Renaissance man Nico Danan was hospitalized after crashing when he was 18. He’s worked as a deep-sea diver, man-powered submarine developer, Silicon Valley techie, and defense contractor with the family business. It was a need for a CNC-machined part that planted the seed for Hugo Moto, the company making waves for its Harley-Davidson Sportster scrambler and ADV bolt-on kits.
The CNC-machined part was found at Christian Travert’s machine shop. The two started talking about motorcycles (Travert builds custom motorcycles that take up space in Jay Leno’s garage, literally).
“Christian is one of those creators that creates like 10,000 billion things throughout the years,” Danan said in an interview last year. “And then you know, some things pan out and some things he doesn't have the time to take care of, so he just gets busy with whatever moves forward. I totally forgot about the part I was sent there to ask about and just told him we should work on a project together.”
With help from Nico's father Chris, Danan and Travert founded Hugo Moto in Florida, which just announced it’s relocating manufacturing to Tennessee for a myriad of reasons. I spoke with Danan to get the scoop.
Tell me about your relocation plans, and what prompted the move from Florida to Tennessee. How many employees will you have, and how big is the space?
It starts with how good the riding is in Tennessee!
We’ve been looking for a manufacturer for almost a year, someone who could help us manufacture a high-quality product right here in the US and help us scale fast. It's not as easy as you might think. We got lucky and thanks to our in-house photo/video guru Chris Rossell we met Bryan Schmidt and Jason Murrell from TGS Precision in Greenback, Tennessee. TGS is a tier-one manufacturer for many big names in the boating industry. Also, TGS is 20 minutes away from Smoky Mountain Harley-Davidson in Maryville, Tennessee, our pilot dealer and a very close partner.
Bryan Schmidt started the business in 2011 as the third generation of machinists in his family. TGS Precision, LLC, (Third Generation Schmidt) uses a 30,000-square-foot facility in Greenback for all phases of CNC machining and a 70,000-square-foot fabrication plant in Vonore, Tennessee. TGS has 60 employees and runs 24/7. They have full capabilities in manufacturing and fabrication from two-dimensional machining to five-axis machining and various types of metal forming, welding, and cutting.
Bryan rides a Harley-Davidson Street Glide and has many cross-country trips under his belt. He’s a passionate entrepreneur and loves motorcycles. It was love at first sight between TGS and Hugo. Hell, we both have gears in our logos! Seriously, it helps a lot to have the same passion and speak the same language.
TGS just took an equity stake in Hugo Moto last week, and we’re now in the midst of moving our office and setting up shop in Greenback. Most of our R&D will still happen in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, but all testing and manufacturing has been moved to TGS Precision now.
Like every startup, we’re a small tactical team and we wear a lot of different hats. The good news for us today is that we won't have to worry about manufacturing anymore. Thanks to TGS Precision, we can go back to focusing on developing products. There’s a lot of cool stuff in the pipeline, some of which has nothing to do with kits.
You’re coming off a busy month. How did it go at the March Moto Madness hill climb?
We’ve been high and low from 87F in Daytona to 28F in Tellico Plains in Tennessee. We’ve been on the road nonstop and I don’t see it slowing down anytime soon. This is how we like it. March Moto Madness was an absolute blast. What’s cool about our bikes is that they fit in on the main street of Daytona or Sturgis but are also right at home in the wild, camping and riding at events like MMM.
We love the ADV/off-road crowd. We were amazed how much they supported us during the Klim-sponsored “Hill Klim” at March Moto Madness. In the midst of high-tech BMW, KTM, Yamaha, and Honda adventure bikes, everyone fell for a 1997 Harley-Davidson Sportster. Put together our ’97 Sportster—a high-performance Hugo Moto-kitted tractor—with an incredible rider like our president Jason Smith and, well, you win the Hill Klim! Nobody saw that one coming.
Tell me about the new HD2 Enduro kit.
The name “HD2 Enduro” is a tip of the hat to a competent German machine that Jason used to own. It’s also a platform for Hugo Moto to show off its ingenuity and capacity to bring incredible bolt-on off-road performance with a Harley-Davidson Sportster.
Since the beginning, we focused on both design and function. We wanted bikes that looked good but also performed really well on- and off-road. Because of our classic/retro looks, some riders put our bikes in the café racer box. Sure they can be, but they can also kick ass on a hill climb. The cool thing is, it’s really easy for our customers to change up the cosmetics on their own builds to suit whatever style they like.
We’re still finishing some R&D on the HD2E kit and are aggressively pushing to bring it to market by the end of May. The HD2E kit will first be available for solid-mount Sportsters year models 1994 to 2003. The kit is aimed at the rider looking for the ultimate off-road performance. The bike is almost 80 pounds lighter than its rubber-mount counterpart (2004–later).
A little SuperTrapp/Kenda spec action, up close.
Our HD2 Enduro prototype weighs in at around 460 pounds. We want to offer a SuperTrapp exhaust solution to keep it quiet off road, a Rekluse clutch, and high-performance adventure pegs from Pro Moto Billet. We will also be able to offer our own CNC-billet aluminum hubs with Excel rims built by Woody’s Wheel Works in Denver.
Why choose Harley’s Sportster as your base?
Oh boy, the list is long. It’s the longest-running production vehicle in US history after the Corvette. It’s affordable, easy to work on, and reliable. The Evo engine is probably the most reliable H-D engine in its whole lineup. There are plenty of used and aftermarket parts available. The Motor Company’s US and worldwide dealership network is massive. We named our ADV touring kit the World Tour because it’s easy to find parts or a mechanic able to work on a Sporty anywhere in the world. Our friend Eric Lobo went around the world on a Harley twice, once on a Road King, the second time with a scrambled Dyna.
The Harley-Davidson V-twin is as capable off of the road as it is on road. That massive low-end torque is impressive off road. It’s a tractor. Because of all that torque, it’s hard to stall, a significant advantage while slowly maneuvering on technical off-road rides and for any new riders. Harley-Davidson sold 1.6 million units around the world since 1994, so there are plenty of them sitting in garages out there ready to get dirty.
Once you get settled in at your new location, what sort of riding will you enjoy?
Tennessee has some of the best riding in the US, and in the world, for that matter, both on and off road. Right outside of TGS, we can climb hills, drift it sideways on gravel roads, cross rivers, and access more technical single-track rides for Jason. As for me, the quad trails are where it’s at.
You name it, they have it. The best part is you can stop at the end of a remarkable day of riding by a waterfall to listen to Colter Wall and enjoy some moonshine with friends. I could describe it for hours, but you should come and ride with us to make up your mind about it.
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