Inside Area P: No Limits
The Science of Exhaust
What if we told you a story about a family-owned and run business where a husband, a wife, and their two sons worked together, each applying a lifetime's worth of skill in their particular area of expertise, to design and produce performance products of such high quality that some of the nation's largest performance companies come to this family for design, prototyping, and even small-scale "private label" manufacturing? A family applying their passion for motorcycle racing (inherited from the racer father) to run a business doing what they love, and doing it extremely well?
Sounds too good to be true, right? Kind of like a motorcycling version of “Leave it to Beaver,” better suited to the white picket fence ideal of 1950s America than to today's world of fractured families and markets dominated by massive, faceless corporations.
But this family business does exist, and it goes by the name Area P: No Limits. Both the 'No Limits" sub-label and the name's intentional resemblance to that of the shadowy government compound Area 51 hint at the difficult-to-define boundaries of Area P's existence. Still, I'll make an attempt at putting to paper the tale of this David and its surprising success in a world of Goliaths.
A Life-Long Commitment
Area P's point man is Kerry Bryant. Husband to sales and marketing expert Jenny, and father of master fabricator/designer/engineer Kenny and production technician Kelly, Kerry is the driving force behind Area P's success.
For Kerry, owning his own performance parts business is the culmination of a lifetime of work in the motorcycle industry. He hesitantly admits getting his start as a street racer in the early ’70s in Northern California, and although he talks about those days with obvious regret, he must have been pretty fast - his entry into the legitimate side of motorcycle racing came when he was noticed by Santa Maria Harley-Davidson owner Vance Breeze, who Kerry says "slapped some sense into me, and got me on the track at Sears Point (now called Infineon Raceway)."
Kerry took to the racetrack like "a fish to water” and spent the next 12 years as a privateer roadracer - a very successful one, apparently, achieving "a sixth at Daytona one year in the Superbike class" and racing the Suzuka 8-hour in Japan on a factory-equipped Yamaha, teamed with well-known racer Rich Oliver. Kerry is modest about his accomplishments, saying only "I was pretty successful for a privateer who had a family and a full-time job." 'Pretty successful' also included "several endurance championships," and even "a sidecar championship, I think it was the AMA." Apparently Bryant was a racer who could ride anything.
His first job in the industry started from a sponsorship - support on the track from Goodyear Racing Tires led to a position as the company's Northern California tire distributor. Next came SuperTrapp Performance Exhaust, where Kerry was brought in to help jump-start a line of sportbike exhaust systems (Supertrapp had previously concentrated mainly on the automotive aftermarket). SuperTrapp was the beginning of Kerry's experience with designing and manufacturing exhaust systems, and he stayed with the company for 13 years, leaving only because SuperTrapp had decided to move its operations to Cleveland. By the time he quit, he had moved up to Director of Sales and Marketing for all four of SuperTrapp's exhaust divisions (automotive, motorcycle, marine, and industrial).
Wanting to remain in his beloved California, Kerry started asking around among his many friends in the motorcycle industry, checking for available positions close to home. It turned out that some close friends of Kerry's, Tom and Dan White, needed some help expanding their own performance exhaust company, White Brothers. Southern California was "a little easier to accept than Cleveland," so Kerry and Jenny moved their family to Anaheim Hills. White Bros. appealed to Kerry because, in his words, he "shared a common bond" with Tom and Dan, who also came from a racing background (although theirs was in the dirt).
As Director of Operations at White Brothers, Kerry was dealing with much more than just exhaust systems; at the time, WB was one of the largest West Coast distributors for all sorts of aftermarket motorcycle performance products. He still had his hand in the exhaust development side of things, though, developing the E-series exhaust system (what he called "basically an improved version of the SuperTrapp design") for White Brothers, and even trying to start up a line of sportbike exhausts. Unfortunately, White Brothers' entry into the sportbike market was never a huge success, which Kerry believes was due to the company's name being "just too closely associated with MX."
Still, Kerry oversaw an incredible amount of growth during his time at White Brothers, expanding into other markets, one of the most profitable being exhaust systems for Harley-Davidsons. "I think when I started, the company was making about $11 million or so a year, and when I left nine years later, that had grown to $39 million in sales."
White Brothers’ high profile eventually caught the eye of MAG (Motorsports Aftermarket Group) Inc, which swept up White Brothers (along with Progressive Suspension, Vance and Hines, Performance Machine, and more) in a flurry of motorcycle industry acquisitions in the late ’90s. At first, Kerry was enthusiastic about working with MAG, hoping that the new owners would bring and influx of cash to allow White Brothers to grow even further. Instead, according to Kerry, MAG instituted a much less flexible corporate structure, with important decisions coming down from executives who weren't involved with the company's day-to-day operations.
