“Dammit!” you shout to no one in particular. The wrench you’ve tossed clatters across concrete, punctuating the moment.
You’re alone in the garage. The rest of the family is asleep. The kids are excited to leave for a family weekend riding dirt bikes, except…one of the machines is broken!
Sure, you know your way around a toolbox, you even bought the right parts for the repair, but you forgot that you don’t own a repair manual for little Sally’s new motorcycle. The pressure is on: you leave tomorrow.
Sound familiar? Are you feeling stressed yet? It rates right up there with having to assemble a bicycle on Christmas Eve guided by Cantonese characters…or forgetting to buy batteries for all those electronic gifts you’ve just wrapped.
Imagine if, in the middle of a repair crisis and faced with a dearth of documentation, you could spark up your iPad or iPhone and find the information you need, instantly.
Breathe…. and step away from the toolbox. Help resides in Weaverville where a team of repair manual specialists works to deliver repair data in print and web formats. Let me guide you to www.repairmanual.com.
Wow, look at this, you can buy a fix-it book for — ATVs-autos-bicycles-boats— the letters A and B are covered. M reveals motorcycles while, S depicts their distant cousins: scooters. Wait…we skipped over G, which stands for golf carts and go-karts. Rolling down to P we see: personal watercraft and power equipment. Sliding into S we hit snowmobiles, and last, but certainly not least, are tractor manuals.
Hold on a second, I promised you instant information, so let’s go to www.cyclepedia.com. This website is incredible, the photos are extremely clear, and the directions are well written, there are even videos. I’m confident that you’ll find an online manual for your daughter’s cycle, and they accept Visa. Bonus.
For wrench-wielding weekend warriors, these websites are nirvana. Both were founded by Lenard Nelson, a man who was born to mess about with machines.
“When I was seven, my Dad gave me his old lawnmower,” says Len, “it wouldn’t run. He was going to purchase a new one. I had no idea what I was doing, but I was fearless. I took the carburetor apart and put it back together using a diagram. When I was done, it ran, and Dad didn’t have to buy a new mower.”
Children, who grow up in households where tinkering toddlers are encouraged, are rarely fearful about attempting something new. When Len was in 6th grade, his parents bought him a Sinclair Computer.
This was the old days, when displays were tiny black screens that showed neon green or orange text. No color, no graphics, no Internet, it was the Windowless days before Macs. Anything the user wanted to do had to be programmed into the machine using an arcane language.
Our hero taught himself to program that computer, and wrote basic role-playing text games he shared with friends. Len also wrote routines that would draw a primitive picture using X’s and O’s. Little did he know that all of his childhood tinkering would power the rest of his adult life.
While pursuing an MBA at Pace University, Len performed market research for Prodigy Communications Corp. This was 1993. Back then, HTML programming and websites had not yet exploded, so Internet service providers, like Compuserve and Prodigy, developed ‘communities of interest’: websites where subscribers could view topical information and correspond with fellow geeks.
Prodigy wanted to add a networked community for motorcyclists. Len, being an avid one himself, was chosen to create it. He switched from research statistician to motorcycle journalist, which was another serendipitous event.
Lenard wrote technical repair articles; he took motorcycle journeys then uploaded travelogues, pictures and maps to the Prodigy website. He reviewed the latest model offerings and gave riding tips in this online publication. He also provided a forum where riders could communicate with each other on a broad range of subjects.
Right after graduating with his MBA in Human Resources, Len was contacted by Brent Plumber, a member of Prodigy’s moto forum. Brent was creating the first Web-only motorcycle magazine, and invited Len to join the management team — why not? He had HR training, he knew his way around a computer, and he was a working motorcycle journalist.
An amazing opportunity for Lenard to blend vocation, education and avocation! Len could link his passions motorcycling, working in a human resources capacity, and web publication. Great stuff, but he would have to let go of his good paying job…and move to California.
He’s a risk taker, so he dropped everything, moved to LA, and spent the first three months sleeping on Brent’s couch, which didn’t matter — Len was too busy to sleep. He was the Director of www.Motorcycle.com a website that is still one of the premier go-to spots for motorcyclists worldwide.
“It was an amazing time for us,” says Len. “We were given brand-new motorcycles to ride and evaluate, as well as all the crash gear, tools and accessories we could wish for. We took riding trips to all the key events, photographed them and wrote online articles. The company had a large stable of free bikes to use, so I rode in the dirt and on the road just about every day. It was intoxicating.
Success brought even more opportunities. Motorcycle.com sponsored a race team with the help of some large industry sponsors, including Clymer Manuals, one of the largest publishers of aftermarket repair guides.
Clymer approached Len and Brent to become a distributor of their books, by selling them on the Net. Len viewed this offer as a good opportunity for expansion, but his partner disagreed, wanting to retain their purity as unbiased journalists.
A separate division was discussed briefly, but in the end, Len was encouraged to leave the magazine partnership. He immediately started Motocom.com which later became, RepairManual.com, a website dedicated to selling Clymer repair manuals.
Few businesses provide an immediate income, and Len needed a change of scenery. He moved to Atlanta to take a job as the webmaster of MCI’s corporate communications website — until MCI was purchased by WorldCom — and he was asked to move to Jackson, MS.
Lenard jumped ship and landed at Siemens AG, where he received an education in technical writing, DVD replication, help system software and user interface design, all of which would help him to expand his own business in years to come.
RepairManual.com was grown in Len’s spare time, all of his working experiences helped immensely. Initially, he did everything: returned the phone calls, shipped books, and performed market research, falling asleep at his computer many nights. He gratefully added some part time employees as the business swelled.
To keep the RepairManual stockroom filled, Len routinely drove to Hartsfield International’s freight terminal to unload pallets that contained 500 books each, which were hefted into his private vehicle, and sneaked through the entrance of the gated community into his 3 bedroom apartment, 2 of which were jammed with books.
“We did market research, certainly,” says Len, “but growing the business was easy. All we had to do was listen to our customers, they dictated where the product line needed to expand.“
Len ended up writing all of his E-commerce, accounting, billing and shipping software because there wasn’t much to choose from back then…and he was an aspiring PHP/MySQL developer, which is a combination of powerful open source, server side scripting, and database software.
While working part-time for Siemens and keeping a handful of web consulting gigs, he bought a house in Atlanta solely because it had a huge basement, which he immediately jammed with books.
By 2001 the new business was providing a living, so Len moved into a 2,500 sq. ft. warehouse in Burnsville, NC, and six years later, he expanded into a 5,000 sq. ft. space in Weaverville. This facility was hand-built by Len, with assistance from a Cyclopedia technician and his father-in-law. RepairManual.com has been around 16 years as of 2013.
With the growth of the Internet, customers wanted to see their manuals online. This isn’t necessarily a ‘green’ request. When someone needs a repair guide, they’re usually in a crisis to get a vehicle back on the road, and cannot wait until a book arrives by mail. Online repair data would make it instant, and allow customers to download and print only what they needed.
Lenard asked manual publishers if they’d be interested in distributing their technical data via the web. He cited his team’s web experience, and sizeable customer base that were clambering for online materials. He was met with an unceremonious, emphatic, NO.
“This situation with the manual publishers reminded me of an incident I’ve never forgotten,” says Len. “Twenty years ago, I went to my local Kawasaki dealer to buy an official repair manual. The manager refused, saying that manuals were for dealer use only.”
Fueled by a desire to help his fellow wrench wranglers, Len wondered how could he bring this idea to the Web if no one would license his team to use their technical data?
Not wanting to infringe on anyone’s copyrights, the RepairManual crew decided to write their own repair guides, which freed them to distribute the information via the Web. They decided to concentrate on drafting manuals for what they knew and loved most: motorcycles. Cyclepedia.com, a second business, was born.
Creating a repair manual is not trivial. Once the make and model of motorcycle is identified, Cyclepedia purchases one. Then, it is completely disassembled, right down to the last bolt and nut, the entire process documented with detailed notes, photos and video. The process is then reversed; the assembly is chronicled in the same fashion as the teardown.
Cyclepedia strives to create high caliber manuals. As a result, only the best quality photographs, that accurately depict the project, are used. Directions are written that are accurate, and lead the user through a repair in the correct sequence. Since the product will be viewed on the Internet, their manuals also contain well-crafted videos.
