TWMX All Access: Yoshimura Research and Development of America, Inc.

Sponsored by:

Out in Chino, CA, is the U.S. headquarters of Yoshimura Research and Development of America, Inc. Wandering through the company, it’s hard not to be impressed by the modern manufacturing facilities, and the vast array of hardware used to machine, bend and weld their titanium and stainless steel pipes. Of course, there are also eight different dyno rooms, and an impressive selection of championship-winning Superbikes in one of the showrooms.

[IMAGE 1]

But with the current development in four-stroke technology, they’ve also gotten much more involved with the dirt side of the sport, dialing in factory hardware for Broc Hepler, Davi Millsaps, and Brian Gray. While we couldn’t fully unleash our cameras in the R&D department, we did sit down with Brant Russell, Yoshimura’s VP – Sales and Marketing, so see what was new.

Transworld Motocross: So with the Yoshimura name, we’re obviously talking about a German company.

Brant Russel: “No, It’s a common misconception. It’s Irish. It means leprechauns and good luck to everybody.” (laughs)

“Obviously it’s a Japanese company, and this is our 50th year anniversary. The company was founded by “Pops” Yoshimura back in Japan years and years ago. He was doing everything from airplanes to cars to motorcycles, and when he came over to the U.S., actually the first bikes he was working on were Kawasakis and Hondas. As time went by, he started the relationship with Suzuki. We’ve had a factory-level relationship with Suzuki for many years now. It’s neat, we’re not part of Suzuki in any way, shape, or form, and there have never been contracts. It’s always just been a handshake. It’s been a wonderful relationship, and it just grows. It’s great for us, and hopefully it’s good for Suzuki. So far I think we’ve done okay.”

TWMX: How does it work where Yoshimura runs some of Suzuki’s race teams?

BR: “We’re like a conduit. We just manage the team and do the day-to-day running. Suzuki supplies all the stuff, and the money. As far as Yoshimura, we’re a contracted company that runs the racing efforts for Suzuki in these different areas.”

“Right now in factory teams we do the Superbike team, the Supermotard team with Kevin Schwantz, we do an ATV team with Doug Gust. With the ATVs we’ve just won five races in a row. People ask, ‘How do you do that on a two-year-old bike, and it’s the only Suzuki in the field?’ Yeah, we’re a racing company.”

“We also do motors and pipes for Millsaps, Hepler and Brian Gray, and that’s about it for Suzuki factory efforts.”

[IMAGE 2]

“For support, we do all kind of things, from Moto XXX to Ty Davis.”

TWMX: Since the four-strokes have come on, we’ve seen a lot more Yoshimura involvement with the MX team.

BR: “Yeah, sometimes if you’re not good it’s good to be lucky, and this whole four-stroke thing just did a big right turn into our strengths. We like to think we’re good and lucky in that regard. Not only in the motocross, but off-road, Supermoto, the ATV thing has become a large part of our market as well. In a few short years, we’ve done a complete shift and jumped in all these areas. It’s been neat.”

TWMX: In talking with some of the crew here, it sounds like at between Parts Unlimited and Tucker Rocky, they’ve been cleaning you guys out with orders.

[IMAGE 3]

BR: “Business has been really good. We’re up a lot more than we anticipated at the beginning of the year for our sales projections. I think it’s right along with the growth in four-strokes, so it’s been good. I think everybody is pretty far up this year. It’s been a good year. We’re struggling a little bit to keep up.”

TWMX: Besides your standard channels of distribution, you also have the retail outlet on-site here.

BR: “Yeah, the retail store with us isn’t really geared to be a money-making thing. It’s more of an interface with the public, more than a profit center. We’ve kind of always been in the nether regions of the upper stratosphere with these factory race efforts. We never really had very much connectivity to the general public. With the dirt and ATV and all the different things we’re into now, we all got together and said, ‘We need to have more contact with the public.’ So the main thrust of the retail store is to have a way for people to interface with us. We learn from talking to people what their beefs are and what their wants are. It’s also a way to be a bit of a technology demonstrator. We’re going to be building a new building within four or five months, and we’ll make, not a museum, but kind of a showcase to show some of the different technology. I think that will in the long run help sell pipes, because I think people will understand a little more what goes into this kind of process.”

[IMAGE 4]

“Our distribution is really our sole means of selling. We’re good at building engines and pipes, but we’re not really good at selling things. We’re getting pretty good at making things, so we let the professionals sell our products. It’s funny, we do dealer direct sales as well, but it’s pretty much reactive. Most of the dealers that call in are typically very technically oriented dealerships that have real technical questions.”

