Standing in the heart of Öhlins’ production lines on the fringes of Stockholm there is an almost serene calmness, an environment with clinical cleanliness more akin to an operating theater than a suspension manufacturer. It’s hard to imagine all this stemmed from Kenth Öhlin turning the lathes in his father’s workshop some forty years ago in pursuit of personal on-track performance to boost his own racing, dissatisfied at the market’s offerings at the time.
It didn’t take long for friends and other competitors to take interest in Kenth’s shocks. Öhlins Racing was founded in 1976, and just two years later their shock was ridden to World Championship success in the hands of Russian MX star Guennady Moiseev. Take a scan through the ‘Hall of Fame’ on the website and you’ll get a taste of the somewhat bewildering racing success they’ve had, and they can now add two Downhill World Championships to their portfolio… The racetrack is seen as the development area, where new ideas and products can be tested and fettled before being brought to the market, where they have generated prosperity to match their racing accomplishments.
Underneath the global presence of all the commercial and championship success the company still retains its roots with Kenth Öhlin taking back the reigns having repurchased shares sold to Yamaha back in 1986. You’ll also find without too much difficulty, a recurring loyalty from several individuals of varying backgrounds that have devoted their career to Öhlins, be it family ties or in one case having worked in Kenth’s father’s machine shop even before the company came to fruition - still working on some of the same lathes all these years later!
Mountain biking is a pretty small slice of Öhlins’ revenue, around 10%. Even so, it is expanding all the time with their Specialized ‘exclusivity’ agreement and aftermarket sales more than enough to keep their current production lines flat out. The fact that their OEM supply is for the most part to a sole company may seem massively limiting in revenue, but Öhlins believe their close relationship with Specialized has helped fast track their products and learning process, and with a contract for many more years in place don’t expect that to change anytime soon. Using a somewhat different approach and background to their mountain bike competitors it’ll be interesting to see what they bring to the table as they look to expand into things like the XC market, continue to develop their DH fork, get excited about the new technology they can bring to the more spacious metric shocks, and flirt with electronically controlled suspension.
We had the opportunity to head out to Sweden and saunter round the factory floor while shocks were put to work in the dyno and MotoGP forks were prepped for the likes of Valentino Rossi.
The Ohlins HQ is located in Upplands Vasby, north of the Swedish capital.
The company has further subsidiaries in Sweden, Germany, USA, and Thailand.
The first thing you are greeted by upon arrival to the factory is a walk through of the product history, including one of Kenth's early prototypes.
The racing heritage is proudly on display throughout the factory, including Nigel Mansell's CART success.
The newest additions? Miranda Miller and Loic Bruni's World Champ success in Cairns.
The very first Ohlins Racing Team...
...And the very first foray into mountain bike suspension by Ohlins.
This man has been at Ohlins since before it even officially began, having worked in Kenth Ohlin's father's machine shop.
Checking the request and measuring the bar before machining.
As a youngster, Kenth Ohlin received a lathe as gift from his father and it still sits in the factory today.
Preparing forks for another round of testing.
The internal makings of a TTX 22 shock.
The Ohlins team is some 320 employee strong and make use of 200 external suppliers.
Putting a TTX through its paces on the dyno, but the engineers say there is only so much that can be learned through this type of testing - the real learning is done out on the trails.
There are a number of different test rigs lurking around; just because they have an OEM exclusivity with Specialized doesn't mean they are cornered into solely testing their shocks on Specialized bikes.
Take from that what you will...
One of the test mules, this Demo has the same custom linkage the Specialized Gravity Team have been using this season.
There are plenty of two-wheeled toys around.
Studded tires prepped for winter, this ATV sees some serious action on the frozen lakes.
Catering to much more than just mountain bikes means there are plenty of other products to snoop and drool over.
The shock off a trophy truck with MTB Team Leader TJ Hansen for scale.
The oil stores before being fed out to the various production lines.
Pre-assembly is all about bringing together all the small pieces of the puzzle to make the main body parts of the shock.
Tubes awaiting the shock heads during the general assembly.
At the HQ in Sweden there are 14 staff members dedicated to mountain biking, along with the productions line staff who work in shifts of 4.
Heads being assembled with the compression adjusters, valve holders, valve seats, shim packages, bladder, and gas cap.
Next up the tubes are tightened into the heads, every measurement is tracked and stored to track down any potential problems that may arise further down the line.
After being filled with oil the shocks are weighed to check they've received the correct amount before the information is entered into the system.
The last step before the shocks gets a work out in the dyno is the nitrogen gas filling which is between 12 and 16 BAR depending on the shock model.
Again, all this data is kept as a current and future parameter.
The shocks are left to sit for varying periods of time as a final check for things like leaks before being boxed up and shipped out.
Springs patiently awaiting their partner.
With a thirsty demand there isn't a whole lot of stock sitting around gathering dust.