TWMX Friday Feature: Rocket Exhaust

Earlier this year in one of our regular Monday Kickstart columns, we gave you a sneak peek of Rocket Exhaust, a new line of four-stroke exhaust systems being produced by Don Leib. Rocket follows the same path laid down by a variety of industries (including much of the MX apparel business, and a whole bunch of the cycling industry), where the products are designed and engineered in the U.S., but then manufactured off-shore, which is sort of a catch-all phrase for anywhere in the Orient. The Rocket exhaust pipes use a mix of lightweight forged, billet, extruded, die-cast and stamped components, and Don stopped by the TWMX offices to show off his new creations.

So what are we looking at here?

This is the official launch, no pun intended, of Rocket Exhaust. It’s been two years in the making. We’re manufacturing some parts off-shore, and some parts here. We are introducing a new level of quality, and at very aggressive retail pricing, with excellent performance.

The product category that I’m attacking first is what I call the stainless/aluminum category, where the head and mid-pipes are stainless steel, and the majority of the muffler is aluminum. We will be introducing titanium/carbon later this year or early next year. So in that category we are ten to 20 per cent under the current market leaders.

The other aggressive stand we take is with dealer margins. The dealers will have a much better profit margin in the product, which will hopefully make it attractive for them to inventory.

You know, price is king. We’re all enthusiasts, and we all want the best product we can afford. With manufacturing, there are a lot of limitations here in this country in terms of being able to afford the tooling to make a part the correct way. For example, the inlet bezel where the mid-pipe meets the silencer, is a forged part. To make that here, the tooling would be almost $100,000. Then you would yield a reasonably-priced part. But to do that is cost-prohibitive here. Off-shore, we do the engineering here, the testing here, and make the parts off-shore.

Do you do some of the initial parts production here?

Yes. We’ve had engineers do an engineering drawing for every part. We CNC parts, and then test them. In fact, we learned a lot. We had quite a few failures over the last six months on the inlet bezel and the hanger bracket. That’s one of the disadvantage of going off-shore, when you do want to make a change to a part, you add three weeks or a month to when you can see the next part. That does make it tough.

What kind of reaction have you had from dealers?

They’re flipping out over the margin. They’re just simply not used to making a comparable profit to what they make in soft goods and other product categories. The exhaust market, because of the high manufacturing costs here, demand thinner margins at distributor and dealer levels.

At the end of the day, the dealer stands to make a better profit with our product, and the consumer will be able to buy the product less expensively than competitor’s products. We feel the quality of the product is on par or better than all, and the performance is on par or better than all.

Some of the systems now are comparable in cost to what you used to pay for a complete bike.

Isn’t that the truth? My first bike, a 1973 Elsinore, was under $1,000. It amazes me when I’m at the track and see what people put on their bikes. We’re all enthusiasts, and love to have a tricker bike than our buddy. I guess that leads me to the look of our product. People really like the look of the product, and especially that the end cap can be replaced with a different color by removing three allen bolts. It takes about 30 seconds. We’re going to offer camo and neon colors, and just a lot of different things so people can personalize their bike. The Yamaha comes with a blue cap, the Honda with red, Suzuki with yellow/gold, and the Kasaki with green. Each one is brand-specific. Well, a Suzuki owner might now like the blue cap. The red also seems to be really popular. It’s a cool Candy Apple Red.

I’ve been in the exhaust business before, having founded Big Gun. This time I’m doing it the way I want to do it. I’ve also been involved in test riding for another magazine for many years. I have great relationships with racers and test riders from all the different magazines. We really quiz people in terms of what they want of power enhancement. It’s easy to say better bottom, better mid, and better top, but there’s a lot more to it. How happy is the motor? It just takes a lot of tweaking to get the product to work really well.

I guess our best test rider is Scott Simon, who’s a Team Green A rider. In fact, he won the 250 Open A class at Loretta Lynn’s this summer. We do a lot of testing with him, and a lot of other individuals. The road to make a pipe is varied. Every bike is different on how we achieve what we end up selling.

Is making a pipe all about maximum horsepower? Or tuning to get the power that you want?

The joke inside the existing exhaust companies is that if you want to sell pipes, you have to win on the dyno. We dyno everything. We’re on the dyno two or three days a week, and it’s a very important tool. But it is not the end all. The highest horsepower number does not always equal the best product, in my opinion.

I really believe that the manufacturers operate and manufacture under a different set of circumstances. They create very quiet pipes. They have to be durable beyond what the aftermarket has to adhere to. Therein you have a lot of opportunity to save weight, which we do really well. It also costs them more to do all the steps, and do the different diameter changes. A motocross exhaust pipe is a very difficult product to manufacture, because of the bends, and snaking around the kickstarter and the subframe, and missing the shock, and not hitting the airbox. The OE pipes are traditionally more simple in nature. So there is a lot of opportunity to make more power, better power, and save weight. Those are our challenges.

