TWMX All Access: MB1 Suspension

As much as it can seem like a dream job, the grind of testing, working during the week, and traveling to races can get tedious—especially when you’re starting a family of your own. That’s how it went for Mike Battista, who recently left his spot with Showa (and working with Ricky Carmichael and the rest of the Honda squad) to start his own suspension tuning business, MB1. “My wife Melissa and I have been married for a couple years now and we just had our first baby, who’s six weeks old now, so we tried to slow it down a little bit.”

But does starting your own business equate to “slowing down?” We’ve met very few businessmen who’d claim that things got easier when they started their business, though there’s definitely a level of satisfaction that comes with doing it for yourself.

We sat down with Mike in the MB1 headquarters to find out more about how it’s going with his new venture.

How did you get started? What’s some of your history?

I started off as a mechanic, probably 14-15 years ago. Racing every weekend locally out here. I remember racing against Donny (Maeda) back in the day, and grew up racing guys like Mike Metzger in the Intermediate class.

I kind of ventured off and starting working on the bikes myself, and started working in some shops. Then a guy named Todd Bates from Total Control Suspension came in and brought me into Race Tech at the time. He said, ‘I want you to come down here.’ I kind of knew how to do engines and the chassis, but I didn’t know what to do about suspension. So I went into Race Tech for a couple years and worked there to try and influence my background a little more. From there, I got a job as a mechanic again for maybe half a season, and ended up getting a job with American Showa, working for the Honda motocross team. That was back in ’97.

Fortunately, I’ve been good enough to work with guys like Carmichael and Fonseca and all the big dogs. Actually being able to sit down next to those guys and being able to work with them was a great experience. That was always a dream of mine back from when I was a little kid, watching R.J. and Wardy.

What motivated you to venture out on your own and start MB1?

I saw guys like Ziggy at Factory Connection, what he’s done with his company; and Rob at RG3. We were all good friends in the industry, and all kind of worked together. Just seeing what those guys did, kind of drove me to do that. I’ve always wanted to do things on my own.

How long have you been doing it on your own now?

Well, my last race for Honda was this year at Hangtown. Basically, I started out of my three-car garage. I knew a lot of people, and was helping a lot of my friends, and started spreading the word a little bit. I started working on a business plan, and it picked up a lot quicker than we thought. It’s just a lot of hours and a lot of hard work. We’ve only been in business maybe four or five months, really. To go as far as we have, it’s been great…but it definitely put me back into the long hour days again.

Who are some of the guys that you’re working with now? I saw that you were working with Nick Wey at the U.S. Open.

Yep, we helped out Nick at there. Officially for ’05, we’re doing the Team Subway/Coca-Cola race team. We had a good race last weekend in Toronto, when Jeff Gibson and Jason Thomas finished 1-2 in their heat, so that was great—a real confidence-booster for those guys. We’re also helping out Team ECC. I’m looking to keep helping out Ryan Hughes for the outdoors, and hopefully win a championship with him. He can do it, and he’ll have a good bike this year, so it should be interesting, especially with Bubba out of the class.

How about the new facility? How long have you been in here?

About a month now. This is a 2,300-square-foot building, and it’s basically two units together. We knocked out the wall in the back to open it up, and havfour offices up front. We have a total of four employees. Mark Farabaugh, he’s actually worked with the FMF team back in the day with Bobby Moore and those guys. Then he went to Showa, working with the Honda road race team, and worked with Miguel DuHamel and Nicky Hayden. Last year he was working with Yamaha of Troy, doing suspension for that team. Now I’ve hired him, and he kind of controls everyone in the back and does his own deal. He has good experience. We also brought in another guy in, Steve Lieberg from Utah. We’re starting to expand.

What do you do different from everyone else? What sets you apart from some of the other suspension companies?

I was actually employed by Showa, so some of the data that I’ve seen, and some of the parts I’ve analyzed, I’ve seen a little more of the data than some of these other companies, and I’m hoping to provide the customer with a works-type level of experience. They can have that type of data and information, and oil and spring rates and valving. If we can give the customer that, and hopefully we can raise that bar, and maybe take it to a next level that hopefully no one has seen yet.

Has the volume of work been what you expected?

It’s definitely a lot more up than we thought. I hadn’t expected it to have gone as far as it has already. Every day it’s grown, so we’ll just keep growing and expanding.

Is it harder to set up suspension for a factory pro? Or a novice guy?

Definitely a factory pro. There are guys out there that I’ve worked with who were a little easier to work with, You can do testing with those guys and they can ride it…they have more natural talent. Some guys are more finicky. I remember Ezra Lusk, back in the day we’d test 15-20 shock settings a day, just to try and come up with something good. Ricky’s always been finicky about his setup, like back when he had his bars back, and using a lot of sag. He kind brought that over from the Kawi days. (Laughs)

I wasn’t sure if it’s be tougher with guys who really knew what they wanted, or guys who had no idea what they wanted.

