In 2001 aerospace engineer Richard Taylor looked at some crash protectors a mate of his had bought and said he could improve the design. Early protectors had many faults. The plastic could be too hard, generating enough friction to make a sliding bike flip over. They could too soft, wearing through and letting the tarmac get to parts that were meant to be protected. They were usually poorly mounted, either on flimsy retainers, which meant they parted company with he bike before they could do their job; or they were too rigid, causing frame damage.
Richard's parts were better. He was asked for more by friends of the original mate. He made a batch and set them out on a trestle table at a local bike meet and sold out. At the time, with his business partner Gene, Richard was running a business making parts for the aerospace industry. He decided to take a risk and switch to making crash protectors full time. Gene disagreed, they parted company and, with a deep breath, plenty of passion and expertise Richard started R&G, catering for racers and the growing band of track day enthusiasts.
The hobby became a business. Simon Hughes (pictured), now the Managing Director of R&G, was tempted away from his secure and well paid job with Yamaha Europe to become the Sales and Marketing Director.
"I loved the Yamaha job," he told me. "It was safe and rewarding. Most people told me I was mad to consider it," he said. "And I think that helped me make my mind up."
We can market the hell out of anything, but growth only comes through innovation
The year before Simon joined, the young company had a turnover of £50,000. Last year, the turnover was £6m. They sell through distributors in over 50 countries. The main warehouse and other buildings and containers in the farmyard where the business is based hold stock worth £4m at retail prices.
When I arrived, I was pleased to be able to park my KTM up among a bunch of bikes belonging to R&G employees. In total, 23 people work there. About 18 of them are bike fans, including two racers and a track day fanatic.
In the beginning, most customers were racers or track day riders. R&G did the bulk of their business at shows, persuading riders of the need for protection. The word spread among road riders with sport bike owners being the first to see the value of crash protection.
R&G added bar end weights and exhaust protectors to the range then moved into tail tidies and exhaust hangers to replace some of the ugly original equipment offerings. The first tail tidy was for the 2003 Kawasaki ZX 636 B1H. It was immediately popular and tail tidies remain among the firm's best selling products. In 2008 they made their first moulded tail tidy, which replaced the whole rear section of the under tray on Honda's Fireblade.
From 2004 R&G expanded to include other styles of bikes; Adventure, Cruisers and Nakeds. They also broadened the range of products. Today they make engine case sliders, engine case covers, crash bars and bash plates for adventure bikes, knee sliders, brake and clutch lever protectors, even bike covers for indoor and outdoor use. The company also sells products from other companies, like Scorpion exhausts, BMC air filters and WD40.
R&G are strong in race sponsorship. They support BSB as crash protection supplier along with individual teams such as Team WD-40, Quattro Plant Kawasaki, Gearlink Kawasaki, Anvil Hire TAG Yamaha and quite a few more. They also support the Santander Finance KTM British Junior Cup.
"It's been great building something from scratch," said Simon Hughes, reflecting on his time so far at R&G. It is an encouraging success story. The company has seen profit grow every year, even through the troubled times following the global crash in 2008. They sell more in the UK than anywhere else, while their biggest export market is France followed by the USA.
R&G sell strongly in style conscious Italy and also in Japan. Australasia is a strengthening market for the Hampshire company. They are also showing strong growth in many Eastern economies. The bulk of bike sales in those places are still small capacity utility machines but there is a growing number of bigger bikes being used mainly for leisure.
Expanding abroad has helped them overcome the difficulties associated with the seasonal nature of the UK bike market. It does mean, however, that they have to hold high levels of stock all year round, rather than using the quiet winter months to catch up on production.
R&G manufacture in three countries; the UK, Taiwan and the Czech Republic. Simon Hughes explains: "When I joined, we were making everything in Farnborough. It was not practical to continue with that if we wanted to expand. It was a difficult decision and it wasn't all about price," he said. In 2003 they made the switch and from then on were able to cope with both the increases and fluctuations in demand.
On the other hand, all product development, both design and prototyping, is done at their Hampshire premises. They have three dedicated areas for this with a full time team of four, soon to be made up to five. Three engineers work with a prototype manager and all have different backgrounds, a CNC specialist, a 3D computer modeling expert and a former motorcycle mechanic. With such diversity of experience, they are able to support each other across a wide range of tasks.
The design area has two 3D printers. There's a workshop next to it where prototype components are fitted to bikes and across the yard is a machine shop with a lathe, a milling machine, a metal folder and all the smaller tools needed to build components from scratch.
While I was there, the team were fitting prototype parts to a Kawasaki Vulcan, including engine bars and a backrest. Both 3D printers were hard at work producing experimental parts. The design and development of new products is at the heart of R&G.
Simon Hughes: "We can market the hell out of anything, but growth only comes through innovation.
And on that note, I loaded up the RC8 and headed back home; another great British manufacturing concern and another fascinating day learning what makes the British motorcycle industry tick. It points to an encouraging future for us all.
For more information, visit: http://www.rg-racing.com/