Renthal

Trial Magazine - - CONTENTS - AR­TI­CLE: JOHN HULME

When the news ar­rived at Trial Mag­a­zine that own­er­ship of the Renthal brand was com­ing back to Great Bri­tain from its Amer­i­can own­ers, it filled me with a sense of pride, some­thing to be proud of. You may ask why? I first came into con­tact with Henry Rosen­thal and then his busi­ness part­ner An­drew Ren­shaw as a young boy. Henry was at a trial around the early 70s with some new alu­minium han­dle­bars. I did not take much no­tice of the prod­uct but of the nice new Renthal stick­ers! Over the years we would be­come friends, some­thing that has en­dured the test of time. It was in late Novem­ber 2013 that I heard the sad news that An­drew had passed away af­ter a brave fight against cancer. Renthal is com­ing home and will now be led by a new team who will take the prod­uct into the fu­ture and beyond; Henry is very pleased, and I am sure An­drew would also be.

The name Renthal is one born from a pas­sion for mo­tor­cy­cles and en­gi­neer­ing. The vi­sion of the han­dle­bar may be a piece of engi­neered alu­minium tub­ing, but to Renthal, it’s a piece of me­chan­i­cal ge­nius.

Crash

Any­one who has ever seen Henry ride an off-road mo­tor­cy­cle will un­der­stand why he has crashed so of­ten, some­times with se­vere con­se­quences. From a very early age, he had rid­den mo­tor­cy­cles, start­ing with a Match­less con­verted from road to mo­tocross trim. Crash­ing was a con­stant part of rid­ing, and with it came bent han­dle­bars. From the ef­fort needed to pick up, the heavy Match­less came the ob­ses­sion in later life with the weight of prod­ucts and the need for bet­ter han­dle­bars. It was in his younger teenage years that he would meet An­drew Ren­shaw, af­ter yet an­other crash which wrecked the front forks on his Match­less. One of Henry’s friends told him about a boy called An­drew, who was also mad keen on mo­tor­cy­cles and had lots of mo­tor­cy­cle spares in a shed in his par­ent’s gar­den. Henry vis­ited An­drew, who had a pair of Earl’s Lead­ing Link forks for £2.10s. Af­ter he had bought the forks, he was just about to leave when An­drew said: “You know they won’t fit”. Af­ter some dis­cus­sion, An­drew told Henry that he would make a set of spe­cial steer­ing adap­tors to en­able them to fit and, fur­ther­more, there would be no charge for this service. That was the be­gin­ning of a life­long friend­ship which led to the start­ing of Renthal a few years later.

The alu­minium han­dle­bar

The idea for alu­minium al­loy han­dle­bars came from the con­stant bend­ing of steel ones. Henry’s un­cle and aunt, Harry and Ellen Pet­zal, owned a large alu­minium stock-hold­ing busi­ness in Lon­don. His un­cle was quite an em­i­nent met­al­lur­gist be­fore the war in Ger­many, and af­ter­wards, he set up a busi­ness in Eng­land spe­cial­is­ing in ex-war de­part­ment strong al­loys. One of the al­loys was a ma­te­rial des­ig­nated H14 WP. This al­loy which was used in Spit­fire air­frames was 7/8 gauge and had im­mense strength be­cause it had to with­stand the huge G-forces gen­er­ated by the steep an­gles that Spit­fires could bank to. The com­pany, The At­lantic Metal Com­pany Ltd of St Pan­cras Way Lon­don, had quite a large stock of this ma­te­rial and when Henry com­plained to his un­cle about how many times he had bent the han­dle­bars on his mo­tor­bike, his un­cle sug­gested this ma­te­rial. Henry scoffed at the idea, say­ing that alu­minium could never be strong enough, but he agreed to try it, and Henry was sent with some tube to a TV ae­rial maker in South Lon­don to bend the first pair of alu­minium han­dle­bars. The ae­rial mak­ers broke their first ben­der try­ing to bend the han­dle­bars and took an­other half day on an­other ben­der try­ing to make them!