[IMAGE 5]

TWMX: How many shifts do you run now?

BR: “Well, we’re just running one shift right now, but we’re doing a tremendous amount of overtime. We’re actually going to be looking at cleaning this building out and making it 100 percent manufacturing. So we’re actually in the process of building another building which is going to be just warehouse, sales and marketing.”

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“The stuff we make is by and large pretty high quality. We’ve run two or three shifts in the past, and we tend to lose our quality level a little bit because you don’t have the same supervisors. So with us it’s usually better trying to keep things with one shift and just increase the size and scope of the whole operation. That way we have our “A” managers overseeing everything…especially with ti pipes and things like that. It’s really easy to screw those up.”

TWMX: How much of the business is street vs. off-road vs. quads, vs. automotive?

BR: “Well, it’s changing so quickly it’s hard to say. When we first got into the motocross/off-road stuff it rapidly got up to about 30 percent of our business, and was on a fairly steady growth curve. When we started doing the ATV pipes, for some reason we went from like number nine to number two in just a few years. The ATV thing has been huge, and no one was anticipating that, either. I’d say the motocross growth is going to be a little more stable because you’ve got some large and very good competitors in that whole category that have cemented large market share positions. If we’re lucky enough to get some growth in motocross and Supercross as time goes by it’s probably going to be incremental and fairly slow. I don’t really see us ever taking over the world in that category, but we’ll probably settle into a niche somewhere for the more higher-end type stuff.”

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“The automotive stuff is kind of a whole other area It kind of grows how much we allow it to grow. When it starts interfering with our core thing, we slow it down a little bit. But it’s one of those deals that’s like a weed. If we put any effort into it, it just goes crazy. We’ve done a lot of high-end racing stuff for years in automotive, but just recently we’ve started to make exhaust systems for different people in automotive. It’s just crazy growth.”

“We’ve done Formula 1 exhausts, all kind of things over the years. Our core is in motorcycle racing. Right now our big focus is in motocross. It’s funny, our CEO here, “Nabe” (Suehiro Watanabe – COO Yoshimura R&D of America, Inc.), started life out at a motocross racer. Then when he went off to Europe and was schooled in mechanic stuff, he came back over here and started for Yoshimura, the whole company was heavy into road racing. So he’s kind of a motocrossers who went to road racing, and now as time’s gone by, he’s going back to the motocross side. He and our whole R&D group is just having a blast with motocross because they’ve been just stuck in doing road racing for so many years that this is a new fun challenge for them.”

TWMX: Obviously exhausts are huge for you, but how much internal engine components do you guys work on?

BR: “Well, our primary thrust is, and probably 95% of the product that we actually sell is just exhaust pipes. When it gets to racing services, most of that is unavailable-to-the-public type stuff. That gets into complete transmissions, engines…very exotic components and whatnot. We do engine services for the general public, but it’s mostly porting, head work, valve jobs, we do some complete engine work, like the old DR-Z400. We make 450 kits for those. We do some Supermotard stuff here and there. Our main emphasis is really head work and basic things. To build like a works-level engine, is just massively expensive, and it would be way too much money for the average rider.”

“Kind of the good and bad thing about the four-strokes is that stock, they’re very reliable and have really good performance. You do a little bit of work and you can get some more performance. Put a pipe on, do some head work, and do all the basic things. But if you’re going to prepare a full-race engine at a national level, it’s a hugely intensive thing to do.”

[IMAGE 8]

“Getting power out of four-strokes is an incremental process. A two-stroke typically you can change the port timing, add some compression…there’s kind of a formula for getting more power that’s pretty quick and easy. With four-strokes, there are no shortcuts of any kind. It’s a study in incrementalism. You have to reduce friction, and there are reciprocating mass issues. All these little tiny steps add up to a result. It’s a lot of work to achieve that. In addition, four-stroke engines run by somebody like a Larry Ward or a Ricky Carmichael—these top pros—the maintenance level has to be really high to have those things live. But if you’re a normal rider, someone like me I’ve got a DR-Z 450, and I’ve been running that thing for five years and all you do is put gas in it, and change your filter once a year and that’s about it.”

“For a lot of guys who are traditional two-stroke tuners that are now getting into the four-stroke thing, some of them might go through a difficult learning curve because of the nature of all that. Engine failures with pro riders are usually catastrophic.”

