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February 04, 2021

From The Vault: Be Different

I bought my first Harley in 1993. Being an automotive transmission engineer, I
took an immediate interest in the drivetrain on my new American motorcycle.
By early 1996, I got inspired to start assembling transmissions as a hobby or side job. By December 1996 I realized that there were others out there assembling ubiquitous 5-speed transmissions so I got the idea that if I was going to stand out from the crowd, I had to offer something different from the other guys. That was part of the inspiration to set out and design a 6-speed overdrive. The first prototype ran in August of 1997 and this thing was off and running. In retrospect it occurred to me that this is the essence of our country and the free market; build a better mousetrap.

Whether you are starting a business or just waltzing through life, it’s a hell of a lot more interesting and rewarding to be different. If you are starting a band and want to rise above, you need a hook or gimmick. Don’t just play guitar, play guitar like cats fornicate in the night. Don’t just sing cover songs, write your own material about Satan invading your grandmother’s body and turning her into a re-incarnation of Amy Winehouse. You’ve seen these dating sites that advertise on TV and elsewhere. They all look the same by focusing on compatibility and virtuous behavior: boring. I’m not into these sites, and Lisa might take an exception to it, but I know a lot of people who are. Why doesn’t somebody come out with You know a site with Charlie Sheen and Courtney Love type characters that are bad people and proud of it. The women on that site would be straight out of the movie Fatal Attraction and give men the best ride of their life and set their house on fire. The men on that site would be right out of the movie Bad Influence and would show women the time of their life and clear out their bank account. To quote the late great Bruce Rossmeyer, “That would be a good night out on the town.”

So this is the 2012 drivetrain buyer’s guide issue of Ironworks. One might think that there’s not much innovational opportunity left in the market and companies making drivetrain components have run out ideas. NO WAY! I assure you, straight from the horse’s mouth, that there’s nothing short of pure unbridled opportunity left in the drivetrain market. I strongly believe that the same untapped potential exists in the chassis, engine, wheels, brakes, and controls segments of the market. It’s just a matter of who is going to wake up in the morning with a desire stout enough to put the time, energy, and money into developing the next innovative component.

Sure, the recession in recent years cut back R&D budgets and slowed new product development but as of last year, we are back on track to make things happen. One of the positive outcomes of a recession is that companies like ours get leaner, meaner, smarter, and hungrier and that is the foundation for the introduction of amazing new products. On the consumer side, individuals have had to cut back on personal spending but, in doing so, they are bored and hungry for something new and exciting. When consumer hunger and company endeavors merge, that’s a formula for an economic spark plug.

Needless to say, I’m very optimistic about the future. The people with black clouds following them around have been predicting the end of the world for thousands of years. In America we’ve had plenty of reasons to give up and throw in the towel; the War of 1812, the Civil War, WW1, Great Depression, WW2, Korean War, Vietnam War, Iran, Iraq, 9/11 and the list goes on. We are Americans. We get up, dust ourselves off, and get back on the horse and ride. And just like before, it’s time to ride!


Baker Drivetrain Team Illustration