A time to learn

An­drew and Henry had be­come good friends af­ter the fork-buy­ing episode. An­drew was al­ways keen on the en­gi­neer­ing of mo­tor­cy­cles, more so than the rid­ing of them. At 16 Henry moved to tri­als and An­drew be­came very much in­volved in mak­ing sure his tri­als ma­chines were fan­tas­tic. Move for­ward now to Re­mem­brance Sun­day 1969, now both aged 20, with no tri­als to at­tend and noth­ing to do. They were sit­ting in front of the fire dis­cussing the past when the sub­ject of the al­loy han­dle­bars that had been made so many years be­fore came up. Two hours later the idea of alu­minium al­loy tri­als han­dle­bars was born. By start­ing a small hobby com­pany, An­drew would be the en­gi­neer and Henry was go­ing to be in charge of com­mer­cial and mar­ket­ing. They thought of a name: ‘Rosen­shaw’ was too un­wieldy but ‘Renthal’ – An­drew Ren­shaw and Henry Rosen­thal sounded much bet­ter. So An­drew built a ben­der us­ing the lathe in his shed

and an old wash­ing man­gle while Henry sourced the tube – the same tube that he had used many years ear­lier, as no­body wanted it as it couldn’t be welded and was very ex­pen­sive. The first prod­uct they de­cided to pro­duce was tri­als han­dle­bars, high and wide, which was the fash­ion of the time. They were called Renthal and sold as ‘A su­per-strong han­dle­bar which is very light and more re­silient, three-times springier than steel’; an im­por­tant con­sid­er­a­tion when the sus­pen­sion was so poor.

Some­thing fan­tas­tic

Renthal needed cus­tomers and went to Jim San­di­ford at Bury and Johnny Burns of Mo­toXMo­tors of Old­ham, telling them about these fan­tas­tic han­dle­bars and could they pay 50 per cent in ad­vance! Both said they were ei­ther on to some­thing fan­tas­tic or were go­ing to lose money. They both took the risk. To give the bars cred­i­bil­ity, Mick An­drews, Mal­colm Rath­mell and Mar­tin Lamp­kin, were ap­proached to use the han­dle­bars; all agreed to try them. They liked them, so they were then ad­ver­tised as su­per-strong han­dle­bars ‘as used by’, and soon they were sell­ing in lim­ited quan­ti­ties. Sup­ply and de­mand are al­ways im­por­tant and, such was the de­mand, pro­duc­tion moved to the green­house at Henry’s home. This was all in 1969; it was only go­ing to be a hobby busi­ness.

By 1975, it was time to take it to an­other level. Hav­ing long run out of the orig­i­nal ma­te­rial, and spend­ing much time try­ing to source a suit­able mod­ern equiv­a­lent, the com­pany were now em­ploy­ing two peo­ple in the base­ment of an old mill in Mac­cles­field, so An­drew and Henry de­cided that maybe Renthal was a ‘proper job’ af­ter all. With their two em­ploy­ees, they both be­came full-time and short­ened the busi­ness name to Renthal, hav­ing been in the in­ter­ven­ing years called ‘Renthal En­ter­prises’.

Ex­pan­sion and ex­port

Now they were full-time new de­ci­sions had to be made. Henry had learned at busi­ness stud­ies that brand names were more dif­fi­cult be­cause it was more ex­pen­sive in the be­gin­ning than be­ing a sub-con­trac­tor, but ul­ti­mately you had con­trol of your des­tiny. They al­ready had the brand name Renthal, so a de­ci­sion was made to only make prod­ucts un­der their brand name, a

choice that Renthal have never wa­vered from. The other thing Henry learned was that it was bet­ter to have a lim­ited prod­uct range and sell it to a huge mar­ket. That de­ci­sion was easy as they only had han­dle­bars, the brand name and the win­ning rid­ers, who at the time were all English. The first ex­port mar­ket was sur­pris­ingly Aus­tralia be­cause Mick An­drews had re­cently made a pro­mo­tional tri­als visit there, with the first cus­tomer be­ing McCul­loch’s. This was fol­lowed by Ja­pan, where tri­als were tak­ing off with Moroi Kei Trad­ing be­com­ing the first Ja­panese cus­tomer. Bel­gium fol­lowed, through a Bri­tish Ex­pat called Richard Cove who had moved to Bel­gium to start an ex­port/im­port com­pany im­port­ing Euro­pean parts to the UK and ex­port­ing UK parts to Europe. Richard sug­gested mak­ing mo­tocross bars be­cause mo­tocross was much more prom­i­nent in Europe than tri­als. Renthal out­grew the premises in Mac­cles­field and was now em­ploy­ing six peo­ple, mov­ing to an old weav­ing shed at Clarence Mill at Bolling­ton, a vil­lage out­side Mac­cles­field – note still a mill. Be­cause of a short­age of funds most of the pro­duc­tion ma­chin­ery was still be­ing made by An­drew, of­ten amal­ga­ma­tions and can­ni­bal­i­sa­tions of dif­fer­ent ma­chines. The Clarence Mill premises, though huge, were aw­ful as the roof leaked and the place was fall­ing down. Renthal was so ashamed of it that when any over­seas vis­i­tors came to visit them, they would meet them in Lon­don and give them a tour of Lon­don, us­ing great hospi­tal­ity to their guests to dis­guise the fact that they were ashamed of their premises and didn’t want them to come!