“There’s a lot of sophistication in the piston and rings. The ring pressure is critical. That’s why a lot of times with the four-strokes when you start them out, the bike will seem to get a little bit more power after you have some time on it. You get the right tension on the ring, and all that, then you’re talking business. But sometimes people don’t tune these things properly and get too much pressure, and you start fooling around with things that are carefully calculated at the factories, and then you’re running into some problems.”

” how much we allow it to grow. When it starts interfering with our core thing, we slow it down a little bit. But it’s one of those deals that’s like a weed. If we put any effort into it, it just goes crazy. We’ve done a lot of high-end racing stuff for years in automotive, but just recently we’ve started to make exhaust systems for different people in automotive. It’s just crazy growth.”

“We’ve done Formula 1 exhausts, all kind of things over the years. Our core is in motorcycle racing. Right now our big focus is in motocross. It’s funny, our CEO here, “Nabe” (Suehiro Watanabe – COO Yoshimura R&D of America, Inc.), started life out at a motocross racer. Then when he went off to Europe and was schooled in mechanic stuff, he came back over here and started for Yoshimura, the whole company was heavy into road racing. So he’s kind of a motocrossers who went to road racing, and now as time’s gone by, he’s going back to the motocross side. He and our whole R&D group is just having a blast with motocross because they’ve been just stuck in doing road racing for so many years that this is a new fun challenge for them.”

TWMX: Obviously exhausts are huge for you, but how much internal engine components do you guys work on?

BR: “Well, our primary thrust is, and probably 95% of the product that we actually sell is just exhaust pipes. When it gets to racing services, most of that is unavailable-to-the-public type stuff. That gets into complete transmissions, engines…very exotic components and whatnot. We do engine services for the general public, but it’s mostly porting, head work, valve jobs, we do some complete engine work, like the old DR-Z400. We make 450 kits for those. We do some Supermotard stuff here and there. Our main emphasis is really head work and basic things. To build like a works-level engine, is just massively expensive, and it would be way too much money for the average rider.”

“Kind of the good and bad thing about the four-strokes is that stock, they’re very reliable and have really good performance. You do a little bit of work and you can get some more performance. Put a pipe on, do some head work, and do all the basic things. But if you’re going to prepare a full-race engine at a national level, it’s a hugely intensive thing to do.”

[IMAGE 8]

“Getting power out of four-strokes is an incremental process. A two-stroke typically you can change the port timing, add some compression…there’s kind of a formula for getting more power that’s pretty quick and easy. With four-strokes, there are no shortcuts of any kind. It’s a study in incrementalism. You have to reduce friction, and there are reciprocating mass issues. All these little tiny steps add up to a result. It’s a lot of work to achieve that. In addition, four-stroke engines run by somebody like a Larry Ward or a Ricky Carmichael—these top pros—the maintenance level has to be really high to have those things live. But if you’re a normal rider, someone like me I’ve got a DR-Z 450, and I’ve been running that thing for five years and all you do is put gas in it, and change your filter once a year and that’s about it.”

“For a lot of guys who are traditional two-stroke tuners that are now getting into the four-stroke thing, some of them might go through a difficult learning curve because of the nature of all that. Engine failures with pro riders are usually catastrophic.”

“There’s a lot of sophistication in the piston and rings. The ring pressure is critical. That’s why a lot of times with the four-strokes when you start them out, the bike will seem to get a little bit more power after you have some time on it. You get the right tension on the ring, and all that, then you’re talking business. But sometimes people don’t tune these things properly and get too much pressure, and you start fooling around with things that are carefully calculated at the factories, and then you’re running into some problems.”

“That’s another thing with four-strokes…a lot of areas like valve trains, if you want to improve on them, you have to change five or six components that all have be upgraded. If you upgrade just one, and not the others, you can run into problems.”

TWMX: What’s next for Yoshimura?

BR: “Well, the Supercross and motocross is our big push right now. That’s our big thing. There are just a whole lot of new challenges there for sure. Engine design on the dirt stuff is changing all the time, and keeping abreast of that is going to be challenging. The biggest individual technical thrust we have here is noise. We have probably three or four of our R&D engineers working full-time on doing nothing but inventing the new mouse trap, which is like an 80 decibel pipe that makes good power. Right now it’s just not out there. All the pipe manufacturers, we all have pipes that are 90 to 95 db pipes that make pretty good power. But none of them have accomplished the ultimate goal of not taking away any torque or any power, yet keeping the noise really low.”

“So we’ve got some very strange and unusual designs that the guys have come up with and they’re working on, and some of them show some good potential But whichever company comes up with some of these answers, one thing for sure is it’s going to be a very different and unusual thing. Because for the last 30-40-50 years, people have been trying to accomplish this with conventional design, and none of it’s ever worked. So I don’t think there’s going to be a variation off an existing theme that’s going to accomplish it. It’s going to be something unusual.”

TWMX: How big an issue is noise?

BR: “Big four-strokes are noisy, and I think it’s a valid and a good thing to try and quiet them down, especially for off-road use. The secondary issue that relates to that, which becomes a primary issue ultimately, is land closures. We’re kind of under a microscope politically. You can argue the rights or wrongs of this to the end of the world, but the reality is, we have to go the extra mile in every way, shape, and form, to put our sport in a good light. If we don’t do that, we’re going to lose that battle. Being competitive, which we all are, I’d like to win that battle.”

[IMAGE 9]

“I know the benchmark now in California is 96dbs on the off-road pipes, but we’re looking at making 80db pipes, or less. If we can accomplish all these things, then we can go there and be very proactive with all these people who are against us, and say, ‘Look what we’re doing. We’re going past the benchmark. We’re trying to be good guys and be good citizens.'”

TWMX: “Are you happy where you’re at in the market? Or are you trying to work your way up the ladder against some of your competitors?

BR: “This is a funny company. This is going to sound stupid, but it’s really true. The goal of this company isn’t to make money or become bigger. It’s made money, and it’s grown in spite of itself. It’s nothing but a bunch of gearhead. Out of about 150 people, we have about three or four college degrees. The entire management, staff, and everybody here are racers, and the whole goal of this thing is to race. To keep the doors open we make exhaust pipes. As time’s gone by, it’s just turned into a very successful business. But the emphasis is never on that. Usually once or twice a year Fujio (Yoshimura – President Yoshimura Japan and Yoshimura R&D of America, Inc.) comes over from Japan, and it’ll be a huge meeting with everybody in there, and sales scum like me, I’m going, ‘Let’s make cruiser pipes, or make this, and make all this money.’ The answer is always, ‘If they race it, we’ll make it.’ In fact, Fujio said once that, ‘If someone races a lawnmower, we’ll make a pipe for it. But if they don’t race it, we’re not going to do it.’ A couple years later I showed him this article about these guys racing lawnmowers. That was kind of funny.”

[IMAGE 110]

“We’re not really worried about growth and all that other stuff, because this company just kind of happens. Our goal isn’t really business success. It’s racing success. It’s sort of a stereotypical saying, but we are a core company. It’s funny, because if you think about most of the successful people in this business, it’s the same thing. Mitch at Pro Circuit is a perfect example. I think Mitch’s whole thing is racing, and you have to eat, so he’s got that. I think it’s the same with Donny at FMF. All these companies have been around for a while. But it’s funny in this business, if you get off of that, if you get away from being a core person who’s into the racing and into the competition, you inevitably fail. I can think of all these companies that come in just to make money, or to try and co-op the lifestyle, and they inevitably fail. Funny, isn’t it? But I think that’s one of the strengths with this whole business for me. I think everybody in this business likes going to work. It’s bitchen, I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

Contact:
Yoshimura Research and Development of America, Inc.
5420 Daniels St., Ste. A
Chino, CA 91710
(909) 628-4722
www.yoshimura-rd.com

Sponsored by:
t’s another thing with four-strokes…a lot of areas like valve trains, if you want to improve on them, you have to change five or six components that all have be upgraded. If you upgrade just one, and not the others, you can run into problems.”

TWMX: What’s next for Yoshimura?

BR: “Well, the Supercross and motocross is our big push right now. That’s our big thing. There are just a whole lot of new challenges there for sure. Engine design on the dirt stuff is changing all the time, and keeping abreast of that is going to be challenging. The biggest individual technical thrust we have here is noise. We have probably three or four of our R&D engineers working full-time on doing nothing but inventing the new mouse trap, which is like an 80 decibel pipe that makes good power. Right now it’s just not out there. All the pipe manufacturers, we all have pipes that are 90 to 95 db pipes that make pretty good power. But none of them have accomplished the ultimate goal of not taking away any torque or any power, yet keeping the noise really low.”

