TWMX All Access: Cycra Racing

Cycra’s Ken Laivins had an interesting observation of what it’s like to design plastic components for a modern MX bike. “They’re neat because they’re basically combat vehicles with style. You have to design for incredible impacts, incredible jumps, horrendous circumstances, and still be cool-looking at the same time.”

Creating cool is what Ken and his brother Glen have been doing for the last sixteen years. “We’re both designers, and we were both racers, and raced during college. He went to Ohio State, and I went to Columbus College of Art and Design for transportation design. Glen has a Bachelor’s in Science, and I have a Bachelor’s in Fine Arts and Advertising.”

“When we started out, we were strictly a design office. 16 years ago we were designing for Emerson Electronics, Westinghouse, Black & Decker, and consumer products for really large product companies. It was really not something that we really planned on doing, and it wasn’t really our goal. One of the last projects we did, I just had no love for. They’re very lucrative projects to take on, probably more profitable than doing design for motorcycles. But I’m not really a car guy, and not really into consumer products, and love motorcycles. For some reason I can do motorcycle design all day long and would never be bored. It’s cool that you can do something that you’d always dreamed of doing.”

“Through all the years of racing, Glen and I got to meet a lot of people, and we became friends with Rod Bush, and he was our first customer. At the time, KTM was pretty small. But he had high aspirations for the company, and needed design—design for the advertisements, and design for new products that he wanted to develop on the new bikes. A lot of the innovations that happened on KTMs happened through KTM America, because Rod said, ‘This is the kind of bike, and these are the kind of features we need in the United States. That was pretty pivotal, because the KTMs of old were very much designed for European tracks and European style riding. Rod definitely changed that. KTM’s focus was to understand Supercross, and how Americans race off-road here. A lot of the projects we did were designing new seats and designing the bike layouts, and configurations for manufacturing. How to design the bikes to make them more efficient.”

“We also designed the first orange motorcycles. It actually came from a 50cc program. We did a lot of concepts, and the styling came from those concept bikes. We did a concept bike called the Rimrider, and it was a very futuristic bike. It took probably 10 years to build all the concepts that were actually on the concept bike, but it gave everyone a blueprint on where to go and how we were going to go about doing it.”

“We started out doing concept vehicles for KTM, and we’ve done things for Yamaha, Suzuki and Kawasaki…we’ve done projects for nearly every brand in varying degrees. From ATVs to scooters. We did a concept bike called the Highlander, which was kind of a cross between an enduro bike and an excursion motorcycle. It was just to bring more functionality to the DR platform. We did a lot of those kinds of things.”

“We’ve designed dirt bikes, scooters, eight electric motorcycles. There have been phases when people have tried electric vehicles and the technology changes, so we’ve gotten to do some very advanced technology. We were doing hybrid electric vehicles over 12 years ago. We were using the first LED powered headlights…they were projects done for Westinghouse Electric…super technology that was way ahead of any of the consumer technology, so it was a neat time for us. It helped us when we were first starting out. We got to work with technology that was so far out, and how to implement it in a production setting. That was pretty challenging. You just wonder what they’re working on in the military right now. What are they using now that we haven’t even seen yet.”

“Some of the electric vehicles that we worked on re so incredibly powerful, that they were probably dangerous. One of them had such a powerful battery, you would never have to recharge it…ever. But the battery was so dangerous that if you were in an accident and the battery got hit and the outer containment was breached so that oxygen and water got to the internal chemicals inside, it would explode. It wouldn’t have been just a little explosion, either. This one battery could probably take out a city block.”

“Electric bikes are phenomenal on their acceleration. Actually, like a modern four-stroke, when you turn the throttle and the thing rolls on exactly where you put it, the electric bikes were like that. We did comparison testing with gas-powered vehicles and electric vehicles, and take same-size vehicles, and the electric bike would out-pull it, out-accelerate it, and there was a strange exhilaration on the electric, because it was so silent. You were moving so quickly without hearing a motor sound, it felt like you were going twice as fast, just because of the feeling that you were getting from riding the bike. People were also getting into accident because they were so quiet. People couldn’t hear that the motorcycle was coming. There was an ironic twist to it that you could make a quiet bike that became a little too dangerous. Actually, the military is working on stealth vehicles right now that are exactly that concept.”

That design experience later blossomed into Cycra, which has been in business for the last seven or eight years. Ken continued his tale, explaining that, “We started Cycra to make plastic parts for the off-road industry. We now have a 60,000 square foot building that we moved into three years ago with four injection-molding presses. It used to be a tier one automotive injection molding company, and we bought the plant and we’re definitely a very specialized kind of manufacturer. We don’t do anything except for inside the motorsports industry. We design all our own parts here, and also build our own tooling, but…we don’t make coffeemakers.

“Our company is pretty focused on  handguards and plastic. We love handguards. We’re probably best-known for our Probend Alloy Handguards, and we’ve been making those for over six years now. I think it’s the top-selling handguard in the country. We also make changes about twice a year to the Probend. The one that we made six years ago doesn’t really relate to the Probend that we make today.”

