Check In From Down Under | Mike Sleeter on Wreckers to Checkers, Lawrence Bros, and the Aussie Moto Scene

Australia has a strong moto culture, which isn’t just anecdotal, we have the view numbers to show how much of Vital MX’s web traffic comes from Down Under. We reached out to former pro and long time moto industry guy Mike Sleeter, who recently relocated to Queensland Australia and works for MX Store, to catch up on how the Aussie moto and off-road scene is going and to follow up on the MX Store’s popular YouTube series Wreckers to Checkers. 

KLINGER: 

Hey Mike, thanks for taking the time. So for those that aren’t familiar, what is MX Store all about?

SLEETER:

MX Store is a really unique e-commerce platform. It's kind of like a Rocky mountain ATV, but it's very aggressive with creating its own content. Dude, they don't even run off budgets, we just do and do and do and do and riding is very ingrained in the culture. As a company, it is just something I've never seen as far as just encouraging all the staff to ride. We have bikes for staff. We have a 40 foot workshop outside that I built out with two containers that we turned into a full kind of movie set/workshop. So yeah, employees can work on their bikes after work and that's where we film the video series as well. They're the largest e-commerce platform in Australia and New Zealand for motorcycle sales and I got to come on as a general manager here.

 

KLINGER:

As a retail company, why did MX store say, ‘Hey, we just want to create really cool content, screw budgets’?

SLEETER:

That's a great question and the reason is to not be so commercialized. We want to bring our  core competency to the market. And more of like, we are just like you, not better than you. We have a little showroom out front. It's kind of like a small little shop and then everything in stock in the hundred-thousand foot warehouse is available through the showroom. They just wanna be relevant and credible. And during the last 10 years building the business the founder, Jake Albert said they just lost the core competency of riding and being part of the riding community. I was able to bring a lot of energy and culture. And then fortunately for me and the company we're in Queensland, and if anyone's seen the media in Queensland, we've had zero cases of COVID they've locked all the borders. So we've kind of taken it and just been doing events and events, like creating our own races and creating our own culture. Our MX nationals were slimmed down to a three-race series. So we've just been keeping the energy alive just with the community and showing relevant content, building bikes like the Wreckers to Checkers series.

KLINGER:

So in Queensland, are there a lot of moto tracks around there?

SLEETER:

Yeah it is awesome, man. So the Lawrence brothers came from two hours north of the Gold Coast where MX store is… It's called the Sunny Coast. There's about honestly 12 tracks within a three hour radius. There's really good tracks here and the difference between the tracks here in Queensland versus California is that there's all types of terrain. Where the Lawrences grew up, it was beach sand, black beach sand. Then if you go an hour north from there, it's red clay, like Italian red clay, super tacky and hard pack. That's why the Aussies like, Dean Ferris and Jed beaten and all these guys, Mitch Evans, they correlate to the GPs so well because they're able to ride sand and they're able to ride hard pack. Where, you know, our nationals in America have all the same mulch, same rip. They were a little better in 202, we can say that, you know? But historically it has been all prep the same, where in Australia you have Wonthaggi, the first round of the nationals, it is deep Lommel type sand, super deep. So the diversity of terrain is quite deep.

 

KLINGER:

When you're looking at sales, are you seeing more moto stuff or more off-road stuff selling better in Australia?

SLEETER:

We are seeing more moto stuff because we really concentrate on more moto, but in 2021, we are trending towards more of that market, the adventure and rally segment and off-road segment is massive with the Transmoto race events. We support the Transmoto program. That's a large series here, it's a great platform. Andy Wiggan does a great job with that. It's an eight hour race that goes across the Eastern seaboard. It's kind of like Day In The Dirt meets GNCC. But, if you go out and act like a meathead and win, you're kind of made fun of. So it's great. They get about 900 riders and it sells out in an hour. 

KLINGER:

So Wreckers to checkers. I saw some of the early episodes. I didn't watch the final one. So who won?

SLEETER:

Dylan won with the Dan Reardon Kawi replica. The Kawasaki is a popular bike down here, like Kawasaki it's a very popular two-stroke, and the Suzuki. Yamaha owns a lot of the market share here so Kawis are very popular, like that early nineties two-stroke, mid-nineties two-stroke is really popular but hard to find, not a lot of inventory, so to do it right it looks really cool. MicMac’s Suzuki was a really cool build, that was done well. Nige's Shorty replica turned out phenomenal too. That was cool having Shorty on one of the episodes. We just wanted to build bikes that like, let people know you can build epic bikes under six grand.

 

KLINGER:

Okay. And then for those that haven't seen it, the whole premise was, there was a cash limit, correct? 

Six thousand and you had to buy the bike and build it with $6,000 cash. And only 10 working days to build it. So the guys only took off a day at the shop, so it's 10 working days and we stayed true to that. 

KLINGER:

Wow. Was there an age range or was it any old or new bikes? 

SLEETER:

Whatever they wanted to do. Like Nige found that barn find, that Honda 450. That was pretty epic, right? But yeah, whatever they wanted to do, and those guys all work here, Nige is like a product specialist. He builds our online catalog. MicMack is the in-house designer for our graphics company, Nine Two Designs. And Dylan is our digital marketing specialist doing social media and blogs and all that. So it's really cool that the people here are very ingrained in the space and knowledgeable. 

 

KLINGER:

Any plans for another series or a different series? 

SLEETER:

Yeah, we did a little teaser of what's to come with one of our purchasing managers. We just launched with her Yamaha build, Serco Yamaha, which is the Factory 250 team. They did like a, ‘Hey, we saw your Wreckers to Checkers, let's show you how a pro does it.’ It's a pretty cool episode. Season two of Wreckers to Checkers will go off in Q1. So we have a pretty cool one brewing up for that with the same premise. There'll be a budget, you know, 10 working days, but it will be a throwback theme, but different bikes. It'll be cool.

KLINGER:

I know there's a couple moto companies down there, obviously some graphics companies, the SKDA, Funnel Web Filter. But are there any other moto brands that we would probably know and not realize that are Austrailian?

SLEETER:

That's a great question. Split designs and they're actually owned by Rival Inc. They were purchased from American dudes, but some Aussies own Split now and have been running it for three or four years. Fist Army, Sammy does Fist that that's a pretty cool brand. I don't know if anyone's familiar with Krooztune. So I guess they are kind of like a Nihilo. They do some really cool suspension stuff. There's a lot of really good performance parts down here that I was blown away by, that people don't see. Like Krooztune does some really cool WP componentry, spring conversions. They have a lot of knowledge, a lot of racing knowledge. When you're in the states you’re in that bubble, especially California. We think we have everything, but there's some very intelligent, very legacy-driven companies down here. 

 

KLINGER:

Is Unit still a thing? 

SLEETER:

Unit is still a thing. It's a different ownership, but yes, Unit still a thing. Joel Evans is a top privateer, he travels the country in a van, racing, like full van life. He races the nationals, great kid. He rides for Unit. It's very different, but it's almost refreshing in a sense. There's a lot of passion and there's very few factory riders, so you really, truly have to do it for the love of it.

KLINGER:

With American off-road, you got National Enduro, you got GNCC, you got WORCS. I'm assuming from what I've seen of Australia, there's a lot of, more like West Coast style riding, like desert-y, fast. Is there tight stuff, too?

SLEETER:

It's opposite. So what you're seeing is Finke. You're seeing Toby Price in Finke, that's like in the middle of the country here. That's similar to the Baja 250, like the San Felipe 250. But there is not a lot of that. A lot of it is tight, really more like hard enduro. Daniel Milner is a six day winner, an absolute weapon. And if you look at the results from the Six Days, Australia has won multiple times. With the trees and the water, it's very tropical on the Eastern seaboard, so it's a very tight technical type of riding.

KLINGER:

Nice, well is there anything else you want to add? 

SLEETER:

I think the most important thing is where is the money going for these bikes. We are donating all the money to local tracks and clubs.So we injected the money back into the industry. The new owner of the bike got to pick 20% of the funds to his club or track of choice, and then we gave the rest to our partners. So six different tracks and clubs got support through the show. Overall it's been just a cool deal to just show the culture and relevancy to the consumer that we are just like them here, everyone MX store is ingrained in the industry.

 

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