TWMX All Access: ARC Levers’ Bob Barnett, A.K.A. “Mr. Dirt”

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Wouldn’t life be grand if we were all born into money and handed everything we desired in life for ultimate fulfillment? If you think about it for a few moments, you can probably come up with a dozen examples of folks who fit that mold. For most of us, however, hard work and determination are the key ingredients to excel and succeed within the career path and industry of choice. But sometimes, just deciding what that “industry of choice” is can be the most challenging hurdle of them all. We’re all born with different characteristics, skills and talents that generally help guide us down the right path, and for ARC Levers’ Bob Barnett, a gift for mechanics and engineering has led him through a number of awesome ventures. After roughly 30 years of dabbling in just about every industry that requires high-tech engineering, it seems that Bob has made his way into the industry that’s forever been his first love, and is the brain behind what could prove to be the most functional and progressive controls in motocross.

The Early Days

Bob’s adventure started as a young teenager when he recognized the ability to earn money in mechanics, thanks to a neighbor who earned a living changing oil in diesel boat motors. With some guidance and a ton of natural skill, Bob quickly began working his way into the boating industry. His first gig consisted of oil changes and odd jobs on some high performance boats down in the Newport Harbor in Newport Beach, CA. After about a year of establishing a solid name for himself, the world’s largest offshore racing team came to him looking for help. Bob was hired on as the crew chief of the Kaama Racing race boat, and at the tender age of 21 was leading the design and building efforts for the team’s state-of-the-art outdrives, hydraulics, and steering equipment. From 1977 to 1982, Bob played a critical role in the pro circuit of offshore boat racing. It’s a rich man’s sport, however; when the boss decided to throw his hat back out of the offshore racing ring, Bob and crew were let go, and Bob was left to take on his next big venture.

Mechanically inclined and talented, Bob was quickly welcomed into the shop next door; an off-road racing team by the name of Drino Miller. During his stint there, Bob played a crucial role in suspension set up and hydraulics and even hand-built the team’s exhaust systems. With a constant desire to progress and evolve, Bob jumped ship in 1984 to take an opportunity in the car racing world as an Indy Car mechanic on a car driven by Danny Ongias. “Now that’s not something that you find in an ad in the paper,” according to Bob. “To get a USAC mechanic’s license, you have to have at least three guys that are in the organization say, ‘Yeah, this guy’s got the shit, we need him here.'” That year, in what is still a highlight in Bob’s career, he and his team were running in second behind Rick Mears, which at that time was like running second to Bubba at a Supercross, but an electrical problem stopped them short and left them wondering what could’ve been. “We were so close to being second to Mears. Man…that was a bummer!”

In 1985, Bob decided that he was over working those 70 and 80-hour-a-week jobs, and opened his owmachine shop. “One thing always leads to another, and I’ve always had a strange affinity for making things, so I decided to open up a little machine shop. Back then, I would do anything for anybody for any price. With my expertise, people just always seemed to find me when they needed something.” And with that, Bob opened the next chapter in his life, creating his new identity as “Mr. Dirt.”

Mr. Dirt: Transition To Moto

Bob’s interest in motocross and motocross components is nothing new. “Ever since I was four years old my neighbors rode motocross. They were actually hill-climber dudes, so I started out as a hill-climber dude myself. All the while my friends and I were riding Schwinn Stingrays around the neighborhood trying to live the motocross dream when we didn’t have the bucks for real bikes. You know, like the beginning of On Any Sunday when they show those kids riding around on the bicycles… That was me and my buddies!” After he’d had enough of pedaling and raised the money for his first “real” motocross bike, Bob transitioned his way onto the track and he hasn’t stopped since. In fact, on any given Saturday, you can still find Bob racing REM at the famous Glen Helen Raceway.

In 1988 Bob branched off a bit from the general machine shop business and began specializing in mountain bike componentry and motocross bolt-ons. Adopting the new company name of Mr. Dirt, Bob produced his first product; wraparound fork guards for his personal 1988 ATK 406. “Being a budget racer, I knew if I fell in the rocks with those upside down forks, it would be about 300 bucks worth of damage. Not interested in peeling off that kind of cash, I immediately went to work on some wraparound fork guards. I was the first one to have those fork guards for upside-down forks on the market in ’88, but then about three months later, Honda came out with the ’89 CRs, and they had wraparound guards as well. So if they had them on the ’89 production bikes that means that in about 1984 they had them on the drawing board. I thought I was really ahead of the game, but I wasn’t.”

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In 1992 Bob took an interest in mountain biking as a way to train for motocross. It was at that point that “Mr. Dirt” transitioned his focus toward the mountain bike industry. Each time Bob found a problem with a bike, he’d simply develop a product to take care of it. For about a decade he specialized in bike components including his long-travel suspension forks, stems, and seat posts, but the product that really took off was the Mr. Dirt Chain Guide. Having recently sold off the Chain Guide design, “Mr. Dirt” is back to focusing his efforts in the motocross industry.

