TWMX All Access: Race Tech

This week we dropped in on the Corona, CA, headquarters of Race Tech, for our weekly TWMX All Access mix of company history, philosophy, products, and personalities. Race Tech’s General Manager, Mike Beier (who was top privateer and third overall in the 1984 125 Nationals behind Jeff Ward and Johnny O’Mara) gave us a quick tour. The facility has 32 employees, and one third of the company’s business is devoted to the street market, while two thirds is dirt-related. We passed through the sales area, assembly (for products as diverse as Harley and KLX110 shocks), warehousing, and receiving (where all incoming products are thoroughly checked to assure quality). Of course there’s also the suspension assembly shop (recently moved and expanded), and an area for incoming service items that doubles as a Tech area. That room includes shock dynos, a Computrack setup which digitizes bikes and allows the technicians to check alignment. Upstairs houses the offices for their design engineer, an area for hosting suspension seminars (more on that later), and the office of the President of Race Tech, Paul Thede,

The first questions lobbed in Paul’s direction was, how did he get started in the industry, and how did he get to where he is today? Of course, that generated a long response. “It’s the old swing a leg over a minibike at 10 years old. I got invited to a friend’s birthday and went, ‘Oh, this is cool. I don’t have to pedal!’ I think that’s what most people do at some point in time. They go, ‘Oh, that’s bitchen!'”

“I moved from the San Luis Obispo area to Hawaii in the middle of junior high school and did surfing and all that kind of stuff. I was always annoyed when there wasn’t surf. I realized that the dirt was always there, but I just didn’t know anybody that rode. Through talking to enough people, I finally found that actually Hawaii is covered with trails, and I ended up buying a motorcycle and ended up converting and old Honda 90 so that my friends would have a motorcycle to ride. Literally, no one rode around me, so I had my minibike, but I bought another motorcycle and resurrected it from ashes so that I had a friend to ride with. It’s like, ‘Hey, I’ve got a bike. Want to go riding with me?'”

“I don’t know exactly where along the line, but somewhere in high school I went, ‘Man, I’d really like to do this for a living.’ So I started working on my bike and that kind of stuff, and ended up deciding to get an engineering degree, because I wanted to become a factory engineer. So I moved from Hawaii to Southern California, went to Cal Poly Pomona, and worked my butt off. I ended up getting good grades, and once I graduated, my original interest was in motors. I was building high-performance motors, and I just started porting cylinders and doing that kind of stuff out of Triumph Suzuki of Pomona.”

“I was getting some reputation for building motors, and I got approached by Marv Hendrickson, who was the guy who used to own Saddleback Park. He owned La Habra Yamaha, and that’s who Mike was riding for. The idea was that I would come in, and we’d make a performance division. That never materialized and I worked there for about a year, and I went off and got into a partnership with a couple other friends that we did for three years, called SD Racing.”

“The number one thing we started doing was building motors, and then I quickly realized that a great motor without great suspension really was worthless. In fact, I kind of started to weigh it out and recognizing that suspension can make a way bigger difference than horsepower as far as lap times are concerned, as well as keeping guys on the rubber side. Suspension was the deal.”

“In 1984, I decided to go off on my own, and I started Race Tech. I had a lot of help from a lot of friends. Back then we were still doing suspension and motors. I did that for a number of years, and worked with Mike in 1984, and Mike got top privateer and third in the nation in 5s (behind Jeff Ward and Johnny O’Mara). That was really impressive, especially with the number of factory riders who were around at the time.”

“Throughout that time, I worked with everyone. Danny Chandler to McGrath, Vohland, Jeff Stanton got National Championships with us in amateur days, Ricky Johnson, and a lot with Doug Dubach. The policy I had and still do have is that we sell exactly what we race, which would really piss off some of the guys. Mike and Doug and Gary (Denton) were okay with it…there was still a part of them that went, ‘Damn .'”

“Later on, after some development and brainstorming, we developed the Gold Valve. Basically the idea behind it is, what is there to a shock, and what is there to a set of forks? You’ve got something that holds a spring, and something that creates damping. If we can put the right spring on it, then we can go inside and take the guts out of it, and replace the guts and make it work as good or better than anything on the planet. We really identified the problem with the stock piston designs, and then created the Gold Valve. Then the next question was, do you sell it to other people, or do you have people come in and have it installed here? We ended up putting it into a kit, and the rest is history. We have gold valve kits now for forks as well as shocks.”

“One of the things that’s interesting to me, we’re talking about the Gold Valve and the technology today and how something I came up with in the early ’90s, how is that current for 2005? People look at a Gold Valve and they see the big ports and go, ‘Oh, big ports. It’s going to bottom.’ They’ll already decide how it’s going to work before they try it because they don’t really know anything. The idea behind it is really to get the piston out of the way, and let the valving create all the damping. Then we can create a damping curve that is both plush and firm at the same time.”

After listening to Paul talk through the Gold Valve history and concept, Mike chimed in, “The one thing about the whole kit itself is Paul made it easy for people to understand it. He basically created a shim stacks bill of materials for different forces for each step of high speed compression, rebound, and low- or high-speed on both that actually fit into a chart. Kind of like adjusting your carburetor where you main jet, and you know that the next main jet is richer, and the next one down is leaner. Well, he did the same thing with a bill of materials for shim stacks. So you can say, ‘If I’m just slightly bottoming on high-speed compression, I will take it from this, say, number six high-speed compression, to a a number seven.’ He’s already formulated what the forces of that are at like three or four percent increments. He made it easy for people to just follow the chart. As long as they’re using the Gold Valve, they have the access to the chart.”

The web site info (which is only accessible to Gold Valve owners) is clearly something that Paul’s proud of. “It was one thing is to create the chart, the other thing is to actually customized for the individual rider. It was actually almost a five-year process to be able to create that on the web site. What you get when you buy a Gold Valve kit is an access code. So you go to the web site and plug in name, age, body weight, type of bike, riding skill level, height, etc., and it takes the parameters and builds a valving stack specifically for you. What we do now that we have the programming, is continue to develop the baselines and the adjustments for a particular rider weight, skill level, etc. The type of bike setup that you have is going to be a little bit different than mine, and a little bit different than Mike’s. When you get a Gold Valve kit, you get the charts. Then the computer, when you hit print, actually spits it out and says, ‘Okay, here’s the spring, here’s the preload, here’s the oil level, here’s where you put the clickers, and here’s the internal valving. Low- and high-speed compression, low- and high-speed rebound damping, bleed sizes, etc. It gives you a complete spec sheet and we continue to develop it. I started building that in 1995, and obviously the web wasn’t a big deal in ’95, but after working with it for nine years, we have a pretty well-honed system.”

One of the big changes for Race Tech in ’05 is that they’re working with the PPG Motorworldracing.com Suzuki team. Mike explained their new involvement this way. “Last year we were working with several people and teams, and were kind of spread a little bit thin. I drew it up for the guys in the shop. There are three different rings in a circle. You have the factory teams, which you can’t really penetrate as an outside suspension company. Showa and Kayaba are going to handle them directly. But then you have factory-connected satellite teams like Yamaha of Troy, Pro Circuit Monster Kawasaki, Factory Connection, and PPG Motoworldracing.com. They’re getting full support from the factory to be what they are. Then you have another ring, which is bikes and parts, and everything else is on their own. We were in that outer circle for a while. We were always trying to work programs to jump into that inner circle. We have a good relationship with Showa. They really trust us a lot, and we give them a lot of feedback on development ideas. Things like that have tightened our relationship. Factory Connection and RG3, Pro Circuit and Race Tech, I think they’re qualified to be test beds for them. This year Suzuki actually approached us and said, “We would really like you guys to handle the Motoworld team.’ As soon as they did that, I wanted to make sure they got everything they wanted, all the attention they needed, and I actually backed out of the other teams.”

“With Suzuki’s help this year it’s been excellent, because they’re trying to groom riders through Motoworld who are the elite guys from the amateur ranks. Then they have a stepping stone to go to the Factory level. We want to be part of it from the little guy on the KLX110, all the way up to the pro levels being at Suzuki.”

“We also hired Dave Dye, who will be our amateur support coordinator for all the amateur races. We have full support at all those events. We put a lot more effort into the amateur program with communication and setup, and we tried to do a little better job on the Supercross and MX side.”

During our conversations with Paul and Mike, they’d both mentioned how Paul was helping teach interested students the concepts of suspension. When we asked Paul to expand on the topic, he said, “I built the Gold Valves in the early 90s, and I had a General Manager who came to me at the time and said, ‘Everyone knows what to do now, because they just read the instructions, but they don’t know why they’re doing it. There’s so much mystery about suspension, have you ever thought about doing a seminar and teaching everybody the secrets?’ I thought, ‘That’s a pretty stupid idea…sure, let’s do it.’ It really was a huge change in the philosophy of Race Tech, because most of the time with suspension, because it’s so mysterious, and to a great extent, people hold in the information and kind of guard it. If they know anything, they don’t tell anybody about it. What we decided to do is say, ‘Okay, how about we teach you the secrets?’ There are so many old wive’s tales, and mysteries and things that are out there that are absolutely ass-backwards. I tell you what, there are a lot of people out there making a living, with a complete lack of understanding of how suspension works. People can actually be successful, not knowing how this stuff works.”

“We started teaching the secrets of suspension, and since then, I think I’m into my 75th seminar, We’ve done seminars all over the world, including Australia, Spain, Canada. I do a couple sets of seminars. We start off with just a basic one, and there was such a demand that people said, ‘Hey, can you do- and high-speed compression, low- and high-speed rebound damping, bleed sizes, etc. It gives you a complete spec sheet and we continue to develop it. I started building that in 1995, and obviously the web wasn’t a big deal in ’95, but after working with it for nine years, we have a pretty well-honed system.”

One of the big changes for Race Tech in ’05 is that they’re working with the PPG Motorworldracing.com Suzuki team. Mike explained their new involvement this way. “Last year we were working with several people and teams, and were kind of spread a little bit thin. I drew it up for the guys in the shop. There are three different rings in a circle. You have the factory teams, which you can’t really penetrate as an outside suspension company. Showa and Kayaba are going to handle them directly. But then you have factory-connected satellite teams like Yamaha of Troy, Pro Circuit Monster Kawasaki, Factory Connection, and PPG Motoworldracing.com. They’re getting full support from the factory to be what they are. Then you have another ring, which is bikes and parts, and everything else is on their own. We were in that outer circle for a while. We were always trying to work programs to jump into that inner circle. We have a good relationship with Showa. They really trust us a lot, and we give them a lot of feedback on development ideas. Things like that have tightened our relationship. Factory Connection and RG3, Pro Circuit and Race Tech, I think they’re qualified to be test beds for them. This year Suzuki actually approached us and said, “We would really like you guys to handle the Motoworld team.’ As soon as they did that, I wanted to make sure they got everything they wanted, all the attention they needed, and I actually backed out of the other teams.”

“With Suzuki’s help this year it’s been excellent, because they’re trying to groom riders through Motoworld who are the elite guys from the amateur ranks. Then they have a stepping stone to go to the Factory level. We want to be part of it from the little guy on the KLX110, all the way up to the pro levels being at Suzuki.”

“We also hired Dave Dye, who will be our amateur support coordinator for all the amateur races. We have full support at all those events. We put a lot more effort into the amateur program with communication and setup, and we tried to do a little better job on the Supercross and MX side.”

During our conversations with Paul and Mike, they’d both mentioned how Paul was helping teach interested students the concepts of suspension. When we asked Paul to expand on the topic, he said, “I built the Gold Valves in the early 90s, and I had a General Manager who came to me at the time and said, ‘Everyone knows what to do now, because they just read the instructions, but they don’t know why they’re doing it. There’s so much mystery about suspension, have you ever thought about doing a seminar and teaching everybody the secrets?’ I thought, ‘That’s a pretty stupid idea…sure, let’s do it.’ It really was a huge change in the philosophy of Race Tech, because most of the time with suspension, because it’s so mysterious, and to a great extent, people hold in the information and kind of guard it. If they know anything, they don’t tell anybody about it. What we decided to do is say, ‘Okay, how about we teach you the secrets?’ There are so many old wive’s tales, and mysteries and things that are out there that are absolutely ass-backwards. I tell you what, there are a lot of people out there making a living, with a complete lack of understanding of how suspension works. People can actually be successful, not knowing how this stuff works.”

“We started teaching the secrets of suspension, and since then, I think I’m into my 75th seminar, We’ve done seminars all over the world, including Australia, Spain, Canada. I do a couple sets of seminars. We start off with just a basic one, and there was such a demand that people said, ‘Hey, can you do an advanced?’ Then some people said, ‘Hey, can you spend more time on the actual shop skills portion of it?’ So now we have three seminars, and we run them back-to-back-to-back. The basic we now call the Suspension Theory class, because some people go, ‘Well, I already know the basics.’ Well, my comment on that one is, the reason Michael Jordan was Michael Jordan, is because he had a mastery of the basics. What we do in the Suspension Theory class is really get a much deeper understanding of the basics. Then go from there in the other classes.”

