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From the mag: SR Suntour's future

Published August 6, 2012

VANCOUVER, WA (BRAIN) Monday August 6 2012 6:41 AM MT—With suspension sales to North America up more than 20 percent, and worldwide suspension sales up 35 percent, SR Suntour is a major suspension supplier, if not the major supplier.

It’s clearly a larger component supplier to the industry than many better-known names.

“What’s new to us is success in high-end suspension,” said Tom Suenaga, general manager of SR Suntour Europe. “We not only continue to supply mid- and entry-level product, but we are getting spec for our high-end suspension in North America.”

How high-end? At Sea Otter, the company introduced its Rux fork platform, priced at $825 to $1,200. The triple-clamp freeride fork is still being developed by the company’s sponsored freeriders, including Garett Buehler and James Doerfling of the Knolly Bikes team.

Its $450 to $700 Epicon and $580 to $1,200 Axon platforms, also gravity-oriented products, are selling strongly and racking up good reviews.

Last year the company’s BH SRSuntour mountain bike team attained 15 World Cup podium placings in cross-country under riders Julie Bresset and Maxime Marotte.

And its e-bike business is growing, especially in Europe, where sales of motors, torque sensors, and display, controller and battery packs to OEs has quickly grown to about a third of its business.

“Traditionally SR Suntour’s largest market is in Europe. However, in the past few years our market share in North America and in Asia, especially in China and Southeast Asia, has grown,” Suenaga said.

Its success is straining production capacity, something made clear last year when SR Suntour ended
its long-term relationship building forks for Marzocchi. The company’s production lines are now 100 percent building SR Suntour products.

Growth of recreation bike sales in China has been great for SR Suntour and its Epicon fork. The fork has a great reputation in China, where Suenaga says it is nicknamed the God Fork, for its balance of performance, quality, serviceability and price.

“They don’t know much about the brand history, so they tend to choose the products based on its real value,” Suenaga said.

It’s partly brand history that for many in North America puts SR Suntour well under the radar. Not only did the company close its North American offices for a spell in the ’90s, but it has kept a lower profile on this side of the Atlantic than it has in Europe.

During the ’80s, Suntour and Shimano were engaged in a fierce battle to capture drivetrain spec.

But the battle turned against Suntour when in 1990 Shimano released its first XT Rapid Fire shifter.
Suntour was set up to throw the knockout punch by offering its technologically rich, electrically operated Beast shift system. But the knockout punch lost steam as delivery issues plagued

Suntour’s Beast, and its X-Press trigger shifter in lower groups was not as well received as Rapid Fire.

If delays, technical hiccups and a fickle market were not enough, Suntour was purchased by Mori Industries and combined with Sakae Ringyo to form SR Suntour the same year Suntour was under pressure from suppliers to deliver.

“It’s funny how long those memories linger,” said Darrell Voss, who was SR Suntour North America’s president but now is contractually employed by SR Suntour Taiwan.

“And it’s frustrating because we have product that goes toe to toe with anything out there, but it’s hard to get heard. But in the last two years that is changing and we are finally closing the image gap between Europe and the U.S.,” he added.

While the company’s drivetrain components have a strong following in the Pacific Northwest, Voss says the company will remain focused on its suspension.

“With Shimano and SRAM going at it from a marketing and product development standpoint, it’s not only hard for a smaller player to get its name heard, it’s prohibitively expensive,” he added.

But drivetrains for e-bikes are a different story, and the company hopes once e-bike sales pick up in the U.S. it will have a nice piece of that market.

“Our new e-bike system gives riders a new type of sensation from pedaling that seems to encourage non-bicycle people to try e-bike technology,” Suenaga said.

Topics associated with this article: BRAIN News

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