Birth of the Breakaway Lever

The effort to go gung-ho into the motocross controls industry was initially a group project between Barnett and Bob Morales, now of ASV. We’ll let “Mr. Dirt” explain how that came about: “Bob Morales has a history in the bicycle world as well. Bob recognized the innovation in my design, and we found that we were able to work well with each other. We decided to develop my design ideas in the motocross lever industry. The deal was that I was going to design, manufacture, and interface with the factories because of my technical background, and Morales was going to handle the sales, marketing, promotions, web, and that kind of stuff. Well, long story short, I feel that I held up my end of the deal with development and manufacturing, but when it came time to move forward he decided he wanted to put the project on the shelf for personal reasons. I had a bad feeling when we parted ways because I knew what he was going to do. He’d go down to the machine shop down the street and try to make them himself, which he ended up doing. I decided to do my thing and let the future decide our fate. I’ve got the patent on the stuff, so I feel pretty confident in my design, in my product, and in my future.” And hence ARC Levers was born…

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Over the past few years Bob’s done developmental work with Honda, as well as a number of other teams, to get his product to where it is today. “I met with Cliff White at Honda. When we initially got together, I was going through my sales pitch when I realized that he wasn’t listening to a single word I was saying. He just sat there and stared at my lever assembly, as if in awe. That made me feel pretty good because lets face it, Cliff White at Honda has seen a lot of really trick stuff, and he stopped in his tracks to inspect what I had going on. I knew at that point that I was headed in the right direction.”

ARC Levers

The arc lever concept is one that is not extremely new to motocross. The levers have a pivot that is spring-loaded so the blade can move when contacted just like a footpeg or shift lever. They also have an adjustable stop that allows the blade to be positioned in order to fine-tune them to a rider’s hand size. All of ARC’s levers are made from high-grade billet 6061 aluminum, on high-tech CNC machines, and it’s all done in-house.

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ARC’s latest invention is the ARC Axis Perch. The Axis Perch has a “breakaway” feature built into the mounting mechanism, so in the event of a crash, the entire perch rotates on the handlebar. Yes, this is similar to the action of a nylon-sleeved perch, but with one major difference. Nylon-sleeved perches are nearly impossible to bang back into place during a high-pressure racing situation. The Axis Perch features a ball-bearing system that allows a rider to easily snap the perch back into the rider’s preset “home” position. With perfect tension, there’s no chance of the ball-bearing system rotating freely unless it comes in direct contact with the ground.

Along with innovative engineering and top quality, Bob and his ARC Levers have another great advantage. While other companies are forced to go overseas to get product produced, “Mr. Dirt” takes pride in making his equipment on location at his facility. “When we need something made, we make it. Others go to Taiwan.” Not only does product get built faster at ARC, but quality is never sacrificed.

The Future

There’s no doubt that Bob’s products are innovative. Already with a state-of-the-art rotating clutch perch (The Axis), Bob’s next project will be a rotating front brake to complete the controls. Although “Mr. Dirt” continues to invite new challenges and custom work of all types, there’s no doubt that levers are his main focus. “I want us to be known as ‘the lever guys.’ You don’t go to McDonald’s for a pizza. You go to the pizza guys for pizza. I just want to do levers. I want to do one thing and I want to do it well.”

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Functional design and innovative product tends to naturally progress into the mainstream, and Bob would love nothing more than to see the ARC Levers become standard OEM equipment on all production motocross bikes in the future. “It took seven years for the manufacturers to go for the folding shift lever. I’d like my levers to progress a little bit quicker than that, but I realize that it’s a bigger business now than it was back in the 70s. It will take a lot, but I have confidence.”

With his sights set on carrying ARC Levers into the future, Bob still has a passion for custom engineering. In addition to lever and perch production, the boys at ARC are still involved in a number of commercial applications as well. Among those most likely of interest to you moto heads are the end caps for Dr. D’s pipes, and the shock bodies and bumper kits for Enzo Racing. “That’s what we do here. People have an application, they come to us, and we build it for them. That simple!”

Sponsored Teams

So now that you’ve heard a little bit about Bob, his background, and his badass levers, here’s a list of a f my product, and in my future.” And hence ARC Levers was born…

[IMAGE 2]

Over the past few years Bob’s done developmental work with Honda, as well as a number of other teams, to get his product to where it is today. “I met with Cliff White at Honda. When we initially got together, I was going through my sales pitch when I realized that he wasn’t listening to a single word I was saying. He just sat there and stared at my lever assembly, as if in awe. That made me feel pretty good because lets face it, Cliff White at Honda has seen a lot of really trick stuff, and he stopped in his tracks to inspect what I had going on. I knew at that point that I was headed in the right direction.”

