TWMX All Access: Ross Maeda

Ross Maeda is one of those multi-faceted characters that you could spend hours talking to. It might be his love for the sport, his fascination with all things technical, or the ability to design and fine-tune cool suspension products. But whatever the reason, Ross is always in fun to chat with. He’s also in demand, both in his role as the owner and chief tuner at Enzo Racing, and as a consultant for Kayaba.

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We stopped by the offices of Enzo Racing and started off by asking Ross about how he got started in the motocross industry. As you’ll see, he’s one of those guys that once you wind him up and let him go, you can just sit back and nod while he tells his tale. Ready? Here goes¿

“I was a local pro when I was 15, doing good, and making money. It was Southern California motocross, so I was racing factory guys every week. I met some people from Japan who were in the motorcycle industry, and one guy in particular, Aki Goto, kind of took an interest in me, and started teaching me how to work on bikes.”

“By the time I was 19, I was still racing a lot, and still learning from Aki. He was working for Suzuki, and offered me a job as a factory mechanic. I didn’t think I was good enough, and that you had to be some kind of wizard. He said, ‘No, you’re good enough, but you’d have to quit racing.’ I was young, and didn’t want to quit. I wasn’t in contention for a factory ride or anything, but I was having fun, doing good, and I certainly wasn’t ready to quit.”

“Then one day he told me that Kayaba needed someone as a test rider, and asked if I want to do that. I said, ‘Yeah, if I can ride and get paid for it, I’ll do it.’ They hired me when I was 21, and for the first year all I did was test ride stuff. Japanese companies kind of think that if they hire you as a plumber, that’s all you do. As time went on, I had to do mechanical things, and they were like, ‘Wow, he knows how to use a screwdriver!'” (Laughs)

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“So they started training me more, and I took a real strong interest in the technical stuff. Over time they taught me how to use the suspension dyno. Little by little I learned how to test ride things where I could ride it and tell if it was too stiff or too soft, and I could articulate to the engineer what it was doing. As time went on, I was learning the mechanical workings of the components, and I started to be able to revalve and modify the components to make it do what I wanted.”

Ross continued, “I was able to ride it, tell them what it needed, and became physically able to do that needed to be done to satisfy what I was asking for. I was also able to talk to other riders. Since I knew all of those elements, I was able to go testing factory riders and when they’d tell me something, I was able to go, ‘Okay, he said this, so we need to do that.'”

“Over time, I was also able to troubleshoot things. I would look at a part and say, ‘Let’s try this, this, and this.’ If we weren’t able to cure a problem with conventional thinking, I was able to say, ‘Let’s drill a hole in it here, or mill down here.’ I was able to start troubleshooting and the development of stuff.”

“From doing all that over the years, pretty soon I was able to do the job of three or four different guys. There were guys that specialized in only test riding, but they didn’t know how things worked on the inside. There were guys that did nothing but talk to test riders and articulate what they wanted into what needed to be done. That’s all they did…but I could do that, too. Then there were people who could take what the engineer said, and could make the component do what they wanted, and I could do that, too.”

“Eventually I was able to even design stuff. Conceptualized products. I barely got out of high school, I don’t have any kind of engineering degree or anything, but Kayaba considers me an engineer. So if I say, ‘We should do this,’ I’ll draw a concept that’s not dimensional, but I can describe it.”

By now we’re up to 1981, and Ross is still on a roll. “I was working at Kayaba, and started doing Enzo Racing part-time, just for my friends. It got bigger and bigger, and I got a deal with Kayaba to import the parts into the United States. I was still working at Kayaba during the day, and working on Enzo stuff at night.”

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“Eventually Enzo started getting bigger and bigger, and the potential to make more money was getting too good to pass up. I ended up getting a consultant contract from Kayaba, so basically I do the same thing as I did before, but I don’t have to go in from 8:30 to 5:00 every day. I also don’t have to do a lot of the pre-production testing sessions, where I have to drive a van out there and just stand around all day. They only call me for testing conceptual stuff before it gets to the pre-production level.”

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“The way it works now is, Enzo racing sponsors specific teams and riders, meaning Yamaha of Troy, Mach One, and the Shogun Yamaha Arenacross team. That’s strictly Enzo Racing, and I may get some support from Kayaba for that, or from Yamaha for that specific support. But it’s also part of my responsibility to support factory riders that are using factory Kayaba, like Yamaha or Kawasaki¿if they need help, or if Kayaba asks me to support them specifically, that’s part of my job, too. But that’s unrelated to Enzo Racing.”

“Yamaha and Kawasaki have their own suspension staff who are employees. I work with those people, but they’re responsible for the maintenance and working on the components. All I’m really responsible for is helping them technically. I also provide advice, or answer questions or help if there’s something wrong. Being a representative of Kayaba, I have to support them and be the liaison between them and Kayaba in Japan.”

“As far as helping them with setup, again, Yamaha or Kawasaki is capable of doing it on their own, but I’m there if they need me. A lot of times there’s a new component that they’re unfamiliar with, I’ll get called in to help them, because generally speaking, I’ll have had some experience with it. People say, ‘Enzo is helping the factory.’ No, it’s just that I work for both Enzo and Kayaba.”

“It might sound arrogant, but I’m not afraid to walk into a room anywhere in the world with suspension people and think that I can’t answer a question, or they’re going to make me feel stupid. I’m 100 percent confident. That’s not to say I know everything, but I know what I’m doing, and if anything should arise like that, I have a good enough grasp on my ego that I’d be able to go, ‘Wow, that’s really cool. Let’s talk about that,’ or, ‘Tell me about it, I want to learn about that.’ Not (puffing up chest), ‘Huh¿I thought of that before,’ or, ‘That’s a B.S. idea because I didn’t think of it.’ I’m just really hungry for anything that can expand my knowledge of suspension.”

“I’m coming out with a few other things that I’ll be selling soon, but they’re all things that I won’t be selling until I feel confident that they work. I don’t want to come out with a product that I don’t have 100 percent faith in, or that someone could sit down with me and go, ‘I think this product is B.S. because of this,’ and I cringe, and think, ‘Oh¿I was hoping he wouldn’t say that.’ Until I’m confident enough with a product that I know it works, and I’ve developed it to the point where I can manipulate it to do whatever I want, to me it’s pointless to sell.”

“I like to feel where you’re proud of what you do, and believe in what you do. That’s more important than money, to me. I ain’t starving, so what’s the point of ruining your reputation, or you’re just doing something you don’t believe in. Of course, it might be different if I was poor.” (Laughs)

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When we asked Ross who he’d enjoyed working with over the years, we were surprised at his answer. “I’d say Doug Dubach, Erik Kehoe, Mike Fisher, and Mike Preston, but those guys were all development guys. Guys that helped me learn how to valve, and how to set up a bike for production; or just how to manipulate a component to get it what you wanted it to do.”

After spending time with Ross it was easy to see that he likes what he does, and it was extremely interesting to hear how he’d made the transition from racer to tester to consultant and company owner¿soaking up knowledge and experience along the way, and becoming a self-made engineer. But there’s also no doubt that he’s extremely focused on what he does. “I’m just really interested in motocross, and I’m specifically interested in motocross suspension. That is actually a result of the fact that I don’t have any other interests. I don’t care about football or basketball. I really don’t care about any of that stuff. Last year people asked me, ‘Are you going to go to the World Series?’ No. I don’t care about that stuff. I care about motocross.”

“There are so many parts that I like. There’s racing, and who’s doing what. Then there’s the technical aspect of stuff that’s going on. Stuff that’s cutting edge, or a different way of doing stuff like the Europeans. And I like to ride, too. It’s like there’s so much to it, I never get bored. Some people say, ‘I got tired of riding motocross, so I surfed.’ But if I get tired of riding, I’ll get all into following the races a lot closer. If I get sick of that, I start thinking of some new idea, and I get into that. But I never leave motocross. There’s too much to it that I’m interested in.”

tant than money, to me. I ain’t starving, so what’s the point of ruining your reputation, or you’re just doing something you don’t believe in. Of course, it might be different if I was poor.” (Laughs)

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When we asked Ross who he’d enjoyed working with over the years, we were surprised at his answer. “I’d say Doug Dubach, Erik Kehoe, Mike Fisher, and Mike Preston, but those guys were all development guys. Guys that helped me learn how to valve, and how to set up a bike for production; or just how to manipulate a component to get it what you wanted it to do.”

After spending time with Ross it was easy to see that he likes what he does, and it was extremely interesting to hear how he’d made the transition from racer to tester to consultant and company owner¿soaking up knowledge and experience along the way, and becoming a self-made engineer. But there’s also no doubt that he’s extremely focused on what he does. “I’m just really interested in motocross, and I’m specifically interested in motocross suspension. That is actually a result of the fact that I don’t have any other interests. I don’t care about football or basketball. I really don’t care about any of that stuff. Last year people asked me, ‘Are you going to go to the World Series?’ No. I don’t care about that stuff. I care about motocross.”

“There are so many parts that I like. There’s racing, and who’s doing what. Then there’s the technical aspect of stuff that’s going on. Stuff that’s cutting edge, or a different way of doing stuff like the Europeans. And I like to ride, too. It’s like there’s so much to it, I never get bored. Some people say, ‘I got tired of riding motocross, so I surfed.’ But if I get tired of riding, I’ll get all into following the races a lot closer. If I get sick of that, I start thinking of some new idea, and I get into that. But I never leave motocross. There’s too much to it that I’m interested in.”