RoadRUNNER Interview: Dave Bertram

Apr 29, 2015 View Comments by

RoadRUNNER Interview: Dave Bertram - From Dirt Track to CEO

From Dirt Track to CEO –

RR: Tell us about your motorcycling history. When did you first start riding and racing?
Dave: I started like most riders—on a mini-bike when I was 7 years old. My father was a long-time rider, and we rode together with friends on weekends. That’s the greatest thing about motorcycling—you can do it as a family. With other sports, the parents sit in the bleachers and watch. Motorcycling is a true family sport.

RoadRUNNER Interview: Dave Bertram - From Dirt Track to CEOGive us a taste of your racing career. What were some of the highlights?
I have been fortunate enough to work most of my adult life in the motorcycle industry. For 10 years, Cycle Gear was my focus during the week and racing was my weekend job. I have so many great memories of racing with champions—like Terry Cunningham, Mark Hyde, and Randy Hawkins—it’s hard to single out the highlights. Dick Burleson, who was team manager with Husqvarna at the time, believed in me and gave me my first factory ride. As an eight-time national champion, he was an incredible mentor for me. Probably the most exciting time as a racer was when Randy and I joined Suzuki to re-launch their off-road program. From our first race as a new team, we were a force to be reckoned with. Randy went on to totally dominate the National Enduro series—winning multiple back-to-back titles—and I won two Reliability National titles for Suzuki.

How did you know when it was time to quit?
It was an easy decision. When those start-line butterflies in your gut are gone—and you’re not absolutely possessed with that burning desire to compete and win—it’s time for the next chapter in your life.

RoadRUNNER Interview: Dave Bertram - From Dirt Track to CEOWhen did you know motorcycles would forever be a big part of your life?
Early on for sure. I’m no different than other riders. Once it’s in your blood, you’re a rider for life. But as a day job, all of us at Cycle Gear are so lucky to work in an industry that we’re passionate about.

When you decided to buy out your partners, what was your vision for the company?
As I learned more about retail and the motorcycle industry, I eventually developed the concept for a national chain of stores. I bought out my former partners in 1995 and created an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). I felt the ESOP would allow the long-term Cycle Gear team members the opportunity of sharing in the financial success. The strategy to grow our company was rather simple—bring great customer service standards and exceptional values from factory-direct pricing—presented in well-stocked and properly merchandised stores. Our business model is common in other industries, so it was an opportunity to bring this simple concept to motorcycle riders in America. Of course, laying out the plan was the easy part. It’s taken a lot of really hard work—from an incredibly dedicated team—to build this company.

RoadRUNNER Interview: Dave Bertram - From Dirt Track to CEOWith so many online-only retailers in the motorcycle industry, why is it important to you to have physical stores?
Cycle Gear’s vision is to allow customers to shop any way they want. Right now a customer can buy online and return in a store, buy in the store and return by mail, and research a product online and then buy in a store. Soon we’ll launch buy online, pick up in a store. And, as technology enables us, we will continue to improve and blend the virtual and physical shopping experience. With over 100 stores in 34 states, we’re the only retailer that can offer that omni-channel experience. Ultimately the customers should decide how they want to shop, and it’s our job to meet their expectations.

What was the initial reaction to your plan to make Cycle Gear a national chain?
It’s funny you should ask this question. There were many peers in our industry that said this couldn’t be done. In fact, I couldn’t find one person in our industry—other than Joe Piazza (founder of Rocky Cycle)—that believed we could do it. Everyone said you have to hire motorcyclists to run your stores—and due to their strong personalities—it would be like herding cats. You’ll never get your managers to follow directions. It will be chaos. And, you’ll eventually go broke. The fact is that motorcyclists are competitors—they’re winners. And, as long as they understand what the goal is and how we’re going to get there, you won’t find a group of harder working, more loyal, and results-oriented individuals. What was a concern to the naysayers has turned out to be a competitive advantage for Cycle Gear.

RoadRUNNER Interview: Dave Bertram - From Dirt Track to CEOWhat is your perception of the overall strength of the motorcycle industry?
I’m very confident about the motorcycle industry. Last year there were 10.1 million registered motorcycles—that’s six percent more than five years ago and 55 percent more than 10 years ago.

What market segment (sportbike, dirt, cruiser, touring, adventure, etc.) would you say is currently experiencing the most growth?
Off-road has been under the most pressure for the last six or seven years. Adventure touring is doing very well. And, the new smaller displacement and high-gas mileage street bikes will bring a lot of new riders.

What is the “Cycle Gear difference?”
Before we had two nickels to rub together, we had one great thing going for us—incredible customer service. Our “100% Satisfaction Guarantee” and “7-Day Helmet Exchange” is unmatched in the motorcycle industry. I believe our customer service, along with offering the best brands in every price range, has propelled Cycle Gear into its market leading position. I truly believe we are “America’s number one retailer of the world’s best brands.”

RoadRUNNER Interview: Dave Bertram - From Dirt Track to CEOWhat are some of the challenges of selling gear in such a competitive market?
Our team of product experts (who all ride) spends an unbelievable amount of time choosing the best brands within each price range. Our stores are only so big, so it’s important we select the finest products for our customers within each category. And, when we commit to a certain brand, we are typically the biggest. We are the largest Shoei retailer in the world, and the largest retailer in America for Arai, Dainese, Alpinestars, O’Neal, and Fox.

What is the importance of each individual store’s relationship to the local motorcycle community? How do you build that relationship?
We let our store managers give us direction on how to get involved with the local motorcycling community. We contribute to local club events, promote bike nights about once per month at each store, and we sponsor over 700 local racers across the nation. All of these decisions are made at the store level. At a higher level, Cycle Gear contributes to legislative action groups like the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) and the BlueRibbon Coalition. We also support the Motorcycle Safety Foundation and their instructors. We recently presented a check for $10,000 to the Women’s Coalition of Motorcyclists.

RoadRUNNER Interview: Dave Bertram - From Dirt Track to CEODo you get to spend much time on the bike these days? What is your current ride?
I own a KTM 400 but probably spend more time riding my bicycle with my wife.

Tell us about Ride to Win and your time as the ISDE U.S. Trophy Team manager.
Randy Hawkins and I formed Ride To Win in 1985 to support the U.S. ISDE effort in a professional manner. Our non-profit raised over $100,000. The fund focused its resources on what we needed to raise our game and be competitive. One of the proudest moments I’ve ever had in racing was standing on the podium in Finland as Trophy Team Manager the year we finished third. The volunteers that have taken over have done an incredible job raising our game yet another notch. There’s no doubt we have the best off-road riders in the world—we will win the trophy at some point!

DaveDave Bertram
Former International Six Days Enduro (ISDE) gold medalist and Chairman of Cycle Gear, Dave Bertram, has been immersed in the motorcycle world for over 30 years. From the time he took the helm of Cycle Gear in 1982, the company has grown to become the largest retailer of new motorcycle and ATV gear in the country. With over 100 locations in 34 states nationwide, they’re also the only national retailer that offers both physical and online stores.


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About the author

There’s something relentlessly romantic about riding a motorcycle. I’m blessed to know that feeling. With a background in photography and a love for motorcycles, I’m interested in the beauty and honesty of the open road. You’ll find me riding Carolina’s roads on my Suzuki SV650.