BEHIND THE SCENES WITH BBR'S DUANE BROWN--NOV 12
Duane Brown is a connoisseur of good invention, but more importantly he's an avid mini bike rider - a mini-holic if you will. He even jokes that right out of the womb he was riding anything that had an engine and wheels. Today Duane has switched his focus strictly to mini bikes, and rides his inventions every day. That sure doesn't sound like a bad job to us. We caught up with one of the three Brown brothers to discuss business, mini bike mayhem, and competition.
Recently you moved from an old building, located a few miles from the Seattle-Tacoma airport, to a new facility. Why did you make the move?
We started off in a small warehouse that was about 3,000 square feet, and over the last four years we'd taken over every other building around there until we ran out of room. We decided to get one big 25,000 square foot building and move everything into one area.
BBR still produces quite a bit of its products in-house, instead of outsourcing to other countries. Why keep production in the U.S. when costs are more expensive?
We're one of the only companies that are still making 90% of our products in the U.S. We like to do it because we can control the products that come out of here, we can fine tune things, change things on a daily basis, and update on any moments notice. A lot of people have taken everything overseas, and we even see a lot of our parts getting taken overseas and knocked off. It's actually kind of funny to see that. Most of the products we're still doing in-house. We actually do our bore kits and some other things done overseas. You just can't cast, forged, or chromed things in the U.S. anymore.
It doesn't seem to bother you that other people are copycatting your equipment. How does it make you feel when you see a near clone of your own product that you've spent so much time creating?
We laugh, because generally by the time someone gets our product, takes it overseas and gets it knocked off BBR is well on its way to the next product. Sometimes even we're two or three parts removed from the original product. It was lonely four or five years ago when we were the only people making some of these products. We used to get laughed at for making billet aluminum gas caps and complete frame kits, but now it seems like everyone's into it so it's good. Competition makes things grow and we welcome it.
Would you say that you set the standard in aftermarket mini bike accessories?
Yeah, we try to. We look at every part and try to make it good enough to be on a factory bike. We ask ourselves if the products we make are good enough to be outfitted on a factory Yamaha, Suzuki, Kawasaki, or Honda. We're definitely selling to the Porsche-type guys and it trickles down to every little piece we make.
Not to let the cat out of the bag, but where do you see the mini bike market going? What needs to be designed to make mini bikes easier for adults to ride?
I think it's going to gravitate towards a little bit bigger bikes. 50's are great because they're relatively cheap, but with 110's and 150's anyone can ride them. Mom, sister, or brother, the bikes won't throw you down like a 50 will. They seem to be a little more reliable and they're cheaper in the long run just because they'll stay together better.
You have a whole slew of BBR mini bikes in your shop. Do all of the Brown brothers ride?
Yep, all three of us ride quite a bit. I ride more than anybody because I'm the head test rider, and I'll ride everyday for an hour or two. I have a track at my house and I just pound the parts into the ground. Then we have some in-house test riders as well, guys like Kyle Coen. My brothers Chris and Brent spend more time running the business. Brent handles the paperwork and oversees the look and design of how BBR is going. Chris sits at the computer quite a bit and designs every single BBR part, and he designs them with the help of in-house engineers. Those guys like the hands-on part of the business whereas I like to ride every single day.
How many new products do you have sitting around just waiting in the wings to be introduced to the mini bike consumer world?
We have hundreds of new parts at any one time. It's just a matter of picking the right parts and what order to release them in. We try to perfect one bike at a time and one part at a time, but we definitely have a board full of new parts for all the different bikes. We laugh when these other companies can't even come up with one decent product and we're sitting here with hundreds of new parts that people at BBR have thought up [laughter].
With your frame design, how long of a process was it for the aluminum frame to come to fruition?
Usually the frame designs are a one to a one-and-a-half year process. I'll start by hacking one frame out by hand machining it, hand welding and grinding the thing. That usually takes about two to three months, then we'll ride on the frame and perfect it from there by changing the geometry, seat height, swing arm length, and head tube angle. We'll keep tweaking it until we get one that's good, and then we'll hand it off to Chris and the engineers. From there they'll try to turn it into a sellable production part. By the time the plastic molds are done and that, it's about a year-and-a-half long process.
Who is the fastest mini bike racer in the world?
There are a bunch of guys who are super fast on the 50's. It seems like every state has some really fast guys. Overall though, someone who can ride 50's, 110's, and 150's really fast is Chris Gosselaar. He's done some stuff that just doesn't look doable on those bikes. He wanted to go up against the mini bike guys in Las Vegas, but Honda pulled the plug on that. Rightfully so, because they needed him to race the Vegas supercross the next day and the way he hangs it out on a mini bike he might not have made it to the next day [laughter]. He's done some crazy stuff on those bikes.
What do you think of an organized mini bike series?
It would be great. We would like to see a sanctioned mini bike series, and lots of guys are just waiting for it to happen. It would be great to see factory teams and factory riders. Let's make it happen.
Could you take us through a regular day at BBR?
Usually I show up and half my day is spent on the business side of things. I deal with magazines and make sure things are rolling that way. Also, as new parts get thought up and tested, we have an in-house mechanic that bolts the bike together and I'll take the bike from him. Then I go ride and pound on the bike to test the products. I let everyone from my kids to the in-house test riders test the bike and products. I have 12 bikes at my house - everything from a perimeter 50 to a perimeter 150 and all the stock bikes too. I have the stock bikes just to make sure we're going in the right direction.
Where is BBR headed in the future?
We just want to keep building the absolute trickest parts there are and growing things slowly. We've been careful to build the business slowly. We own everything here and we're not going away. We want to be on the cutting edge. We're absolutely passionate about bikes and we ride and test everything.
How is it that you get to build bikes for guys like Kevin Windham and Ricky Carmichael?
A lot of those guys call up here, and it seems we build bikes for almost every factory rider. Those guys will call up and order a bike for their wife, kids, or themselves. It's amazing. With Carmichael and Windham it's a Honda deal and we're really good friends with the guys from Honda R&D and the race team. We're always building bikes and testing stuff back and forth with those guys, so it's just natural that those guys would be riding our stuff.
What did you think of Bubba's 24K gold bike?
That was cool! We can appreciate that kind of work, and we're friends with all the guys over at Two Brothers so we were excited for them. Those guys are great competitors with us and we push each other to the next level. It's cool that they did that for Bubba.
It's weird because you doesn't seem like you're cut throat with your competition. Why?
We love everybody in the sport. We know all the other companies out there and as long they don't knock us off straight up then we don't get mad. Occasionally we'll get mad if someone takes one of our parts and sends it to Taiwan to get knocked off, but we usually laugh it off and move on to the next thing. We see those guys at the races and we know that if we've done our homework things are going to come around for us.
What is the one product that someone should immediately purchase after buying a mini bike?
The CRF50 can practically not be ridden without a bar kit, pipe or skid plate. On the 110, probably a tall seat, triple clamp that moves the bars out of your lap, and an exhaust system. For the CRF150, the pipe is number one, as well as a triple clamp and stiffer springs.
Thank you for the interview, Duane.
Thank you, now if you'll excuse me I have to go ride some dirt bikes.