“So we’ve got some very strange and unusual designs that the guys have come up with and they’re working on, and some of them show some good potential But whichever company comes up with some of these answers, one thing for sure is it’s going to be a very different and unusual thing. Because for the last 30-40-50 years, people have been trying to accomplish this with conventional design, and none of it’s ever worked. So I don’t think there’s going to be a variation off an existing theme that’s going to accomplish it. It’s going to be something unusual.”

TWMX: How big an issue is noise?

BR: “Big four-strokes are noisy, and I think it’s a valid and a good thing to try and quiet them down, especially for off-road use. The secondary issue that relates to that, which becomes a primary issue ultimately, is land closures. We’re kind of under a microscope politically. You can argue the rights or wrongs of this to the end of the world, but the reality is, we have to go the extra mile in every way, shape, and form, to put our sport in a good light. If we don’t do that, we’re going to lose that battle. Being competitive, which we all are, I’d like to win that battle.”

[IMAGE 9]

“I know the benchmark now in California is 96dbs on the off-road pipes, but we’re looking at making 80db pipes, or less. If we can accomplish all these things, then we can go there and be very proactive with all these people who are against us, and say, ‘Look what we’re doing. We’re going past the benchmark. We’re trying to be good guys and be good citizens.'”

TWMX: “Are you happy where you’re at in the market? Or are you trying to work your way up the ladder against some of your competitors?

BR: “This is a funny company. This is going to sound stupid, but it’s really true. The goal of this company isn’t to make money or become bigger. It’s made money, and it’s grown in spite of itself. It’s nothing but a bunch of gearhead. Out of about 150 people, we have about three or four college degrees. The entire management, staff, and everybody here are racers, and the whole goal of this thing is to race. To keep the doors open we make exhaust pipes. As time’s gone by, it’s just turned into a very successful business. But the emphasis is never on that. Usually once or twice a year Fujio (Yoshimura – President Yoshimura Japan and Yoshimura R&D of America, Inc.) comes over from Japan, and it’ll be a huge meeting with everybody in there, and sales scum like me, I’m going, ‘Let’s make cruiser pipes, or make this, and make all this money.’ The answer is always, ‘If they race it, we’ll make it.’ In fact, Fujio said once that, ‘If someone races a lawnmower, we’ll make a pipe for it. But if they don’t race it, we’re not going to do it.’ A couple years later I showed him this article about these guys racing lawnmowers. That was kind of funny.”

[IMAGE 10]

“We’re not really worried about growth and all that other stuff, because this company just kind of happens. Our goal isn’t really business success. It’s racing success. It’s sort of a stereotypical saying, but we are a core company. It’s funny, because if you think about most of the successful people in this business, it’s the same thing. Mitch at Pro Circuit is a perfect example. I think Mitch’s whole thing is racing, and you have to eat, so he’s got that. I think it’s the same with Donny at FMF. All these companies have been around for a while. But it’s funny in this business, if you get off of that, if you get away from being a core person who’s into the racing and into the competition, you inevitably fail. I can think of all these companies that come in just to make money, or to try and co-op the lifestyle, and they inevitably fail. Funny, isn’t it? But I think that’s one of the strengths with this whole business for me. I think everybody in this business likes going to work. It’s bitchen, I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

Contact:
Yoshimura Research and Development of America, Inc.
5420 Daniels St., Ste. A
Chino, CA 91710
(909) 628-4722
www.yoshimura-rd.com

Sponsored by:
[IMAGE 10]

“We’re not really worried about growth and all that other stuff, because this company just kind of happens. Our goal isn’t really business success. It’s racing success. It’s sort of a stereotypical saying, but we are a core company. It’s funny, because if you think about most of the successful people in this business, it’s the same thing. Mitch at Pro Circuit is a perfect example. I think Mitch’s whole thing is racing, and you have to eat, so he’s got that. I think it’s the same with Donny at FMF. All these companies have been around for a while. But it’s funny in this business, if you get off of that, if you get away from being a core person who’s into the racing and into the competition, you inevitably fail. I can think of all these companies that come in just to make money, or to try and co-op the lifestyle, and they inevitably fail. Funny, isn’t it? But I think that’s one of the strengths with this whole business for me. I think everybody in this business likes going to work. It’s bitchen, I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

Contact:
Yoshimura Research and Development of America, Inc.
5420 Daniels St., Ste. A
Chino, CA 91710
(909) 628-4722
www.yoshimura-rd.com

Sponsored by: