01 – Welcome to performance
This has been one of our busiest years yet and this latest edition of Performance gives a taste of what we have been up to!…
Of course it was our 40th Anniversary so we wanted to celebrate in as many different ways as possible as staff and guests from around the world were treated to events at Öhlins HQ to show them our appreciation of our success and growth. We also catalogued the history and heritage of the brand in a new commemorative book (see Life Begins at 40)
Race teams around the world gave us more reason to celebrate with yet another MotoGP Championship at the hands of Marc Marquez, National motorcycle titles in all four corners of the globe including the USA and UK, plus success on four wheels with Matias Ekström taking the World Rallycross series among many others.
As well as fulfilling orders for our ever growing global network (including fast growing markets such as in our story Far Eastern Movement) we developed several new products this year including new retro styled forks, cartridge kits and the revolutionary TTX Flow motocross shock. We go behind the technology of the shock in this edition of Performance.
Our continued push into the world of MTB continues unabated with new products and a presence at the two big Crankworx events, which you can read about also. Other stories include the amazing story of Norton at the Isle of Man TT, working with the flying Finn Tommi Mäkinen and an insight into life at Öhlins from Thomas Pettersson, who was there from day one!
We hope you enjoy this issue and have a great festive break!
Team Leader Marketing Communication
02 – Life begins at 40 for Öhlins!
40 years ago Kenth Öhlin had a vision of how his suspension could change the world of biking and today we can see that has been the case… but also in cars and MTB!…
To celebrate this landmark anniversary staff, partners and VIP’s from around the world converged on the factory for two events marking the company’s birthday. A special commemorative book was also created with stories and insights from around the globe and across the spectrum of time and specialities.
Visitors and their families were received at the factory and were given a special tour before a dinner party with 360 people enjoying the famously fine cuisine at HQ!
A separate event for worldwide distributors, dealers and VIPs featured a trip around the beautiful Stockholm Archipelago by boat, allowing everyone to enjoy a tranquil summer’s day with their colleagues and reminisce on their journey with Öhlins. There was then a dinner at the factory facilities in Upplands Väsby where guests had the possibility to visit the assembly plants.
The 40th Anniversary book, (one lucky Performance subscriber will win a Kenth signed copy!) catalogues the Öhlins epic journey form the early years with Kenth and his lathe to the company it is today, winning championships from grassroots up to MotoGP and Le Mans 24HR.
03 – From Sahara to Alaska, a 40 year journey with Öhlins Racing!
As everyone knows it is Öhlins 40th Anniversary and founder Kenth Öhlin has of course led the company through many phases. Another man who has been there throughout the journey is Thomas Pettersson. This is his recollection…
“I actually started with Kenth in late December 1975. Before that I ran my own motorcycle workshop at Torsten Hallman’s place in Uppsala.
My home was in Upplands Väsby so it was a 1½ hours drive every day to reach my shop. My sport was motocross so I did not have enough time to practice after work. Kenth offered me a job in his bike shop in Sollentuna, to be responsible for all motorcycle work. I took that job and it gave me more time for motocross!”
Like many staff at Öhlins Racing, Thomas has worked in many different areas of the business, with different roles but always with the umlaut’d Ö on his shirt! Although in his case Thomas wasn’t actually working on suspension to start with…
“For the first two years, I worked mainly with motorcycles; tuning two stroke engines, rebuilding old bikes and servicing new bikes. Then when shock absorbers came in, I worked a lot with shock production in the winter and back on bikes in the summer season. I was still racing motocross at the top level in Sweden and was lucky enough to race as a privateer in the world championship when it came to Sweden and Finland. We did a lot of testing on suspension for MX bikes as well as on snowmobiles. In 1987 I moved from our laboratory (as a lab technician) to our marketing dept. to be responsible for service and tech information to distributors around the world. I also took care of all technical training for service centres around the world, as well internal training of our own staff.”
Traveling is very much part of the lifestyle for many Öhlins employees and this was something Thomas relished; “When I finished with motocross in 1984 I took part in the Öhlins Racing Service at the Motocross World Championship and in an intensive testing schedule. We travelled around many countries in Europe together with Bror “Julle” Haglund in our service truck.
I also got to go testing with Yamaha and Cagiva in the Sahara desert for the Dakar Rally. And then on the other side we went testing with the Yamaha snowmobile group in Sweden, USA and Alaska!”
They say long lasting friendships are made in the workplace…. “I’ve worked with so many great guys at Öhlins over the years but if I have to mention some, I will say Bror “Julle” Haglund, Bengt Ohlsson, Thorleif Hansen and Lars Isaksson have been very memorable! Of course I have also known Kenth from the beginning. He was a very enthusiastic motocross guy racing for the same club as me. He wasn’t satisfied with the look of his standard HVA bike and modified it, it looked so much better than the others…”
So what kept Thomas at the company so long? “It’s been an interesting job with new technical aspects coming up all the time, you’ve had to find solutions to tricky problems and of course having good people around makes work enjoyable. And most importantly, it has been like working with my hobby!”
So what next? “I was racing Motocross until I was 38 years old and then got into mountainbiking so I’ll keep that up and cross-country skiing in winter. Biking, golfing, and trying to stay in shape as an old man – and of course supporting my three sons and taking care of my grandchildren.
I wish Kenth Öhlin all the best in this next phase of his life and hope he gets to enjoy some more time with his family and hobbies!”
04 – Next stop, 131 MPH…
There is no denying it, the Isle of Man TT is the ultimate test of rider and machine. A 37 ¾ closed roads course that sees riders hurtle through towns and villages, inches away from walls, hedgerows and even fans! It is an exhilarating two week festival of motorcycling that captures the hearts of millions of fans around the world.
Since 2009, one machine in particular has stood out amongst the might of the Japanese (and German!) manufacturers; the Aprilia powered Norton. Although the firm sat out the 2010 and 2011 events, their return in 2012 with their chrome livery and booming 150db exhaust (ensuring fans can hear it coming long before it is in view!) meant they certainly turned heads. Unfortunately a mix of bad luck and the harsh conditions of the TT meant they struggled to compete with the tried and tested Superbikes, only securing a best finish of 18th prior to TT2016…
That would all change this year however. The V4 powered Norton has always enjoyed plenty of power (around 230bhp!) thanks to the engine originally forming part of the Aprilia CRT MotoGP machine, however riders struggled to get that power to the tarmac due to the electronics of the Norton machine. Keeping the same engine as 2015, Norton introduced a new chassis, swingarm and rear link for the 2016 SG5 model but the biggest change came with a completely new electronics package.
Working tirelessly since last year’s event, Norton finally made the breakthrough in taming the aggressive beast by introducing a MotoGP style electronics system. Working through a host of different strategies such as traction control, engine braking and anti-wheelie systems they were able to drastically improve the handling, performance and throttle connection of the machine. The 2016 SG5 electronics system was based around one created by Magneti Marelli, with the Norton team even spending time in Italy at the Marelli factory, working with their technicians and learning how they work.
With the electronics sorted and a successful test schedule completed at the hands of TT winner Steve Plater, the team headed to the Isle of Man confident new signing David Johnson could make a significant improvement aboard the SG5. However with the Mountain Course being so tough on machines, and the many bumps and jumps affecting the new electronics (something no amount of short circuit testing could replicate) it was a harsh welcome for the squad as they struggled to set a flying lap.
A quick test session at the island’s Jurby race track however saw them take a huge step forward and with the Island basking in glorious weather for the Thursday night practice session, the Australian rider was able to make an instant impact on his first flying laps, smashing the Norton’s record to set a 128.32mph average lap. Continuing to take steps forward with every outing from then on, the opening six lap Superbike race saw Johnson take a stunning seventh place – the best ever result for the British manufacturer since its return to the mountain course in 2009. Johnson’s last lap of that race saw him circulate with a 130.872mph average, whilst his seventh place meant he beat the established BMW’s of Lee Johnston and Gary Johnson, as well as the MotoGP replica RC213V-S of Bruce Anstey!
With a few additional changes to the machine ahead of the final race of the event, the blue-riband Senior TT, it looked certain they would be able to break the 131mph barrier. Immediately lapping at 130mph from a standing start, Johnson was in the mix for a top five finish however a small oil leak meant he ran on after the 200mph Sulby straight…eventually crashing unhurt in a field!
Although it was a disappointing finish, Norton are already working towards the 2017 event and after an incredibly impressive showing this year, surely it is only a matter of time until the Norton challenges for a TT rostrum…and what a popular result that would be!
Norton’s Isle of Man TT results (since 2009 return)
2009 – Rotary – Michael Dunlop, DNQ
2012 – SG1 – Ian MAckman – Race Cancelled
2013 – SG2 – Ian Mackman – Superbike race 18th, Senior race 24th
2013 – SG2 – Dan Hegarty – Superbike race DNF, Senior race 36th
2014 – SG3 – Cameron Donald – Superbike race DNF, Senior race DNF
2015 – SG4 – Cameron Donald – Superbike race 18th, Senior DNF
2016 – SG5 – David Johnson – Superbike race 7th, Senior DNF
05 – Getting technical with TTX Flow as Öhlins goes back to its roots!
It seems only fitting that having been formed in the paddock of Swedish MX racing, Öhlins Racing celebrate their 40th Anniversary with a radical new product for the MX market, the TTX Flow rear shock!…
Using the massive experience massed from the many off-road engineers at the company, they started with a clean sheet of paper to create something truly different to what had gone on before. Extensively developed and tested for over two years, TTX Flow was launched to a fanfare of praise. To the rider the new shock offers unrivalled bike stability and traction, plus its complete redesign has been aimed to make it extremely easy to maintain and set-up.
Öhlins founder Kenth Öhlin was a MX rider of some skill in his own right and has always held ‘scrambling’ as it used to be known close to his heart, so maybe it’s no surprise there was desire throughout the company to create this new shock at this milestone year, also as Kenth readied to step aside as CEO.
So what makes TTX Flow different to previous shocks? The technology is quite involved but in basic terms it features patent pending pressure technology combined with an all new ‘spool’ check-valve system. This essentially helps the shock cope with multiple forces at once and ‘forget’ them extremely quickly, retaining chassis balance. To the rider this equates to vastly improved handling in whoops, braking bumps (so the rear wheel doesn’t go light) and absorbing harsh hits where the bike needs to remain settled for a large jump. Bottoming resistance is also improved through the introduction of a new bump rubber cup unit.
Öhlins R&D Engineer Eric Hansson has been working on TTX Flow for several years after a watershed MX test where the riders gave some very indepth feedback which lead to a complete rethink on suspension technology within the department.
Erik explains; “In simple terms, a motocross shock has to deal with a complex, simultaneous set of forces which it struggles to cope with. From our early analysis we built a crude prototype which showed our new theory to work and gave us direction for a production unit. A motocross shock has ‘hits’ which disturb the system and therefore destabilizes the balance of the bike. It needs to ‘forget’ about each of these very quickly (in less than a 100th of a second). An example of this would be as a rider goes up the face of a big jump and also hits small, rough bumps at the same time.
We retained our TTX (Twin Tube) Technology but worked extensively on a new ‘check-valve’ system to balance wide valve openings and quick open/close actions to handle a large volume of oil flow. This required a new spool valve system as opposed to the more conventional shim-valve type. Basically it has been redesigned for each force upon it to be dealt with and ‘forgotten’ as quickly as possible, for fast recovery and keeping the stability of the bike.
The new system cancels out the smaller hits and keeps the chassis stable for the big jump. The test riders found that this was one major improvement, as was the stability of the bike over ‘braking bumps’ which absorbs the harsh hits and does not make the rear wheel go light. There were also big benefits under acceleration, filtering out bumps at the rear end.
Another major design criteria of the new flow shock was to make it much more rider/mechanic friendly. Maybe our previous shocks were a little complex for the average rider so we looked afresh at every component. The result is a shock with far less parts and complexity, which we have achieved without sacrificing any performance or functionality.
It is a nice feeling to be responsible for an all new motocross shock in this, our 40th anniversary year, when our first product and our heritage was created for dirtbikes!”
But don’t just take our word for it, try it for yourself!! More details at www.ohlins.com/ttx-flow
06 – Working with the flying finn!
The name Tommi Mäkinen will undoubtedly evoke memories in any 1990’s motorsport fan, as the Finnish Rally driver dominated the World Rally Championship over the second half of the decade. With four world titles and 24 victories to his name, Tommi is the second most successful driver in WRC history and each of his Championship victories came behind the wheel of an Öhlins shod Ralliart Mitsubishi Lancer EVO.
Whilst it may have scaled down its activities back in 2010, petrol heads will know Ralliart as the high-performance and motorsport division of Mitsubishi, primarily involved in the company’s rally and off-road interests. Set up by Andrew Cowan in 1983, Ralliart Europe first entered the World Rally Championship full-time in 1989, finishing fourth overall in the manufacturer standings after enjoying two wins with drivers Mikael Ericsson and Pentti Airkkala.
After several years of development and success, Ralliart first established themselves as the dominant Rallying force they have since become synonymous with in 1996. With Tommi at the wheel of the Lancer Evolution III, the pairing proved almost unbeatable that season as the flying Finn took five wins to secure the title in Australia, two rounds early.
Continuing that form with the introduction of the Lancer Evolution IV in 1997 and latterly the Evolution V in 1998 and VI in 1999, the pairing won a further three driver Championships as well as taking Mitsubishi’s only manufacturer title in 1998. One man who witnessed the Mäkinen’s dominance first hand is current Öhlins Sales Technician for UK and Benelux, Paul ‘Millsy’ Mills…
“I had always been into cars, and rallying was my passion so I knew I always wanted to work in the sport. Initially I was a mechanic at a Ford dealer in Birmingham whilst I also spent a lot of time co-driving in night rallying, which was something that was particularly popular in the 1970’s and 80’s. Through my connections within that sport, I was lucky enough to then get an interview at Mitsubishi Ralliart Europe, which was based in the UK in Rugby. They hired me and my role from then on was to build the rally cars they used. At that time, they used a few different suspension manufacturers but I remember we first tested Öhlins in 1993 at a gravel test in Arganil, Portugal and the difference was immediate. Öhlins transformed the whole car and from then on we never looked back!
Back then, Andy Dawson was also a mechanic at Ralliart (we actually now work together again in the British Superbike paddock!) and he was trained in Sweden to look after the shocks. When he left Ralliart to work on the Öhlins products for the Volvo Touring Car team, he trained me so that I was then able to continue the suspension for the team.”
Just like a motorcycle, where perhaps the suspension is a bit more of an obvious factor, it is just as vital in rallying as Paul explains “When we first moved to Öhlins, it completely changed how the drivers managed each event. Some stages were very rough and whilst they would go as fast as they could on the smoother stages, when things got a bumpy most drivers would be a little conservative in order to look after the car – but we found that the Öhlins products could take a lot more which meant our guys could drive more stages ‘flat out’!
As with all motorsport, testing was important and most of the time we would test in the same area that the rally would actually take place, so we would be able to set the car up ahead of time and then hit the ground running at the actual race event.
The equipment Tommi used during those dominant years was built bespoke for the Lancer Evolution’s, but he used the same equipment as the other drivers at the time so he never had anything special just for him. It was a fantastic time in my career and being part of that team and winning four world championship titles was a real highlight for me. It was always a lot of fun and I remember we used to call Tommi, along with the Öhlins Engineer Peka Siltanen and the Mitsubishi test driver Lasse Lampi the Finnish Mafia! To be fair those two test drivers really helped make that car the way it was an were integral to the development and ultimately the Championship crowns”
Paul has remained with Öhlins ever since, “I remained with Ralliart until 2007 when Mitsubishi closed our department. After a phone call from Andy, who was then working in the Racing Department in MotoGP, I switched over to two wheels and have been in motorbikes ever since! Initially it was with Pramac Ducati in MotoGP but after four years of travelling the world I decided to head back to the UK and moved over to the British Superbike paddock where I’ve remained since.
Last year I became the Öhlins Sales Technician for the UK and Benelux, which is a lot more focused on the commercial side of the business compared to what I’m used to. It’s a big learning curve for me but it’s something I’m really enjoyed and I’m meeting a lot of our current employees, looking for new dealers to sell both two and four wheel products and making lots of friends along the way!”
Whilst Mäkinen’s last title victory was in 1999, he remained with Mitsubishi until the end of the 2001 season. Although the two were never able to repeat the success of the 1996-99 season, it spawned a generation of motorsport fans with video games and limited edition commemorative road going versions of the Lancer Evolution VI.
07 – Öhlins goes to the MTB Mecca of Crankworx!
If you ask any Mountain biker which event they’d like to watch or (for the very brave!) compete in, chances are they will say ‘Crankworx’!
Originating in the famous ski resort of Whistler, Canada it has now gone ‘global’ with events in Rotora – New Zealand, Les Gets – France and Innsbruck – Austria. The centrepiece is still the founding event, with 150,000 North Americans and visitors from all over the world making the pilgrimage to this now ten day MTB festival. It features eight live streamed events on Redbull TV, including dual slalom, Downhill, Slopestyle for men, women and children, with over 100 entries in the kidsworx races alone.
Although the event is synonymous with its blue riband Slopestyle and Downhill race competitions, for many much of the attraction is being able to take your own bike (or hire one) and ride the myriad of exciting trails, set out for all abilities. It was to this backdrop that Öhlins decided to attend two of the events to showcase their ever growing MTB portfolio including their new Universal range, and let the real experts (the riders) experience the products in a real environment.
The MTB team from Sweden attended Crankworx Les Gets, France at the start of the summer and launched their new RXF36 fork to an excited specialist media group. However the weather wasn’t kind to the event, with torrential Alpine storms washing out much of the paddock and resulting in the headline event, Slopestyle, being cancelled.
Crankworx, Whistler turned out to be a very different affair, held in great weather as the core group teamed up with Öhlins USA and legendary UK MTB component suppliers Hope Technology with a display stand near the main ski-lift station, which the riders ascended before their fast descents.
Öhlins MTB Product Specialist Alex Boyle explains, “Our prime position meant everyone heading up the mountain came right past and got an eyeful of our stand; fans, tourists, Pro downhill racers and riders from all over the world. Some were seeing our products for the very first time, others finally seeing the product in the flesh after reading rave reviews in the MTB press. We also had some cool show bikes from Canfield Brothers and Evil Bikes, high-end machines which really intensified the ‘wow factor’. We then moved to a different site for the second half of the event as scheduled but we still had pride of place in the Hope display as they were so impressed with the RXF34 fork and TTX shocks they kitted out their brand new bike, the HB211, with both for their Whistler bike launch.
Our new spot saw us teamed up with Suspension Werx who had just become an Öhlins dealer based out of North Vancouver. We were now right in the middle of the main Expo area, nestled between some of the big players including Specialized, Santa Cruz and GT. We had live sales every day and Suspension Werx had a daily parts run from their shop, which meant riders could get what they wanted ‘next day’. Specialized Canada also came to the rescue for one customer with one of our cartridges so we could fit it before he returned home to Brazil!
Whistler Mountain has a reputation for damaging bikes and bodies, and so it was this year with the Specialized team losing more than half their staff to various trail related injuries. Not one to be outdone Jeff from Öhlins USA suffered two cracked vertebrate in a crash and had to head home early due to his injury but thankfully he made a full, speedy recovery.
Summing up the experience Alex said, “It was a great event for us and we learnt loads about the best positions for sites with help from our partners. We had lots of really positive conversations with riders, with many saying that they were excited we had entered the market and bringing much needed quality to the aftermarket field.
It was also great to hear from racers and staff from the bike builders and even Hope, saying not only did they love our products, they paid their own money to buy it for their own machines! Special thanks to James, James and Alexi from Suspension Werx for the hospitality, we definitely plan to be back at Crankworx!”
08 – Far eastern movement – The arrc series
Billed as the ‘pinnacle of motorcycle racing in Asia’, its easy to see why the Asia Road Racing Championship (ARRC) has attracted so much interest from manufacturers, racers, promoters and fans. And never one to miss an opportunity, Öhlins have also been there for 2016 supporting local distributors, teams and young riders.
Launched in 1996, the series now attends a mix of countries and is looking to be even bigger for next season. This year the travelling circus visits Johor, Malaysia, Burinam Circuit (Chang), Thailand, the legendary Suzuka Circuit in Japan, Sentul Circuit, Indonesia and the intriguing Buddh Circuit, India.
The structure is comprised of three main classes: the premier ‘SuperSports 600cc’ (SS600) , ‘Asia Production 250’ (AP250) and the ‘Underbone 130cc’ (UB130) races , plus localised and one make classes. There are some big names in the blue riband SuperSports class such as ex GP riders Yuki Takahashi and Yuki Ito (Japan), Wilairot Ratthapong (Thailand), Tomoyoshi Koyama (Japan) and even the well known character; Anthony West of Australia. However one name really stands out; Noriyuki Haga! Nitro Nori excited a generation of fans in both World Superbike and MotoGP. Now the venerable 41 year old still runs with his traditional #41 plate, just racing closer to his native Japan. Nori rides for his old friend and rival Yukio Kagayama in his Kagayama Suzuki squad… and best of all, his son Akita (14!) races in the Suzuki Asian Challenge one make series!
The class features Supersport rules with limited tuning, minor chassis modifications (cartridge kits for forks and rear shocks) plus crucially, slick tyres, to prepare riders for the next step should they move onto the International stage.
In the Asia Production 250cc class, young riders fight it out on similar machinery such as the Honda CBR250R, Kawasaki Ninja 250 and Yamaha YZF-R25. Yamaha show support for this class by helping young riders with a mentoring programme and giving them a chance to participate in Valentino Rossi’s ‘Master Camp’. A week long training camp held in Italy with the ‘GOAT’, with the goal of developing up-and-coming talents.
Finally the Underbone 130cc class is a great spectacle as large grids of very young riders compete on twin shocked machines (150cc machines on single shocks for ’17). Teams spend a huge amount of time developing their bikes to try and get a 1 bhp advantage and it’s a great entry level/stepping stone into the racing world.
Öhlins Motorcycle Product Specialist Byron Draper explains his role and that of the Swedish brand here in East Asia “Basically we have been keeping an eye on this series for a while. It has been increasing in both popularity and professionalism the last few years. On top of this we have noticed the use of more and more of our products but there was a lack of support to help these riders.
It’s a special series because while it might seem like a National level series it is like a mini version of World Superbike in a way; the races are all “fly away” type affairs with the team’s equipment being shipped around to each race in containers. There is not a fleet of team trucks that show up at each event. As Öhlins distributors take care of their own territories this makes it difficult for just one of them to attend all ARRC events and represent the brand.
As we have a lot of experience in paddock support we decided to look into the series this year for a full programme in 2017, however once I attended the pre-season test I saw that many Öhlins customers needed our immediate help so we started some support immediately.
Hisazumi Takasaki (Öhlins Racing Asia & Pacific Region Manager) plays an important role in making Öhlins ARRC Track Support a success with the support of Indonesian distributor Eddy Saputra.
Öhlins see this type of involvement as positive support for our customers, a good insight into how this region operates and of course it’s good to get in from a marketing angle, showing we can support different diverse regions. Feedback from many of the teams and riders has been very positive also. Being able to have service work, setting changes and consult us about bike setup in the paddock over the race weekend proved to be a valuable thing. This is why plans are going into place now to have full support at all ARRC events for 2017.
The promoters of the series are also positive about our involvement in as it raises the standard of the series still further. As you can tell, I’m already looking forward to ARRC 2017!”
See more about ARRC at: http://www.asiaroadracing.com