“I’ve had a really good fortune in that if you kind of look at the who’s who of who works in this industry, I’ve had a lot of contact with a lot of those people. Everything from them either working here as an employee, or being students in my seminars. People come to the seminars all the time and say, ‘I can’t believe you’re telling us this stuff.’ Really, it’s working along the lines of, ‘How can I help you make money, and do this at a higher level?’ As far as the business end of it, our focus is helping other people do it.”

“What we’ve also done is hooked up with dealers or businesses who really want to do suspension at a higher level, so they become Race Tech Centers. We’ve actually done that all over the world. There are certain certainly requirements like doing all the seminars, so you’ve got to get some training under your belt. There are also some requirements as far as how much product volume you have to do per year. Really, the idea is for them to have the benefits of Race Tech’s reputation on top of their own. The benefit for us is that we get little pieces of Race Tech all over the world. The truth is, sending your stuff to Southern California from all over the world is a really limiting for many people. But if there’s a qualified guy in their neighborhood that can install the product and service it at a high level of competence, then why not? It saves them down time, it saves them shipping time. If they’ve got a problem with it, they can walk into there and get it handled.”

When stepping into Paul’s office, he’d been playing with an interesting-looking set of rods and cables, which he’d connected to a PDA. Curious, we asked him about them. He smiled and said, “That’s the ShockClock. It’s a fairly simple product, but with a lot of complex technology inside the brains of it. There are two hollow tubes, and one of the tubes has a piston on the end. It uses sound waves like sonar to measure velocity and travel. The ultrasonic sound wave bounces off the piston, so it becomes a very rugged, simple product.

“If you think about it for a second, this is the only motorized sport that doesn’t heavily rely on data acquisition. Many people can tell when they’re bottoming on the front end. Very few people can tell when they’re bottoming on the rear end.”

I was testing with a skilled rider who was saying the rear end was kicking. My first question is, is it bottoming? I need to know if it’s too stiff or too soft. He’s either going all the way through the travel and slamming and it’s going, ‘Okay, I still have energy, what do I need to do with it?’ or it’s not allowing the suspension to absorb it, and it’s deflecting. We define a soft bottom as using 90% of the travel, and a hard bottom as 95% of the travel. I put the data acquisition on there, and he hard bottomed 23 times in two laps. I thought, ‘Well, it may be too stiff, but until we make it stiffer, I’m not making it softer.’ I went in and changed things, and after trying it again, he said, ‘Oh yeah, it’s way plusher.’ It would blow your mind at how valuable a tool it is, just to tell you whether you’re bottoming.”

“We laid the transducer down, so it doesn’t need to be mounted vertically like the original design. Riders don’t even know it’s there any more. But what we needed to be able to do was create a relationship mathematically to translate the laid down motion to vertical motion. We’ve got iit nailed at this point, and we’re a couple days away from having the software done. Before we were only downloading to a laptop. The laptop’s kind of clunky, and you can’t read it in the daylight. So we actually wrote a program so that it could be downloaded to a PDA. It takes it about four seconds to convert a five minute file.”

“A lot of times people are intimidated by the product. They think, ‘Aw, you’ve got to be a computer genius or suspension expert. You look at the PDA, and you can see if it bottomed or didn’t bottom. It will help anybody, whether it’s a suspension tuner or a kid’s dad, understand suspension. I was explaining this to my sales guys just the other day. They were wondering if people would be able to understand it. ‘Do you need to be an expert on suspension to be able to use the ShockClock?’ I said, ‘No, you don’t need to be an expert to use, but you can become an expert by using it.'”

Contact:

Race Tech
1501 Pomona Rd.
Corona, CA 92880-6959
(951) 279-6655
www.racetech.com

advanced?’ Then some people said, ‘Hey, can you spend more time on the actual shop skills portion of it?’ So now we have three seminars, and we run them back-to-back-to-back. The basic we now call the Suspension Theory class, because some people go, ‘Well, I already know the basics.’ Well, my comment on that one is, the reason Michael Jordan was Michael Jordan, is because he had a mastery of the basics. What we do in the Suspension Theory class is really get a much deeper understanding of the basics. Then go from there in the other classes.”

“I’ve had a really good fortune in that if you kind of look at the who’s who of who works in this industry, I’ve had a lot of contact with a lot of those people. Everything from them either working here as an employee, or being students in my seminars. People come to the seminars all the time and say, ‘I can’t believe you’re telling us this stuff.’ Really, it’s working along the lines of, ‘How can I help you make money, and do this at a higher level?’ As far as the business end of it, our focus is helping other people do it.”

“What we’ve also done is hooked up with dealers or businesses who really want to do suspension at a higher level, so they become Race Tech Centers. We’ve actually done that all over the world. There are certain certainly requirements like doing all the seminars, so you’ve got to get some training under your belt. There are also some requirements as far as how much product volume you have to do per year. Really, the idea is for them to have the benefits of Race Tech’s reputation on top of their own. The benefit for us is that we get little pieces of Race Tech all over the world. The truth is, sending your stuff to Southern California from all over the world is a really limiting for many people. But if there’s a qualified guy in their neighborhood that can install the product and service it at a high level of competence, then why not? It saves them down time, it saves them shipping time. If they’ve got a problem with it, they can walk into there and get it handled.”

When stepping into Paul’s office, he’d been playing with an interesting-looking set of rods and cables, which he’d connected to a PDA. Curious, we asked him about them. He smiled and said, “That’s the ShockClock. It’s a fairly simple product, but with a lot of complex technology inside the brains of it. There are two hollow tubes, and one of the tubes has a piston on the end. It uses sound waves like sonar to measure velocity and travel. The ultrasonic sound wave bounces off the piston, so it becomes a very rugged, simple product.

“If you think about it for a second, this is the only motorized sport that doesn’t heavily rely on data acquisition. Many people can tell when they’re bottoming on the front end. Very few people can tell when they’re bottoming on the rear end.”

I was testing with a skilled rider who was saying the rear end was kicking. My first question is, is it bottoming? I need to know if it’s too stiff or too soft. He’s either going all the way through the travel and slamming and it’s going, ‘Okay, I still have energy, what do I need to do with it?’ or it’s not allowing the suspension to absorb it, and it’s deflecting. We define a soft bottom as using 90% of the travel, and a hard bottom as 95% of the travel. I put the data acquisition on there, and he hard bottomed 23 times in two laps. I thought, ‘Well, it may be too stiff, but until we make it stiffer, I’m not making it softer.’ I went in and changed things, and after trying it again, he said, ‘Oh yeah, it’s way plusher.’ It would blow your mind at how valuable a tool it is, just to tell you whether you’re bottoming.”

“We laid the transducer down, so it doesn’t need to be mounted vertically like the original design. Riders don’t even know it’s there any more. But what we needed to be able to do was create a relationship mathematically to translate the laid down motion to vertical motion. We’ve got it nailed at this point, and we’re a couple days away from having the software done. Before we were only downloading to a laptop. The laptop’s kind of clunky, and you can’t read it in the daylight. So we actually wrote a program so that it could be downloaded to a PDA. It takes it about four seconds to convert a five minute file.”

“A lot of times people are intimidated by the product. They think, ‘Aw, you’ve got to be a computer genius or suspension expert. You look at the PDA, and you can see if it bottomed or didn’t bottom. It will help anybody, whether it’s a suspension tuner or a kid’s dad, understand suspension. I was explaining this to my sales guys just the other day. They were wondering if people would be able to understand it. ‘Do you need to be an expert on suspension to be able to use the ShockClock?’ I said, ‘No, you don’t need to be an expert to use, but you can become an expert by using it.'”

Contact:

Race Tech
1501 Pomona Rd.
Corona, CA 92880-6959
(951) 279-6655
www.racetech.com

ve got it nailed at this point, and we’re a couple days away from having the software done. Before we were only downloading to a laptop. The laptop’s kind of clunky, and you can’t read it in the daylight. So we actually wrote a program so that it could be downloaded to a PDA. It takes it about four seconds to convert a five minute file.”

“A lot of times people are intimidated by the product. They think, ‘Aw, you’ve got to be a computer genius or suspension expert. You look at the PDA, and you can see if it bottomed or didn’t bottom. It will help anybody, whether it’s a suspension tuner or a kid’s dad, understand suspension. I was explaining this to my sales guys just the other day. They were wondering if people would be able to understand it. ‘Do you need to be an expert on suspension to be able to use the ShockClock?’ I said, ‘No, you don’t need to be an expert to use, but you can become an expert by using it.'”

Contact:

Race Tech
1501 Pomona Rd.
Corona, CA 92880-6959
(951) 279-6655
www.racetech.com