I have ever seen. I am 5’6″, so not huge but those dudes are tall by anyone’s standards.

        • seanslides

          lol, It took a lot of effort to look away from the photo and actually read the interview. That’s easily the most interesting photo I’ve seen in a month. Do all three of you have oddly shaped/proportioned heads as well? It looks that way, but I can’t figure it out.

        • Matt the sperglord

          Scott, I thought they had shrunk your head with their foreign magic superpowers. But I digress. If you start selling your bikes in Canada, you’ll be getting my money. All the best with the company.

  • robotribe

    “It’s an uphill battle. We’re an unknown brand, there’s a lot of this anti-Chinese sentiment, but we’re kind of an oddball case. We’re doing small-displacement motorcycles for the US market. The key is, our bikes are extremely affordable.”

    About goddamn time SOMEBODY took small displacement seriously as a category worth building upon here in the U.S. Good on ya, man.

    As for the anti-Chinese sentiment, it’s no different from the distrust of the Jap cars in the 60s and Korean reputation from the 80s. There’s one thing Chinese motorized products have be to win the hearts of American buyers: BE GOOD, RELIABLE AND SAFE PRODUCTS.

    Maybe this is the guy to help make that happen. I hope that’s the case.

  • Ducky

    Very enjoyable read, thanks!

  • fasterfaster

    Very exciting to see, though frustrating to read the struggles. The industry badly needs to be shaken up. It may be that I live in the San Francisco bubble, but these bikes should have huge appeal. The ONLY bikes you see 20-somethings on in the city are 60s and 70s japanese twins. In the meantime, the dealerships have convinced themselves that all they can sell are cruisers and sport bikes, so that’s all they carry… so that’s all they sell. Best of luck, Cleveland.

  • Kyle

    I’m almost sold. I’m really eyeing a sportbike and the F3 looks really appealing but yet the money I can save will be worth 10fold down the road.

  • Myles

    NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Now the Hipsters will ALWAYS show up – they finally have a reliable bike.

    Damn you Scott, damn you!

    • miles_prower

      LOL!!!

  • http://www.footshifted.com Footshifted

    Great interview – I wish the guy luck. I’d sure ride a small displacement cafe style bike – no matter where it’s made, as long as it’s quality.

  • Kevin

    I don’t want to get political, but what a sad state of affairs that entrepreneurs like this face more roadblocks to business in this country than overseas. I applaud this endeavor and will keep an eye out for the 500cc in development.

  • Ted

    If I can convince the woman to let another bike in the garage, I’ll gladly help this guy realize his dream. It really grinds my gears that he couldn’t do it in the US

  • Frosty_spl

    Good luck Scott! Your bikes rock. Designing a new moped is genius haha.

    • Peter

      I can’t wait to see the moped offering either. The Misfit and Hooligan both look rad. Hope the ‘ped is as awesome as they seem to be.

  • Roman

    Betweem these guys, the electrics, Motus and Buell building street bike again, it will certainly be interesting to see how things shake out over the next couple of years. Nothing would please me more than to see a different style of American motorcycle industry emerge from the sickly shadow of Harley.

    • Grive

      Indeed. Looks like 2011/2012 will be quite the interesting year for american motorcycles.

      I’d love to take a Misfit for a spin. Sounds like it should be a fun and really cool vehicle for in-city trips.

      And for those of us with a bit more experience, that 500cc engine they’re working on in a misfit would be very, very enticing, too.

  • ike6116

    This guy gets it. Can’t wait to see more from him

  • CG

    So, manufacturing in America is basically a situation of one set of attorneys terrified of another set of attorneys? This is exactly the kind of niche mfr. that is the future, but we won’t do it because of the fear of lawsuits? Arrrrggghhhh. Meanwhile, if this guy (and more like him) can be successful those of us nervous about biking’s future can relax a bit. Go dude!

  • Cheese302

    a great interview indeed. I am looking forward to seeing these bikes in person especially the 500cc engine. i could go for small displacement, but at the same time i do nee to be able to hang at highway speeds. I took a look at p.i.t. motors website, i am from near Pennsauken, is that a dealer? i would like to go take a look if given the opportunity.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      PIT’s the distributor, I’m sure they’d like to accommodate you.

      • Roman

        Hmm, I live right across the river. Would be pretty sweet to get a little presentation for the HFL faithful/local riders.

        • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

          Ha, just email them. They’ve only got the Heist in stock right now though.

          • Roman

            Thanks, let us know if anything comes together.

  • http://www.speedymoto.com SpeedyMoto

    Wow, great story. I have a small motorcycle parts manufacture here in the US and it came as no surprise to hear the details of Scott’s battle to manufacture in the US. We got a list of parts that we were not allowed to make from our insurance company a few years ago and it was very frustrating. I wish CCM the best of luck and I hope our companies cross paths sometime!