Cyclepedia customers pay a fee similar in scale to the price of a printed manual. There are two options: a One-year, and a Lifetime subscription. This gives users access to the online manual for a specified model motorcycle.
Additionally, customers are allowed unlimited personal technical help. Lifetime customers can switch their account to a different model motorcycle at any time. (Unlike that Bally’s Fitness card in your wallet, this is a lifetime membership that you will actually use.)
The software that drives Cyclepedia’s manuals is powerful. Subscribers can search the site by part name, and bang, it appears. No flipping through pages or fast forwarding through a YouTube video, this is instant gratification and is a huge time saver for private and professional mechanics.
Imagine what that means: Cyclepedia subscribers can access technical data via a smart phone, a tablet, or computer while in the middle of a job or better yet, during a breakdown on a long distance trip. The team in Weaverville is helping people by creating a very usable service, and it’s growing.
Cyclepedia has written 115 online manuals, a number that keeps climbing. The company can turn a new product guide in a month, but their emphasis is on quality, not quantity. The desire to create a superlative product leads the team to take their time.
By 2007, the business was creating an online buzz in the motorcycle world. As a result, the Austrian motorcycle manufacturer, KTM, licensed Len’s company to distribute all their technical manuals for two-year-and-older machines. RepairManual.com/Cyclepedia.com is selling KTM manuals in: print, CD, DVD and online formats.
Scooters…they’re everywhere, and one of the largest manufacturers of vehicles and scooter engines is Kymco, who also manufactures for Arctic Cat and BMW Motorrad.
The huge Korean corporation discovered our little company from NC at a tradeshow, and in 2011 hired Cyclepedia to write and web-publish manuals for all their new products…including dealer training. They’re also under contract to clean up the older Kymco manuals.
Cyclepedia 2.0 is a very dynamic software tool. No commercially available web-publishing applications can come close. Len wrote it specifically for this business; it’s the culmination of all his past work experiences.
If a Kymco dealer, for example, thinks more detail is needed in a specific area, Cyclepedia can, within seconds, roll it into the manual from anywhere in the world, leaving their competition in the dust.
Contracting with the team in Weaverville is smart business for Kymco. Powerful online manuals make their dealers’ lives easier, and happy dealers sell more bikes. Customer service is important to everyone, and Cyclepedia is viewed as a very valuable customer service tool.
Len’s two divisions employ six people, plus contractors. The business runs on the sweat of writers, photographers and wrench-wielding technicians. Mr. Nelson firmly believes that everyone should enjoy what they do, and who they do it with.
For that reason, he hires new team members based on their interest in motorsports and a strong desire to be involved in the project. Consequently, everyone in the company socializes and rides motorcycles together. The team has taken years to build, and Len is happy with the results.
What does this highly successful innovator do to keep his sanity?
“Turning a hobby into a career can ruin the love of that hobby,” says Len. “On a regular basis, I have always forced myself to walk away from the pile, change the subject, do something fun; like cooking with my family, riding mountain bikes, or messing with machines.”
Most small business owners offset the long hours by being flexible with their time, and Len is no exception. Many days, he prefers to leave his employees alone, which motivates them to remain creative; this also allows Len to concentrate on the larger picture: licensing new technical data, creating relationships with manufacturers and tweaking the company’s software to keep the tools’ cutting edge sharp.
What is this entrepreneur’s primary worry? Not being innovative enough, and expanding too fast. To mitigate these concerns, Len coaches the team to seek new opportunities by listening to their customers. If enough customers ask for a particular product, it’s probably time to include it in the lineup.
Company growth has always been driven by market demands, not by lofty goals or dreams. What does Len Nelson hope for Cyclepedia’s future? Working with more and more manufacturers directly to distribute their technical manuals online, rewriting existing manuals for web distribution and reducing Internet piracy.
So what are you waiting for? The night is young. Get on your computer, go to www.cyclepedia.com and fix your daughter’s dirt bike — right now. Just imagine how happy she’ll be riding the trails tomorrow! Your Super-Parent status will be elevated, and — no one will ever suspect that you forgot to buy a manual.
Written by: Arthur Treff | Photography by: Harley O. Morgan