“Our motocross handshield is called the Stealth, has been hugely popular, and has a unique mounting system. The Stealth handguard has set a new level for MX handshields because most people didn’t ride with MX handguards. Now you see them everywhere. Our new DX Stealth handshield is what Kevin Windham was riding at the Motocross des Nations. It has an in-molded rubber edge around the outside. It’s a little bit larger than last year’s Stealth, but it has a rubber edge so it has a nice soft edge so when your hand goes up against it, it’s nice and soft-feeling. The Stealth handshields are very open compared to what the old style handguards are. The old style handguards were designed more for off-road. For a guy who’s doing triples, and jumping with them, you want them very open feeling. These are just for roost protection. The modern motocross guy has so much to think about, so quickly, that he really doesn’t have time to think about stuff. If he’s distracted by his fender, distracted by his handguards, distracted by his clutch lever not being in the right place, that’s bad. We’re trying to limit the distractions on the bike.”

“For example, with our new IFB fenders, we put an internal brace in all of our new fenders. The race teams told us that they wanted fenders light, but they need them to be very stiff so they don’t flop because that little bit of flutter in the front end of the bike freaks the guys out on the triples. All the new 2006 Cycra IFB fenders have an in-molded fender brace so it keeps them lightweight, but they’re very stiff so they don’t flop around. Especially the new KTM one. Our KTM fender looks like a stock one, but internally it’s not at all the same. It’s completely different. Definitely in the production departments in Japan, when they’re making this stuff they’re thinking about certain things, but when people start racing here in the United States, and problems start cropping up, they’re problems that they never could have foreseen. That’s kind of a neat thing for us, designing and manufacturing the stuff here in the United States, we are very much tailored for American style racing and riding.”

“I think the Skull plate has been a huge hit for us this year. The Stadium plates that we make for the Honda team has been a big hit for us also. It’s kind of neat. We love working with race teams. We like that things change all the time, because we’re a bunch of designers here. Things get old pretty quickly. We like that things change.”

“We’ve been very creative in how we design and build our parts, and as our plant has become more efficient, our costing has become better and better. Once again, we’ve become very much centered around the motorcycle industry. We’re not really very well suited for making consumer products any more, because the motorcycle industry is very intense on the performance needed. If you look at the effort that Mitch Payton puts in to make the Pro Circuit team effective, that’s the same kind of intensity you need to make the products effective. Most consumer companies don’t understand that kind of pressure. In motorcycle products, there’s a lot of pressure to have things solved in less than a day or two, because they’re going to be racing that weekend. That creates new ideas, and new ways of doing things. From our standpoint, that’s exhilarating. Most consumer companies would say that’s ridiculous to live under that kind of pressure.”

“It would be typical for a consumer product to take two to three years to get to production, because it has to go through consumer testing, product design, reevaluation…it’s a much slower process. We can be to market in less than two or three months from a clean concept to an actual production part.”

“Cycra has never been very good at being a me-too company. It’s not something we do very well. We like designing stuff, and we like being new. Cycra’s probably not going to be the cheapest product out there, but we’re probably going to be the most innovative and up-to-date on style.”

Contact:
Cycra Racing
171 O’Neill Dr.
Hebron, OH 43025
Tel: 740-929-0188
www.cycraracing.com

em lightweight, but they’re very stiff so they don’t flop around. Especially the new KTM one. Our KTM fender looks like a stock one, but internally it’s not at all the same. It’s completely different. Definitely in the production departments in Japan, when they’re making this stuff they’re thinking about certain things, but when people start racing here in the United States, and problems start cropping up, they’re problems that they never could have foreseen. That’s kind of a neat thing for us, designing and manufacturing the stuff here in the United States, we are very much tailored for American style racing and riding.”

“I think the Skull plate has been a huge hit for us this year. The Stadium plates that we make for the Honda team has been a big hit for us also. It’s kind of neat. We love working with race teams. We like that things change all the time, because we’re a bunch of designers here. Things get old pretty quickly. We like that things change.”

“We’ve been very creative in how we design and build our parts, and as our plant has become more efficient, our costing has become better and better. Once again, we’ve become very much centered around the motorcycle industry. We’re not really very well suited for making consumer products any more, because the motorcycle industry is very intense on the performance needed. If you look at the effort that Mitch Payton puts in to make the Pro Circuit team effective, that’s the same kind of intensity you need to make the products effective. Most consumer companies don’t understand that kind of pressure. In motorcycle products, there’s a lot of pressure to have things solved in less than a day or two, because they’re going to be racing that weekend. That creates new ideas, and new ways of doing things. From our standpoint, that’s exhilarating. Most consumer companies would say that’s ridiculous to live under that kind of pressure.”

“It would be typical for a consumer product to take two to three years to get to production, because it has to go through consumer testing, product design, reevaluation…it’s a much slower process. We can be to market in less than two or three months from a clean concept to an actual production part.”

“Cycra has never been very good at being a me-too company. It’s not something we do very well. We like designing stuff, and we like being new. Cycra’s probably not going to be the cheapest product out there, but we’re probably going to be the most innovative and up-to-date on style.”

Contact:
Cycra Racing
171 O’Neill Dr.
Hebron, OH 43025
Tel: 740-929-0188
www.cycraracing.com