Motorcycle Power Elite
Motorcyclists, by their very nature, exhibit an appetite for power that generally exceeds that prescribed by motorcycle manufacturers, hence, the existence of aftermarket companies that feed the beast. The consumer offerings from the makers of all manner of engine components-exhaust systems, black boxes and the like-are invariably borne from competition. Street cred being arguably as important as the perceived delivery of performance, some manufacturers have acquired the cachet of designer labels and Swiss watchmakers. The label on that trick four-into-one with the snazzy titanium canister and the story behind it, may ultimately be as important to you as the microseconds you shave off already miniscule 0-to-60 times. And why not?
Based in Slovenia, whose shores kiss the Adriatic and whose mountains rival the nearby Austrian Alps, Akrapovič has all the credibility and cachet it needs. When the most dominant F1 champion of the modern era took up motorcycle racing-for fun, Michael Schumacher insisted-Akrapovič exhausts augmented his KTM track weapons. No less than MotoGP and World SBK great Max Biaggi has proclaimed, "I can safely say the Akrapovič systems are the best in the world." Lest anyone think his opinions are shaped by a sponsor deal, the voluble Signore Biaggi insists, "I also considered them to be the best before they were fitted to my racing motorcycle." When BMW launched its new S 1000 RR superbike, its test riders, including the venerated Jeremy McWillams, thrashed an Akrapovič-equipped example on tracks in Spain and Germany. During a tour stop in Slovenia, World Stunt Riding Champion Chris Pfeiffer made his way to the factory in Ivančna Gorica to get an intimate view of how Akrapovič turns its intellectual capital into titanium and carbon fiber. While Igor Akrapovič’s name has come to constitute one of the most fashionable brands in aftermarket accessories, the man himself remains low-key. He recalls the origins of the firm: "It all started with my passion for motorcycles, which was my involvement in motorcycle racing from the age of 18. As I raced for nine years, I gained quite a lot of experience about tuning bikes. After the conclusion of my racing career in 1989, I decided to open a tuning shop where I started preparing racing bikes and began developing exhausts for them."For Akrapovič’s new company, the turning point came in 1994, when the German arm of Kawasaki responded to the firm’s invitation to test one of their systems. "After testing, it was clear that our system was better than the factory one," he explains. "This was a huge breakthrough and the beginning of cooperation with all major teams-those being Kawasaki, Yamaha, Suzuki, Honda, and Ducati-in the German Pro Superbike Championship. As a result, we equipped all Japanese factory teams in the 1999 season of the World Superbike Championship." As one would expect, Igor Akrapovič infuses his organization with his personal values. "I am a perfectionist by nature," he states, "and this reflects in the company’s philosophy. This also means that our customers have the opportunity to have a product of the same quality as the top teams we support."When I tested one of Akrapovič’s Evolution systems on a Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14 for Ultimate MotorCycling, the comments by the experts who installed the system echoed that philosophy. Bonneville motorcycle record holder Doug Morrow, of Carl’s Speed Shop in Daytona Beach, who fitted and dyno-tested the system, remarked on the "aircraft quality technology and level of finish." Dynojet’s Michael Belcher, who provided one of his company’s Power Commander electronic management units for the test, was also highly complimentary of the Akrapovič product line. This type of endorsement pleases Igor Akrapovič; in his view, it is simply a result of being true to his standards. "For me, the most satisfying accomplishment was the cooperation with all Japanese factory teams as well as the Aprilia factory team in the 2000 World Superbike championship season." He believes Akrapovič has become one of the most respected companies in the world of motorcycle exhaust technologies "because of our philosophy, in accordance with which we constantly invest in R&D, and our concern for the quality of our products." Creativity in engineering and manufacturing is another facet central to the Akrapovič approach. "We worked with the Honda World Superbike team on the RC51 project. In 2000, Colin Edwards won the World Championship title with that bike," says Akrapovič, citing one of the company’s biggest challenges. "We produced 49 different configurations of exhausts for that motorcycle in that season alone!" Is the work of Akrapovič-the man, and the company-an art form, or just a technical exercise? His reply is appropriate: "I think both aspects must be considered in equal measure. Technical perfection is something we constantly strive for and goes hand-in-hand with top design." The sleek curves of an Akrapovič exhaust underscore that statement. Some might wonder how a company situated in a tiny country like Slovenia could achieve global renown, but anyone who has visited cannot help but be impressed by the nation’s natural beauty and, if doing business there, by the level of professionalism. Slovenia has, in fact, been one of the most progressive Central European countries in the move to the market economy and accession to the EU. "When we split with the former Yugoslavia, it was quite difficult at the beginning," Akrapovič explains. "But now, 20 years later, being part of EU, with no borders between the countries, doing business is much easier."Reading through Akrapovič’s house publication, the overall picture is of a company that is thoroughly tuned in and turned on to the global village. These are not dour technophiles; the illustrated articles on its range of systems for high performance motorcycles to exotic cars, and perspectives on modern industrial design in Sharp End, published in English and Slovene, are flip, hip and entertaining.So what is the future for Akrapovič? "We are in the process of making some organizational and structural changes in the company," Akrapovič reveals. "In addition to motorcycle exhausts, we work with carbon. This year we started to produce exhausts for elite sports cars, and a foundry for titanium is just about ready to be opened and operational. We must also think about the future of our 450 workers. We want their future to be secure and safe, as well." One dream project compels Mr. Akrapovič’s reach to exceed his grasp. "To work with, and develop exhausts for, the winning team in the MotoGP Championship!" he laughs.He finds inspiration, and the prospect of longevity, in his lineage. "My father is 84, and still quite active," he says. "Though he works in a completely different area of business, he’s developing new things all the time. I hope I will be as active as he is, at that age. I still have a lot of work and project ideas in my mind!" From a jewel of a nation, motorcyclists can expect, then, more performance jewels from a recognized member of the power elite. Borrowing liberally from a maxim of the late C. Wright Mills, power tends to be cumulative: the more of it you have, the more you would like to get.