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Industry Spotlight: Jay Padilla and FAB28 Industries

Photo courtesy FAB28.

From the cubicle life as a software engineer to running a small business selling hand-made, all-American parts seems like a huge jump… and it is. But Jay Padilla at FAB28 Industries knew there was more to life than a steady paycheck. Fabricating go-fast stuff had long been a hobby of Jay’s, doing custom turbo kits for import cars as far back as his high school days. With his two sons and only four other full-time employees, FAB28 is churning out high performance, hand made exhausts for famous custom builders as well as the general riding public.

Jay Padilla’s daily ride is a sick custom built by Kraus Motor Co. Photo courtesy FAB28.

From the most pedestrian commuter bike to the sickest one-off custom, motorcycles have a unique way of blending art and engineering. That has to do with the interface being very intimate (you literally hold the machine between your legs) and the fact that many of the mechanical pieces of the machine are visible.

Usually, when art and engineering intersect, a company splits things into two departments: designing something you want to use and actually producing it only has so much overlap. But when you move into the world of motorcycles, the overlap stretches. The exhaust system is a perfect example.

A motorcycle exhaust, unlike a car, is visible and therefore part of the aesthetic. It also deals with tremendous heat, pressure, and vibration, from both the engine and the road. More important still is the exhaust is your last chance to extract power from your engine.

Where these collector pipes are placed in the exhaust system will have a noticeable effect on engine response at different RPM. Photo: Johnny Killmore.

It’s a hard science as to the pipe length, diameter, and shape that will work best at certain engine speed. Sciency sounding phrases like exhaust scavenging and Bernoulli’s theory of convergent and divergent ducts make the exhaust a performance tool to be used by tuners. And while the end user is likely to care about changing their torque curve or peak horsepower, they are also concerned with the look and sound when they throw a leg over their machine and fire it up.

Jay Padilla of FAB28 Industries understands this and then some. Giving up the stodgy world of IT and embracing his life-long passion of fabricating go-fast parts, he is now neck-deep in the world of American V-twin performance exhausts. Even off-the-shelf exhausts from FAB28 are hand-made, high-quality, and make a statement not just in their sound but in their raw, race-ready appearance.

But in the fickle world of the motorcycle aftermarket, what makes a man give up the security of a solid job to instead sweat away in a small shop, designing and welding up exhausts all day? Someone like that is worth getting to know, so I sat down with Jay and got his thoughts on the motorcycle industry, being a small business owner of American-made products, and what the future might hold.

Photo: Johnny Killmore.

JOHNNY KILLMORE: “So I assume you started FAB28 as a side-thing before you launched it full time? Or did you just go for it right off the bat?”

JAY PADILLA: “I had been custom fabricating things since, well high school really, or shortly after high school graduation, so I’ve always messed with metal fabrication but yeah, I was originally a software designer and did that for 25 years. And, you know, I’ve had several friends pass away at a young age, and it made me reassess what I was doing. Did I want to just, spend the rest of my life working in a cube, then retire at the end… that’s it, then you die?

[…] I started doing [fabrication] really as a side-gig, or more of a hobby. I bought my [current] Harley back in ’14, and what I started seeing was these hand-made, stainless steel exhaust systems, but they were all for Dynas… and I thought, ‘why not do them for baggers too?’”

JOHNNY: “So what skill from your software engineering job did you not think would transfer over, but has ended up helping you as a fabricator… or as a small business owner?”

JAY: “A good chunk of it actually, believe it or not. For starters, everything in the tech industry is all about function. Everything is there to drive some sort of outcome. In the motorcycle world, it’s very similar. I design the exhaust system really for performance. The looks and all that stuff is really secondary. I really want it to extract the most horsepower you can get out of these bikes. I can’t just do bends or, you know, pipe lengths arbitrarily just because it looks cool or whatever. I’m actually doing it because it determines your peak horsepower [and] peak torque. And all of that is done with data.”

FAB28 Industries does not just do bagger exhausts or Dyna pipes. This Sportster is wearing their full exhaust system and they will soon release exhausts for Indians Thunderstroke and the Scout/FTR family, along with UTV systems and even one for the Honda Grom. Photo courtesy FAB28 Industries.

Getting It Right

It’s long been known that both the intake and exhaust system of any reciprocating engine has a huge effect on how it delivers power. Pressure waves speed up and slow down as the pipe diameter changes or a curve is encountered.