The sprocket range

In 1979 they started to look for ad­di­tional prod­ucts to add to the Renthal han­dle­bar range to help them ex­pand. An­drew had ex­pe­ri­ence with chains and sprock­ets from his time work­ing at the Renold Chain Com­pany, so when Renthal wanted to de­velop the sec­ond prod­uct in their range sprock­ets was an easy choice. Us­ing the same for­mula – pro­duce the best prod­uct you can make, get the top rid­ers to use it for cred­i­bil­ity, sell to the con­sumer ex­actly what the top rid­ers use, ad­ver­tise and sell through­out the world.

A New Fac­tory

By 1989, with the busi­ness very strong they had enough funds to build a new fac­tory, and so it was time for the move to Bred­bury, just out­side Stock­port. With Stock­port’s man­u­fac­tur­ing base quickly van­ish­ing as the tex­tile mills and huge steel plant of James Mills at Bred­bury all closed down, unem­ploy­ment was high. Stock­port Coun­cil pur­chased a lot of the land pre­vi­ously owned by Henry’s men­tor Harry Og­den which it was then sell­ing cheap to in­dus­try. The broth­ers Harry and Ted Og­den were both good all-round mo­tor­cy­cle rid­ers in road rac­ing, mo­tocross and tri­als rid­ers in the pre- and post-war years. Harry was a fac­tory BSA rider for a time but was al­ways eclipsed by his more fa­mous brother Ted. Un­der what is now junc­tion 25 of the M60 Harry had a mo­tocross track which was used for TV scram­bles of the 1960s. They were also farm­ers based in Bred­bury and de­liv­ered milk to the Rosen­thal house in the nearby vil­lage of Romi­ley. It was at the Bred­bury scram­bles course that Henry would cut his teeth on an old Match­less. The Renthal premises were built in 1989, not far from the track Henry learned to ride on, and Renthal went from strength to strength be­fore the fac­tory burned down in Septem­ber 2000.

The Fire

For­tu­nately, Renthal was cor­rectly in­sured and, as the in­sur­ance com­pany said: “No­body sets fire to their premises at 9.30am in the morn­ing in front of their whole work­force when they are do­ing well and are not even there”.

Nei­ther was on site at the time, as Henry was re­turn­ing from Lon­don and An­drew was bring­ing a new for­eign ex­change stu­dent in for his first day of work ex­pe­ri­ence at Renthal. An­drew com­mented at the time “Looks like some­thing is on fire near Renthal” and when he got nearer he said, “It is Renthal!” The fire was caused by a dust ex­trac­tor blow­ing up. They were both grate­ful af­ter the fire just how help­ful peo­ple are in a dis­as­ter. Talon helped them with blank sprock­ets and ma­te­rial at their cost, for which they are eter­nally grate­ful to Ge­orge Sartin. Lo­cal com­pa­nies gave them premises to op­er­ate from, sup­pli­ers stored goods for them, and their cus­tomers swapped prod­ucts with each other, all to help them through this chal­leng­ing pe­riod.

Sold

An­drew and Henry al­ways said that when they were 55, they would sell Renthal. They didn’t quite make it be­cause they sold in 2006 when they were 57. How­ever, a long time be­fore this they started bring­ing in the next gen­er­a­tion of man­agers to ‘ob­so­lete’ them­selves. In 2006 Renthal was sold to MAG (Mo­tor­cy­cle Af­ter­mar­ket Group) based in Amer­ica. MAG wanted a western-Euro­pean mod­ern man­u­fac­tur­ing plant with English-speak­ing staff that was first or sec­ond in their field. Renthal fit­ted their re­quire­ments, and MAG fit­ted An­drew and Henry’s, which was to keep Renthal as a UK man­u­fac­turer and keep on all the staff, both con­di­tions which MAG hon­oured, and the takeover was seam­less. An­drew’s po­si­tion was taken over by a new team of en­gi­neers, and Henry’s po­si­tion was taken over by Rees Williams plus the ad­di­tion of a new po­si­tion, Manag­ing Di­rec­tor, be­ing cre­ated with Tom Wade tak­ing the role. Tom was the Merg­ers and Ac­qui­si­tion part­ner who helped sell Renthal to MAG. Each one has a keen in­ter­est in their re­spec­tive fields as well as a pas­sion for of­froad mo­tor­cy­cles.

