We’d guess that if you’re a longtime reader of TransWorld Motocross you’ll remember the acerbic wit of Harold “McGoo” McGruther, from our Gone Postal section. Additionally, if you were a keen reader of mastheads, you’d also recognize his partner in crime, Bill Bryant, as the art director who created the design foundation for TMWX. These two have a long history in the cycling industry, most recently with their ad agency, Revolution, as well as creating the SNAFU brand of BMX components. Add in Drew Kuriger (as Brand Manager) and Sully (to head up Sales) to the aforementioned duo, and you have the foundations of one of the newer brand names in MX, Universal.
We dropped in on Universal’s Temecula, CA, headquarters last week, to see what they were up to, and to get a little background on what makes Universal tick. Drew showed us around their tastefully decorated and immaculate offices (we need to quit giving people advance warning that we’re coming), and we settled on the shop area to fire up the tape recorder and get the inside scoop from Drew.
“The way it started was three years ago, McGoo and Bill were approached at the Taipei bike show bike by a long-time client of theirs, Kinesis. They’re the second-largest producer of aluminum mountain bikes in the world, and if you have an aluminum mountain bike in your garage, they probably made it. They said, ‘Hey, we know all about your SNAFU business plan,’ where basically they’re the ad agency and partner, ‘We hear it’s working out great.'”
“McGoo, who is infinitely familiar with bicycles, was able to make really good products for SNAFU, and Revolution was able to make really good ads for them. Their partner in that venture out of Taiwan was able to find really good vendors to make the stuff, so it all came together.”
“The only difference with Kinesis, besides the fact that it was motorcycles instead of bicycles, was that Kinesis actually is a factory. They have three facilities. One in Portland, Oregon; one in mainland China; and one in Taichung, Taiwan.”
“They were looking at motorcycles for a lot of reasons. A lot of the parts on a bike and motorcycle are similar. The tooling and machining, a lot of times are very similar. They’re not into making a whole motorcycle. They’re not biting off too much. But the parts that go on a motorcycle are a lot of times very similar.”
In the short time they’ve been in business, Universal has worked up a pretty cool collection of goodies. Their bed rack has been selling like…well, Sully has an extremely colorful description for its popularity that involves women’s prisons, but we’ll spare you.
Universal has also added a variety of accessories and bolt-on items like bike stands, handlebars, levers, carbon frame guards, and case guards to their line. “Nearly everything we make is something that a guy who brings home a brand new…say CR250…is going to want to bolt onto the new bike, Drew explained. “For example, I won’t even ride with the stock handlebars. I don’t go big enough or ride fast enough to bend them, but I’ve seen guys roll in after their first ride on a track with those things drooping. The factories don’t need to make them any better because they know that everybody’s a different height and size, and have different riding styles. They’ll want to put their own bend on there anyway.”
“One advantage Kinesis has is that they have huge testing capabilities. When you’re an OE supplier like that, someone like Santa Cruz bicycles will bring them a design to be tested with their materials. So they’ll build a prototype and test them right there in the factory. Test cycles, yield strengths, stuff like that. We were able to do that with handlebars right away. Within weeks of signing the deal, we were sending bars over there. They’ve tested every bar on the market many, many times with three different tests to try to find out the industry standard—who was the strongest, who was the weakest, and where we wanted to be. We kind of knew we wanted to be at the very top, and as an end result, after our first set of prototypes came through, we were right there. They were already on it.”
So far, the formula for Universal seems to be working. “What we wanted to do was really do our homework and sharpen the pencils and really come up with parts that are really high quality, but bring them in at a price that more people can afford. The stuff’s not cheap by any means, but it’s better quality than what you might pay for a comparably-made piece. It might come in a little less than the really high-end guys, but be as good a quality. That’s what we’re after. Make it to where most people can afford that stuff.”
“Kinesis is truly as excited about this whole thing as we are. They’re really into making good quality stuff for the motorcycle market. Motorcycle racing is new to them. Last year at Anaheim was our head engineer’s first supercross. We walked down at practice and I set him right at the foot of the triple. The look on that guy’s face when they came around was like an eight-year-old boy. It clicked…this is what we’re doing this for. Stuff has to be strong. That’s why we’re so adamant about the quality and testing.”
Spend a while talking to Drew, Sully, Bill, or McGoo, and it’s easy to see that they’re as serious about the product side of the business as they are fun-loving. The ping pong table in their kitchen area is just one indicator. “We’re right here in Temecula, which is the center of the motocross mecca. This place is a big tree fort. It’s a really cool place to spend 12 to 15 hours a day. We all want to ride our dirt bikes, but if we can’t do that, we’ve always got time for a game of ping-pong. It’s eight minutes of pure fun.”
27570 Commerce Center Dr., #129
Temecula, CA 92590
Tel: (909) 506-0142
Fax: (909) 506-0149