So, for instance, a drag racer will want a pipe that works at high revs and maximizes horsepower, but a street rider might want to maximize torque at low RPM so if a car suddenly changes lanes into them, they have right-damn-now power to squirt out of harm’s way. A flat track racer would want a compromise of both, needing torque to pull out of corners and also high RPM power to get down the straights.

This is why Jay builds one-off exhaust systems in addition to the off-the-shelf pipes he builds. In Jay’s own words:

Constantly looking for a challenge means being able to find a new take on an existing technology. In this case, it means working with titanium. Lighter, but harder to work with. Photo courtesy FAB28.

JAY: “A lot of drag racers and road racers will give me a call and say, ‘hey I need a custom pipe, this is the style of riding I do…’ and I’ll ask them questions about what cam[shaft] grind they have, what’s the valve overlap, what displacement is it? And all those pieces of data really help drive how I do the layup… how I do the collector convergent angle and all that stuff.

“I think that’s one of the things that really sets me apart and the proof is really in the dyno sheets and people telling me, ‘wow you just transformed my bike.’”

JOHNNY: “Yeah I see that a lot, especially in the Harley world, where people will have a stage II kit, cams, high-compression pistons… they’ve dumped thousands of dollars into their engine. But then they have some straight-cut fishtail pipes, no baffles, and it totally kills [the] horsepower, because they like the look.”

JAY: “I guess that’s a little bit where I’m different in the industry as well. I’m really into the performance side of things. You can see in a lot of my bike builds I like to mix sportbike or European components into my bike builds. I like to use Beringer hand controls, Brembo brakes, or Galfer rotors, Ohlins inverted front ends… stuff like that. You know I guess it’ getting a little more, mainstream… the concept of the performance Harley.”

Despite Jay’s dedication to performance, he has partnered with custom builders like Carey Hart and Satya Kraus to build one-off systems, and brands like Black Flys to make signature pieces. Photo: Johnny Killmore.

Is The Future About Performance?

And it really is a guessing game as to what the next craze will be in the American V-twin scene. While Harley sales have shifted towards baggers and full-dress touring machines, the Motor Company obviously sees a shifting demand toward stripped down bikes and a bend toward performance.

Just looking at their website, it’s a rather new phenomenon to list maximum lean angle for a Sportster, for instance. The home page runs a flash video that shows riders out on the open road, but one of the cut scenes is a rider on an asphalt race track, flicking from right to left.

Far less subtle is the introduction of their 975cc and 1250cc liquid-cooled engine, shoved into a couple of different designs, one of which is a genuine streetfighter. Obviously, performance is on everyone’s mind. Did FAB28 Industries come in at a perfect time? I asked Jay about his views on the future or the motorcycle industry:

JOHNNY: “Where do you see the industry in 10 years… 20 years? Everyone is talking about the industry now, and getting younger people to ride. I don’t think anyone is talking about… what do you think it’s going to look like in 10 years?”

JAY: “Wow that’s a good question. I see—at least in the V-twin world—slowly moving away from… the cruiser, for lack of a better term. And you can see that with some of the… with Indian’s FTR1200, with Harley’s FXDR. You know, it’s not your traditional cruiser. They’re all performance-oriented. You can see what Harley is doing with their, what should I call it? Their dual sport bike.”

JOHNNY: Oh yeah, their adventure bike I guess [the Panamericana].

JAY: Yeah their adventure bike. I really see the majority of bikes really being more performance oriented. You know I think the classic Harley styling will always be around, I’m not saying that’s going away, but I think this new breed of riders just expects more from their bikes.

“And with vendors having accessibility to all these tools. You know these days anyone can get a CNC [machine] and learn how to 3D model parts. It’s so much more accessible to people compared to 10 years ago, you know, the quality of parts is just that much better.

“‘Cuz right now I don’t think anyone is into flames and skulls: they want to ride their bikes. They are expecting that much more performance out of these things. And you know I think Harley is listening, it’s just maybe their execution, could be a little better on their bikes? But I think they have it. I think they see it. It may not be going in a direction that [some] people like, but it’s a change.”

Photo courtesy FAB28.

 JOHNNY: “Yeah everybody gets upset about change, it seems…”

JAY: “Yeah you know, coming from the tech world, a new release of hardware or a new piece of software, everyone is like, ‘oh yeah, […] this thing is bad ass I wanna try it!’ People line up for hours to get the latest iPhone right? But in the V-twin world when you come out with something so new and different ppl just bash the **** out of it without even trying it.”