How about sound levels?

We also have a 96db stealth insert, it’s an optional $44.95 part. The exhaust system comes with a USDA approved spark arrester, and also two different outlet tuning nozzles. One’s a smaller nozzle, which creates more back-pressure, effectively creating more bottom and mid-range for trail riding. Even some Supercross guys like that. So it does come with a spark arrester, and two different nozzles.

We’ve seen a lot of double exhausts lately. Is that an avenue you’re looking to head down?

We will do the double applications. Our mini-bike silencer, which is in production right now, will work ideally for that application. I’m all for the quieter bikes. I think that as a responsible industry, we need to all adhere to that. I applaud Honda for doing it. We will have twin systems available for sure, but we also just got our hands on the ’06 CRF250R, and I think we’re also going to make a single-muffler system for that bike.

We’ve heard that Honda has a patent on their dual setup. How will that affect you?

What I’ve heard is that Honda has a patent on the splitter, and it’s a Japanese patent. It shouldn’t affect the aftermarket here in terms of what we’re able to make.

Aftermarket single systems are already really expensive. What’s it going to do to the cost of the doubles?

No doubt, the muffler assembly is the most expensive part to manufacture. It has the most parts, the most tooling, it has to be assembled. For sure it will increase the cost¿especially when you wad them up. How willing will consumers  be to do that? I don’t know. I think what will force that to happen is as the AMA enforces the db limit over the next couple years and it gets down there, and then private motocross tracks are forced to do the same.

I’m a certified sound tester. I spent two days learning how to do that. It’s pretty simple, and I think track owners will have to learn how to do that, and restrict the bikes that race and ride.

What else can we expect in the future from Rocket?

We’re looking at lots of other products to market also. This is the tip of the iceberg. Suffice it to say we’re going to be very aggressive with a lot of new products.

Right now we’re in the middle of setting up our office/warehouse in Lake Elsinore¿so right in the mecca of motocross country. We’re erecting pallet racks, and building workbenches. We only do light manufacturing and R&D there, so we’re moving all that into one central location right now.

We’re also aggressively looking for racers across the country in key geographical locations. I highly recommend that they contact us through Sponsorhouse.com. We will be back to you in a very timely manner.

How many of your other competitors have started going down the same avenue you’re doing, with off-shore manufacturing, and what do you think we can expect to see in the future?

I suspect that all the companies will have to do it in one form or another, or one level or another. Meaning a lot of them are doing it now, with parts. I know most of them are feeling around out there, because my sources tell me that. The difficult part of doing it off-shore, is finding a single manufacturer that can do all the manufacturing processes that you need to make a product like this. That’s difficult. To find individual manufacturers to make certain parts, and then coordinate and have them end up in one place over there, that far away, with the language barrier, is nearly impossible. The one source is my advantage, and there are just not a lot of them. We’re talking about six or seven different manufacturing processes that have to take place to make a product like this.

Contact:

18520 Pasadena St., Ste. A
Lake Elsinore, CA  92530
(951) 471-3500
Fax 951 471-3533
www.rocketexhaust.com

to do the same.

I’m a certified sound tester. I spent two days learning how to do that. It’s pretty simple, and I think track owners will have to learn how to do that, and restrict the bikes that race and ride.

What else can we expect in the future from Rocket?

We’re looking at lots of other products to market also. This is the tip of the iceberg. Suffice it to say we’re going to be very aggressive with a lot of new products.

Right now we’re in the middle of setting up our office/warehouse in Lake Elsinore¿so right in the mecca of motocross country. We’re erecting pallet racks, and building workbenches. We only do light manufacturing and R&D there, so we’re moving all that into one central location right now.

We’re also aggressively looking for racers across the country in key geographical locations. I highly recommend that they contact us through Sponsorhouse.com. We will be back to you in a very timely manner.

How many of your other competitors have started going down the same avenue you’re doing, with off-shore manufacturing, and what do you think we can expect to see in the future?

I suspect that all the companies will have to do it in one form or another, or one level or another. Meaning a lot of them are doing it now, with parts. I know most of them are feeling around out there, because my sources tell me that. The difficult part of doing it off-shore, is finding a single manufacturer that can do all the manufacturing processes that you need to make a product like this. That’s difficult. To find individual manufacturers to make certain parts, and then coordinate and have them end up in one place over there, that far away, with the language barrier, is nearly impossible. The one source is my advantage, and there are just not a lot of them. We’re talking about six or seven different manufacturing processes that have to take place to make a product like this.

Contact:

18520 Pasadena St., Ste. A
Lake Elsinore, CA  92530
(951) 471-3500
Fax 951 471-3533
www.rocketexhaust.com