For years offroad motorcycle handlebars were built the same way: with a cross-brace to add rigidity and strength. Then in 1991, ProTaper invented and patented the first oversized diameter handlebar without a crossbar. The game-changing design allowed the handlebar to flex and absorb impacts better than conventional handlebars, which in turn provided more comfort and less fatigue without sacrificing strength. More recently, ProTaper created the “Micro Handlebar Kit,” a reduced diameter handlebar that allows younger riders to grasp the handlebar better when riding. Both products invented by ProTaper have revolutionized the way riders control their offroad motorcycles. Today, ProTaper is one of the most recognized brands in powersports, and its products are used and endorsed by championship-winning riders and race teams across the globe. To learn more about the ProTaper brand and its history, we reached out to Brand Manager, Paul Perebijnos.
Tucker Powersports: Paul, thanks for talking to us about ProTaper. Tell us a little about what your role is at ProTaper and what it’s like to be part of such a historical offroad motorcycle brand.
Pro Taper, Paul Perebijnos: Easiest put, I manage the brand. Brand Manager means many different things inside different organizations, but for me at ProTaper, I oversee pretty much the entire business top to bottom. From international and domestic sales, product development, marketing, advertising, racing, sponsorship, budgeting, finances, staff…. Really anything and everything regarding ProTaper I have a hand in. I manage a very small, but powerful team of individuals that are all very passionate and great at the jobs they do, and I’m very proud of people we have and the performance of the brand over the recent years. My position comes with a lot of responsibility, but I love it, and I love being a part of a growing and successful brand.
TP: ProTaper invented and patented the first oversized diameter handlebar as well as created the first youth-specific handlebar. Are there other industry-first innovations where the brand has changed or influenced the market?
PT: Quite a few actually. The ‘Twister’ Throttle Tube, which is our throttle tube that utilizes a bearing to aid in smooth throttle action was an industry first. The 1/3 Waffle Grip is a different innovation. There’s the Fuzion Handlebar, the industry’s first ‘dual function’ handlebar. Our Tie-Downs and Footpegs contain unique innovations for which we hold patent protection on. Our new Pro Series Chains are the first ‘forged’ chains in the off-road market. Then, of course, there is our soon to be released SELA device; the Self Engaged Launch Assist device is also a highly innovative and exciting product that is first of its kind and should be very influential. Being innovative is really what ProTaper’s history is all about and will continue to be our focus in the future.
TP: ProTaper seems to be a brand that continually looks to “build a better mousetrap,” meaning the brand strives to make good products better, or even more, create an entirely new product category. Would you say that’s the case?
PT: Yeah, I think so. Our team at ProTaper is very educated, and more importantly, we’re all passionate enthusiasts. You can’t make a better mousetrap when you don’t know the business you’re working in, and you need to be a smart, out-of-the-box type thinker. It’s all about combining and applying the knowledge base of our team and know what voids exist in the market to focus on what can be created to fill them.
TP: ProTaper also places considerable emphasis on racing. Why is racing such an integral part of the ProTaper brand strategy and identity?
PT: First off, racing is the ultimate test of a product. In my past, I have been a part of what it takes to win championships at the highest level, and plain and simple, no argument about it, some brands and some products aren’t fit for racing. Racing will expose every weakness, and educated consumers know this. They know if a product is good enough for the world’s best athletes, it will be good enough for them and they can trust it. So, we work with race teams to help develop our products, and it’s a great way to drive awareness. The vast majority of powersports customers are in tune to racing; they follow it each weekend and talk about it for the entire week after. Racing is a big reason many of us are involved in powersports, simply put, we’re just fans. Fans of racing are fans of brands that race as well.
TP: It’s one thing to have an outstanding product, but for the product to be used and endorsed by top riders and teams—then to back it up with multiple national and world championships—makes for a complete package. Would you say that’s a big part of the success behind ProTaper as a marketing-leading brand?
PT: It definitely doesn’t hurt. It just brings more legitimacy to the brand. Today it’s much more complex, and many other pieces contribute to being a ‘market leader.’ I don’t think it’s as simple as, ‘win on Saturday, sell on Monday’ anymore. It plays a part, and I think you need it, but you must have other components as well. Plenty of brands have spent a bunch of money to be part of racing success, but they also disappear a few years later, and that’s because they didn’t have the other components needed in place to achieve the sales success required to continue to support racing.
TP: Another game-changing product ProTaper invented is the Micro Handlebar Kit. How did the idea come about and how does the product help younger riders?
PT: It was an idea that came from being connected and speaking to our rep force. The concept was brought to me that way, and from there I made it a focus for ProTaper and got our team together to make it a reality. There are a lot of great ideas out there, that’s why I am also open to listening and learning from anyone I talk to. Some aren’t realistic, but sometimes just a piece of an idea can be enough to spawn into something really great.
“The vast majority of powersports customers are in tune to racing; they follow it each weekend and talk about it for the entire week after.”
TP: Back in January we got to see a sneak peek of another new product ProTaper is in the process of bringing to market called the “SELA” system. What makes this new product design unique and how long has it been in the works?
PT: I’m really excited about this one. I’m a racer at heart, and this is a true racing product that will take the entire brand to a new level. Start devices have been around for almost 20 years now. Yes, it’s been that long [laughs]. But with the SELA device, we’ve figured out a way to eliminate a huge inconvenience that comes with using one. With our Self-Engaged-Launch-Assist [SELA] device, riders will finally be able to set their start device on their own, with no assistance from a helper. We’re certain this is a feature our customers will enjoy so SELA will be another patent protected piece in ProTaper’s product line.
