This small company is a reflection of its location on Colorado's rugged Western Slope (click to enlarge).
If a company's personality and ethos are driven by its location, then Mountain Racing Products (better known as MRP) is rough, rugged and built to last. The well-regarded makers of chain guides, chain guards, and various suspension products resides in blue collar Grand Junction, Colorado, a fertile locale for sourcing oil and gas and growing fruits and vegetables, but a destructive place to ride mountain bikes. The local Tabaguache trail system is littered with sharp sandstone, ledgy drops, and rowdy rock gardens. It's a durability tester's dream - or nightmare.
"Being in this area has a huge effect on our products," said Noah Sears, MRP's director of marketing and Mtbr's tour guide during a recent trip to the company's Western Slope HQ. "Everything we make gets extensively field tested right here. I have a route out at the Lunch Loops (the trail system's other name) that has a steady climb, fast chunder, and some in between. It's easily repeatable so it's a great place to evaluate chain guide or suspension performance. Inferior products don't do well on those trails."
MRP has been making chain guides since 1995. Here a G3 with integrated skid plate comes to life (click to enlarge).
MRP is best known for its chain guides, something they've been making since 1995. Last year, Sears says the company sold 60,000 of them. Among the pros using some variation of the product are the Trek World Racing Team, Giant's Factory Off-Road Team, and the Pivot World Cup Factory Team. Famed French gravity great Cedric Gracia is also an MRP rider.
"Chain guides are definitely our bread and butter and we still see some big opportunities there," revealed company owner and president Tim Fry. "But we also have a lot of eggs in the suspension basket because that is where we see most growth in next 5 years."
MRP has five suspension forks, ranging from an 80mm XC offering for kid's 20-inch bikes all the way to a 200mm dual-crown downhill model. The enduro-oriented Stage is the one Sears is most excited about.
"It's a 34mm, and for the 27.5 model the axle-to-crown distance is more in line with 26," he explained. "So you basically get 10mm more travel at same length. If you have a frame that is suspension corrected for a 160mm 27.5 fork, you can actually use our 170mm and it doesn't change geometry."
The Stage fork comes in travel lengths from 120mm to 170mm in 26, 27.5 and 29er versions. MRP does the vast majority of this fork's parts machining in-house, and all assembly is done in Grand Junction, which helps with quality control.
"We can catch everything," added Sears. "All the forks are built one by one, and they get tested before they ever go out the door."
Here's a great look at how - and where - those forks get tested.
Inside the walls of a non-descript building in the office-park area of Colorado's largest city outside the Front Range, 23 employees punch the proverbial MRP time clock. Up front is the standard fare of administration, sales and marketing office space. Out back and upstairs is where things get more interesting. There's a full machine shop, large assembly area, and design, engineering and product testing facilities.
And while the job titles of these nearly two dozen employees vary, one thing carries through the entire building.
"Everyone rides," says Sears, who goes by NoahColorado in the Mtbr forums, adding that he likes getting feedback and staying in tune with what people are saying and asking for. "Our sales guy is a former pro freerider that did the Red Bull Rampage once. Another guy is the president of the local trails advocacy organization. That's one of the big strengths of the company. We're all passionate about making good product because if we didn't we'd have to hear about all the time at the local trailheads."
Inside is a full machine shop capable of making many of the parts that make-up MRP products (click to enlarge).
Our tour starts in the machine shop, which is capable of making all manner of parts and pieces. The backs of guide plates, valves, axles, and knobs are all part of the daily output. They also make rollers for Kreitler, the reason for a stack of round steel rods in the back of this large noisy room.
This testing machine allows MRP to both observe a running drivetrain and test different setup scenarios. They can also set it up to run continuously and add drag to the system to simulate long-term wear. It was vital to their chainring testing, allowing them to gather data about friction, noise, and cross-brand compatibility (click to enlarge).
Next door are several small test rooms. In one (pictured above) a motor drives a crank to test chainring wear. MRP also cycle tests its forks through a series of different impacts, which allows them to track wear patterns on seals and see what sort of temperatures are created by various scenarios and use rates.
"The big thing to keep in mind with narrow-wide chainrings is that they only keep the chain on because of friction, so as your chainring wears that retention functionality diminishes," explained Sears. "So we run this test machine non-stop and see what kind of wear patterns develop and then accommodate that in the design and machining of our Wave ring."
Indeed, the Achilles heel of narrow-wide rings is that once they've worn to a certain point, they begin to drop chains more frequently. In testing MRP can see in a very controlled environment exactly how those wear patterns develop on their own rings and narrow-wide rings, and then adjust design to balance wear considerations, friction, and chain retention. This in-house capability is ideal for making small tweaks during development.
Continue to page 2 for more from our tour of MRP headquarters and an expansive photo gallery »
Forks are assembled by hand one at a time, which allows MRP greater control over quality control (click to enlarge).
Next we're in the assembly area where forks, guides and guards are built-up. For forks, the process starts with a series of sub-assemblies, which allows the small team of assemblers to get through batches more quickly. Everything is built as ordered. There are no stock forks sitting in boxes waiting for homes.
Around the corner from fork assembly is a workshop MRP uses for installing prototype parts. The most recent push was with its new Wave Ring, which officially launched last month at the Sea Otter Classic. Sears says refining the tooth shape of the single-ring chainring was a long process that lasted upwards of 18 months.
"We went through dozens of tooth shape iterations before settling on the final production design," he said. "We're quite pleased with the results we're seeing both in terms of retention and longevity with the new rings. They're beating others we've tested quite handily."
Some of the numerous Wave Ring prototype designs MRP tried during an 18-month development period. They went through dozens of tooth shape iterations before settling on the final production design (click to enlarge).
If you want to see for yourself, MRP has a traveling demo fleet of Banshee bikes that were stored at HQ on this day, but will be traveling the country most of the summer, hitting various mountain bike festivals and events.
"We really just want to get people on the product," said Sears. "We don't have a huge marketing budget to buy a bunch of magazine ads. So we need to get out there and meet people and get feedback and make direct connections with consumers. At the same time we don't want to set ourselves up to fail on delivering on a promise. So we do all this in an organic style. We are very product focused, relying on word of mouth mostly. That's our ethos I guess."
Each MRP fork comes with the handy cheat sheet that walks you through the various set-up steps (click to enlarge).
Upstairs we get a look at the small engineering department where the focus has recently shifted from the Wave Ring to suspension forks. Air spring damping and valving are current focus areas. Reducing stiction is also a priority.
One of the engineers walks us through the process, giving a fairly techy explanation of why MRP forks perform well. In essence their Stage and Loop forks push more oil through the valving, and with more oil moving through the compression valve, there's more control and greater consistency with longer service intervals.
The admitted downside is that more oil in the system means greater weight. "But performance wise it's so much better," contended Sears. "It's less effected by small amounts of air - and we are whittling away at the weight, too."
After a little more walking around, we're back up front where MRP's requisite shop dog strolls by as Sears sums up the MRP five-year plan.
"We want to keep growing and expanding as a company but do it in a cautious way," he said. "I think we can get bigger. But at the same time when you look at the suspension market, it seems like all the big guys have taken a turn at the top - and also fallen back. That's why I think people are looking for alternatives, and I think the products we have here really set us apart. It's just a matter of giving them a try and finding out for yourself."
With that, it's time to kit up. There are some rowdy Grand Junction trails to go ride. Let the product testing continue.
For more information visit www.mrpbike.com.