TWMX All Access: Marzocchi USA

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If you follow along with BMX and mountain bikes, as well as motocross, you know there’s plenty of crossover in interest, as well as technology and lifestyle. Marzocchi’s an Italian manufacturer of suspension and hydraulic components that’s made a mark in the U.S. with its mountain bike suspension forks, but is now coming full circle and making a push with forks that fill a variety of niche markets in the motorcycle world.

This week we stopped by their offices in Valencia, CA, and talked with the Vice President/CFO of Marzocchi USA, Bryson Martin, to see what they’re up to.

TransWorld MX: How long have you guys been in the U.S. now?

Bryson Martin: We first started doing the Marzocchi thing was ’88-’89, and the transition from my garage to the office was ’89 or ’90.

TWMX: Then we had a small design shop in Big Bear, CA, because all the races were happening up there. One year we got flooded out, and that didn’t work out. I didn’t like commuting back and forth. So then we opened the big palatial first office…a 400-square-foot down the street. Then we just built from there. (Laughs)

[IMAGE 1]

BM: We officially incorporated in ’92 as Marzocchi USA. We’ve been in this office for four or five years now. We’re growing, and we need a bigger space.

TWMX: How did you originally get hooked up with Marzocchi?

BM: Back in the Brave Cycle days I was doing that with another guy named Doug, and I had my own little marketing/product design/advertising agency. So I did stuff for Alpinestars…I did some funky cycling shoes…I did Trico Sports, and Brave.

At the Interbike trade show, I met this big Italian guy named Andrea who’s my good partner over there. They were looking at getting into the U.S. market for mountain bikes. So we hooked up at the show, and he said, “We’re a motocross manufacturer, and we want to make mountain bike forks. We need to have a U.S. office and to get that going.” I did some consulting work for them and I saw the fact that mountain biking with suspension was a really viable thing. I think (Paul) Turner had just come out with his RS-1 Rock Shox, and that was pretty cool.

I went over to Marzocchi and said, “Whoa, there’s some serious potential here.” That’s the short story for a long road of convincing the Italians that they can’t do things the way they did back in the Roman times. They had to transition to a global company. That was a rough road, but what I love about them is their concept of performance. It’s not quantity, it’s not making 1,000 pieces a day. It’s about quality.

Finally, we were so busy doing Marzocchi stuff, and the Italian guys were so great, I said, “Let’s do this. I’ll work on forks, do advertising and marketing, OE sales, product development.” So basically it just turned over to being a partner in Marzocchi USA with the Italians, and doing this full-time.

Marzocchi’s a very big company, and we also have a hydraulic division which does hydraulic pumps for automotive application including Porsche, BMW, and Audi. Then we have the suspension. When we first got started they were saying, “Ah, it’s bicycles. I don’t think it’s going to catch on. It’s all motorcles.” So I’d have to fight for development and molds and this and that. The transition went from, “Whoa, this could be serious.” At the time the scooter business was big in Europe, and we did a lot of OEM forks for KTM and Husqvarna. The motorcycle side was really big. Then it took a dip and mountain bikes exploded.

I think we generated nearly 50/50 as far as production numbers in ’96-’97. We’re still growing a lot with mountain bikes. Then motorcycles dipped off when KTM bought WP, and scooters there dumped because of demographics. Kids no longer road scooters, they were getting cars and getting into motorcycles. With the demographic shift there, a lot of the market slowed for us. So we dumped a lot of money into mountain biking as far as production and development.

I’ve been trying to launch this minicross program for a couple years now. Now there’s a big shift, mainly because of the minicross market here and the fact that we had Husky on our Shiver 50mm fork, and the whole Husky team went south. Not because of Ferracci or anything—that guy’s awesome—but it was Husqvarna Italy that was totally screwed up. MV was making the bikes, and it was just a mess over there. But we had this amazing fork. I’ve been riding on and off for years, and I got on it a couple years ago on a nice bike and was like, “Holy, sh*t.” I’m not a great rider, but I can tell this fork’s amazing, and we need to get this thing out there. That’s what spurred the whole motorcycle loop in here. I was so busy trying to do mountain bikes, and mountain bike forks were making money so we had to focus a lot on that. I’m the only guy pushing mountain bike, really, as far as product development and design on the whole line. If I were to divert my attention to motocross it would hurt there. I know this fork is good, but it’s so hard to crack in to the giant of OEM.

TWMX: How do you compete with Showa or Kayaba on the OEM level?

BM: At the OE level it’s very difficult, because they’re making decent stuff, but as far as OE spec, Showa’s so competitive that they’ll sell their product well below cost just to make sure nobody else gets in there. We had that scenario with Ducati and a couple other people in Europe. We’re just going into it like we did with mountain bikes originally. In mountain bikes, Rock Shox and Manitou had everything locked up for OE and distribution. It was very anti-competitive, but they said, “If you guys spec a Marzocchi fork on a bike then we’ll cut you off aftermarket.” They were really aggressive, but that just made me fight harder and go after different channels, like going after the consumer.

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For the big bike motorcycle stuff it’s more challenging. We’re going to go after privateer racers, because really the 50mm fork is a works fork. When we build something for the motocross guys in Europe, like when we did stuff on Everts and Chiodi and Nicholl, that fork, besides some minor massaging on shim stacks, is the same parts as when you can buy now. We feel that’s what a privateer really lacks is works-style suspension. So we’re going after those guys for both motocross and Supercross. Then in SuperMotard, we have a really distinct advantage there, because what we’re finding out is that Pro Circuit and a lot of suspension guys here don’t have SuperMoto experience on setting up a fork. We’ve done it. We basically started it with Husqvarna like 11 years ago, when the guys in Italy were screwing around and put street tires on a Husqvarna and they were just ripping around a track. So we were there in the SuperMoto craze in Europe 11 or 12 years ago, and have a lot of experience on how it needs to be set up. This year we won the World Championships with Eddie Seel and before that with Chambon and all the European pros were running our stuff. So we’ve got a lot of experience with that.

TWMX: How much are the forks shortened up for SuperMoto?

BM: Between 30 and 50mm. It depends on the rider and how many jumps there are on the track where they might flat-bottom. It’s a trade-off. If there are lot of jumps, you don’t want to bottom out. But if there are a lot of fast track you want the bike lower for a better center of gravity because that helps. I know a lot of guys are playing around with not reducing their suspension, but it’s not the way to go.

Hopefully we’re going to get in there for the big bike stuff. But the whole mini bike craze, that’s wide open for us. There are no competitors, no barrier to entry. Our mini fork is called the Mini Shiver. So we’re going to obviously offer forks for XR50. We’ve got two forks for that. There’s an upside-down 35mm Works fork, which is the Mini Shiver. Then we have a right-side-up 32mm fork that’s a Mini Magnum based off our old Magnum race forks that we used to do years ago. Both systems will come in at between $1,000 for the 32mm right-side-up fork, and the 35mm upside-down fork will be around $1,500…but that’s with the whole front end. We’re going to sell a motorcycle hydraulic front disc brake…you’re going to get the rim, tire, tube, rim-lock, a hub, disc brake, rotor, front fork, clamp and bar mount for about $1,500. You just basically bolt it right on to whatever frame or bike you’re working on. The thing is, for the 35mil upside-down fork, there’s nobody making a kind of works-style front end. It’s got nitrite-coated lower tubes, compression and rebound adjustment. That’s what took the longest. We actually didn’t borrow anything from the mountain bikes. We had to develop this project from the ground up. Testing, samples and prototypes, it probably took a year-and-a-half to get this going, but it’s tight now.

[IMAGE 3] 013004minishiver.jpg

We’ve also got stuff for KLX110s, because I think that’s the next movement. The 50s are great, but I ate it like you wouldn’t believe when I was riding a 50. (Laughs)

We also do a fork for the KX65. If you go to the mini nationals, there are a lot of KXs there and they’ve got the stock fork. Those things are really bad. So we’re doing an upside-down Works fork for that. There are a lot of applications for the mini market.

We’re going to advertise to get the word out, but for me, my whole marketing scheme is guerilla. You’ve got to get down there, get in the trenches and get people to try the product. That’s what makes the difference. It’s a performance product. Switching suspension is costly, and it’s a big investment, but it makes such a huge difference. You’ve got to stay in control and keep the wheels on the ground.

TWMX: How about the freestyle fork you were showing off.

BM: That was born at the Indy show last year. Mike Metzger came by our booth and we started talking to him, wanting to get him on a freestyle fork. We’d also heard about him racing Supermoto, so we were also talking about that. Then Claudio our engineer was there, and we do a lot with mountain bikes and BMX with barspins, and we were thinking, wow, it’d be so cool to do a single-crown moto fork. So right there at the show, we drew that up on a laptop. It’s not a big jump fork, but if you’re doing some smaller jumps where you could do a bar spin or a truck driver, something like that, it’d be cool.

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The steerer is obviously chromoly steel, but the challenges are the frames. We’d have to work with a frame manufacturer to make sure the crown clears the forks. We actually worked out the cables how to route them so that when you spin it around it doesn’t give you to much throttle.

Obviously it represents an investment of dollars in R&D, so we kind of just held off on it for right now. We’re putting a lot in for the mini and full-sized bikes. But we’ll try to pursue it down the road.

TWMX: What’s the split in percentages of sales shortened up for SuperMoto?

BM: Between 30 and 50mm. It depends on the rider and how many jumps there are on the track where they might flat-bottom. It’s a trade-off. If there are lot of jumps, you don’t want to bottom out. But if there are a lot of fast track you want the bike lower for a better center of gravity because that helps. I know a lot of guys are playing around with not reducing their suspension, but it’s not the way to go.

Hopefully we’re going to get in there for the big bike stuff. But the whole mini bike craze, that’s wide open for us. There are no competitors, no barrier to entry. Our mini fork is called the Mini Shiver. So we’re going to obviously offer forks for XR50. We’ve got two forks for that. There’s an upside-down 35mm Works fork, which is the Mini Shiver. Then we have a right-side-up 32mm fork that’s a Mini Magnum based off our old Magnum race forks that we used to do years ago. Both systems will come in at between $1,000 for the 32mm right-side-up fork, and the 35mm upside-down fork will be around $1,500…but that’s with the whole front end. We’re going to sell a motorcycle hydraulic front disc brake…you’re going to get the rim, tire, tube, rim-lock, a hub, disc brake, rotor, front fork, clamp and bar mount for about $1,500. You just basically bolt it right on to whatever frame or bike you’re working on. The thing is, for the 35mil upside-down fork, there’s nobody making a kind of works-style front end. It’s got nitrite-coated lower tubes, compression and rebound adjustment. That’s what took the longest. We actually didn’t borrow anything from the mountain bikes. We had to develop this project from the ground up. Testing, samples and prototypes, it probably took a year-and-a-half to get this going, but it’s tight now.

[IMAGE 3] 013004minishiver.jpg

We’ve also got stuff for KLX110s, because I think that’s the next movement. The 50s are great, but I ate it like you wouldn’t believe when I was riding a 50. (Laughs)

We also do a fork for the KX65. If you go to the mini nationals, there are a lot of KXs there and they’ve got the stock fork. Those things are really bad. So we’re doing an upside-down Works fork for that. There are a lot of applications for the mini market.

We’re going to advertise to get the word out, but for me, my whole marketing scheme is guerilla. You’ve got to get down there, get in the trenches and get people to try the product. That’s what makes the difference. It’s a performance product. Switching suspension is costly, and it’s a big investment, but it makes such a huge difference. You’ve got to stay in control and keep the wheels on the ground.

TWMX: How about the freestyle fork you were showing off.

BM: That was born at the Indy show last year. Mike Metzger came by our booth and we started talking to him, wanting to get him on a freestyle fork. We’d also heard about him racing Supermoto, so we were also talking about that. Then Claudio our engineer was there, and we do a lot with mountain bikes and BMX with barspins, and we were thinking, wow, it’d be so cool to do a single-crown moto fork. So right there at the show, we drew that up on a laptop. It’s not a big jump fork, but if you’re doing some smaller jumps where you could do a bar spin or a truck driver, something like that, it’d be cool.

[IMAGE 4]

The steerer is obviously chromoly steel, but the challenges are the frames. We’d have to work with a frame manufacturer to make sure the crown clears the forks. We actually worked out the cables how to route them so that when you spin it around it doesn’t give you to much throttle.

Obviously it represents an investment of dollars in R&D, so we kind of just held off on it for right now. We’re putting a lot in for the mini and full-sized bikes. But we’ll try to pursue it down the road.

TWMX: What’s the split in percentages of sales between BMX, mountain bike and moto for you guys? How does it break down?

BM: BMX racing has really died off. It was pretty good for us for a while, and we garnered basically every championship we could in the last two years with all our pro riders. But it’s really slowed down. I think since 9/11 we just saw a dramatic drop-off in the amount of families going racing because obviously flying’s a hassle and the economy kind of shut down. But mountain bikes have been our biggest area. That’s huge for us. Moto, we’re really just starting out. We’re landing a lot of our product in March, and we’re investing a lot because we think it’s going to happen. There are a lot of similarities to the markets, and a lot of similarities between people working in the markets.

TWMX: You also mentioned before I started up the tape that Chad Reed is running your stuff on his mountain bike.

BM: Jeff Spencer is a good friend of mine, and we had incorporated mountain bike riding when Jeff was working with Rick Johnson back in the day. Actually, the first days of hook up with him, he was working with Wardy and Chicken and Jeff Stanton. We all rode mountain bikes, and he was training me on mountain bikes.

A couple years ago he hooked me up when he started working with Chad Reed, as far as incorporating bikes in the training program. Chad’s been a big Marzocchi fan with mountain bikes, and we got him BMX bikes, because he grew up on BMX bikes. We’re building him up a bike for a 50 and a 110, because his call a month ago was, “Bubba’s kicking my butt on minis, and I need to kick his butt. I need a souped-up 110.” (Laughs)

He’s a great guy, and really supports us, so he’s a big help. When I first saw him on a 125, it was obvious to me that he was the next guy, based not just on his riding, but more so on his mentality. His mental and emotional presence.

Contact:

Marzocchi USA
25213 Anza Dr.
Valencia, CA 91355
Tel: 661/257-6630
www.marzocchi.com

Sponsored by:
les between BMX, mountain bike and moto for you guys? How does it break down?

BM: BMX racing has really died off. It was pretty good for us for a while, and we garnered basically every championship we could in the last two years with all our pro riders. But it’s really slowed down. I think since 9/11 we just saw a dramatic drop-off in the amount of families going racing because obviously flying’s a hassle and the economy kind of shut down. But mountain bikes have been our biggest area. That’s huge for us. Moto, we’re really just starting out. We’re landing a lot of our product in March, and we’re investing a lot because we think it’s going to happen. There are a lot of similarities to the markets, and a lot of similarities between people working in the markets.

TWMX: You also mentioned before I started up the tape that Chad Reed is running your stuff on his mountain bike.

BM: Jeff Spencer is a good friend of mine, and we had incorporated mountain bike riding when Jeff was working with Rick Johnson back in the day. Actually, the first days of hook up with him, he was working with Wardy and Chicken and Jeff Stannton. We all rode mountain bikes, and he was training me on mountain bikes.

A couple years ago he hooked me up when he started working with Chad Reed, as far as incorporating bikes in the training program. Chad’s been a big Marzocchi fan with mountain bikes, and we got him BMX bikes, because he grew up on BMX bikes. We’re building him up a bike for a 50 and a 110, because his call a month ago was, “Bubba’s kicking my butt on minis, and I need to kick his butt. I need a souped-up 110.” (Laughs)

He’s a great guy, and really supports us, so he’s a big help. When I first saw him on a 125, it was obvious to me that he was the next guy, based not just on his riding, but more so on his mentality. His mental and emotional presence.

Contact:

Marzocchi USA
25213 Anza Dr.
Valencia, CA 91355
Tel: 661/257-6630
www.marzocchi.com

Sponsored by: