You are motorcycling down an idyllic New England back road, meditating on the autumnal glories of the countryside’s transformation from supple verdure to crackling burnt sienna, when a booming cannonade sends chickadees exploding from the birch groves.
As you curse an invisible mob of drunken Revolutionary War enactors, a skinny, familiar looking dude wearing a reptilian half-helmet rips past your left shoulder on a crimson streak of a springer that has obviously leapt out of Eisenhower’s first term, leaving you shuddering in the thunderclap of his blacked-out side shots.
That was Aerosmith frontman and Dirico Motorcycles test rider Steven Tyler clocking some shakedown miles down on his new hot-rod Speedster.
Jumping on a V-twin and vanishing down the highway has long been Tyler’s preferred method of escaping the spotlight. Lately, motorcycling has become a focus of the serpentine screamer’s offstage life as well. Mention Dirico Motorcycles at your local bar and you might be rewarded with a blank stare. But the venture Tyler formed with his brother-in-law Mark Dirico, and cousin Stephen Talarico, is ready for headliner status in 2010, fronted by the Speedster’s eye-gouging good looks and 110-inch Twin Cam muscle.
The trio initially came together under the Red Wing banner in late 2006. Despite the obvious Get Your Wings brand identification, the image of a crimson wing on a motorcycle caused Honda lawyers to see red, so the name was changed to the less evocative Dirico Motorcycles in honor of the man who designs and builds the bikes.
Dirico, an accomplished engineer and inventor who holds over 20 patents (including one for the machine that puts the gloss on the magazine you’re holding), owns a large paper box manufacturing company that, in a feat of quantum origami, is capable of knocking out four million units a day. Talarico, no underachiever himself, owns a pair of Harley-Davidson dealerships-he handles the manufacturing and retail chores-while Tyler is responsible for styling and each model’s color palette. When you have a guy with the name recognition of Tyler on board, the trio’s clearly non-PR agency vetted branding decision speaks to a determination to do things their way. "We named the motorcycle after Mark," Talarico says. "We probably should have right from the beginning."
What is now a full-fledged manufacturing operation with a burgeoning international presence sprang from a chance conversation between three friends out for an afternoon ride on rented motorcycles. Tyler began discovering things about the rentals that irritated him and suggested the trio craft their own line of bikes.
Dirico’s engineering prowess notwithstanding, and the fact that Talarico was already building bikes under his own AC Customs badge, the idea was anything but a calculated business move. As Tyler recalls, "It was more like a moment. We talked about building a bike that would work for me: my likes, needs, style. That’s how it got going-almost like forming a song from a thought."
It remained just a thought until one afternoon in 2006 when Tyler and Dirico dropped into Talarico’s Manchester Harley shop. Checking out the bikes, Dirico felt confident he could put one together from scratch. An infectiously good-natured man with a brisk Bostonian drawl, Dirico remembers saying to Tyler, "For Christ sakes, I design machines with thousands of parts! There’s no parts in these things!"
Despite having ridden motorcycles since he was 16, Dirico admits he had "never even changed the oil in one." Talarico, a man as soft-spoken as Dirico is animated, had an old frame with an engine that wouldn’t fit taking up space on the showroom floor. He recalls matter-of-factly, "I threw [the] frame at Mark and told him to go at it." Issuing a provocation like that to Mark Dirico is like tossing a railroad tie and a guitar pickup into Les Paul’s workshop. A few weeks later, Dirico returned with a completed motorcycle. "I think they thought I was crazy," he says with a chuckle.
With that, Dirico quickly went to work building prototypes in his garage, a knuckle-buster’s Shangri-la tucked into the woods outside of Boston, roughly the size of Fenway Park. Among the countless tool cabinets, workbenches and vintage signs stands a simple wooden drafting table where the lanky Dirico puts his ideas on paper the way they did back when the term CAD referred to a guy who wore a cravat and leered at your sister. The former Marine mechanic was schooled on a drawing board and proudly admits he would be an unemployable dinosaur in today’s tech-driven job market. "I calculate in my head and it comes out of my hands fast," he says. "I can see the whole idea on the board."
Taking Tyler’s international appeal into consideration, the trio made the critical decision early on to rely on Harley components, so that whether the owner was in Tucson or Tokyo, parts and serviceability would not pose a problem. Even with that kind of forward thinking, getting the new company off the ground was not without its initial missteps. Launching in 2007 with just four completed motorcycles, and not much in the way of collateral material to offer, Talarico admits they may have jumped the gun. "It was a little raw," he smiles.
As Dirico began producing variations of their Retro (Flyer) and Pro-Street models, the manufacturing moved to Talarico’s Manchester Harley outpost, integrating the technicians from his AC Customs shop into the new venture, while retail operations were assigned to his twin H-D dealerships and three additional east coast outlets. Of course, this expansion took place just as the economy decided to crater and financing all but vanished. Though the timings is less than ideal, Talarico points out that by functioning as both manufacturer and dealer network, they are flexible enough to respond quickly to shifts in the economy. "We can ramp up or ramp down just as fast as we have to," he says flatly. Dirico jumps in, "Believe me, if someone came to me and wanted 10,000 of these things, I’d get them done. You just get me the orders."