ARC Levers

The arc lever concept is one that is not extremely new to motocross. The levers have a pivot that is spring-loaded so the blade can move when contacted just like a footpeg or shift lever. They also have an adjustable stop that allows the blade to be positioned in order to fine-tune them to a rider’s hand size. All of ARC’s levers are made from high-grade billet 6061 aluminum, on high-tech CNC machines, and it’s all done in-house.

[IMAGE 3]

ARC’s latest invention is the ARC Axis Perch. The Axis Perch has a “breakaway” feature built into the mounting mechanism, so in the event of a crash, the entire perch rotates on the handlebar. Yes, this is similar to the action of a nylon-sleeved perch, but with one major difference. Nylon-sleeved perches are nearly impossible to bang back into place during a high-pressure racing situation. The Axis Perch features a ball-bearing system that allows a rider to easily snap the perch back into the rider’s preset “home” position. With perfect tension, there’s no chance of the ball-bearing system rotating freely unless it comes in direct contact with the ground.

Along with innovative engineering and top quality, Bob and his ARC Levers have another great advantage. While other companies are forced to go overseas to get product produced, “Mr. Dirt” takes pride in making his equipment on location at his facility. “When we need something made, we make it. Others go to Taiwan.” Not only does product get built faster at ARC, but quality is never sacrificed.

The Future

There’s no doubt that Bob’s products are innovative. Already with a state-of-the-art rotating clutch perch (The Axis), Bob’s next project will be a rotating front brake to complete the controls. Although “Mr. Dirt” continues to invite new challenges and custom work of all types, there’s no doubt that levers are his main focus. “I want us to be known as ‘the lever guys.’ You don’t go to McDonald’s for a pizza. You go to the pizza guys for pizza. I just want to do levers. I want to do one thing and I want to do it well.”

[IMAGE 4]

Functional design and innovative product tends to naturally progress into the mainstream, and Bob would love nothing more than to see the ARC Levers become standard OEM equipment on all production motocross bikes in the future. “It took seven years for the manufacturers to go for the folding shift lever. I’d like my levers to progress a little bit quicker than that, but I realize that it’s a bigger business now than it was back in the 70s. It will take a lot, but I have confidence.”

With his sights set on carrying ARC Levers into the future, Bob still has a passion for custom engineering. In addition to lever and perch production, the boys at ARC are still involved in a number of commercial applications as well. Among those most likely of interest to you moto heads are the end caps for Dr. D’s pipes, and the shock bodies and bumper kits for Enzo Racing. “That’s what we do here. People have an application, they come to us, and we build it for them. That simple!”

Sponsored Teams

So now that you’ve heard a little bit about Bob, his background, and his badass levers, here’s a list of a few fairly decent riders that are using them:

Factory Suzuki’s Sean Hamblin, Sebastian Tortelli, Nick Wey, Branden Jesseman, and Travis Pastrana; Yamaha of Troy’s Danny Smith, Brock Sellards, Mike Brown, Josh Hansen, and Kelly Smith; Motoworld.com’s Andrew Short, Steve Boniface, and Daryl Hurley; Moto XXX’s Kyle Lewis, Larry Ward, Damon Huffman, and Tim Weigand; as well as four Arenacross teams, Jeff Alessi, Mike Alessi, Buddy Antunez, Shane Bess, Jean Sebastien Roy, Justin Buckelew, Joel Smets, Grant Langston, and Kevin Windham. Not a bad list! “Everybody that’s tried the new perch has said that they’ve got to have it. It’s factory parts at production prices. Factory Honda doesn’t even have something this cool.”

Contact:

ARC Levers
1428 E. Borchard
Santa Ana, CA 92705
714/543-0362
www.arclevers.com

Sponsored by:
a few fairly decent riders that are using them:

Factory Suzuki’s Sean Hamblin, Sebastian Tortelli, Nick Wey, Branden Jesseman, and Travis Pastrana; Yamaha of Troy’s Danny Smith, Brock Sellards, Mike Brown, Josh Hansen, and Kelly Smith; Motoworld.com’s Andrew Short, Steve Boniface, and Daryl Hurley; Moto XXX’s Kyle Lewis, Larry Ward, Damon Huffman, and Tim Weigand; as well as four Arenacross teams, Jeff Alessi, Mike Alessi, Buddy Antunez, Shane Bess, Jean Sebastien Roy, Justin Buckelew, Joel Smets, Grant Langston, and Kevin Windham. Not a bad list! “Everybody that’s tried the new perch has said that they’ve got to have it. It’s factory parts at production prices. Factory Honda doesn’t even have something this cool.”

Contact:

ARC Levers
1428 E. Borchard
Santa Ana, CA 92705
714/543-0362
www.arclevers.com

Sponsored by: