Overlapping personal passion with technical expertise can often spawn a successful business. Chris Kelley, president of California Cycleworks, exemplifies the small business owner who envisioned opportunity and took a leap of faith.
While Kelley was working at CA Cycleworks as a college student, the company’s second owner left in 1997. Kelley stepped in with the intention of serving existing customers, finishing work orders, and shutting down the operation upon the completion of his college education.
Packing a new electrical engineering degree, Kelley was hired as a software engineer for a large broadcast firm. On the brink of closing the cycle business, the website featuring his 1992 Ducati 900 Supersport began to generate email. More than a few people asked how and where he got parts for his motorcycle. He explained that local independent Japanese bike shops could source the parts with the vendor. Then a Ducati enthusiast asked the magic question, “Can I just buy the parts from you and have you ship them to me?” Kelley followed his instincts to make a run at the parts business and never looked back.
Today, if a buyer goes to a local Ducati dealer and a part is unavailable or they want better quality or more competitively priced parts, they go to CA Cycleworks. Buyers can find the rubber timing belts, ignition coils, and fuel tanks unique to Ducati motorcycles without delay thanks to CA Cycleworks.
At first, the business of selling aftermarket motorcycle parts was operated from the Kelley home and an industrial warehouse. By the end of 2004, CA Cycleworks opened a retail storefront in San Diego. As steady growth continued, Kelley organized the business into an S corporation, hired more employees, and moved to a larger facility closer to downtown San Diego where they reside today.
Kelley amassed enough clout in the aftermarket sector to attract a variety of customers: those buying basic parts and those looking for something aesthetic to take their Ducati bikes to a new level. That opened the door to more opportunity for the young entrepreneur. Now he could meld his engineering knowhow with his keen understanding of motorcycles to offer his own aftermarket products, and further build upon his slogan, “the dot com for Ducatis.”
A hands-on type owner, Kelley has logged more than 200,000 riding miles on roughly 25 motorcycles of different makes and models he has owned throughout the years. The list includes a wide range of Ducatis: 92 900ss, 96 916, MH900e No. 1636, 97 m900 “pongo,” S2R800, M620, and an M1000 (that is in a million pieces right now).
He also raced at the Willow Springs Motorcycle Club for three years with positive results. “In those approximately 6,000 miles of racing, I learned a lot of simple, little things about motorcycles… what parts do and what I ‘feel’ when I ride them,” says Kelley.
Understanding where motorcycle components are positioned in 3D space is the first step toward prototyping a part. But the ability to precisely verify how a new part fits into the design envelope is the quantum leap in product development. Kelley turned to a ROMER Stinger II portable coordinate measuring machine (CMM) for his 3D metrology requirements. This dimensional verification tool wears many hats. It can be utilized for multiple applications such as alignment for assembly, CAD-to-part comparison, reverse engineering, scanning, prototyping, tube geometry inspection, and more. Its flexibility is ideal for a small shop environment needing on-demand measurement capability for workpieces that are large, difficult to move, or cannot be moved to an offline inspection station.
“In 2004, we worked with a contract manufacturer to build a gas tank for a Ducati called an MH900E, a Mike Hailwood replica,” says Kelley. “This was done in the old fashioned way. I told them what I wanted to do, and they fabricated a model from my existing gas tank and air box, and made an oversized plug to sand cast the mold around. The process was very old-world style, but the job got done and we learned a lot about the design to manufacturing process. It was an exercise in finding out how things can go wrong.”
Once the gas tank gained popularity in the marketplace, Kelley was game to design more aftermarket parts. He also began to eke out niches where the customer was let down through regular retail channels.
CA Cycleworks’ second custom-made gas tank had a metal fuel pump flange bolted to its bottom via six bolts on a 140-mm circle. During its design process, the mold had to be changed three times because the inserts would not line up properly. The ROMER CMM was brought into the shop and used to map the original part, the gas tank, and the mold. The data generated from all three parts was aligned in a 3D coordinate system, and then analyzed to determine where to relocate the holes on the next iteration of the mold. The next mold was perfect… the holes were lined up on the center as measured and confirmed by the CMM’s articulating arm.
At first glance, the arm looks and moves like a human arm. The ultra-portable measuring arm weighs less than 10 pounds and enables high-precision probing and scanning. Its infinite rotation around the principle axes makes it easy for the operator to inspect hard to reach areas on a part or assembly. The ROMER measuring arm integrates a ZERO-G counterbalance, which offsets the weight of the arm and facilitates one-handed operation during data acquisition. The carbon-fiber composite arm tubes are stronger than steel and dimensionally stable regardless of the temperature. All in all, this is a solid metrology tool suited for the shop floor.
