ICON is one of the most distinctive motorcycle brands on the market. From its vibrant helmet graphics to its custom bikes and superstar rider line-up. There’s no mistaking product created by the Portland-based company. Since its inception in 2002, ICON has grown from being the brand of choice for sportbike hooligans into a multi-faceted enterprise with gear designed for a diverse range of riders.
The unique identity of the company and its Raiden, 1000 and standard ICON lines all derives from the same spot in one of the weirdest cities in the country. We wanted to see the source, so made a stop for a tour of ICON’s headquarters during a recent trip north.
One of the coolest things about the offices are the bikes scattered throughout the building. Some are the builds featured during previous product launches, others the parts bikes used to create those machines. The selection was sparse compared to typical days during our visit owing to the fact that a number of bikes had been carted to the other side of town for the 2017 One Moto Show, but a few of our favorites were still there, including the ICON 1000 Iron Lung, The Speedmaster and the Team Raiden Triumph Tiger Turk.
The walls downstairs are lined with images from previous product campaigns reaching back to the earliest days of the company. There’s a staging area that can be used as an example storefront if a dealer wants some ideas on how to display the gear and the garage where project bikes come to life. There’s also a room we weren’t able to photograph because this is where plans for the future are hashed out.
We learned that ICON staff chart out product plans for each launch years in advance. The images and sketches that line the wall of this conference room represent what is coming, or likely to come, based on current forecasts. Things change depending on trends in the industry, gaps in the lines or the need to update legacy items, among other reasons. Sometimes a piece is revamped and included after someone unexpectedly uncovers an old prototype that wasn’t quite right at the time, but hits the mark now. It’s a fluid system.
And the ideas for all those pieces are developed upstairs where you’ll find teams of creative designers. As you ascend the staircase you’re currently greeted by the fairings of one of ICON’s early custom bikes, the Warthog, along with a huge variety of past, present and future gear. There are numerous helmets along every wall while inside the workstations are lids in various stages of development. Prototype graphics, hard shells without liners, helmets that have been retired after doing their job.
There’s also game-changing items from previous runs; jackets, pants, gloves and boots set alongside products that have protected a rider in a wreck. ICON has a Busted and Broken program that encourages riders that were wearing the company’s gear to share their crash story and images. Those folks will receive a B&B badge from ICON as thanks for sharing, but some go a step further and send the piece that did the protecting. It’s a constant reminder that the most important aspect of any new item is its ability to keep a rider safe.
It was particularly interesting to learn about the product development process. Designers draw from multiple sources of inspiration, and there are idea walls all over the office covered in pictures and artwork. When an idea is ready to be implemented, a sample is created and then staff deliberates. Are the colors right? Do the graphics need to change? Are the materials right? The zippers suitable? What else is there that should be included, or taken away? Outside artists like Tanner Goldbeck, Dan Mumford, Lukas Ketner and others are often tapped to create graphics for helmets too, particularly for the more outlandish helmet ideas.
Once the initial design is green-lighted, technical designers set to refining details. Things like tags, patches and other elements. The Art Director and his team scout locations and plan marketing assets around the new items. Then the launch is prepared and the product is released.
Another notable fact is that ICON’s helmet graphics, a signature element of the brand’s identity for many, are applied to the lids by hand. The graphics come in sheets that sometimes have nearly 20 different elements, each requiring perfect placement before the clear coat.
In-house photographers and videographers can shoot product detail in the on-site studio, too. There’s little outside of the mass production of the gear that isn’t done in-house, actually.
The garage was another highlight, a wrencher’s dream space full of bikes in the process of being transformed or repaired. There’s even more product from ICON’s past lining the walls too, a consistent theme throughout the building.
After touring through ICON’s home base, it’s clear that they’ve found a winning formula for fostering the creativity necessary to continue pushing boundaries in the motorcycle gear and apparel industry.
ICON’s home is a few blocks from Portland’s Slabtown neighborhood. Adam Waheed photo.
The ICON garage. Adam Waheed photo.