Homegrown Business: Aftaab Gulam, Co-Owner and Marketing Manager of Bushpig Performance

Based in Vancouver, Bushpig Performance is both an online store that sells and manufactures parts for dual-sport motorcycles and an online resource centre to provide the knowledge needed to upgrade your ride. Their goal is to help you get the most out of your bike while also improving your experience. We spoke with Aftaab Gulam, Co-Owner, Marketing Manager and “bushpig wrecker” of Bushpig Performance to learn more about them.

Bushpig Performance
Alex and Aftaab, Bushpig Performance Founders

What is your business called, and what does it do?

Our business is Bushpig Performance which went online in December 2020. We sell and manufacture parts for dual-sport motorcycles through our online shop.

Dual-sport motorcycles are essentially long-range dirt bikes that are street-legal and highway capable with good off-road abilities. Many upgrades can be made to make your motorcycle more off-road capable, highway-friendly or street-oriented.

Here in BC, the emphasis is on off-road as we have thousands of kilometres of forest service roads that lead to trails and more technical terrain for those that want to challenge themselves and get deep into nature. BC is a riding Mecca for all kinds of riding, mainly off-road.

What made you want to do this work?

I started riding a few years ago at the young age of 49. Initially, I purchased an adventure motorcycle, a Honda CB500X (more road-oriented than off-road), a well-mannered bike, perfect for a new rider. I kept trying to take it off-road and quickly realized that I would be better off with a lighter, more versatile dual-sport motorcycle that would be more suitable for riding off-road in the backcountry.

I traded it for a brand-new 2018 Suzuki DR650, a single-cylinder thumper, affectionately known as a “bushpig” for its utilitarian looks and fell in love with it. The DR650, a mid-size motorcycle, is considered a blank canvas as it’s been in production in its current form since 1996 and still runs off a carburetor. It’s cheap, rugged, easy to fix and has plenty of upgrades on the market with a cult following like some other dual-sport bikes we support. I started upgrading parts and learned to do my own maintenance on the bike to offset expensive hourly rates at a shop. I realized I could create a near-perfect bike for my riding style. I was hooked.

I met my business partner, Alex, on a group ride, and we looked at each other’s bikes, marvelling at the customization. He’s an engineer and fellow tinkerer with considerably more riding and mechanical experience than I have. He also rides a DR650. The passion was evident, and we stayed in touch to talk about upgrades and our frustrations at getting parts here in Canada.

What problem did you want to solve with the business?

Most of the upgrades are made in the USA, and replacement parts weren’t readily available in Canada, which meant having to pay an unfavourable exchange rate, high shipping fees, duties, brokerage fees, government fees and taxes to bring the parts into Canada from the States.

Alex and I decided to start small with a modest investment and leverage our combined expertise to create a local alternative to our US competition for fellow Canadian riders. With some savvy parts sourcing, creative branding and website design, relentless social media posts and search engine optimization, we are becoming a go-to source for riders with dual-sport motorcycles in Canada.

We started the business during the pandemic when we were under lockdown. People couldn’t travel abroad and were looking for local ways to enjoy themselves. Riding is the perfect way to get out with friends and socially distance away from the tangled web of humanity. Many new riders came online to look for parts for their new dual-sport bikes. While some stores sell bike parts here, there is a market for covering our niche market in much greater depth.

Who are your clientele/demographics?

Our customers are predominantly males aged between 20-70. We have a small percentage of female riders, constituting less than 5% of our market. We’d love to see more female riders off-road; perhaps longer-range electric off-road bikes may encourage more female riders to venture out into the backcountry. At the moment, it is a hyper-masculine sport that could seriously benefit from more women discovering and joining the sport.

Our market is mainly Canadian, but we are making inroads in the US thanks to a favourable exchange rate for Americans and Bushpig Performance branded parts we’ve designed and manufactured that they can’t get in the US through other dealers yet. We have shipped worldwide, including most European countries, Israel, the UK, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Colombia.

How does your business make money? How does it work?

