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Tough as Nails, Polished as Chrome, Hard as Concrete

A case study in the use of polished concrete in the rough and tough world of Harley-Davidson Motorcycles.

Bellevue, Washington boasts one new destination where miles and miles of motorcycles gleam in the reflected light of polished concrete floors: the Eastside Harley-Davidson Dealership, located on NE 20th Street.
The town’s Harley-riders have another bragging right: the owner-dealer of Eastside. They call her Mother Freedom, and—according to more than one motorcycle enthusiast-- she is their very own “American Icon”.
 Beverly Thompson may not conjure the typical motorcycle rough-rider stereotype at first glance. Then again, it’s not every day that you see a beautiful mother of five and grandmother of fourteen racing down the open road at 80 mph-- or overhauling a Harley-Davidson dealership. “This store is her baby… she’s involved in everything,” says Earl Whitney, the Eastside Harley store designer.
Bev and Keith, her husband of forty-four years, purchased the Eastside Harley-Davidson dealership in 1994 when it had 150 bikes in a 5,400 sq. ft. building.
Thirteen years and several moves later, the store has evolved into a retailer of over 800 bikes, plus genuine Harley accessories and clothing. To facilitate such an expansion, Bev renovated a 44,000 sq. foot former manufacturing facility.
“There comes a point when you grow into new requirements for a building,” explains Earl Whitney, about the need for change. He was charged with the task of getting the new signature dealership, purchased in fall 2005, up and running by spring 2006. He says, “I felt like the captain of a ship avoiding icebergs on a daily basis!”
He achieved the goal with the help of Lundeen-Simonson, the polished concrete contractor chosen to do the flooring. “They made the difference in getting the building open on time,” Earl states. So Bev’s vision of a modern space that still reflected Harley Davidson opened in May 2006.
 Bev was committed to working on the details during the remodeling process, from the selection of an open interior design to the neutral colors. Bev says. “I didn’t want any walls, just experience!” She chose the feeling and presence of the space: “I wanted it to have a real family feel…a place people could bring their kids and explore.” She laughingly adds about the remodel process, “I told Earl what I wanted and he got it for me!” 
When Bev requested that the 20,000 sq. ft. lower-level floor to be, “colored and shined up,” Earl thought of the polished concrete floors he had first seen at Starbucks Coffee shops. “Bev is unbelievable with color and function,” says Earl, “She’s amazing at knowing what to put where.”
He first considered polished concrete as a flooring application after viewing a brochure where an auto undercarriage was reflected clearly by the concrete. “At that point I was impressed,” he remembers, “…in the back of my mind I was thinking of all the types of flooring in stores that have failed… epoxy products did not work because of moisture; the motorcycle kickstands would dig in when the guys would move the bikes.” He had also seen other flooring applications become, “Scratched up with chips and empty patches everywhere.”
Given Earl’s experience with failed flooring applications, his requirements for the service area flooring application were strenuous. For practical reasons, the floor had to be exceptionally durable; one that would withstand the daily grating movement of motorcycles without scarring. It also needed to be particularly stain resistant—especially against oil and tire marks—and able to be quickly and easily cleaned. Aesthetically, the floor had to be luxurious-looking and reflective without sacrificing the most important factor: safety. The heavy foot traffic around the bikes and in the service area required a high level of slip-resistance.
Finding a flooring application to meet these criteria could have proven time-consuming and difficult, but Earl knew that polished concrete resists staining and tire marks, would withstand moisture and movement, and could be custom-colored to shine. “Most importantly,” he says, “It is slip-resistant, even when wet…but the guys can still move the bikes backwards with the kickstands down, and they just slide right along without scratching.”
 Harley-Davidson Corporate recommended the application for ease of maintenance and safety. With the added benefit of cost-effectiveness, all systems were a go. Earl and Bev decided to install polished concrete throughout the whole lower level of the flagship store including roughly 10,000 sq. ft. of bike service and 10,000 sq. ft. of warehouse.
Earl chose the Lundeen-Simonson firm for the project because, “I admire his guys. He has the best guys in the business.” Harley worked on the dealership project alongside nephew Scott Simonson, onsite job manager. Apparently, Earl chose the right guys for the job: it turned out to be complex from the outset.
 “The old concrete floor was covered by VCT tiles for over twenty years,” Harley relates. The black mastic securing the vinyl tiles was infected with asbestos, making its removal and subsequent renovation dangerous. A specialized demolition contractor removed most of the tiles and mastic, but a sticky black film remained in many places. “Lundeen-Simonson was a tremendous asset in achieving our goals,” says Earl. “Harley came in and said ‘Let’s grind through this glue.” 
The process of polishing concrete is completely non-toxic and utilizes no chemicals, so Harley’s team was able to safely remove the glue by wet-grinding 1/8” off the floor. The wet process kept any dust to an absolute minimum, thereby allowing other to work to be done to the building at the same time. “We were able to walk right through it,” Earl remembers. “There wasn’t any downtime.”
After the initial grind, the Lundeen-Simonson team attacked the next issues. "The manufacturing machinery that [used to be] there left a lot of studs to grind down and patch," explained Scott Simonson, "There was also ghosting," Scott said, "places in the floor where you could still see a pattern where the mastic had penetrated around each tile."  The studs were ground off using two planetary-head polishing machines equipped with heavy duty metal-bonded diamonds, and they addressed the floor etching with continued grinding in certain areas between tiling. They switched to resin-bonded diamonds, finishing with a 200 grit. A densifying hardener was then applied to the whole surface, along with a special oil-repellent sealant. Scott explained that though "polished concrete is more oil repellent than unpolished," they went the extra mile by applying an extra-resistant sealant in the service area, where oil would be handled most frequently.
 Post-hardener, the Lundeen-Simonson team branched into two separate projects: the service area customers would see, and the warehouse. The storage facility area was finished with a final 400 grit once over, but Bev wanted a specific color mix, "like a certain color leather that was between the two browns on the chart," remembers Scott, for the outer customer area. Harley Simonson did the custom-color mixing, applying it before completing the job with an 800 grit grind to shine it up. “When I look at my floor, I think of Harley and the great job his team did!” Bev says
Mother Freedom got her wish: a colored, shined up floor that is virtually maintenance-free. “I absolutely love it” she exclaims. “I worry about my flooring upstairs…but I never worry about the polished concrete…I would use it in my house!”
Lundeen-Simonson was proud of the result as well." You can see the history of the floor itself in the concrete," Scott Simonson says of the polished result. "It has character".
Harley Simonson mentions the economic benefit, “In the long-term they will really have savings because there won’t be any maintenance. The cost return will be a big factor.”
Earl Whitney continues to be impressed, “It looks just as good now as the day they put it down,” he compliments. “I’ll definitely be using it again.”
So what is Bev’s next adventure? “I’m thinking about installing polished concrete in my airplane hanger! I’ve just got to get Harley’s team out there!”
Mother Freedom—the nickname that is a testament to her love for the freedom of the open road – will be riding (or is it flying?) again. Either way, when she returns, she’ll be parking on a practical and beautiful polished concrete floor.