BIG THINKER: PIONEERS–THE BROWN BROTHERS
ÿTHE BROWN BROTHERS AREN’T A GROUP OF BUSINESSMEN WHO PUNCH NUMBERSTHESE BOYS RIDE.
The Brown brothers grew up as any normal trio of brothers would. They fought, they chased each other around the house, and they tattled to mom, but they were as close as could be. It was that close relationship between Chris, Duane and Brent that catapulted them to where they are todaythe owners of the most respected mini bike hop-up company in the world. Even in the early days, the Browns were entrepreneurs, buying their cousin’s bike shop that they named, with far too much alliteration, Brown Brothers Bike World (the name was a sign of things to come). Their first watermark year came in 1979 when Chris and Duane built a custom XR75 in Junior High School shop class. It had a hand-fabricated frame that incorporated a custom linkage-style single shock and swingarm combo, dual leading brakes and a modified engine.
The Brown brothers, who changed their company’s name to BBR (Brown Brothers Racing), went full scale in 1984 when they built a new shop, giving them enough room to stuff XR engines inside Yamaha, Honda, and Suzuki frames. They also started building handmade aluminum swingarms for XR75s. The trio encountered a scary setback in 1994, however, when brother Chris developed pancreatitis and had to spend the next decade in and out of hospitals. With determination, the brothers surged onward, and in 1995 the boys got their big break. After developing the first aluminum-framed XR280, American Honda took an interest in BBR and the two companies formed a long-standing relationship.
During this period of time, BBR’s aluminum frame workmanship came to the attention of the MXA wrecking crew, and we began to test their oddball mix of componentry. The publicity began to fuel a minicycle explosionnot among young kids, but with bucks-up adults. Every year, the Brown Brothers packed up everything they had built and traveled from Washington State to the World Four-Stroke Championship, often winning every class their bikes enter. By 2001, BBR was the leading force in the exploding minibike craze. From this point on, BBR went crazy manufacturing frame kits, exhaust systems, handlebar/triple clamp kits, fork kits, aluminum rims and practically anything else that could be outfitted on a mini bike. As Duane says, “We ask ourselves if the products we make are good enough to be outfitted on a factory bike. We’re definitely selling to the Porsche-type guys, and it trickles down to every little piece that we make.”
What’s so great about the Brown brothers? They aren’t a group of businessmen who punch numbersthese boys ride. Nestled into the upper left-hand corner of the United States, where rain is as prevalent as Starbucks coffee houses, the Brown brothers aren’t afraid to get dirty. In fact, Duane, who’s the head of product testing, puts the BBR prototype designs through the wringer regularly, and whatever he learns is used to enhance the existing products. If you ever have the chance to visit BBR, you should. Walking through the factory with one of the Brown brothers is like watching a kid in a candy store (with his father’s credit card). They are passionate about what they do and cannot contain themselves when they talk about their newest invention. It’s that excitement and commitment that has made them so successful through the 29 years since the boys formed a business together.
Besides a knack for design and development, the Brown brothers are three different pieces to a complete puzzle. Chris handles the development. Duane supports Chris in R&D, but focuses on product testing, and Brent takes care of the business side of BBR. In their new 25,000 square-foot building, BBR manufactures 90-percent of their products in-houseno outsourcing to other countries. BBR is as huge an employer in the Seattle area as Boeing, but they support the economy with minicycle parts.
How many different products is BBR working on? Duane tells all, “We have hundreds of new parts at any one time. It’s just a matter of picking the right parts and what order to release them in. We try to perfect one bike at a time and one part at a time, but we definitely have a board full of new parts for all the different bikes.”
One thing is certain; the Brown brothers will continue to make revolutionary products for the mini bike market that they invented.