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.