01. National Cycle owner/president Barry Willey and his wife Ann. Ann is sitting on a blue 1947 Knucklehead, one of several vintage bikes National Cycle has in its front lobby to display its array of products that were offered in its catalog back in 1948.
01. National Cycle owner/president Barry Willey and his wife Ann. Ann is sitting on a blu
There aren’t too many companies in this industry that can state they are a family-owned and -operated business that has been providing US-made motorcycle parts and accessories for the past 75 years. But National Cycle Inc. (NCI) in Maywood (suburb just outside of Chicago), Illinois, proudly stands behind that fact. Founded in 1937 as Nation’s Cycle Center Inc. by Gordon Willey, the company began by offering mirrors to the motorcycling community. Now three-quarters of a century later, the company is owned and operated by Gordon’s sons Barry (President) and Gordon (co-owner) and Barry’s wife Ann, and the parts line has increased exponentially covering everything from mirrors to exhaust pipes, saddlebags, fender tips, light bars, and much more.
Not only has NCI increased its parts line over the years which now covers both Harley-Davidson and metric motorcycles, but the company’s great strides in product innovation has led to numerous industry “firsts” and US patents. For many motorcycle enthusiasts NCI is most notably known for its wide range of windshields. And it’s the windshields that have made some of the most significant milestones in the company’s long history.
02. Beyond these doors is where NCI product designers and engineers toil away developing new products and improving existing parts.
02. Beyond these doors is where NCI product designers and engineers toil away developing
In 1975, NCI revolutionized the motorcycle windshield industry by being the first to pioneer the forming techniques to incorporate GE’s MR4000 polycarbonate material (FMR hard-coated Lexan) into quality optical windshield designs. Dubbed by NCI as the Heavy Duty windshield, the combination of the windshield design and material led to the first modern-styled, optically clear, custom motorcycle windshield. The new windshield was much stronger (20 times more impact resistant) and safer than the acrylic plastic windshields that were previously the industry norm. The acrylic plastic was a strong windshield material, however, when its structural integrity was compromised it would break into sharp flying shards—not a good thing for a motorcyclist motoring down the highway with his face mere inches away from the windscreen. With Lexan windshields the new industry standard, NCI continued to improve upon its windshield line, and in 2004, the company introduced its exclusive Quantum Hardcoating. While Lexan is highly impact resistant, in order to maintain optical clarity it needs to be hard-coated to resist the scratches and abrasions that rocks and flying road debris can cause. The application of the Quantum Hardcoating made for a windshield that was 10 times more scratch resistant than the original hard-coated Lexan material and 30 times more scratch resistant than acrylic. And it is innovations like these that have provided the company a clear view atop the motorcycle windshield world as a supplier for major motorcycle manufacturers worldwide.
03. Inside the product development lab I found the four-axis Electrical Discharge Machine pretty interesting. Know as EDM, this process is primarily used for cutting intricate contours and precise designs with very tight tolerances that would be hard to achieve with other machining processes. The EDM process erodes the metal with a series of rapid electrical discharges between an electrode (in this case brass wire) and the metal being machined.
03. Inside the product development lab I found the four-axis Electrical Discharge Machine
Several months ago while wandering the Midwest, I had a chance to stop by the NCI facility. Housing a staff of more than 250 employees the company’s facilities incorporates everything from product research and development toa photo studio, worldwide shipping, sales, manufacturing, and a coating development and testing lab. Taking the walking tour with Barry, I was most impressed with the numerous manufacturing and production stations that covered everything from ovens, mills, stamping/presses, welding, polishing, tube bending, and even an in-house metal foundry.
As we strolled through the various stations Barry made a comment that resonated in my head as I admired the vast amount of machinery spread throughout his facility’s meandering footprint. “We are a company that strives to enhance the motorcycling experience and that develops its own technology.” This was evident not only among its array of products but also the tools, equipment, and technology used to create many of those products. With a passion for motorcycling and a strong will to continue to improve and innovate, it’s no wonder NCI has been able to successfully motor through this industry’s ups and downs for the past 75 years. HB
04. Barry informed me that they often use this machine to create intricate dies that would later be used for mass production. As you can see, the process is able to create very unique patterns such as this one cut into hardened steel.
04. Barry informed me that they often use this machine to create intricate dies that woul
05. “We are a company that creates its own technology.” This machine is proof of that statement. National Cycle created this machine that features suction cups, a “handlebar,” and overhead rollers to pick up and move sheets of Lexan to the cutting platform.
05. “We are a company that creates its own technology.” This machine is proof of that sta
06. These machines were created to cut out the rough windshield shapes. You can see the windshield template the cutter follows underneath the Lexan sheet. The company makes about 1,000 windshields in a day.
06. These machines were created to cut out the rough windshield shapes. You can see the w
07. A stack of windshields that have been rough cut and are ready to be formed—NCI is very protective of its forming process.
07. A stack of windshields that have been rough cut and are ready to be formed—NCI is ver
08. After the forming process this five-axis machine is used to further trim the windshields and drill the necessary holes. Barry informed me they created their own software for this machine, so it could make the polar offset five-axis cuts they needed.
08. After the forming process this five-axis machine is used to further trim the windshie
09. Making windshields to NCI’s caliber is a highly technical process that involves very strict cleaning procedures and a room that has destaticized air.
09. Making windshields to NCI’s caliber is a highly technical process that involves very