The other significant aspect of our design is its ‘universal’ fitment design; what takes our competitors 30+ SKUs, we can satisfy the same customers with 1 SKU, which is a huge deal for our dealers and retailers. We’re still a bit off from it being available to the public, but this product required some real-world, race condition testing. So, after conducting extensive testing at private facilities, we were ready to take it to the track for our final testing phase to see what else could be learned and revised so we could achieve a perfect product for our customers. It was instantly spotted of course, and the media was all over it, so the pressure is on to deliver on time as there are quite a bit of people buzzing over this product wanting to get their hands on one—which is really really cool. This product has been an idea of ours for over 12 months, so I’m very excited to see it reach completion.
TP: Changing directions, like many people who work in the powersports industry you are an ex-pro racer and still race occasionally at events like the Loretta Lynn’s Amateur National Championship where you have a Vet 30+ class championship. You’ve also spent time as a factory mechanic. How important is it for ProTaper to have individuals like you that have roots in racing? Does your experience as a rider and mechanic help define what products ProTaper designs and creates?
PT: I honestly think it’s one of the biggest assets I bring to my position. I’ve been racing since I was four years old. I’ve raced at every level in multiple countries, and the experience you gain from being a racer is hugely valuable. I truly know who ProTaper’s customers are and what they do. Everyone here at ProTaper is a rider, that’s very important to me. Our customer base isn’t stupid, they will see right through you if you’re trying to be someone you’re not. There are things you can only learn by being a racer, and absolutely it has been beneficial applying that knowledge to what I do today. Then my experience of being a mechanic is another level. When you work on an elite level race team, you learn so much about the motorcycle and what it takes to compete at the highest level, what can go wrong, and what these teams need out of products they go racing with. The industry relationships I’ve been able to forge over the past 20 years are invaluable and have helped me build a reputation that affords me the ability to achieve many impacting factors to ProTaper’s benefit that someone without the same experience would not be able to accomplish.
“We hold ourselves to the highest standard in every aspect of the business at ProTaper, so we look for the same in athletes we work with.”
TP: Speaking of riders, the list of athletes using ProTaper is a literal who’s who of offroad racing. From Amateur to AMA and MXGP Pro Motocross, to World Rally Racing, the sheer number of riders using ProTaper products is astounding. Has this always been the strategy of ProTaper to dominate racing?
PT: I believe in long term relationships and superior service. So, while our list is pretty long, it could be longer; but then the service level would suffer a bit. We like to contract riders and teams that can be long term partners with us. We look for the best mix of results, marketability, and professionalism. We hold ourselves to the highest standard in every aspect of the business at ProTaper, so we look for the same in athletes we work with. I think it’s important to have influencers and athletes capable of winning in multiple disciplines because we sell products to customers that participate in all those same disciplines. So, each and every athlete and team we support is done so with a purpose, to fill a particular void so we can have the most complete coverage possible.
TP: Our guess is you have some memorable stories from your travels around the world with ProTaper. Any you’d like to share that standout as bucket list experiences you’ll never forget?
PT: There have been so many. With global responsibilities for the brand, all the places I’ve traveled outside of the US are the most memorable. The international motorcycle shows like EICMA and Intermot are amazing. I wish anyone involved in powersports could experience them because they are substantial, and they make our industry feel bigger than it really it. I also was able to visit Australia for ProTaper business, and I’m a huge fan of the country and culture there. Aussies are great people and big powersports fans.
“Being innovative is really what ProTaper’s history is all about and will continue to be our focus in the future.”
TP: What’s something about ProTaper that fans of the brand probably don’t know?
PT: The very first professional rider to ever test a ProTaper handlebar, back in 1991, was Damon Bradshaw. Damon rode with the initial prototype of the unique ‘oversized’ bar without a crossbar at Glen Helen way back then and was so impressed by it, he refused to ride without it from that day forward. I think that’s a pretty cool story.
TP: Favorite part of your job?
PT: Global travel is a favorite for me. I love getting to visit new places and learn more about the motorcycle business outside of the US. But then, also a big one is leading a team of such talented people. Like I said before, our team is pretty small, smaller than most would think, but everyone brings a lot to the table, and we are able to accomplish quite a bit given our small staff. That’s really rewarding to be a part of, and a big favorite of mine.
TP: What’s on the horizon for ProTaper? Will you continue to push the limits and transform how enthusiasts ride motorcycles? And any plans to expand into new markets or reinvent the wheel with another game-changing product?
PT: We will always push. That’s a necessity. I refuse to be like Blockbuster and never adapt. You must continually adapt to the changes that come with our market and our culture. ProTaper is all about innovation, premium quality, being youthful and always charging ahead. Those are our core values, and the plan is to be sure ProTaper is the epitome of those values.
TP: Thank you, Paul, we know you’re a busy guy, and we appreciate you giving us some of your valuable time to tell us more about ProTaper.
PT: Thanks for the interest and it’s an honor to get to speak on behalf of such a great brand and great team operating it. I love being a part of this brand and the challenge of guiding it on a path to growth and success. I want to thank everyone at corporate Tucker and the Tucker sales force for being great to work with and being passionate about ProTaper. My team and I are working hard every day to create more ProTaper fans and customers, and it can’t be done without everyone executing on their piece, so thanks to everyone for their efforts.