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By MARTHA SMITH
Special to the Standard
EXETER â Youâve got to hand it to Erik Stephens: he really knows how to throw a party.
Last Saturday, on both his 36th birthday and the 10th anniversary of his company Twisted Throttle, throngs of motorcycle aficionados showed up to celebrate the opening of Stephensâ spectacular new 27,000-square-foot establishment.
The business manufactures, distributes and engages in online sales of all things motorcycle, making it a Mecca for weekend road warriors wanting gear, apparel and hard-to-find parts, some of which require custom production.
By noon, more than 1,200 visitors jammed the place, at 570 Nooseneck Hill Rd., with bikes parked all over the grounds and on both sides of
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the road; the dirt parking lot of a nearby business was filled, too.
Kevin Nixon, the storeâs public relations and marketing director, who noted that heâs living a dream, âturning a pastime into a job,â had blanketed the media with advance information but was flabbergasted by the result.
Many people, who learned of the event via the internet, came amazing distances. According to Stephens, true diehards rode bikes from Knoxville, Tenn., Anchorage, Alaska and other far-flung places; four fans of the little business that started in a garage and grew to an international phenomenon flew in from Germany.
Among those who couldnât stay away was Reid Sanford, who rode his motorcycle and towed a tiny camper from Nova Scotia.
âI was looking for something to do this weekend and remembered a former open house Iâd come toâ when the company was located in the old Palisades Mill in Peace Dale. âI left home Friday morning and camped in Bangor; it was about 800 miles. I saw it online and thought âThis looks like a nice dayâ.â
Sanford was planning to shop for lights and an electric heat control device.
Throughout the day, Chris âTeachâ McNeil, a stunt rider for BMW who travels the country performing at dealerships and competing in national shows, entertained the crowd with a variety of tricks, all of them involving the smell of burning rubber from the tires he was abusing.
To the sound of cheers and wild applause, he did smoky burnouts, then raced from end to end of a cordoned-off area, doing âstoppiesâ â standing the motorcycle straight up on its front wheel â âwheeliesâ which is riding on the back wheel, and something called the âhighchairâ wherein McNeil rode with both legs draped over the handlebars.
He has a day job: McNeil teaches Latin in a private school in New Hampshire, hence the nickname.
Stephens, who started the company in 2002, when he couldnât find parts he needed then gradually began importing pieces for friends, too, was beaming as he conducted a tour through the enormous operation.
âMy grandparents and great-grandparents lived in Westerly and Charlestown,â he said of his decision to move the business to Rhode Island, in 2004. âWhen I started, I had one employee and 1,600 square feet; now I have more than 30 employees and a 27,000-square-foot-building.â
The company also has a 250-page catalogue.
Among the features found in the vast warren of Twisted Throttle are a proto-typing department with an on-site industrial designer, a computer modeling center, a facility for doing custom electrical work and an area for providing maintenance on customersâ bikes.
Stephens noted that he tries to use local businesses to fill orders for such things as metal signs, textiles and custom painting projects. Parts from a warehouse room stacked floor to ceiling with box-filled shelves are moved out the door from four shipping stations at the rate of 1,000 orders a day.
He recalled working in an environmental law firm and looking around at people whoâd spent their entire professional lives with the same gray horizon stretching out before them.
âI had the [choice] to be safe or start this. Iâve been all over the world and made friends everywhere. We do business and afterwards we go ride and explore each otherâs countries.â
The land on which Twisted Throttle sits is four to five acres but itâs only a piece of Stephensâ dream.
âI bought the 26 acres next door. I hope to do dirt training and maybe have a campground. I would like to offer classes [because] the Northeast needs a facility.â
Martha Smith is an award-winning journalist and author. Retired, she is an independent contractor for SRIN and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.