“We made a change to accommodate an air induction system that interferes with one of our large gas tanks,” reflects Kelley. “So I gathered all the air intake kits sold on the market, mounted them on the bike, and scanned them on the bike. I kept modifying the original drawing based on those scans until I created a new floor that misses those air intakes. It sounds easy, but reverse engineering is not as straightforward as it sounds. I had experienced the same problem with the location of the filler cap on another tank, but I did not have the metrology arm at the time. I had to solve that problem in 2D with basic geometry and the use of calipers and the QCAD open source program. Not an easy task.
“I think you need to always keep your mind open to something that might help,” says Kelley. “We do all of our prototyping in-house to control the design process and save money, too. The dream may be in my head, but I have to work with others to make it a reality.
“I recently collaborated with a mold maker and talked them into making a model for me,” continues Kelley. “The experience helped me gain additional insight into the mold making process and product development. Another surprise was the advantage of using a professional video card with CAD programs. We added an nVidia Quadro workstation graphics card and I noticed something odd at the edge of a drawing. Before adding the T-Splines plug-in for Rhino CAD, I had to try and blend rounded surfaces together. I zoomed in on the location, and there were small pieces left over from trying to patch sections together. This kind of noise in a drawing creates more work for our mold maker, which wastes his time and our money.”
For economical reasons, part prototyping is conducted in-house. Kelley does all the CAD work himself using Rhino software and the T-Splines plug-in for modeling the flow of the motorcycle’s organic surfaces. Using the ROMER Stinger point-to-point scanner, he can quickly acquire 3D data and begin work in his CAD system. During the conceptual phase of his newest fuel tank, Kelley has initiated three design changes since the model was created. He goes back to the measurement arm to quantify those modifications between the new design and the original scanned model.
Throughout the stages of creating a prototype, Kelley says his portable CMM can answer his questions quickly, as the accuracy of measuring by hand is not viable and involves too much trigonometry. When Kelley was working on his first prototype, he even brought the arm on site to his plastics mold maker. He bolted the articulating arm to the table and measured all of the holes on the gas tank right on the spot. The end result was a gas tank that doubled the bike’s travel capacity to more than 200 miles. This product generated big kudos (and sales) from Ducati customers who were very grateful to have the additional mileage.
Most important, Kelley uses the arm to map out the motorcycle to understand the boundaries surrounding the gas tank. The ability to define the assembly envelope and interference check other parts is very important. In his shop, the ROMER arm is securely bolted to a metal table on wheels. A motorcycle is placed upon a stand and strapped to the table with ratcheting tie downs. Kelley establishes common reference points on the frame, and performs a gross mapping of the frame with tubes… just enough to verify the location of the frame, so the gas tank would not hit it.
After four years, Kelley is still finding ways to use the portable CMM. “It is really nice to know exactly where a part is located on a bike, especially when you sell parts that other people make,” he says. “And when I say ‘exactly’ on a motorcycle, that means within a half a millimeter.”
“A good example of troubleshooting with the arm was [for] our second gas tank,” explains Kelley. “We brought in a customer’s bike and scanned the head of the engine, the bottom of our gas tank, and then the frame. I referenced the data together in Rhino and pinpointed the disparity. As it turned out one of the Ducati engines was taller, and the gas tank breached the area. It feels good to prove what happened in reality, and choose a new angle for the bottom of the tank so it did not touch anything.”
Diving into technology and integrating metrology has given Kelley the solution to make parts he wants on his bike, and products he is proud to sell to his customers. “The metrology arm enabled me to sell my second gas tank, because I would have abandoned that project altogether if I did not have the measurement capability,” notes Kelley. “I use the metrology arm to figure out the reality of the situation and fix it. I was already $10,000 into the mold, and the ability to troubleshoot the design issues enabled me to finish the mold and sell products. I would not have taken on the second variation of our newest gas tank without the arm. And we already have 30 people lined up to buy the products. These kits are priced at $800 each. Literally the ROMER arm created that sales opportunity out of thin air.”
“One of the topics I talk about on my online customer forum is you have to understand what you are proving…or not proving,” adds Kelley. “If someone is creating a part to fit another part or assembly, they would be foolish not to have at least the arm that I have. It would be a waste of your time, money, and effort. For example, the 140-mm circle designated on the original gas tank is not a perfect circle because they cast the flange, which is made by hand. When I design a gas tank mold, I don’t place the holes on a perfect circle. I match them to the error of the part it fits to. I would never have known that condition without the metrology arm.”
Kelley established his expert reputation based on his experience with modern 2V and 4V Ducati motorcycles. But his expertise does not stop there. His philosophy on modifications and parts selection is based on his experience owning a wide range of products manufactured by Kawasaki, Honda, Aprilia, Yamaha, and Suzuki. Kelley shares his thoughts and concepts at his ducatitech.com information website.