Few would doubt Mark Dirico’s ability to make good on that promise. Even though he’s a relative newcomer to the motorcycle industry, Dirico has quickly earned respect from heavy hitters in the business for his Sensei-like mechanical virtuosity. Bert Baker of Baker Drivetrain (who supplies transmissions for the Pro-Street) attests, "I had a 10-minute conversation with Mark, and in that 10 minutes I figured out that his engineering prowess makes me look like Beavis and Butt-head. The guy knows his shit." For his part, Dirico is inspired by the current state of the art, saying, "When I go to bike shows and see what some of these guys do, they really are brilliant. I wish I’d started when I was 25. I missed a lot of good years."
Taking in the Speedster’s burly elegance, you wonder what Dirico might have come up with had he not squandered all those years racking up a sizable file with the US Patent Office and revolutionizing the printing industry. Looking at once modern and antiquarian with its low-slung stance, yawning fenders, mile-wide bars and the occasional Streamline Moderne flourish, the Speedster deftly navigates two distinct eras.
Likewise, it is difficult to tell where Dirico stops and Tyler begins. The pair has an informal method of collaborating. Usually, Tyler will drop by Dirico’s garage to hammer out concepts. "I throw ideas at Mark," Tyler says, adding, "He either laughs, rolls his eyes, or nods and goes to the drawing board." Dirico concurs, "He’ll come up with the craziest goddamn things. Sometimes I pay attention; sometimes I don’t." Tyler’s love of Americana and old motorcycles can be seen in his insistence that the Speedster (like the Flyer) incorporate a springer front end. "Cool is always cool even if it’s from 50, 60 years ago," Tyler says of his retro aesthetic.
Built on a Kraft-Tech frame modified by Dirico (production models will use Rolling Thunder chassis), the Speedster is a Harley TC-110 powered, hot-rod version of the Flyer, which runs the old H-D TC-88 mill with surprisingly potent results. Dirico modified the 110’s cams, sized up the fuel injection body and tuned the engine to complement the Vance & Hines Side Shot exhaust system. While the 110 is currently mated to a Harley Cruise Drive transmission, Dirico says that the entire line will soon run Baker gearboxes. "These guys are paying more money for these motorcycles, so they should have the best," he says of the impending switch.
Dropping into the Speedster’s H-D Brawler seat, grabbing the expansive beach bars and planting boots onto the floorboards settled me into a comfortable "I could do this all day and look damn cool in the process" posture. The Speedster rouses with a booming snare crack and, at idle, growls like a hungry Rottweiler. The counterbalanced 110 is barely palpable through the grips, and vibrations all but vanished as I shot away from the curb, leaving a chorus of whining car alarms in my wake. Underway, the Speedster is a well-balanced partner at any tempo-from slow dance to slam dance-and its equilibrium complements the rider friendly ergos.
The big 110-inch Harley mill has certainly benefited from Dirico’s ministrations. The already-expansive powerband now stretches over the horizon and throttle response is deft and meaty throughout the rev range. The fact that the 110’s aggressively smooth acceleration is countered by pugnacious popping and burbling during throttle-off just adds to the Speedster’s greasy appeal. The Cruise Drive tranny works well with the big lump, but it will be interesting to see how Dirico’s admiration for Baker’s gearboxes will boost the Speedster’s ride quality.
A bike as big, powerful and ruggedly handsome as the Speedster could probably get by with mediocre handling chops, but here, too, Dirico overachieves. The wide bars and relatively conservative steering geometry makes knocking over the Metzeler 150 rear bun a low impact affair, while the 130 front tire feels planted as you accelerate through the bends. Both hoops are wrapped around classically spoked and color-matched wheels. Ripping through fast, uphill sweepers is a particular blast; if this bike had a throttle lock, you could steer it with your hindquarters. The stiffened springer front end contributes to the bike’s stable character, and its relatively shallow travel is more than a match for the anemic Harley front brake.
While it’s not advertised, the Speedster also comes with its own gravitational field. Whether you are ripping down the highway, leaving a deafening cloudburst in your wake, or leisurely cruising the main drag on a Sunday afternoon, the Speedster magnetizes eyes and ears with Jupiternian force. Even the jaded hipsters and Hollywood slicks that litter the Sunset Strip lost their cool and dropped their Pinkberrys when the Speedster rumbled past.
Parked, the bike attracts crowds of hunched suitors, ogling the numerous Tylerian touches like the round airbox, finned toolbox, retro badging and delicate pinstriping that seems to be everywhere without overwhelming the Speedster’s classic good looks. To add a personal touch, Tyler autographs each Dirico motorcycle on the rear fender. If that’s not enough rock cred for your garage, you can also order an electric guitar, signed by the Demon of Screamin’, and color-matched to your bike.
The Dirico Speedster is the expression of a love for motorcycling shared by three friends who are looking to chisel out a place in the V-Twin market, not by competing for established turf, but by building bikes they love to ride. Spend an afternoon hanging around Mark Dirico’s "barn" and you discover the three fit together as naturally as a I-IV-V chord progression.
As Mark Dirico says, "We’re guys that all came up the hard way. I’m not here to make a zillion bucks. You’ve got to do it for the love of it, that’s for sure." Talarico agrees, "We want to keep this right. I just want to build shit-hot motorcycles that are dependable and grow it, but grow it incrementally." Tyler offers a more succinct view of the trio’s efforts since that day spent riding rented bikes on the backroads of New Hampshire, slyly offering, "I’m back in the saddle, baby…."
Photography by Don Williams