X-lite | The Muc-Off story | Pt 1
May 22nd, 2015
Part One – the X-lite years
There are only a handful of brand names in the world that get used as defining slang – Hoover; Lycra and good old Sellotape are prime examples.
Muc-Off was the first cleaning product, designed specifically for bicycles and has had such a huge impact on the market that it’s reached the level where people often refer to cleaning products as Muc-Off – even if it’s not the mighty pink stuff.
Muc-Off is celebrating it’s 21st birthday this year. The original and market leading bike cleaner is not only the best it’s ever been, but is accompanied by an outstanding range of bike care products – and now the ever-expanding athlete care range. Originally though, Muc-Off was just one of the great products from the X-lite brand…
It was a family holiday to Florida where motorcycle racing engineer Rex Trimnell bought his son Alex his first real mountain bike – a highly sought after Klein Attitude. Very quickly, Rex realised the potential in mountain bikes, and got to work designing the X-lite Trimnell fork. This world first bicycle twin crown fork was acquired by Raleigh – who at the time had a special products division and put team racers David Baker and Barrie Clarke on the fork. They rode the Trimnell fork to multiple wins and gave X-lite instant credibility in the high end market.
“Rex was amazing – his whole approach to designing bike stuff was different and he’d come up with ideas seemingly from no-where”
From the start, X-lite was always uncompromising and never designed around a price point. We were making the nicest possible things we could – and that carries through to Muc-Off today “
James Cramp, Muc-Off
Continuing with development, the first product X-lite released were bar ends. Over-night, all the top riders – and the fashion conscious – were using every thing X-lite – from the bar ends to the Cam-Loc quick release skewers and titanium bolt kits. The anodised era was huge and X-lite were at the top of the game, proudly making everything in the UK.
But when it came to keeping those nice shiny bits clean, Rex wasn’t keen on available cleaning options – washing up liquid contains a lot of salt, and other cleaning solvents were too harsh on anodising. Having already having worked with Loc-tite on a thread lock compound and hand cleaner, X-lite started developing a cleaning formula with them, but weren’t happy with the formula – so started developing it again from scratch. In 1994, X-lite launched it’s first bike care range of Muc-Off; X-Lube (later called Bike Spray); thread lock and hand cleaner – though the latter didn’t do as well as they first hoped…
“The thing is, most consumers then didn’t really buy Loc-tite for bikes – it was perhaps a little ahead of it’s time. We underestimated the amount of education people needed for the products – why would they pay £5 for a bottle of cleaner when they would see their mum’s washing up liquid as the obvious choice?
When you’re the first one in a market it is so hard – there’s no awareness of the product category, as there is no one else advertising anything similar. When we took Muc-Off to bike shops initially, they told us they didn’t need it as they hadn’t sold it before.
But once we got going things took shape really fast – faster than we ever imagined really!”
Alex Trimnell, MD, Muc-Off
X-lite continued successfully through the 90’s as Rex developed some incredible looking full suspension bikes and forks, and had Alex out testing the kit and racing for X-lite alongside ex BMX pro Andy Pope. A few tell tale signs that Alex was ahead of the curve when it comes to marketing, was the early appearance in Sprung 1 – the first MTB video magazine by Alex Rankin that set the tone for many future videos. You can see how well the bikes and forks worked in the video, and how good the team kit looked – although pink wasn’t yet the defining colour for the brand.
The frame and fork designs Rex made unfortunately never saw production as would have been very costly – but he continued working with the high end components, like the Steve Peat endorsed Fat Boy bars and CNC machined Steve Peat stem. Unfortunately the premium end of the market took a huge hit when the huge influx of cheap Taiwanese made products flooded the market.
It was a changing time in mountain biking and brands like DDG, Planet X, Tektro, and Amoeba all offered kit that looked similar to the high end brands, but at a fraction of the price. At a time when mountain biking was so fashion led, it became essential to have the next thing on your bike and the budget price point stuff took up a huge chunk of the component market.
Whilst this was happening though, Rex had already identified the potential for Muc-Off though and had started moving in to the motorsport market. The demand and needs were similar, and it helped open up a few more doors for the forward thinking company – which is when things started really heating up…
Come back for part 2 on Tuesday 26th May, where X-lite takes a back seat and Muc-Off becomes the new brand for the business…
In the mean time, you can check out some of the early X-Lite gear in the brilliant Sprung 1, by Alex Rankin. The section with Rex and Alex Trimnell is at 7.48.
There is also a full gallery on the Factory Jackson Facebook page…