Paul Turner's urgings make him sound like a pusher. But he's actually a perpetually tinkering inventor whose latest bicycle opus, created in a warehouse in Boulder, is promising to transform an industry. It'll be Turner's second time.
Turner was the first to put shocks on a mountain bike. The company he founded in the late '80s, Rock Shox, led the sport of mountain biking into a new era.
Now, three years after leaving Rock Shox, Turner and five shaved-leg employees have created the ultimate full-suspension mountain bike. His Maverick bike, with a patent pending on a new rear suspension design, is arguably the most technologically advanced, yet simply designed, mountain bike on the market. And it's the most expensive almost $5,500.
"People ride it, and they're sold," says the 42-year-old Turner, who could pass for 32. "They maybe can't afford it, but they understand."
"It is absolutely worth the money," says Steve Silberman, who bought the first Maverick when it hit high-end bike shops four months ago. "You can buy four or five GTs or Trek (mountain bikes) over the course of a Maverick's lifetime. It's not any more expensive in the end."
Turner's latest invention comes almost 20 years after his first mountain bike race.
He grew up racing motorcycles and was not impressed with the sport of pedaling heavy bikes up steep hills and pounding his body on downhill tracks. So he built a shock, lured a big bike maker to fund his invention, and co-founded a company that quickly dominated the bike market.
In 1990, Ned Overend, riding a Rock Shox bike, won the cross country race at the World Championships in Durango, Colo. The world took notice, and mountain biking has since been transformed.
Today, riders are soaring off 40-foot vertical cliffs known as "hucking" and pedaling away. Downhill mountain bikes provide as much as 9 inches of vertical movement in front and rear shocks. That's motorcycle-type shock absorption.
The business of mountain biking has changed, too.
Small bike companies have grown, even attracting the eye of Wall Street investors. Turner's Rock Shox went public, although it recently was de-listed by the New York Stock Exchange.
Schwinn, once a pillar of cycling, has foundered. Unlike just about any other industry, the thriving companies are the small boutique shops, the companies that just make bikes. The companies that can react quickly to the evolving needs of riders who are challenging traditional mores in the world of mountain biking. The companies that are steered by riders who can negate troubles found when pedaling up steep rock trails with a new design. They know how to make a 25-pound bike that can absorb the biggest hits at 35 mph.
"Rock Shox grew very big, very fast," says Turner, hinting at a less-than-amicable relationship with his former company. "It got to be a huge, corporate, seething entity. The bike industry is run with both a blessing and a curse. Its greatest attribute is that it's run by enthusiasts, riders. But those enthusiasts start running big companies, and they just come undone."
Forcing a passion for biking which Turner calls pixie dust into a corporate structure, doesn't work, says Turner, who still owns 15 percent of Rock Shox.
"Professional management types come in, and they just can't understand the pixie dust," he says, naming 10 small bike companies that have struggled to the brink of death after being acquired by large investors.
"That's what happened at Rock Shox," says Frank Scurlock, Maverick's head of sales and an 11-year veteran of Rock Shox who relishes the fact that pricing doesn't overshadow quality at his new gig.
Maverick won't make more than 500 bikes a year. Turner has a patent pending on his unique magnesium linkage, a swinging bracket at the bottom of the bike that allows the shock and rear wheel to move up and down, instead of at an angle like every other rear suspension.
Turner is licensing his creation to different bike companies as well as doing design work for a new fork system and helmet.
The Maverick design keeps the rear wheel and its cogs in the same plane as the front chainrings. That means pedaling is not affected when the rear suspension is flexing the bane of riders who bemoan lost power when climbing uphill.
"It's much, much faster when climbing," says Tom Beckett, owner of Boulder's Sports Garage, where Maverick bikes are selling quickly. "Demand is very positive. It's an incredibly performing bike."
As mountain biking's technological advancements make the sport less of a physical endeavor and more of a gravity-fed adrenaline booster, Turner thinks he's poised, again, to meet demand.
"It's about having a blast and playing with terrain, like skiing or windsurfing," he says. "But the difference is access. Fun is right outside your back door. That's the key to the new resurgence."
For more about the Maverick mountain bike design, visit their site at www.maverickamerican.com
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