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Like so many other successful companies, Öhlins started as a one-man show. Kenth Öhlin was a motocross rider who didn’t quite make it to the big time, but who found his true calling in helping other riders go faster. After initially tinkering with everything from exhaust pipes to shock absorbers, Kenth settled on suspension and started Öhlins as a business in 1976. It only took him 2 years before somebody would earn their first world title on his product when Russian Gennady Moiseev rode his KTM to victory in the 250cc 1978 World Championship. Kenth’s friend and fellow Swede Håkan Carlqvist took the title the following year, and 4 years after that, the company had its first Road Racing world title with Carlos Lavado in the 250cc class.

Then and now - Kenth Öhlin with Carlqvist in 1976, and in 2007 after repurchasing his company from Yamaha.

Hall of Fame

Ever since these early days, Öhlins decided on a principle that it still lives by today: it does not sponsor athletes. If somebody wants to race on Öhlins product, they pay for it just like everybody else. Looking through the Öhlins Hall of Fame, it becomes pretty obvious that it is worth doing so. MotoGP dominator Valentino Rossi has 5 world titles with Öhlins. Rally legend Tommy Makinen took 4 World Rally Championship titles on the trot with Öhlins. Sebastian Loeb trusted Öhlins for his 2013 assault on Pikes Peak. Biaggi, Stoner, Lorenzo all took MotoGP world titles with Öhlins. Juan Pablo Montoya won the Indianapolis 500 in 2000 with Öhlins. Le Mans titles, snowmobile racing titles, and even the world speed record for Hybrid Trucks were all earned with Öhlins suspension.

Incredible amount of famous racers in THIS hall of fame - photos courtesy of Öhlins.

Going Electronic

In 1998, Öhlins partnered with Tenneco to develop its first “CES” – Continuously controlled Electronic System valve for the automotive industry, of which the company had sold over 3 million units by 2012. The company is dedicated to pursuing the advantages of using electronically controlled suspension and intends to keep pushing to “make the world go electronic on suspension”.

From supercars to superbikes, Öhlins is a leader in electronically controlled suspension - photos courtesy of Öhlins.

Structure

Kenth Öhlin sold 50% of the company to Yamaha in 1987, which poised it for rapid growth. 20 years later, Kenth repurchased all but 5% of the company, and to this day he remains involved in the strategic direction although he has handed over day-to-day management responsibilities to a couple of assistant managing directors. Today, the company turns over 70m EUR annually, and employs 230 staff in its different locations in Sweden. It still designs and manufactures in-house, with 80% of its subcontractors located in Sweden as well – something the company says gives it ultimate control over the quality of its products.

The goldmine - photo courtesy of Öhlins.

Mountain Bikes - A Brave New World

In the mountain bike world, Öhlins first appeared as a design partner to Cane Creek on the highly acclaimed Double Barrel shock – a direct adaptation of Öhlins’ twintube TTX technology for mountain bikes that was launched in 2005. Known as being a bit complicated to set up, it nevertheless quickly earned a reputation for delivering unparalleled performance once you got your settings dialed. It would take until 2012 for Öhlins to decide to make its own product, which brings us to present day and the start of a new chapter for Öhlins. We caught up with Torkel Sintorn, newly appointed manager of the recently created Öhlins MTB division, to talk about where Öhlins stands today and what the future may bring:

Torkel, when did Öhlins decide to enter the mountain bike suspension game?
We had been watching the MTB business for several years but decided to stay outside. In 2012 we reconsidered and worked together with Specialized to develop a new shock specifically for the MTB DH industry, the TTX22M.

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What is Öhlins hoping to bring to mountain biking?
We are hoping to deliver high end suspension products for pro and elite racers and regular riders alike. At Öhlins we always put safety first, but speed, comfort and an enjoyable ride are also priority goals for us. Additionally, we think that our desire to win and our capacity for innovation can bring new technologies and new products to this market.

You collaborated with Cane Creek on their Double Barrel shock (that went on to become very popular) – what did you learn from that experience? Is there anything you are doing differently now in your own products?
The Cane Creek product was developed many years ago, at the time we used the latest TTX technology for MX and made a DH version of these products. Öhlins is continuously developing our products, every year there are improvements made both from a purely technical point of view as well as in response to input from riders and their experiences. The Öhlins TTX22 is very similar to a modern TTX MX shock, there have been many changes made from the initial version designed for Cane Creek. At the same time I’m sure that Cane Creek has improved during the years, so I think there are significant differences between the products today.

The TTX and the Specialized Demo - photo courtesy of Öhlins.

Was there some kind of exclusive arrangement with Specialized regarding the TTX22?
Yes, we have focused the development for the Demo and some of the Enduro models, it's not until today that we have established a small aftermarket program with universal shocks for other brands, still in collaboration with Specialized.

Specialized's Brad Benedict and Mitch Ropelato have been instrumental in developing the TTX22M - photos courtesy of Öhlins.

What is the design philosophy behind the new product line?
Oh, safety first of course, apart from that there were two general goals that stick out a little:

  1. Damping control on each tire knob, giving ultimate traction and grip, and
  2. User friendly and easy to set up.

What technological advantages do your products offer? We rode the TTX22 and we were very impressed with how it manages to track the ground. What do you attribute this feeling to?
As said, we seek control right down to each tire knob, to do that you need a high-performance dynamic shock on a high-performance bike. Dynamic performance with a simple set-up is the key. In general terms, a shock can’t work better than its set-up, so simplicity in tuning and set-up guidelines are the ingredients that make the overall package work.

