Industry Insights | Ft. Rob Brown

The Research and Development Manager at Race Tech, Rob Brown, joins for this installment of Industry Insights.

In this installment of Industry Insights we talk to Rob Brown who is the Research and Development Manager at Race Tech. Race Tech is the worlds largest aftermarket motorcycle suspension modification company and Rob is involved with much of their success. 

For the full interview, check out the Vital MX podcast right here. If you're interested in the condensed written version, scroll down just a bit further.

Jamie Guida – Vital MX: How long have you been at Race Tech?

Rob Brown: I'm a little over fifteen at this point.

Vital MX: We will talk about what you do for Race Tech, but first, tell us where you grew up and how you discovered motorcycles.

Rob: I grew up in the Chicago area, and my Uncle got me on the Honda Mini-Trail 50. I started with that and grew into racing 80s. I ended up fracturing my back when I was on 80s. I then got out of it for a while and started racing again around twenty. A horrible incident at a track took me from being a racer to working on stuff. I wanted to give back to the sport, and since my career got cut short, I started dedicating myself to this. I went from testing on one side of the fence to testing on the other side. I had a lot of good experience with tuners teaching me. Todd Davis was my mentor and taught me. When I decided to work in the industry I reached out and asked him to teach me. He took me under his wing, and that's how I got into it. 

Vital MX: Was suspension your primary focus, or were you into all mechanics?

Rob: I was into all, but mostly engines and suspension. I had a business in the Chicago area until I went to Race Tech, and we did everything from engines and suspension to powder coating and plating. It was an overwhelming business. I went through an unfortunate divorce that changed my path, and there was nothing better than going to work for the iconic Paul Thede at Race Tech. I figured it would be a new start, and who better to learn from?

Vital MX: A move to Southern California seems ideal.

Rob: Yeah, the weather was nice. I'm back in Chicagoland now to help with some family stuff, but I'll be part-time in the Midwest and part-time in Cali once things settle down. Fifteen years of being in California is quite nice. The weather is always great, and you never have to change a date for testing. 

Race Tech

Vital MX: How did you get introduced to Paul Thede? Did Rob make that happen?

Rob: Yeah, that was from my mentor, Todd. Paul hired Todd at Race Tech and said, "I need another heavy hitter like yourself." Todd said, "I know a guy. He won't be cheap, but he might be willing to move." I went out and interviewed him, and he made me an offer. I told him I needed to try and sell my business first, so I went back home and found someone willing to buy it the same day. So, it was pretty easy for me, and I made the move. 

Vital MX: What was your original role at Race Tech?

Rob: My first job was to design our cartridge kits and fork components for road racing. In the first month, we were able to design a program that did it all. At the end of the month, I approached Paul and said, "What's my next project?" That was supposed to be my job. Then, they had me fill in for one of our in-house tuners to go test with the KTM group. That went well, and then another one went well, and it grew. In about nine months, Paul took me on as his right-hand man, and I became a General Manager. Things went quickly. 

Vital MX: Paul is a super smart guy and, some would say, a genius. I assume you can absorb all his information.

Rob: Yes, he is. My career in racing and time working with Todd involved a lot of trial-and-error testing. I'm very analytical and dig too deep into everything, so when I went to work for Paul, I had all these things I'd tried, data, and things I'd proved as a fact. Paul then said, "You don't have to work that hard. Let me give you the formulas for this and that." Memory and math are my strong points, so it was easy for me to grow with him. 

Vital MX: Over the fifteen years, how has your role changed? 

Rob: I kind of create my responsibilities and don't have them put on me. If something needs to be done, I'll fix it. I've been a business owner my whole life and still have a business owner mentality. Often, it's just making decisions, and if I make decisions that are good for the company Paul is grateful. So, I keep working at my own pace and he seems to appreciate everything I do. I work as if I'm the owner, but I'm not. I don't have to worry about expenses. My goal is to make the company money, make good products, and do the best I can. Paul always says, "It's hard to find an employee that has owner mentality instead of someone that says, 'Where's my check?" I don't think like that. I see something that could be better and I work on it. 

Race Tech

Vital MX: What have been the most significant advancements in suspension in your time? Where does it go from here?

Rob: The one that could be coming up is electronic suspension. It could be very beneficial but could also get us in a lot of trouble. It could make or break the industry. As far as components, we learned a lot with metallurgy, learned damping curves better, learned chassis stiffness and rigidity information, and a lot of stuff. The air fork has come and gone and a lot of people don't want to watch their air pressure. It's another thing that gets in the way and a lot of people just want to ride their motorcycle. Then some people say, "I'm 250lbs, and now I don't have to buy springs." That's a positive as well. It's a give-and-take with the pros and cons of air forks. I've also noticed that we have been going stiffer and stiffer for quite a while. We are starting to soften things up, but we've found how far we can push the chassis. The riders have advanced in style, allowing them to push the chassis farther. The Lawrence brothers have made some major changes for us. I think it's good. Going back to advancements, the one I think could hurt the industry is if we go electronic. Like fuel injection, when people get the opportunity to tweak it too much, they usually ruin the motorcycle more than fix it. 

Vital MX: What are some of the most common things you see consumers do wrong with their suspension or complain about?

Rob: I always say this in our seminars. If you think your rebound needs to be slower, it probably needs to be faster. If you think it needs to be stiffer, it probably needs to be softer. When I started doing suspension, I thought about controlling the chassis. If the bike is kicking and moving up and down, let's slow the bike down. In my experience, you're usually correct if you do everything the exact opposite of what you think it needs. You're really controlling the wheel more than the chassis. If the chassis is moving up and down, it's because it's connected to the wheel. If you loosen up the rebound, you separate the two, and the wheel moves a bunch, and the chassis stops moving. That's the one thing I've noticed: everyone is trying to control the chassis with their adjustments instead of the wheel. 

Race Tech

Vital MX: What do you think sets Race Tech apart from the other companies?

Rob: Paul Thede, for sure. His business model and what he decided to do with it. Instead of being secretive with what he learned and saying, "Mine. Mine. Mine. These are my settings" and having people steal and copy them, he said, "Let me create a valving in a box. It comes with the valves and the shims, and I'll tell you what to put on it." I believe that the business model has made it work throughout the world. We have centers, dealers, and distributors everywhere who get to install and receive feedback. Then there's the quantity. Most guys might do ten or twenty of a particular model in a year, whereas we'll get feedback on hundreds to thousands a year. So, we get a lot more data averaging than most. Most people go out and tune and they get a setting. Nine out of ten times, everyone will get the same setting with some spring changes. With us, we've tested many different ways, ages, abilities, and terrain, which helps us land it more where people can enjoy it right out of the gate. There are still preferences, such as stiff or soft, and that's ok. We're at least getting into a very good average immediately.

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