24 YEARS OF HORSEPOWER & MOTORCYCLE BAD-ASSERY
Q. & A. WITH
by Tracy Hovde
We were talking about re-launching the new website, Tracy (girlfriend, yogi, farm girl, gun-toting biker chick, and writer) said, “Why don’t I just interview you?” So here goes…
Tracy: When did you start Crossroads?
Mark; 1993 in a pole shed I had at a hobby farm that I owned at the time. My brother Barney (Brian) started later that fall.
Tracy: Where did the name Crossroads come from?
Mark: The name comes from the Robert Johnson blues folklore in which he sold his soul at the Crossroads for fame and fortune. In almost 25 years in business it has turned into more of a self-fulfilling prophecy at times. Ironically, we helped outfit the Johnny Blaze bikes for the movie Ghostrider. The storyline is Johnny Blaze sold his soul to the Devil at the Crossroads.
Crossroads has seen fame, some fortune, and its share of struggles. Crossroads is the story of getting knocked down and dusting yourself off and moving forward. Maybe a better music reference would be Johnny Cash’s line from the song Highwayman “but I will remain, and I’ll be back again, and again, and again.”
Tracy: What were your first moments of real recognition?
Mark: Hmmm, In 1994 I was in Sturgis and a film crew from Japan interviewed me. In 1995 I got my first magazine feature. That was cool.
Tracy: Every company seems to have incidents or events that affect the direction of a company. Did you have that?
Mark: In 1994, My buddy Heff and I went to a motorcycle dirt track race at the local Cedar Lake Speedway. There was a small enclosed trailer with two bikes and two guys displaying motorcycle parts. I was riding a trick café racer Sportster which caught their attention. Those guys were Tom Rudd and his R&D guy Fred Schmitt. That meeting forged a business relationship and friendships that still last today. In 1996 I pitched a product line with Buell Motorcycles and started doing work for them the following year. 1997 was a big year for Crossroads.
Tracy: Who were your mentors or people who inspired you?
Mark: Well, I got my work ethic from my Dad and Uncle Lenny, and learned the value of patience and resilience from an old family friend, Bob Anfang. Paul Wenzel, the owner of the machine shop where I worked and honed skills. Tom Rudd (of Drag Specialties and Kuryakyn fame) still remains a mentor to this day, Friends Fred Schmitt and Tom Heffron were also big influences. I guess there was a few.
Tracy: What was your first motorcycle?
Mark: I got a Kawasaki 100 dirt bike from my uncle when I was 13 or so. I bought a full race KX 400 motocross bike when I was 16. That was my introduction to what ridiculous power felt like. I bought an ’86 Sportster in 1988 and built my first custom in 1989-90, a super cool hard tail ’69 Triumph Bonneville bobber. Those bikes were my introduction to motorcycle bad-assery. A ‘91 Honda CBR f2 was actually the first bike I bought new. That was my introduction to how a motorcycle should perform. I realized all the bikes I owned prior to that handled like farm equipment.
Tracy: Which motorcycles are your favorites?
Mark: Do you mean that I owned, built, or just what are my favorites?
Tracy: Let’s say your favorites.
Mark: I would say the 1983 XR1000, XLX Sportster, and FXRs where big inspirations for me. I still love the S1 Buell. I like the stripped down, no nonsense kinda bike.
Tracy: No Streetglide on that list?
Mark: Ha ha, Sorry no big tire Streetglide for Mark. I’ve probably owned thirty motorcycles over the years but never had a bike with a windshield or a radio.
Tracy: How about bikes that you built?
Mark: I built a 2000 Buell Blast that is still probably one of the most recognized custom Buells ever built. I got a ton of press with that one. I sold it to longtime friend Brian Klock. I built a pretty crazy motor for it and it got raced by his daughters on the Bonneville Salt Flats. I raced it at the SCTA World Finals in 2008. I built a S1W with full GP bodywork that ended up as cover bike for Battle2Win magazine and a NOS/air shifter S1 Lightning for a customer, those were both pretty cool. There was a bunch I guess. But my favorite would have to be my ’94 Sportster Café Racer. It was the bike that put us on the map.
Tracy: What bikes do you have now?
Mark: I still have “Betty” my ’98 Superglide and a stupid-fast, race gas powered 95” 2002 Dyna Lowrider. Feeling nostalgic I picked up a nice ‘96 Buell S1 Lightning last year and a ’93 Sportster this spring that I am building into an XR1000 style replica. I still have my old ’94 Sportster which I affectionately refer to it as my “opus” project.
Tracy: Opus project?
Mark: My masterpiece……a 150 horsepower masterpiece.
Tracy: What do you think your best product has been so far?
Mark: I think my Mali-air air cleaner and Devonator crankcase breather/mount was probably my best. I sold a pile of those. It is a simple timeless design. Funny story: I pitched that air cleaner to Harley Davidson back in ’97 or ‘98. They passed on it because they said “no one will buy an open element air cleaner.” That’s mostly what they offer now.
Tracy: So you were ahead of your time?
Mark: Looking back I guess we kinda were. We were running 17” sportbike wheels and forks on our Sportsters back in the mid-90s. We built 90 hp Sportster engines back then too, that was pretty rare. If they still weren’t fast enough we would bottle feed them, which would get them to around 120 horsepower.
Tracy: Bottle feed them?