Tell us about the current product line. There is a rear shock and a fork cartridge (for FOX 40 and RockShox BoXXer) available today, correct? What are the design advantages offered by each product?
The baseline of the design comes from MX, but with that said the cartridge system has a much wider damping range and better dynamics. The FOX cartridge is an Öhlins STX system while the Boxxer kit is a TTX system. The differences are due to different ways to incorporate these technologies in the forks but they are both based on modern, high-performance MX suspension systems.

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What else are you working on?
We are still working to get the current products out on the market, of course we have future visions but nothing ready to go yet.

We have seen prototypes of a complete Öhlins fork, with an inverted design, is this something you will be taking to production? If so, what led to this design? How did you deal with stiffness issues that are often cited as problematic to address on an inverted MTB fork where weight is a major concern?
The plan for that fork is to go racing. We have a lot of experience of both inverted and conventional front forks and we wanted to explore if the advantages with inverted forks would work in MTB. We have made several studies of rigidity and made a lot of FEM analyses and yes it works if all the parameters are there. This fork has been developed in a time when everyone is changing wheel sizes, ride heights, frame geometries etc, to know if the fork is right or wrong the complete package has to be analysed. This has taken a lot of time and effort so we are not ready to go public with the fork yet, development is still going on and the fork has not left for production yet. We consider this to be an elite racing product at this time, more like the factory products we produce for the motorsport industry.

The Wallner Brothers and their W-Racing Team remain development partners for Öhlins - photo courtesy of Öhlins.

Do you have plans for air-sprung products as well? Maybe a trail bike shock?
We are looking into what our competitors are doing, there are a lot of impressive products out there for sure. We will see what the future holds for us, we think there is a lot more to do in terms of analysis on the chassis and ratio side still.

You are experts in electronic suspension control on the automotive side. More recently, we have seen several mountain bike offerings that incorporate electronic control as well, is this something you are also studying at the moment? Do you believe electronics can have a significant impact on MTB suspension as well?
At the moment we are not looking into electronic systems for MTB, what we see on the automotive market now was released on cars 15 years ago and on motorcycles 10 years ago, how these system could really improve the ride of a mountain bike is too early to say. The CES systems that we have been producing for a long time are fully active, and to incorporate that knowledge on MTB bikes will be difficult mainly due to power supply issues. We are sure that electronic solutions will remain in the MTB market for the future but how it will all eventually turn out is too early to say.

How is Öhlins MTB distributed today? Plans for the future?
Today we distribute through Specialized and also through three Öhlins suppliers in Italy, France, and Japan, we will see how this will evolve for the future.

Do you have plans to introduce your universal MTB products to the US market?
Today the products are on the US market as OEM spec on certain Specialized bikes and through select Specialized dealers for the aftermarket stuff as well, but we are not distributed through Öhlins USA (which is however the official service center).

Will there be wider distribution in the US at some point? If so, when is that likely to happen?
We are not planning wider distribution in the US today, this market is exclusive for Specialized's network and with that we have full coverage.

We know Wallner Racing have been working with you on the development of the new products. Will we see Öhlins involved with more MTB race teams in 2015?
We start step by step, but I can confirm that there will be more riders on Öhlins for 2015. We are not pushing heavily at the moment though, we are not ready for it. We will participate in several of the main events during the year and possibly aim to have a stronger racing setup 2016.

Check out some of the  Öhlins prototypes being put through a little winter testing with Niklas and Robin Wallner back home in Sweden.

Thank you Torkel! Any final thoughts you wish to share with our readers?
To enter the mountain bike world seriously is a huge challenge, we are learning every day and we have a crew that is growing fast. Our motivation and dedication are high and we realize that in this Öhlins building, filled with motorsport freaks, there is a large amount of cyclists as well. The work is seriously fun and challenging!


Distribution

In addition to being exclusively supplied on Specialized Bikes, aftermarket worldwide distribution is also handled by Specialized with the exception of an additional 3 distributors in Italy, France and Japan. In Europe, the Andreanni Group in Italy and X1 Racing in France distribute alongside Specialized solely in their respective countries. We spoke toX1 Racing to find out a little bit more about what the current commercially available offer is, here are the details:

Öhlins TTX 22 Mountain Bike Shock

  • TTX twin tube technology, pressurized cartridge
  • Rebound, Hi- and Lo-speed compression adjust (valving is also internally tunable)
  • Spring pre-load
  • 22-mm piston
  • Eye-to-eye lengths available: 216, 222, 240, and 267-mm

Öhlins TTX 22 Pricing:

  • TTX 22 with Öhlins steel spring (sprung and tuned for your weight/bike): 717 EUR ex VAT
  • TTX 22 with RCS Ti spring (sprung and tuned for your weight/bike): 792 EUR ex VAT
  • Additional Öhlins steel spring: 63 EUR ex VAT
  • Additional RCS Ti spring: 217 EUR ex VAT

X1 Racing's Öhlins catalogue points to a number of compatible bikes today, including those who require a different orientation of the expansion chambers.

Photo courtesy of X1 Racing.

Catalogue extract from X1 Racing.

Öhlins STX Fork Cartridge Kit

  • For FOX 40 (all models), RockShox BoXXer (under development)
  • Pressurized cartridge
  • Lower leg purge valve
  • 22-mm piston
  • Lo-speed compression and rebound adjust (valving is also internally tunable)

Öhlins STX Pricing:

  • Öhlins STX for FOX 40 (includes mounting RB low friction seals): 750 EUR ex VAT
  • Complete FOX 40 with Öhlins STX: 1917 EUR ex VAT

X1 Racing can ship products anywhere in France at present. For more information, contact them at: ohlinsmtb@x1-racing-suspension.com.

Title image featuring Robin Wallner, photo by Niklas Wallner

Words by Johan Hjord

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