    • http://www.ClevelandCycleWerks.com scottydigital

      SpeedyMoto, Email me please, you are the type of people we are looking to partner with in the USA. Scott@ClevelandCycleWerks.com

  • gregorbean

    I’ll be seriously considering tha hooligun when it’s ready, depending on price…looks like it would be perfect for around town and for supermoto track days.

  • JRl

    That Hooligan reminds me of my old Derbi Supermotard. Problem with that bike was that it was a 50cc…so we put a CR85 engine in it, but it still wasn’t fast enough! If the Hooligan has a 250 and a 450, that’d be perfect!

  • http://plugbike.com/ skadamo

    It is strange to hear so much logical thinking and shoot from the hip from an OEM. :D Great interview and an amazing story.

    @scottydigital What is the story behind the Heist. Did you guys design that bike or was it Rhon? Will the Chinese mfr’s have any rights to your bikes?

  • ike6116

    @scottydigital – do you eat your own dog food? Meaning do you ride one of your own bikes everyday? Also is it safe to assume that there are plans to go fuel injected in the future?

  • http://www.firstgenerationmotors.blogspot.com Emmet

    I hope they stay away from plastic and chrome wherever they can on those bikes!

  • je

    Cheap motard? If its somewhat reliable then I don’t see a reason not to spend the money. The reason I don’t have the ktm, it’s to damn expensive!

  • Alex

    Scott is the smartest guy in the room, no doubt. Way to go! So good to see the trailblazer in Moto – tired of reading about Social Networking and Groupons stuff. Steve Jobs of Motorcycling? There is a bit of inspiration…I’ll be watching and hoping.

  • http://www.ClevelandCycleWerks.com scottydigital

    Regarding the design of tha Heist, click below…..
    http://gallery.me.com/scottdigital#100338

    I ride CCW bikes every day, and am in the process of Bobbing my personal CCW bike. I also have a BSA M21, a 1920′s board tracker and a Duc 749s. I like the Duc for the track, and the smaller stuff for the streets.

    We design and have provisional patents for several of our products. We own the IP for several of our bikes. There is no 1 formula that we use, as a young company, our business plan is evolving the more we learn.

    • http://plugbike.com/ skadamo

      Thanks for the info on the Heist design. I was confused by it being listed here…

      http://www.motor-rhon.com/New-products-chopper.htm

      …with a different model name. When I see stuff like that I automatically assume “rebadge”.

      Will Qingqi/Rhon be selling the bike also or are they just bragging?

  • Cajun58

    He may be a genius but emblematic of many twenty something’s finds it necessary to tear down someone else in the industry (OCC) to build himself up. At least they did find a way to build in the US. Having said that I like the bikes and wish him luck in his endeavors.

    • Ducky

      He only said that his company is nothing like OCC. I don’t see how that can be construed as an insult. And being part of the newest entrepreneurial generation, the future does belong to those 20-somethings. With this generation’s obsession with consumerism and being spoon-fed everything, it’s refreshing to see someone take a risk and start up their own business.

      • robotribe

        Agreed. If I were in his shoes, I’d consider distancing myself from the OCC-like reputation independent “custom” motorcycles have created for themselves domestically and around the globe; accurate or not. The LAST thing I’d want to be seen as is “just another OCC, West Coast Choppers or RSD” wannabe.

        That’s not dissing, that’s just strategically prudent.

        • Cajun58

          He needs to differentiate his product from every other manufacturer but he does not need to distance himself from any company. OCC, West Coast Choppers or RSD are the face of the industry for many people so why aleinate their customer base. As he said in the interview many existing riders are downsizing or adding a smaller machine so any one is a potential customer for his bikes.

  • miles_prower

    @scottydigital:

    As a serial entrepreneur myself, your statement rings true:

    “There’s at least 20 or 30 times when we could have given up. The difference between an entrepreneur and your average worker is where most people give up, you just have to say, ‘This is it, there is no fail.’”

    Fully-funded for three years — you must have had a great deck! Congrats, and the best of luck.

  • miles_prower

    Granted, I have a large-displacement bike for days when I’m covering hundreds of miles on the highway. But for the just-outside-of-town riding I like to do, I find small-displacement bikes much more fun to ride! I feel that riding a less-powerful bike to its limits is a much more compelling experience than riding a super-bike to a fraction of its real capability.

  • Zach

    Awesome. This is the only manufacturer I would consider buying a new bike from anytime soon.

  • Bronson

    HFL: Fantastic article. Thanks!
    Scott: Congrats on what you’ve done so far and best of luck in the future!

  • Core

    Glad this man kept going even though he hit all of those barriers. That’s awesome. That takes spirit and balls. I don’t know how you get those things, but I can tell he has them.

    The barriers he hit, really made me sick. Our government has regulated and taxed businesses away…