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 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.”
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.
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.