If you’ve walked around the pro pits at a National or Supercross on an equipment-scouting mission, you know how popular RK chain and Excel rims are. Of course, they’re also extremely popular both with the OE manufacturers, and as aftermarket items. This week we stopped in at FTM Enterprises, who handle the U.S. distribution for RK Excel.
Farrah Bauer is the Advertising and Marketing Manager for FTM, and she explained, “RK Excel is actually one company, though a lot of people think they’re separate. They got their start in the 1940s, making bike tires and rims. When motorcycles became popular, they switched over to the motorcycle rims. The demand for Excel is great, and the demand for RK is building up to Excel’s level.”
Farrah explained their business like this, “We set up and sell primarily to distributors¿Tucker Rocky, Parts Unlimited, Southern, Marshall, Bennett, United¿pretty much all the big distributors, and even the smaller guys. P3 Racing, A&A Racing, they all carry RK Excel.
Let’s take Parts Unlimited for example. They’re a huge distributor, and they have multiple warehouses, so they’ll bring in say, $75,000 worth of rims. When it’s that large of an order, we send the order over to Japan, and they send a container directly to Parts Unlimited. But when it’s a smaller shipment, it’ll come here and we can ship from here. That’s the same whether it’s rims or chain.”
“Smaller orders are shipped from here, and we keep a supply just in case other distributors run out and a dealer can’t get it from a distributor. It’s basically a backup supply for everyone. If a racer or retail customer has a problem getting something from their dealer or distributor, they can call here.”
FTM also handles the sponsorship for racers across the U.S., and accepts resumes via Sponsorhouse.com. “Pretty much every wheel that is being pulled for racer purposes or dealer purposes comes into this warehouse. I think we’re up to 5,000 racers right now. 90% of them are amateur, and we serve as their warehouse.”
Interestingly, anodizing for some of the products is done on this side of the Pacific, rather than in Japan. “Hubs are done here, as well as rims in the factory colors¿red, green, yellow, blue, orange¿we do that here. KTM has an exclusive on their color, and they’re sold through KTM Hard Parts.”
Farrah also said, “Black is the hardest color to anodize, so it comes directly from Japan. If you don’t keep it in the right time, and with the right chemicals, it has a tendency to turn green.
She also explained that while there have recently been shortages of black rims, they currently have a good supply in the warehouse. “RK Excel Japan has contracts with the OEMs, and OEMs take precedence over the aftermarket. When the OEMs bump up their production, it takes away from our allocations. Sales have been good lately, which is why we’ve had a difficult time getting black rims back into the marketplace.”
Farrah also noted, “We have an acceptable color range, and if they fall outside the light or dark range they end up being rejected. We have a blem items page on our web site (www.ftmbiz.com), and they go for unbelievably low prices. Most of them are things that you wouldn’t even detect. Those deals are open to anyone, dealers, racers, and retail. There are also chains on there that are closeout items, and things like complete wheelsets.”
Speaking of wheels, we also visited the portion of the warehouse where they assemble wheels. “We actually have two places that do it. Here, and a warehouse down the street. It’s a combination effort.”
The Excel Pro Series hubs make for a good looking wheel with their 6061 T6 billet construction and straight-pull spokes. Farrah explained, “The Excel Pro Series wheels are a univerrsal motocross hub/wheel system that can move from one bike to another. So for example if you have a KX250 and are moving to a Yamaha, they’re completely different, but you can still take it with you. You just need the specific sprocket carrier rings for whatever brand you’re using. The Pro Series wheels are a pricey item, but they’re good in the long run. The Talon hubs (which FTM also carries) are bike-specific. Once you’re done with that bike, you’re done with the wheel. Excel moves beyond that.”
That’s not to say that they’re not fond of the Talon hubs. “This year we’re bringing in Talon Ultra-Lites. Those are available in nickel-plated and black. There are two different types of Talons¿the normal Talons, and these are Ultra-Lite for racing purposes. The Ultra-Lites are up to a pound lighter than stock.”
Excel also has a new rim in the works, dubbed the A-60. “It’ll be stronger and lighter than current Pro Series rims, but we probably won’t see it until spring of ’06. It has a complete different profile from the current rims, more rounded, which will help eliminate mud buildup, and the new shape, combined with a new material, will make for a stronger rim. They also feature a new material that will help make them stronger.”
Walking through the warehouse, we stopped to look over some 100-foot bulk rolls of chain, and she said, “If we’re running low on something, they’ll cut it down to whatever wee need, and we also use these for some of our chain and sprocket kits.” The kits include front and rear sprockets, and a chain, Most of them are quick acceleration kits, so we gear it down so that they get quicker off the line and quicker coming out of turns. The kits have the exact length of chain that they need. You don’t need to do anything except put it on the bike. It comes ready to go.”
She also proudly pointed out the MXZ3 chain, which features chromoly steel construction, seamless rollers and bushings, and heat-treating for all components. “The MXZ3 is their latest motocross chain, and it’s the lightest motocross chain on the market, weighing in at 3.1 pounds per 100 links. It’s an awesome chain. Pro Circuit helped us develop that one. Most of the drop tests are still done in Japan, because they have the machines to do it. But some of the products we test and design here, like the pro series hubs, we actually test.”
When quizzed about how their market breaks down, Farrah described it like this, “About 70% dirt, and 30% street. RK dominates the street market, RK Japan supports pretty much the vast majority of the top teams over there. Here, we have Yoshimura Suzuki. But we’re more limited on the street bikes with wheel products. It’s chains, sprockets, mirrors, Bendix brake pads, and Autolite spark plugs. For motocross we have the hubs, the wheels, the stands, the Excel spoke torque wrench¿it’s a longer list of products. Most of our business is motocross.”