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BBR Motorsports

A Look Inside the Toy Factory

By SPS & TM

When I think of the kind of job I'd like to have, the kind of profession I respect, my mind wanders to all the traditional roles. Doctor, GP racer, lawyer. Well, not a real lawyer, just a cool, stern, only representing innocent attractive women, Perry Mason kind of lawyer. At the furthest reaches of my mental wanderings, way past professional tire tester, is a truly wonderful job, toy maker.

Some of the hottest toys today in the motorsports market are hopped up, small cc off-road bikes such as the Honda XR50 and CR80s that you see around with the trick suspension rigs, aftermarket pipes and reved up motors. One of the major competitors in that arena is BBR Motorsports, a Kent based company that specializes in aftermarket upgrades for off-road bikes across the board.

Below: From 1977-1982 The BBR BMX team was hot on the circuit. Chris and Duane are shown at bottom/left, brother Brent is third from left in the top row.

Above: Brothers Chris and Duane Brown are at the heart of BBR's operations. It's still all fun and games.

BBR's niche is based on the premise that modern motocross bikes are too focused to just fool around on, while little "fool-around" bikes don't have the equipment to let a full sized rider go fast. BBR's solution is an array of performance parts, suspension equipment, and frames for small 4 stroke engines.

All this ingenuity was breed from three brothers who loved to compete in BMX events back in the late 70s. From that grew a bicycle shop and as customers migrated from non-motorized two wheelers to motorized competition, so did the Brown Brothers - Chris, Duane and Brent. The original shop, Brown Brothers Bike World has since morphed into BBR Racing and now resides in Kent Valley. They're growing out of that location and have begun to search for property to build a new facility on.

Inside BBR

The manufacturing facilities at BBR are impressive, not so much in machinery but in the balance of the place. The flow of the work is kept in house from concept to product delivery.

A traditional work station of hand crank lathe and mill is where concept becomes prototype. Things ranging from pipes to skid plates to triple clamps are made, tried for fit, and tested in the field or on the in-house dyno. From there, the part is refined in design and the programs written. A computer controlled lathe and mill turn blocks of alloy into light little parts. After that, on to the weld station. From skid plates to full frames, it all gets done in house. An actual engine and frame is used as the weld jig for exhaust pipes. This creates the rarest of products, an aftermarket pipe that fits. In the suspension room, forks and shocks are serviced and assembled. I never asked why the only hard-tailed bike in the shop, an XR50 powered chopper project, was stored in the suspension room. It just seemed natural.

Above: A BBR XR/CR 100 combo recently created for Renton Motorcycles RMC

 Everywhere are stacks of parts. Frames on the floor, pipes hang on racks, and trays of exhaust can end caps, looking like the photos of stockpiled weapons so prevalent on the TV today. Only these are shiny and new, without Russian writing. One of the things that makes the parts look cool has to do with the volume. If a shop makes only one custom part, it can end up looking like a prototype. Maybe the surface finish is a tad off, maybe the fit isn't 100%. If thousands are being made it becomes feasible to make stamping dies or use a casting. This can lead to a tinny, mass-produced look. At the volumes in the BBR toyshop, each part looks custom, clean, tight, and shiny, with just enough machine work and just enough of the touch of a master's hand.

The parts move onto an assembly area. Some are packaged as individual parts. Some are assembled into full bikes. In the corner of the assembly area are a couple of used bikes getting prototypes for testing. Another bike is being prepped to send to a magazine for test riding.

Photo: The BBR XR50 conversion - ready to rock!

Throughout it all is the vibe of the backyard motocrosser.

Diversification Is Key

As with any company, diversification is a critical element. The BBR catalog is fluid, with new models and toys coming out constantly. It includes hop-up parts for machines as small as the XR50 and 75. Alloy rims, frames, motor parts, everything you need to make a good performing backyard bike.

As of late the family has ventured into after market frames, suspension and exhaust for larger bikes in the 250-400cc range. About 75% of the products BBR turns out today fit Honda and Yamaha. Meticulous is the word here, they've even come up with after market gas caps. "We don't design things ahead of a model release" says Chris - "instead we get the bike, play with it alot and determine where we can improve the performance and design of the bike. Then we go into production on the parts."

What's next? The trio is looking to release it's first full line production bikes into a retail location this fall. The bikes will be full BBR makeovers of popular manufacturers like Honda and Yamaha. They expect to be cranking out more than 100 units annually by years end.

Racing is a critical factor if you plan to build aftermarket parts that stand the test of the track. BBR is no stranger to competition. On any weekend, there's a BBR rider like Lance Smail or Rich Taylor racing somewhere. The company now hosts the BBR World Championship each year at Glen Helen in California.

Photo: Lance Smail goes sideways for the cameras at a recent photo shot.

As for the quiet, nimble minis, they've become a favorite among riders who don't want to travel out to the trails, or whose favorite public land is on lockdown. It just takes a half acre or so to form a fairly fun mini bike track. The neighborhood kids will always trade shovel time for saddle time, so soon you'll have some double jumps, if you dare.

One of the pleasures of being a toy maker is being able to choose which toys to work on. You won't find quad parts at BBR. Mini bikes are their love. The same goes for Harley riders who never seem to believe their bike came with enough chrome and billet from the factory. It can be hard to send customers away empty-handed, especially when they're bright-eyed boys and girls wanting toys. But with 22 employees working hard at the mini-bike business, BBR keeps plenty of big kids happy with their toy factory.


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