Made in America National Cycle - Hot Bike Magazine
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.
02. Beyond these doors is where NCI product designers and engineers toil away developing new products and improving existing parts.
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.
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.
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.
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.
07. A stack of windshields that have been rough cut and are ready to be formed—NCI is very protective of its forming process.
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.
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.
10. Inside the NCI coating development and testing lab, Barry stands behind an assortment of beakers and chemist tools. In this lab NCI works on its windshield coatings and develops new products like RainZip, a rain repellent treatment that causes water to bead up and blow off the windshield, even at lower speeds.
11. The lab houses an assortment of pretty high-tech machines to test things like abrasion resistance and weathering. This is an Accelerated Weathering Tester, which mimics the water cycle of dew on a windshield and the effects of 2,000 hours of aging in an accelerated amount of time.
12. This large laser cutter makes efficient use of metal sheets, knocking out dozens of parts in little time.
13. Massive! This was the first thing that came to mind when we walked up to this 600-ton punch press stamping and draw machine. When NCI acquired this machine the roof had to be raised. The contractor originally hired to do the work split mid-December, so the NCI staff pulled together and finished the construction in the heart of the brutal Chicago winter.
14. Racks of NCI’s various windshield masters that have been collected over time.
15. One of the dirtiest jobs in the business. Workers spend hours in the highly ventilated polishing department. The company even has four CNC polishing machines that it uses to help out with the process.
16. The NCI Cruiseliner Saddlebags are molded from an extremely durable polymer blend. Then they are prepped, primed, and painted gloss black.
17. As sophisticated and high-tech as much of the equipment and machinery is in the NCI facility, the company still utilizes one of the oldest metalworking processes, metal casting. This was a molten pot of zinc ready for casting.
18. Upwards of 800 degrees Fahrenheit, the molten metal was poured into a fender tip casting mold.
19. Once cooled, the mold is opened up and, voila!, a rough fender tip is waiting for the polishing and chroming processes. The NCI cast fender tip design patent dates back to the 1940s. Frustrated with the paint on fender tips chipping or peeling off, NCI created these tips to protect the fender and dress up the bike.
20. In 1948, the NCI parts catalog was comprised of 300 products such as the mirrors, windshield, fender tips, fender rails, engine guard, and Busselback Bumpers as seen on this little red 1948 125cc H-D Hummer.
21. Today the NCI parts catalog includes more than 60 product categories with 700 part numbers covering motorcycle models dating back to 1959.
22. One of the newest NCI windshields is the highly aerodynamic and stylishly shaped Stinger. It’s a quick-release windshield that can be adjusted forward or tilted back depending on your needs.
23. Another new windshield design is the Gladiator. Available in dark or light tint with chrome or black mounting hardware, the Gladiator is also height/rake adjustable and comes with a three-year warranty against breakage.
24. To dress up your speedo NCI offers this chrome Speedometer Cowl.
25. These hand deflectors provide protection from flying road debris as well as help keep the chill away when riding in the winter.
26. The NCI saddlebags have been designed to flow with the lines of the rear fender and feature push-button/lockable lids that flip forward for easy access. Saddlebags are available for a variety of models.
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.
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.
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