OPINION: You get the feeling Mike Ramsey's had a bet on Husqvarna succeeding in New Zealand. The man better known as Mister Motorcycles says "my balls are on the line".
My betting is he'll keep that gravelly voice a while longer, for he's learned a lot in a lifetime in the business and he's throwing it all behind the BMW-owned Swedish brand.
I'd turned up to an off-road day with a lineup of the latest motocross and enduro machinery, stuff my everyday trail skills won't get the best of, so I tapped young up-and-comer Liam Draper to get some impressions for us before collaring Ramsey over a cuppa.
Having dabbled in motocross and enduro as a youth, worked as a mechanic, owned and managed bike shops and brands, and started the Bel-Ray series and the Mister Motorcycles trail rides to bring revenue into local schools - while also racing cross-country in the veteran class - he knows just about all there is to know about what Kiwi dirt bikers need, and how they tick.
So he's developing a stronger dealer and service network with several tiers depending on local need and budget. Dealers will get illuminated signage to underline the brand is live, they're getting training on the tooling "The electronic tool for off-road bikes hooks up to the mother ship in Germany and can download info to the bike - things like power upgrades can be done straight down the pipe."
He says modern diagnostic systems cost a lot so not every dealer will be certified to manage every bike and he has to plan that according to local need, with field dealers in remote areas, OR dealers tackling off-road only, ORA adding adventure machines and up to 10 OAR dealers managing road bikes too, with all of them fielding a demonstrator or two.
"The new TC250 has a dedicated computer with an adjustable mapping system, though only certain dealers will have that capacity to help those racing competitively at national level."
Road and adventure bikes need a BMW diagnostic tool that remains hooked to the mother ship, and ensures purchasers go back to the dealer, "as no-one else can do this type of service work".
As he says, it's the same with cars nowadays - fewer and fewer can be fettled by backyard garages, and it's the associated costs that are covered by dealer premiums.
Ramsey has no time for buyers who trawl the net and import a bike from overseas, then complain when it won't mate with local-market diagnostic tools without munting the ECU. Those who buy locally may pay a bit more up front, but that covers properly trained mechanics and equipped workshops, he says.
Next, he's tuning the lineup to suit motocross, enduro, cross-country, adventure and road requirements as he believes the brand hasn't had the right model mix.
The fact some Husqvarna off-roaders are available with indicators and headlights, and others are LAMS-approved for learner riders on road, will help sales to the weekend trail warrior, says Ramsey, who points out how lucky we are to so far be so unregulated.
"In Australia you have to have a registered bike to go trail riding . . ." He's kidding. Surely?
"Nup, last time I tested a motocross bike on Australian trails the cops stopped us and checked everything, and they can confiscate the bike."
Ramsey believes that will come in New Zealand in four or five years, if nothing else to manage ACC costs. "Meanwhile Kiwis want as little guff as possible - more power, and no lights."
Some of his models will be United States-spec with the head and taillight removed, "With the option to put them back on. They'll be priced accordingly and they're aimed at enduro, with sidestand, different gearing and a bigger tank. The WR125 US-spec will be here next year with some WR200 and 300s, too." Forget enduros, I'm into adventure riding, what about bikes for me?
"TR650s are on the water, here the first weeks in December and there's been so much interest they've all been sold to dealers, so there won't be a press bike until next year. There are markets just outside the hard-core off-roaders, especially as that fraternity ages and they go adventure riding, and there's some cross-over into road."
Meantime he's also stocking up on parts, with arrival time from overseas for anything not already on shelves here around nine days.
By now a dust-encrusted Draper's back in. The 16-year-old is the Australian under-17 junior trials champion, the Oceania junior trials champion and has won the New Zealand A-grade (all ages) and junior trials titles. He's begun racing enduros - long distance cross-country events - and recently won the first round of this year's Extreme Enduro Series expert grade.
The Elf-sponsored rider isn't on the payroll of any bike brand, so he's used by a Kiwi bike magazine to provide feedback on race machines.
What are his thoughts on Husqvarna? He liked the power delivery of the machines he rode, with strong bottom and top-end power and easy suspension adjustment. "The rear guard can snap easy, but that's minor, and the side shrouds stick out quite far, when you go into corners it can catch on branches too easily and snap off."
He's race-familiar with the CR125, "I raced the Dead Toad on it, my first senior race and came eighth and the bike was part of that, it was awesome to race with power delivered at both ends of the range and the suspension easy to adjust."
But he's already putting his helmet back on for another blast round the track, so I return to Ramsey who admits there's a way to go, though he expects 300 to 400 units within a year, "which will put us on the map in New Zealand".
The brand's already on the map globally, taking 14 world motocross championships during the 1960s and 70s and 24 enduro world champs, plus three more world enduro titles since BMW bought the brand in 2009.
A New Zealand title? Husqvarna dealers already support local riders nationwide. If Ramsey has any say in it, it's only a matter of time before Husqvarnas will be as familiar on Kiwi podiums as they are on the world stage.
- © Fairfax NZ News