The fu­ture

So what does the fu­ture hold for Renthal as it heads into its 50th year of busi­ness? Well for cer­tain its com­mit­ment to tri­als is undi­min­ished, with its con­tin­u­ing sup­port of both in­ter­na­tional and do­mes­tic tri­als teams. Renthal han­dle­bars can be found on the win­ning ma­chines of Toni Bou, Dougie Lamp­kin and the ris­ing star of Jaime Busto. Renthal have also rel­a­tively re­cently and suc­cess­fully de­vel­oped a mar­ket line of cy­cling prod­ucts, trans­fer­ring their life­long pas­sion for light­weight race prod­ucts into a new mar­ket, only this time pow­ered by pedal. For cy­cling, there are no gov­ern­ing body re­stric­tions on ma­te­ri­als. There­fore Renthal has been able to de­velop a full range of cock­pit prod­ucts for all dis­ci­plines of moun­tain bik­ing in both alu­minium and car­bon fi­bre to sat­isfy a sim­i­lar weight ob­sessed mar­ket.

Ev­ery year new ma­te­ri­als be­come avail­able, and new meth­ods of man­u­fac­ture are cre­ated, all these changes be­ing led by a younger work­force look­ing to hon­our the prin­ci­ples set up by An­drew and Henry while mod­ernising and im­prov­ing the Renthal range. As Henry, the last re­main­ing sur­vivor of early Renthal in­evitably slips into the twi­light of life then it is for the next gen­er­a­tion of Tom, Rees, Ians, Si­mon and Pauls to carry Renthal for­ward. A com­pany, in the­ory, can be im­mor­tal where its em­ploy­ees can­not. So maybe Henry will, af­ter all, achieve his am­bi­tion of be­ing picked up in a he­li­copter [rented will suf­fice!] on his 80th birth­day and be told by the new manage­ment how much bet­ter they have done for Renthal than its founders!

Twin­wall in the process of man­u­fac­ture.

Renthal’s mo­tor­cy­cling mar­ket­ing team: Rees Williams, Ian Tin­dle and Henry Rosen­thal.

Ta­pered tube wait­ing for bend­ing into Renthal han­dle­bars.

Mak­ing han­dle­bars isn’t as sim­ple as just bend­ing a tube. The blast­ing of stain­less steel balls at high pres­sure against the sur­face sig­nif­i­cantly im­proves fa­tigue strength.

Each batch of ma­te­rial gets thor­oughly in­spected be­fore mak­ing its way to the fac­tory floor.

Steve looks happy; all the Renthal em­ploy­ees we spoke to on our visit had a val­ued in­ter­est in the process they were car­ry­ing out.

Renthal’s fa­cil­ity is made of three dif­fer­ent build­ing; the assem­bly build­ing is the mid­dle stage as parts man­u­fac­tured across the yard are as­sem­bled and pack­aged be­fore head­ing to the ware­house.

Since en­ter­ing the cy­cle mar­ket Renthal has re­fined their range into the mar­ket-lead­ing prod­ucts by us­ing in­ten­sive prod­uct test­ing.

With space at a pre­mium in the UK, Renthal has a fac­tory where pro­duc­tion is spread across two floors.

Renthal’s chain­wheel range has ex­panded to cover a huge range of ma­chines and mod­els.

The plasma cut­ter cuts hun­dreds of chain­wheel blanks each day.

For re­peata­bil­ity many pro­cesses are com­pleted with­out hu­man in­ter­ven­tion.

Up­per floor man­u­fac­tur­ing.

Tri­als leg­end Mick An­drews gave them their early suc­cess in tri­als with Euro­pean cham­pi­onship and Scot­tish Six Days Trial vic­to­ries in the early seven­ties.

In the Honda Mu­seum at Twin Ring Moteigi race track in Ja­pan a dis­play of Honda’s cham­pi­onship win­ning tri­als ma­chines can be found, all fit­ted with Renthal han­dle­bars.

The as­so­ci­a­tion be­tween Toni Bou and the Rep­sol Honda team has re­sulted in him be­com­ing a 24-time FIM World Tri­als Cham­pion, all us­ing Renthal Twin­wall han­dle­bars.

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