I've designed and built many expensive motorcycles. I've spent a lot of my own money—a lot of other people's money, too—on costly motorcycle projects. These motorcycles were prototypes, built to prove concepts, develop ideas, or demonstrate potentials. They were expensive because the first example of any design is costly. You pay for the designer's time, and development of machining programs and procedures. You pay for tooling, for jigs, and for fixtures. You pay for developing assembly procedures. Most of all you pay for the mistakes that show you how a project or program needs to change to be successful. But I've never bought a really expensive motorcycle. It's not that I don't pay attention to the high-end motorcycle market. I read magazine articles, go to motorcycle shows, troll through the blogs. I know what's out there. I first encountered the Ecosse Heretic in 2004, on the cover of Robb Report. At that time, custom V-twins seemed to be everywhere. Most were choppers or cruisers. But the Heretic was, well, heretical—a naked sportbike that improbably blended American muscle with European style and plenty of homegrown attitude. It was intriguing, attractive, expensive, and exclusive.
A couple years later, I met Don Atchison, who, together with his wife, Wendy, runs Ecosse Moto Works. Don's the hands-on guy; Wendy is the marketing guru. The Heretic is a "production" bike, in quotes because no two Heretics are identical. Each is built to order after an individual customer chooses from a huge array of available options.
It's said that photos don't do some vehicles justice. That's particularly true of the Heretic. Even the highest resolution images can't reveal the fine details that define this exquisite motorcycle. You need to get up close to appreciate the extraordinary, hand-built attention to detail, fit, and finish. Once Don handed me a titanium swingarm that he and his crew of craftsmen built—of course a titanium frame and swingarm are an option. The Heretic swingarm design is quite complex, and I searched in vain for any imperfection in machining and welding—details that would have been glaringly obvious on the unpainted surface. I couldn't find any.
As a designer and builder I certainly appreciate this attention to detail, which exceeds even what I usually see in my own projects. What I have a harder time understanding is the luxury market that the Heretic—which has a base price of $88,000, with heavily optioned versions selling for much, much more—appeals to.
What drives these buyers? Wendy Atchison knows. Customer relations is key, from the moment a potential buyer sees the bike online or in a magazine, to the first contact with Ecosse, to the ordering process in which the exact specifications are finalized, all the way through to delivery. After sale, these buyers demand top-level service. Heretics, since they are more rideable than a chopper, tend not to be garage queens.
That's why the Atchisons spent 3 full years developing the first Heretic—it had to be perfect from the start—and why, in 2014, they will celebrate a full decade selling very expensive, exclusive motorcycles. A small company like Ecosse, operating in this rarefied segment of the motorcycle market, couldn't have delivered the quality experience its customers demand if it was forced to design and develop a new model every 2 years.
But change is coming, and soon. Ecosse has announced the last of the Heretic series—a Founder's Edition—that Atchison promises will be the most aggressive Heretic yet. Then, that nameplate will be retired. Concept sketches of the Heretic's successor exist, but haven't been made public. Will it be even more heretical than the Heretic? We can only imagine what that bike will look like.