JOHNNY: “So [speaking about] the industry, what does FAB28 [Industries’] future look like? First on the short term. Is it more [product] lines or is it new offerings for the same bikes?”

JAY: “That’s a good question. You know, I am going to be expanding my lines. I’ve been working with Carey Hart the last couple of years on Indian exhaust systems. As you know, he’s [a] spokesperson for Indian. And so every year he does a bike build, and I would do something different each time, building the exhausts for these bike builds. Now we’re going to officially start offering Indian exhaust systems here in the next, I dunno, four months?

Photo: Johnny Killmore.

“I’m also exploring the possibility of doing exhaust systems for Triumphs. […] In a couple of weeks we are actually releasing an exhaust system for the [Honda] Grom You know, the whole Grom movement is just insane. Especially down in Southern California, it’s crazy. These guys are putting carbon fiber wheels, aluminum swingarms… these guys are going all-out on these bikes.

And we’re also breaking into the UTV market.”

JOHNNY: “Really?!”

JAY: “Yeah the whole side-by-side market is just booming. […] Yeah my heart will always be in the V-twin world, but from a business perspective I can’t just be a one-trick pony.”

While I was at the shop one of Jay’s friends stopped by with his Honda Grom so Jay could take a few more measurements. The Chinese exhaust mounted on it now looked okay from a distance, but they have a tendency to become corroded and worn out very quickly. They also don’t optimize power, which is important on such a small-displacement engine. Photo: Johnny Killmore.

And that brings up a good point. A lot of businesses fail because they see themselves solely as their product or service. One famous example is the railroads. They did not see themselves as a transportation business or even a logistics business… they were a railroad company. There was nothing stopping a Union Pacific Airlines from staring in the 1920s except lack of foresight. A company that views itself as building Harley exhausts has just defined its entire market in a very limited way.

Instead, FAB28 Industries seems to view itself as a metal fabrication company, differentiating itself by focusing on extremely high quality and performance over posing… all made in the USA. The Honda Grom is lightyears away from a Harley-Davidson, but a proud owner who wants to trick out their machine is the same: whether bicyclists, boat owners, commercial truck drivers, or even gun owners.

Quality has to be an end-to-end process, from materials to workmanship to filling orders to customer service. Every detail must be looked at, requiring many hours from any small business owner.

And so it sounds like Jay Padilla has a great direction for FAB28 Industries. While he is building exhaust systems for side-by-sides like the Can-Am Maverick X3 and the Polaris RZR (both turbocharged and normally aspirated models), he is staying true to his roots by expanding his American V-twin line to fit Indian’s Scout and its full line of Chieftain 111ci Thunderstroke engines.

While at the shop I also saw a BMW K1600 up on a bike stand, being fitted for a FAB28 system. Which makes sense if you think about it. That is BMW’s six-cylinder engine, which means a large and complex exhaust system i.e. more chances to get the power-making formula wrong or right. It’s also a $20,000 machine: not the type of bike you put cheap aftermarket parts on.

One-off exhausts with a no-nonsense, ready-for-battle look to them are a specialty of FAB28 Industries.  Photo courtesy FAB28 Industries.

In my time hanging out at the shop, Jay Padilla struck me as a smart businessman. High-end, off-the-shelf exhausts are a small niche, but it’s still a competitive market space to be in. Partnering with custom builders like Satya Kraus and brands like Black Flies eyewear, Jay is able to show his work stands out and deserves the attention it gets. He also turned out to be a craftsman, with an impeccable eye for detail and a demand for everything to be just right in workmanship, aesthetic, and performance.

Jay was also easy to relate to. As a small business owner building products in America, employing only seven people (including his two sons), Jay is dedicated to scaling up his business but still staying close to the products and processes that make the company unique. But most importantly, Jay turned out to be an enthusiast… a gearhead who likes go-fast stuff, be it trick carbon fiber tuner cars or fire-breathing custom motorcycles.

And he actually rides his motorcycle to work every day.

Jay Padilla knows the numbers and can get his hands dirty too. Here he shows a 3D printed prototype end-cap on an experimental muffler. Despite the company being small they utilize state-of-the-art technologies to develop their products, just outside the San Francisco Bay area. Photo: Johnny Killmore.

Written by: Johnny Killmore // @johnnykillmore

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