Time has a cruel way of erasing things from memory. For every masterpiece of art, there are dozens that are simply forgotten, despite being just as impressive and well-crafted. Thus was the case of Bill’s Pipes, an iconic brand of American motorcycle racing nearly lost in the wake of the economic crash and industry issues. It has been years since the Corona, California, shop was last a major player in the performance market but thanks to its namesake, Bill Cervera, and the urging of a young business partner, Kyle Tiedeman, the company is poised for a comeback …
Bill, it has been a few months since you and I spoke, which was the "Forever Fast" article. At that point, Bill's Pipes was in the early stages of its comeback and just starting to build new systems. How has it gone since?
Bill Cervera: There has been a lot of publicity, a lot of action, and a lot of attention. Quite a few people have come up since that article and said that it was very cool, and I tell them that is the history of Bill's.
Kyle Teideman: It was cool how many people have come up and referenced the interview and that they got to see an in-depth view of the history of Bill's Pipes.
What has gone into making the resurgence? Were all of the pieces there and just needed to be put into place, or was there some rebuilding that needed to happen?
BC: It was Kyle that pushed it and me along. I was just going along with life and Kyle said, "We need to push this." We got a lot more interest and people remembering, especially fathers, and that brought us into working on new products and development. I know the grounds of testing and what to look for, so we just needed to bring that back in and go along.
KT: The foundation was there, and it was more taking the initial step. Bill and I talked and knew that we had something that was great. When the phone rings and people reference how they had a pipe on their RM or YZ125 and how it was amazing, we knew we had to use what we had and build it up.
Is there pressure that comes with bringing the brand back, or is it confidence because Bill's has been at a high level before?
KT: I think that there is, because I know where it has been and the respect that it has in the industry. Anytime I am sitting and designing something, like with our new muffler, that I have to hit that mark as Bill's Pipes in quality, fit, and horsepower. There is a lot of pressure to do it justice, but it is more exciting than anything. I remember my Bill's Pipe when I was riding a 125.
Was the design process done in-house?
KT: We did it all here, from start to finish. We made a lot of changes and there was a learning curve, and some things took us longer, but I think that everyone of us will stand next to the pipes and say how excited we are with it and how it turned out.
Was there an element that you thought needed to be addressed in the design process that maybe another brand had overlooked?
KT: We have a direction that we want to go and we want to capitalize on the market share that we can take this pipe to, with the marketing and the design.
Have things like fuel injection required you to look at exhaust differently than you were in the early 2000s, when you were first making four-stroke pipes?
BC: Oh, definitely. The advancement of bikes from then is a lot better and as we look at other systems out there, I don't think it is as hard as it was then. Everyone was scrambling around then, looking for stuff, and now everyone has funneled in one way to build. That gives you a ruler of what to work on, and then you start working on performance and reliability.
Have materials changed much or will there always be a standard?
BC: No, not too much. Titanium came along quickly and everyone is doing the same thing, but making them reliable is the hard part.
Carbon-fiber cans had their moment, but they would get too hot and crack...
BC: Now carbon-fiber can last by changing some stuff around, because the carbon-fiber people have figured it out more and it will last longer.
Has it been hard to help the staff develop what they needed to build a four-stroke pipe, or was that something that they knew from when you made pipes for other companies?
BC: There is definitely a learning curve of how to build the pipes and make them consistent, and I think that we will keep learning that as we go along by telling the staff we need to make them a certain way. The reliability and fitment is as important at the performance.
Does having a smaller staff allow you to keep an eye on every detail?
BC: We have always had control, and by having a smaller shop there will be key guys that you show what to do and they figure it out. We are able to adapt to change quickly if we have an issue in reliability or performance.
Is being a small shop make getting materials a challenge, because you may not be ordering the same amount as your competitors?
KT: Actually we have been lucky to have our vendors rally around us and our buying power is up there. They see the potential because motocross is built on history and most of them have ridden and know the history, so they have a soft-spot for Bill's.
Is having a dynometer in-house help in that you can throw a pipe on the bike and see exactly where it works, or is it not as common as one would think?
BC: In the two-stroke days, it was really important because it gave us a target of where to start. This is my third dynometer and it is still a big part of it, but on one everything happens so fast and now on-track testing is just as important because the rider has a better feel.
How has testing with your team of riders gone?
BC: We have been using a few guys and with the feedback we are getting, we are able to make changes and go out quickly and know what we need to do with how they ride.
Do riders want a hit in one area of the powerband or a smooth, linear flow all the way through?
BC: That is a good question [Laughs]. I don't think they necessarily want a hit; they want to be comfortable that when they turn the throttle, it will happen when they need it. When you make an exhaust that has everything down low and nothing upstairs, one guy will love it and the other will hate it. You have to work around the area, because one may use it for motocross and the other for outdoors.
When we last spoke, there was talk of working with a few race teams, but the idea was in its infancy. Where are you at coming to 2014?
BC: We have been talking to a few teams, and I think we are going to limit ourselves and make sure that we have a quality team to work with and that doesn't cut ourselves too thin. We want to make sure that everything is right in the product we give them that it passes sound, and that reliability and performance will be there.
With four-strokes being the majority now, where does that leave two-strokes in the Bill's Pipes plan?
KT: When we decided to bring back the line, we all agreed that it was something we needed to focus on, because that is where the brand got its start. We want to offer everything we had in the past.
Because that area has become stagnant in terms of technology, were you able to open the books and go right back to where you were?
BC: Yes. I don't think that anyone is doing a big development and they are just producing what they have. So we build the patterns out and started building again.
What is the five-year plan for Bill's Pipes?
KT: It is exciting to see all of the support, from within the industry to the customers both from the past and new. Our plan is to develop and grow to what we know it can be, which is where it was and then some.
BC: We are willing to put the work in to move forward.
When can a consumer expect to get a pipe? Is it a bit away or coming soon?
KT: The RE13, the stainless and aluminum system, will be available at the start of next week, and the titanium option will be soon after that. We have such good relationships with distributors that it will be out there soon.
Bill and Kyle let us roam freely through the workshop and these industrial wallpapers are a change of pace from the standard race shot. Enjoy…