We choose parts we use on our own bikes and those brands that have built and earned their reputation over the years. We purchase our stock at wholesale prices, import the parts into Canada and, in many cases, do our own brokerage. We sell online through our eCommerce webshop. We also manufacture parts that fill the gaps we see to sell to our customers. We’re always looking for innovative companies creating excellent products that we don’t see here in North America. For example, Turkana Gear, based in South Africa, make fantastic motorcycle luggage created and designed by a couple, Michnus and Elsebie Olivier, overlanding and testing their products on their motorcycles for the last twelve years.

Bushpig Performance

What is the best question a prospective customer could ask a member of your profession when comparing services? Give the answer as well.

What are the best upgrades for my new (or new to me) motorcycle? We always begin with a larger fuel tank for better range as most dual-sport motorcycles come with a small tank which needs more capacity for spending time in the backcountry. We always suggest bike protection, such as installing a skid plate and handguards to protect the underside of your motorcycle’s engine from rock damage and your hands from branches or dropping the bike in technical terrain.

Once that’s taken care of, we’ll discuss ergonomics and setting the bike up for you and your riding style. These upgrades include better seats, handlebar risers, fatter handlebars to dampen vibration, and better grips. We’ve built lower footpeg mounts to lower your centre of gravity while standing on your footpegs, offer better mirrors, adjustable clutch and brake levers, and broader and grippier footpegs.

Amazingly, you can buy a bicycle, and the salesperson/technician will help you to fit the bike to your height, weight and riding style. That doesn’t happen with motorcycles. You ride your bike off the lot as is.

You look to the internet for ideas to customize your bike to your liking. There’s a lot of trial and error here, which can be frustrating, not to mention expensive. That’s where we step in to encourage our customers to talk directly to us about their needs. We can help them avoid costly mistakes and help prioritize their needs according to their riding styles.

What is the best part about what you do? What is the worst part?

The best part is talking with customers about their adventures. We’ve made many new friends and met some terrific characters in the last couple of years. It really doesn’t matter what kind of bike you ride. Riders are a tight-knit tribe that branches into smaller tribes depending on what type of bike you ride, whether a Harley, touring, an adventure motorcycle, a dual-sport, enduro, motocross, street, vintage, cafe racer etc. Most of us will ‘wave’ or give the low peace sign to riders coming in the opposite direction as an acknowledgement of a fellow rider/adventurer. We encourage our customers on social media to use our hashtag #gofargetdirty so we can follow and showcase their adventures. Those that aren’t on social media send us photos by email, which is fantastic.

The worst part is rising costs due to rising inflation and supply chain issues due to the pandemic and war. A lot of parts are back ordered for months and months. People are used to easy availability and fast and cheap shipping, thanks to Amazon. Those days are over, and managing customer expectations as a small business is critical. All suppliers and manufacturers currently struggle to get their hands on the materials they need to complete their orders. This is the new normal.

Shipping costs are out of control! Even though we get the highest small business discount of 5%, it’s obliterated by fuel surcharges. In February this year, Canada Post imposed a 22% fuel surcharge on every package. It went up to 27%, 31% and is now at 37%. We expect it to rise again to 42% and up to 51%. Obviously, this impacts our bottom line significantly. As a small business, we can’t compete with large outlets that offer free shipping on purchases over $50. Our threshold is $299.

We currently offer flat rate shipping rates within Canada, the US and internationally. Even though we’ve raised the prices, we heavily subsidize shipping costs. We will implement a live shipping tool and pass the total cost of shipping onto our customers. We have no choice if we want to stay in business. We’ve already seen our order volume drop. However, the order size has increased, so customers are willing to wait until they reach the Free shipping threshold before they place their orders which is fine by us.

What are your social media channels?

Instagram | Facebook

PAY IT FORWARD: What is another Vancouver business that you love?

We don’t offer shop services but get asked a lot by our local customers where to get their motorcycles fixed or where to get help installing upgrades. We always recommend going with an independent shop like True Grit Moto.

They’re a small business like ours, led by a female rider and mechanic, Richelle. She works on changing the typical male-dominated atmosphere around “wrenching” on your bike. They have created an all-inclusive, open-minded space in Burnaby which we highly recommend.

They even offer a mobile mechanic service. They will come to you and fix your bike, no matter what type or no matter what you need to do.