Especially in Southern California, there are a ton of race shops that you can take your dirt bike to. But not all shops are created equal. In the process of trying to decide what direction to take our 2020 Honda CRF250R Project Build, we reached out to Chad Braun at XPR Motorsports to see if they had any specs available. Chad has not only been the mind behind the MCR Smartop Bullfrog Spa Honda Team’s engines, he’s also done a few other project bikes that interested us.
Right away, we really respected Chad’s honesty when talking about the Honda build. XPR isn’t completely tied to any specific aftermarket companies so, in their own words, they can run what works the best. With working with the MotoConcepts Team, Chad had great success with the Akrapovic system on the CRF450R and he was curious, as we were, to see how the latest full exhaust system from Akrapovic would work with the CRF250R.
Well, we were impressed with the system's performance (check out our First Ride here) with the stock bike, and we are excited to see what XPR can do from there. Obviously, this isn’t a test of that build, which is coming soon, but since we were at XPR, we wanted to get to know Chad a little better.
Talk a little bit about how you started this, why you started it and a little bit about your background.
Well, my roots, I started off as a Ducati technician. I did a lot of service maintenance and then I got into race motors. I was racing motocross at the time and I had a lot of buddies that wanted me to work on their bikes. So, I started working on their bikes and it kind of snowballed from there. And I worked for other shops in the meantime and, you know, it just started getting more and more into the modifications of things and I wanted to be able to provide good quality motors and performance for guys trying to compete at a high level.
About when did you start your own shop?
In 2008 I started my own shop. I decided to just, you know, go for it. I felt like I had enough experience on the business side to start, and enough experience on moto side to really give it a good go.
Was there anything that you started with specifically as far as like being a Honda shop or a certain OEM or was it just pretty much any bike?
Yeah, just buddies bikes and working on street stuff. It was maintenance, a lot of maintenance at first, you know, but then we started to try to direct everything more towards high performance, which is what I always wanted to do and was doing when I was working for Ducati. So, friends wanting stuff done and like I said, it just kinda snowballed into that and here we are.
So you've been working with the Smartop Team for quite some time. How did that start and how do you guys work together?
Yeah, I mean we work well. It's been an eight year relationship. It was kind of strange how it started. One of the guys I used to work with knew Tony Allessi and I guess Tony was asking some questions about mechanics and performance stuff. I got a call from Tony, it would have been 2011 or 2012 ish. And he wanted to come and to the shop, check it out, talk to me. Then I had a meeting with him at, I wanna say Houston Supercross, and Mike Genova and it went really well. And the next Monday morning he came to shop, check it out. And that's really where it's all started.
And now your relationship with them is pretty hands on, correct? I mean, it’s not just engines being dropped off and shipped out. You guys are out at the practice track and races with them as well.
Yeah, we're, we're pretty heavily involved with them. We are part of all the preseason testing sessions and planning. You know, if the guys need anything, want to make changes, try stuff, we're there at the track doing the testing with them, getting them as comfortable as possible.
With talking with pipe builders and other race shop guys, it is clear that sometimes there can be discrepancies between performance on the dyno and rider feel. Which do you focus on or, how do those work together?
Yeah, I mean, I guess it's both to answer that question because the dyno shows one thing, but rider feel is also very important, probably more important. And getting them comfortable because once they're comfortable they go fast. So yeah, I try to do a lot of testing before I bring an engine package or change to them to kind of know a direction and then they can pick and choose what they want. Sometimes it's hard for the racers to get across what they feel or get them to tell us what they really are looking for because they may articulate it in a different way than what we're used to. So it may take a little bit of time, but I feel like we can deliver what they're asking for. And at the same time they've gotten really good with really knowing what they want, which helps us.
With customer bikes, just normal riders, do you find that your experience working with a pro-level team helps with that or is it a whole different ballpark?
I would say yes, what we learn and develop with the team transfers to what we do with customer bikes because, for example, a lot of the maps, like for the mapping stuff that we run for the team Honda 450s, what we race with is what the customer actually gets. We don't have any other maps. I mean, I have probably 30 or 40 different maps that we've ran through over the years. But, we find what works best for the pros and yeah, for the most part, you know, they're running the same map that works for our other customers.
Are your typical customers, would you say more towards the serious racer guys, or more of the vet/weekend warrior guys?
I would say it's probably a mix. It's a mix of everything because, you know, a lot of these 450s these days, for example, they're all really fast. So it's not about making power with them. It's about where you're putting the power and how usable that power is. So that appeals to the beginner rider as well as the experienced racer. I feel like even at the top pro level, guys are looking for that. And what's interesting is that even the pro guys want manageable power that they can put down and ride aggressively, but still be easy to ride. And I feel like even on our customer side of things, that's what they're asking for as well.
What are some of the things that you guys can do here with the machines and equipment that you have here at the XPR shop?
Well, we're a full service shop so if you wanted a full race motor, we can build a full race motor, or if you're wanting any kind of service, whether it's a top end rebuild or you need a bottom end rebuild, we can do it all. We work with everybody from just the regular maintenance to full race engines from anywhere in the world. We have lots of international customers, which we're quite lucky with.
Speaking of international customers or people that live out of state, how did they get their engine here? Do they have to get those custom made foam engine cases?
No. So, pretty much same thing that we do at the race teams is that, we'd go and buy a cooler from Walmart, put some towels in it, and you basically drop the engine in and they'll ship motors from Australia or Europe in a cooler and we'll ship them DHL or whatever carrier they want to use. We can normally build motors for them within three days of receiving the engine.
I see some suspension in here with your logos as well. Do you do suspension work?
We used to do suspension. We've kind of put that on the back burner right now cause we wanted to focus more on the engine side of things just because of what we're involved with with the racing and development side of the motors. So at this point it made more sense to just really focus on that. It doesn't mean we won't go back to that maybe in the future, but for right now, just motor stuff.
For more information on XPR Motorsports, check out www.xprmotorsportsparts.com. And keep an eye out for our 2020 Honda CRF250R build, which we'll be riding soon.
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