Used to working with his friends Tom and Dan, Kerry wasn't pleased with the new setup, and "lost all motivation," eventually leaving the company in 2001. After what he describes as a period of "feeling sorry for myself," he put out his feelers again and landed at Jardine, again directing both motorcycle and automotive operations (Jardine is owned by a company called Summit Industries, which also owns Doug Thorley headers, an aftermarket automotive exhaust manufacturer). Kerry had been good friends with Rick May, President of Summit, since the ’80s, and May gave him a great amount of freedom as far as running day-to-day operations. Kerry brought in some of his old team from White Brothers, and things were off and running.
At this point, however, Kerry was already starting to consider starting his own business. His older son Kenny had become a talented designer, fabricator, and engineer in his own right, and Kerry began to consider how he could bring the whole family together to fill a niche in the industry that would give them room to grow.
Even as his dreams of independence took shape in his mind, Kerry enjoyed his time at Jardine, getting back to his roadracing roots through the company's sponsorship of the factory Honda AMA Superbike team. Before Kerry's arrival, Honda had sent down all the specs and Jardine had merely assembled and labeled the systems (a common arrangement in top-level racing), but Kerry's reputation as an exhaust designer preceded him, and he began adding his own tweaks to the designs of Honda's race-team engineers.
On the production side of things, Jardine already had a "solid" line of exhaust systems, but Kerry made improvements in quality control, reliability, and even aesthetics - what he called small tweaks. At the same time, he oversaw the expansion of Jardine's presence in the growing metric cruiser market, where the company saw big gains during his time as Director.
Despite his success at Jardine, after a few years considering how to go about starting his own business, Kerry was ready to implement the plans he had developed in conjunction with the rest of his family, and he left Jardine to start Area P. The culmination of a lifetime's worth of expertise, the new company and Kerry's ideas for it are unlike anything we've seen before.
A New Life
The reason Area P seems so hard to categorize is because they have so much going on - in fact, it's amazing that one family can keep it all straight! Although the Bryants take the shop's 'No Limits' moniker seriously, the areas we focused on were their design/prototyping/'private label' business, their line of slip-on exhausts, and their latest venture, the North American distributorship for Silent Sport Premium muffler packing.
Area P offers design and prototyping services to anyone from large manufacturers looking for someone to improve their systems to the high-end enthusiast who wants a one-off Inconel full exhaust system for his Ducati (true story!). This is the area where Kerry's experience in exhaust system design and Kenny's fabrication and engineering skills are most in sync - the two of them working together can quickly move through multiple prototypes, making changes and testing on their in-house dyno to optimize the design for power production, looks and sound.
You'd be surprised at the number of manufacturers who use Area P's design services - as the sportbike market has become more competitive in recent years, the OEMs have put more effort into finding extra power in the exhaust system, and it's become correspondingly more difficult for aftermarket companies to out-power the stock parts (particularly if they don't want excessive noise increase).
'Private Label' manufacturing is another service Area P offers for some exhaust companies, although those on both sides are understandably reluctant to reveal brand names. Basically, with PL, the 'exhaust company' never actually touches their own product - Area P designs it, builds jigs, and then produces it in small batches for warehousing and eventual distribution. Area P even creates the instruction manuals and other necessary parts - it just has someone else's name on the final product.
Kelly's skills as a production technician help speed up the production of each batch, helping Area P's bottom line even further. This has been the company's main source of income since its inception, and Kerry has no problem staying in the background - as long as the clients keep current on their bills! Surprisingly (since Area P only produces slip-on exhausts under its own name), around 40% of their private-label work involves full exhaust systems, while the other 60% obviously is made up of slip-on designs.
Area P's line of slip-on exhaust systems is the culmination of all Kerry's experience in exhaust system design and the facts and opinions developed through that experience. The ultimate goal was to create extremely high-quality parts that looked good, saved weight, and increased power, all at an affordable price.
The 'affordable' part of that equation explains why Area P isn't producing full exhaust systems - in Kerry's opinion, they just don't offer much bang for the buck. As I mentioned earlier in the article, the OEMs are getting better and better with their exhaust designs, and most of these improvements are in the header area - they use the rest of the system to get the sound down low enough to pass regulations, which is why this area offers the greatest gains. Also, many of the latest sportbikes feature titanium headers, which are significantly more expensive for an aftermarket company to produce. Even if a stainless system offered power gains, it would also add weight, and few buyers would shell out the cash for aftermarket Ti headers.
For the same reason - bang for the buck - all Area P's slip-on systems are carefully crafted to offer significant power gains while keeping close enough to the stock fuel curve that they don't require the use of a Power Commander or other aftermarket tuning system.
“With our slip-ons, you can gain 3-5 horsepower for less than $500, while adding a tuning device costs another $350 and might possibly net you another 1-2 horsepower on some models. Finally, we could make a full system and gain maybe another 4-6 horsepower (in addition to the gains from the slip-on) for between $1200 and $2200. And, at that point, you certainly require fuel tuning, so throw in another $350."
Put like that, and it makes sense. If you can gain 3-5 hp for less than $500, do you really wanna shell out $1500-$2500 to gain 8-11 hp?
Despite the equitable pricing, Area P doesn't cut corners on quality for their slip-on systems. Where most companies use stamped-steel end caps for their mufflers, Area P uses precision CNC-machined billet aluminum. And where most others attach the end cap to the muffler using rivets (which can loosen or fail, and have to be drilled out to repack the muffler), Area P uses stainless-steel button head bolts - which wouldn't even work if their tolerances were off more than a hair during production!
Tubing is CNC mandrel-bent for smooth-radius bends, and their slip-on systems are secured with high-quality stainless T-bolt clamps. For bolt-on designs, they CNC-machine a billet aluminum adaptor that uses the OEM gasket for a precise, no-leak fit. Even the muffler shells are high quality, with their Stainless or Titanium shells using .025" wall material for light weight, while Kerry claims that their carbon shells use a high-quality autoclaved construction that is capable of withstanding temperatures far exceeding those that would destroy the cheaper carbon shells (300-400-degree rated) used by most other manufacturers.
As stated earlier, each system takes quite a bit of R&D time, since the goal is not just to maximize power gains, but to do so without creating extremely rich or lean air/fuel ratios that would require the use of a fuel tuning computer to compensate. Although it forces them to conduct even more extensive testing, Area P offers all their slip-on systems in multiple muffler core diameters (usually 2.0", 2.25", and 2.5"), and many systems are also available in two different lengths (usually 15" or 18") - all for no extra charge.
Although it may sound confusing, everything can be sorted out with a quick phone call to the shop, where one of the Bryant family will talk to you about what you're looking for and help you decide on the best configuration. Even better, Area P has sound test information for all their slip-on systems, so they can tell you exactly how many decibels louder than stock each slip-on is ? nice piece of information to go alongside the dyno chart and the weight savings information they also offer, all of which factors into the consumer's choice of which product to purchase. Kerry is confident that Area P's slip-ons are equal or better, quality-wise, to anything currently on the market, including high-end brands like Akrapovic. A bold claim, but one he obviously has the experience to make.
But aren't all slip-ons the same, you might ask? Those with a basic understanding of a function of a muffler will know that given the same core diameter, decreasing the volume of the muffler (i.e. it holds less packing) will make it louder, while increasing the volume will quiet it down. So muffler size affects noise, and core diameter is where you control power (this is very over-simplified, and is only considering the muffler; mid-pipe design also affects power, as do other factors). So the OEMs have to use huge, heavy mufflers to meet noise regulations while still making decent power, and an aftermarket slip-on is just a lower-volume muffler with more flow (larger core diameter) that increases both power and noise.
Well, all that is somewhere close to correct, but nowhere close to the whole story, according to Kerry. The first ingredient that makes Area P's slip-on systems produce more power with less noise than others (again, according to Kerry) is the well-designed mid-pipe, with its smooth CNC mandrel bends and carefully chosen diameter. But when we reach the muffler, there are more factors than just volume and core diameter.
The perforated core tube of the muffler is what allows the packing material to do its job, reducing noise in direct proportion to its volume (more packing equals less noise). But the core tubes used in Area P's mufflers have a much higher percentage of perforation (a greater portion of the surface area is perforated, i.e. more holes per square inch), which allows greater sound damping from the same muffler (packing) volume, without decreasing flow (power).
So if these core tubes are the magical secret to more power, why isn't everyone using them? Well, I know you've been waiting to hear about Area P's relationship with Silent Sport Premium muffler packing, and this is where that finally comes into play. Because the greater perforation of the core also releases more exhaust heat into the packing, Kerry says other exhaust manufacturers can't use cores like this for fear of burning up their inferior muffler packing. Meanwhile, the Silent Sport Premium muffler packing, being of a higher quality, can tolerate the increased heat without breaking down. This is why KTM uses the German-made packing material in its stock mufflers, why many European race teams use it, and why Area P has brought it to the North American market (see their website for details).
So there you have it - now you know what Area P: No Limits does to pay their bills.
Oh, wait, I forgot to mention that Kerry and Kenny also do custom fabrication for many top race teams, and that Kenny is still building insane off-road race trucks (all parts computer-designed, modeled, and optimized - a service he offers as part of Area P's fabrication repertoire) in the same building (under the name Alliance Fabrication), and that they have a CNC plasma cutter so big I could climb inside and have a picnic with my girlfriend (well, if I had a girlfriend)!
Yeah, they really are serious about that whole "No Limits" part.
For more information, check out < http://www.areapnolimits.com/> Area P’s website.