Mark: Add Nitrous Oxide. We were doing a lot of Nitrous installs back then. I did a particularly memorable Nitrous install on a buddy’s Yamaha V-max. I hit the button at 60mph or so and it immediately went sideways! Fun and terrifying at the same time.
Tracy: Crossroads was pretty well known in the Buell and Sportster world. Tell us about that.
Mark: Historically most of Crossroads sales were generated from the supply side of the industry. We designed and/or manufactured products for other motorcycle accessory companies. Although we were known for the Buell and Sportster products, It would probably surprise people to know that as the vast majority of our products sold were for Big Twins.
Our marketing strategy focused on the bike models that were NOT the most popular at the time. When Softails were the hot thing we marketed to Sportster people, when Baggers got hot we marketed to Dynas, etc. The motorcycle industry follows the fashionable trend so as a result, everybody struggles to get a piece of that action. We would market to the bikes receiving less attention because that would get us the most recognition in the marketplace. The sales on those other popular models would happen by proxy of our recognition. It’s like hitting on the second prettiest girl in the bar, your chances increase considerably.
Tracy: How has Crossroads evolved over the years?
Mark: Well, any business model is organic. You do what makes best sense at that snapshot in time. I resumed operations of the business back in 2012 after an ill-fated lease-to-own fiasco. Unfortunately in that short two year time frame all the goodwill had been mined out of a very successful company and Crossroads had been systematically run into the ground. By contract I could not intervene with the operations, so all I could do is sit back and wait for him to fail. It is my biggest regret because Crossroads lost its best assets, the very talented staff. I was left to start over with no employees rattling around in a 13,000 square foot building.
Tracy: That had to have been daunting.
Mark: Well it was a challenge to say the least. The place was in shambles, filthy, machines in disrepair and unmaintained. He had tax liens and debts he acquired in the Crossroads name. I spent several months just sorting through the legal and financial mess I was left with. At that time I made the choice to put the product line on the back burner and focus on the supply side of the motorcycle industry. The burden of that on one set of shoulders was rough, particularly since I had one or both kids in college and expanded my farm operation considerably during that timeframe. Standing in front of a CNC machine isn’t glamorous work, but it had to be done and it is why I am still in business today.
Tracy: How has that changed the way you look at business?
Mark: I’ve always said “out of adversity comes opportunity” It forced me to be more focused and to realize what is important. My machine and design skills are the best they have ever been. I learned to balance farm and manufacturing life. I still wear many hats and my farm and shop are 40 miles apart so my days are pretty long.
Tracy: Some people are probably surprised that you farm as well. Tell them about that.
Mark: Well, I started a farm in 2006. The Lazy I Ranch is a grass centralized farming model, meaning we only grow hay for winter feeding and grass for grazing, No chemicals, composted fertilizers only. We raise and breed Scottish Highland Cattle, 100% grass fed. We have chickens and a few hogs from time to time. We are living proof “If you want make a small fortune farming…start with a large fortune.” The joke is that I am just balancing out my carbon footprint from my race gas powered bikes and big diesel truck.
Tracy: There have been a rumors floating around from time to time. Are there any myths or rumors that you want to dispel or set straight?
Mark: A couple I guess. It was going around some of the forums that I had been bought out by Kuryakyn which was never true. I have always owned Crossroads, even when the company was being leased, I still owned 100% of the company, real estate, and equipment. He passed himself off as the “Owner of Crossroads” but that was never true.
Tracy: What is your favorite part of the job?
Mark: I would say engine building. Typically my brother Barney comes up on a Friday and we blow the engine down then crank up the Zeppelin and proceed to get good and drunk. We put the bike back together the next day. We have built hundreds of badass, tire screeching Harleys with that formula. Hate to change it now. In the course of business I met a lot of great people over the years that developed into long lasting friendships. I’ve had the privilege to work with some of the brightest minds in the industry.
Tracy: What do you think is your best asset or talent?
Mark: Shit I don’t know. Problem solving is a strong suit. I have good mechanical and visual-spacial aptitude.
Tracy: Where do you find your inspiration or what is your design process?
Mark: I guess inspiration can come from anywhere. A need to improve an existing product or could be environmental, what’s going on or what interests you at a particular time. The C.H.A.O.S. and Mayhem products were inspired by my intense desire to seek vengeance on those who wronged me. Not really, I am a big fan of James Bond, the Wild, Wild West and MacGyver. I like gadgets.
The process is more bar napkin designs that turn into CAD designs that turns into prototypes that turn into products. Not different from most product development but being both designer and manufacturer the process happens much, much faster.
Tracy: What do we have to look forward to from Crossroads?
Mark: I have been busy designing some new products. They are weapons based motorcycle accessories.
Tracy: Any other cool new products or projects on the horizon?
Mark: I always have a few have a few new products in the mix. I am building a new XR1000 replica based on a ‘93 Sportster. It will look authentic but will essentially be a mirror image of the original XR - high pipes and dual carbs will be on the opposite sides. It’ll be cool.
Tracy: Obviously it is more than just a machine shop. In 50 words or less describe “what is Crossroads?”
Mark: “Hmmmmm…….Crossroads is a design and product development center, a CNC machine shop, a Harley speed shop, a custom fabrication joint…… and a damn fun place to talk motorcycles and drink beer.”