The most important thing I’ve realized is that people don’t know how much better it could be. They get kind of stuck in one setting, and you can say, ‘Hey, try this.’ It might be way in one direction, while he thinks it needs to go way in the other direction. But as soon as you throw it on there, and he discovers, ‘Ah, it’s way better.’ Paul Thede has always said, ‘The best you’ve ridden is the best you know.’ I believe that’s totally true, especially with a lot of these guys.

The top riders are always looking to make it better. Even if the bike’s at 80 percent, or 100 percent…we’re looking for 110, 120. We’re always looking to improve suspension settings, suspension components. There’s never a good setting to me…it’s always, it has to be better.

Is it a never-ending search?

Right, the never-ending search. Thousands and thousands of valving combinations and parts. Different designs we can make the parts.

How much manufacturing are you doing, or looking at doing in the future?

We’re doing quite a few now. We’re coming out with some new products here soon. Hopefully you’ll see some products that no one else has. We have a lot of other products like aluminum collars, and oil lock valves for the forks. There are a lot of Showa products. A lot of internal parts, too. Pressure springs we’re making on our own, and bladder caps for Showa and KYB.

We also sell the Showa B kits. They’re available for the CRs and CRFs, the RMs and RM-Zs, and the new 450. You can also get more exotic with internal parts…it all depends on how exotic the customer wants to get.

Which brands of suspension components do you work on?

We do more Showa right now, but we’re trying to increase our KYB sales, too. Right now we’ve got customers asking us if we do just Showa. We do all makes and models, including KYB and WP.

How much will you be traveling to races?

I’ll go to probably 70-80 percent of the races. Hopefully if we work it out with Ryan Hughes, that’d definitely be a title shot that we’d go after, and I’d be with him for every single race for that.

I’ll be at the first seven or eight west coast races, and then split up some of the east coast races. Also, Mark will be flying back east to some races to help with the ECC guys and the Subway guys.

Where do you operate out of when you’re traveling like that? Do you have space in the Subway rig?

Yeah, we’ll have a space set up in the back of the Subway rig, We’re also going to have a Funmover of our own, which will be traveling to a lot of the races, too. That way I can be at the races and have the family with me. We’ll see how it goes…and get off the airplanes.

Anything else you need to drop in here?

The way I left Honda, I hope I didn’t burn any bridges. I didn’t walk right out the door. I set it up and brought in their technician now, Kaipo Chung, and pulled him from the KTM team and trained him for over a year. Chuck Miller has been great to me. Cliff White at Honda, I’ve always respected him, and I respect him even more now than when I left. That guy can look at any motorcycle or any part and change it any way he wants. He’s absolutely brilliant. Ron Wood has been building the engines there, and he’s worked at Honda for 25-plus years. He actually opened up his own company now, I believe, called Tokyo Mods. Andrew Hobson, who recently went back home to Australia. Those guys have all been great to me, and I just wanted to say thanks to them.

I’m glad it’s worked out the way it did. I love making motorcycles go fast and making people happy, you know? That was always a good thing about working with those guys, and now seeing the customers come in with some of the things they’ve said makes me feel even better.

Contact:

MB1 Suspension
(951) 371-5045
2185 Sampson Ave., Suite 105
Corona, CA 92789
www.mb1suspension.com

 

s, including KYB and WP.

How much will you be traveling to races?

I’ll go to probably 70-80 percent of the races. Hopefully if we work it out with Ryan Hughes, that’d definitely be a title shot that we’d go after, and I’d be with him for every single race for that.

I’ll be at the first seven or eight west coast races, and then split up some of the east coast races. Also, Mark will be flying back east to some races to help with the ECC guys and the Subway guys.

Where do you operate out of when you’re traveling like that? Do you have space in the Subway rig?

Yeah, we’ll have a space set up in the back of the Subway rig, We’re also going to have a Funmover of our own, which will be traveling to a lot of the races, too. That way I can be at the races and have the family with me. We’ll see how it goes…and get off the airplanes.

Anything else you need to drop in here?

The way I left Honda, I hope I didn’t burn any bridges. I didn’t walk right out the door. I set it up and brought in their technician now, Kaipo Chung, and pulled him from the KTM team and trained him for over a year. Chuck Miller has been great to me. Cliff White at Honda, I’ve always respected him, and I respect him even more now than when I left. That guy can look at any motorcycle or any part and change it any way he wants. He’s absolutely brilliant. Ron Wood has been building the engines there, and he’s worked at Honda for 25-plus years. He actually opened up his own company now, I believe, called Tokyo Mods. Andrew Hobson, who recently went back home to Australia. Those guys have all been great to me, and I just wanted to say thanks to them.

I’m glad it’s worked out the way it did. I love making motorcycles go fast and making people happy, you know? That was always a good thing about working with those guys, and now seeing the customers come in with some of the things they’ve said makes me feel even better.

Contact:

MB1 Suspension
(951) 371-5045
2185 Sampson Ave., Suite 105
Corona, CA 92789
www.mb1suspension.com