It didn’t seem too long ago when we were all surprised and excited to hear the news that UK ‘factory spec’ dirt bike component makers Renthal were to be entering the mountain bike world. That they did, with ex-UK racer Ian Collins at the helm and now they are right up there in the thick of it, at the high end of the MTB product wish list, so we went and paid them a visit.
Now stocked as original equipment on lots of high-end models of current mountain bikes worldwide, Renthal certainly have made waves in the biking world. Their bars, stems and chainrings just ooze bling appeal, with unique styling and are renowned for quality and strength. Still largely involved in the dirt-bike world with a product production ratio split of around 75% motorcycle to 25% mountain bikes, Renthal’s cycling side is still growing.
We headed over to the very busy industrial estate near Manchester, made our way through its incredibly high security to check out the hype about this successful brand. We met up with Ian Collins, this guy is renowned in the older school generation of mountain bikers from the UK, he is now and always has been a fast rider (once top elite) a great character and a very funny guy! Always the joker when out with his mates, it’s amazing how easily Ian can switch to this very professional brand manager with a fantastically proud wealth of knowledge on the Renthal brand.
When was it that Renthal started to get into mountain bike components alongside their motorcycle range?
The idea to get into the mountain biking world was in 2008, there were two years of product development before going to market in 2010, at which point I joined Renthal. Renthal realised they needed someone with experience of the market, so I came in to guide the brand, which I have been doing now for the last six years.
Tell us about your riding and mountain bike history?
Yeah, I’ve got a pretty lengthy history, I’ve been riding now for 29 years! I got a mountain bike when I was 14 years old. That was the second year they had come into the UK, a friend of mine had just got a bike when we were in the scouts and I was like ‘I’ve got to have one of these!’
Whereabouts did you live at the time?
Pontesbury near Shrewsbury, not far from Eastridge (a famous old-school rider spot in the UK still raced to this day) I used to ride my BMX around the hill, basically mountain biking on a BMX, because that’s all we had back then. As soon as the mountain bike thing came along that was me all over and I jumped at it!
You raced elite category didn’t you?
Yes, I was elite in 1994/95 I think.
Didn’t you manage to beat Peaty somewhere back in the day?
Yes, there was a National at Eastridge, obviously it was my backyard, I’d grown up riding there and before the Nationals I basically just practised the arse off the course (laughter).
So as Renthal set up in the mountain bike world, who were the first big names you sponsored?
The first international team we sponsored was the Monster Energy/Specialized team, as it was then, which was in 2010. So that was Sam Hill, Troy Brosnan and Brendon Fairclough. Hill won the elite world championships and Brosnan won juniors, so we had two world champions in the first year!
I take it things cartwheeled then in the form of demand for your products?
Yes, so we have six world champions now, actually no it’s seven, as we’ve won a BMX one as well! Looking at this year, the last two rounds we’ve had four riders on the podium. In downhill we’ve won three of the first five world cups. In enduro, we’ve won four out of the current five rounds. Particularly in downhill, there’s no other brand that has the complete saturation of the sport as we do, 50% of the top ten in the last two rounds have been Renthal riders!
What do you think it is about Renthal that makes it so appealing?
Obviously it’s a good product, it’s got to be a good product or you’re never going to get anywhere, but I think the motocross connection carries over very well, let’s face it, most riders would love to be motocross riders and being factory sponsored by the world’s leading motocross handlebar manufacturer is pretty cool!
So how many products do you now have in your lineup?
Without counting every individual different size of products we have 89 now.
How long does each product spend in development before going to market?
It varies from product to product, but generally, nothing is quicker than about 18 months. The most recent product we launched was the 35 mm bar/stem and that took 18 months, but we had already done a lot of the data acquisition beforehand. We had already gained all the info on loading etc, on what the bars go through from other products previously. We would rather be slow to market, than to bring something straight to market that isn’t as good as it can possibly be.
So is this why you were 12 months late to the thick/thin chainring party?
Yeah definitely, we obviously saw the wide/narrow chainring thing happening, we benchmarked chainrings that were out there already and found durability issues with them straight away. I mean we are testing up here and as you know, up north it’s basically wet for around 11 ½ months per year (laughter). So we wanted to address the durability issues with these other products, we wanted to design around that and bring something out that lasted an acceptable amount of time and that’s why it took so long. We went through three distinct major alterations with our chainrings before the design we have now. Now with our benchmarking, the product we have gets twice the length of durability compared to the competition!
So, as we left Renthal, we had one conclusion in mind from our visit. These guys may not have the most products out there compared to lots of other brands and they may not be the cheapest. But when it comes to pre-production testing and re-testing Renthal do things properly, making sure they are not just up to scratch on quality, but leading the way. They are not so much followers, more setting the bar a level higher than the competition (pardon the pun!) It will be very interesting to see what Renthal come out with in the near future as their latest venture in the MTB world; we wait with baited breath!
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Words: Jim Buchanan Photos: Isac Paddock