From the age of eight, motorbikes and music dominated the life of Rich Austin, founder and owner of exhaust manufacturer, Austin Racing. Two passions led to two careers. He found employment as a drummer and sound engineer in the rave era, notably working with late Guru Josh.
As the music scene changed, his passion for bikes took him in a fresh direction. He’d always made bits for his own bikes. After school he spent time at college studying engineering. In 2009 he set about designing an end can for his Aprilia RSV4 to replace the hideous original. He showed a mock up made of toilet roll centres to his mate Christian, who runs the In Moto bike dealership in Croydon. Christian encouraged him to go for it.
Rich laughs as he recalls making a prototype in his garage out of copper.
“I took it to a local welding firm [Pipecraft in Lancing] and they made it up in stainless steel for me,” he said.
It looked good and it worked. Rich posted details on the AF1 Aprilia forum and before long had people asking him to make cans for them. He was still working in music but made the time to fashion ten exhausts. He set up Austin Racing as a part time venture. By accident, he admits, the name was perfect for selling in the USA, referencing the new Circuit of the Americas race track in Austin, Texas. Another 50 orders, mostly from the States, came in and Rich had a decision to make about his future. He recalls saying to himself:
“If I’m going to make this happen, I want it to spectacular: the best materials, the best performance, the best sound.”
He decided to test out his ideas on another bike, the recently released and instantly successful BMW S1000RR. To fit the Austin Racing slip on involved cutting off the catalyser box.
“I wondered at the time if BMW owners with this new bike would be willing to do that,” he said, “But it went down a bomb and I knew I had something.”
Working out of a workshop that he built in the grounds of his self-built house (see a theme emerging here?) he went full time into exhaust and component manufacture. He had just one other person working with him then. They did the prototyping in-house while the final systems were manufactured by an sister company in Oxfordshire, which also carried out work for Formula One teams.
I first met Rich at his original premises in Peacehaven back in 2012. At the time, with the Aprilia and BMW pipes selling well, he was in the middle of designing a full titanium system for the Ducati Panigale, which had been released earlier that year.
Fast forward five years and there have been huge changes. Austin Racing is on the verge of becoming a major name in the exhaust business. The Panigale system is a must have for well heeled USA owners. Rich has relocated to new, bigger premises near Lewes in Sussex. He has split with the Oxfordshire based manufacturing concern. There are ten full-time employees and almost all of the manufacturing is done in-house. With a full order book and sales growing every month, the place is alive with activity.
It is end to end manufacture.
At one end of the workshop are racks of Titanium and Inconel tubing, and a massive, expensive pipe bender. In between are welding stations, a room for the preparation of raw materials, bins of smaller components like spring brackets and header pipe flanges; pipe swaging machines, assembly jigs and a precision measuring station. At the other end you can see completed end cans and header pipes ready for dispatch.
In 2012 they made systems for three bikes. Now they cater for many more: the top sports bikes from Japan are all in the range, including the latest Fireblade, the Yamaha R1 and Kawasaki ZX10. KTM, MV and Triumph are covered too, along with an expanded range for Aprilia, BMW and Ducati, which takes in naked bikes as well. BikeSocial has been trying out an Austin Racing system on our own R1M. All the same, Rich won’t make systems for just any machine.
“I do this because it’s my passion,” he explains. I’ve put everything I have ever made into [Austin Racing] because I believe in it.”
With that in mind, it is easy to see why he will only develop systems for bikes he feels an affinity with. His own bikes are a KTM Super Duke 1290 and his original Aprilia RSV4.
The AR systems all feature large diameter link pipes which allow a wide range of options both in terms of performance and noise. By varying the internal components, they can vary the balance between noise and power without having to screw decibel killers into the end of the can. Austin Racing has a Dynojet 250 dynamometer on site, which plays a key role in developing and fine tuning systems.
In the run-up to the 2017 British Superbike Championship, the TAG Anvil Hire team, who have former champion Josh Brookes as their number one rider, asked Rich to make an exhaust for them to try. The team tested it on their own dyno against a system supplied by Akrapovic, probably the world’s best known performance exhaust maker. The AR system gave seven more bhp than the Akrapovic so that’s what you’ll see on the two Yamaha R1s campaigned by Brookes and his team mate Shaun Winfield.
Brookes took a seventh and a second place in the opening round at Donington, a promising start to the season, finishing ahead of the works Yamaha team.
“Everyone here had a hand in system on Josh’s bike,” Rich told me, “So they can all point to it and say ‘I helped make that.’”
Most of the systems AR produce use titanium for their metal parts. The systems on the Anvil Hire Yamahas use Inconel, unique in British Superbikes, and a material rarely seen outside Formula One. It’s expensive to buy, and hard to work, but for the same weight offers ten times the strength of titanium, meaning that thinner walled tube can be used without affecting durability. The resulting increase in internal surface area can offer performance advantages, particularly in racing where even fractions of a horsepower and a few grams less weight count.
Some of AR’s systems are available in Inconel as well as titanium.
I loved the atmosphere at Austin Racing. Everybody I spoke to there was passionate about their work. The quality of the exhausts is exemplary. The welding, the finish and the performance are best in class. It started with one man's passion and has gathered momentum by attracting highly skilled craftmen who want to be a part of his vision, which is as good recipe for success and fun that I can think of.