You'd be forgiven for thinking that Gibson Tyres are a company that have a long history in the sport, as they have been in the public eye for quite some time now. That is not the case, however, as that rise in exposure has come in just two short years of development, which is a testament to the impact that they have had on the industry. We caught up with Josh Plews, the man at the head of the company, to discuss all of that.
MX Vice: Gibson Tyres are a company that have made the most progress recently. Could you give us a bit of background on the history of the company?
Josh Plews: Gibson Tyre Technology was an idea that I had from my previous business in tyre manufacturing. In November 2014 I set about establishing the brand and, really, my only intentions were to develop some cool tyres, go racing and see where we end up. Since November 2014, to now, we are a completely global company, racing at the highest level in the world, and we design and develop tyres with some of the best teams and riders in the world. For me, it’s a dream come true. I really didn't think things would go forward so quickly with so much support for what we are doing.
After playing around with tyres in my early twenties, I realized that the motocross and enduro industry had really slow pace of development, sat there and thought ‘well if the biggest companies in the world aren't interested in going racing at the highest level, then maybe that shows a bit of a gap in the market and maybe that means we could create a really cool company and just go racing.’ Motocross and enduro are huge passions of mine, so to be going racing at the highest level in the world and with some of the best teams is pretty incredible. Naturally more crazy guys like myself have come out of the woodwork; these people have joined forces with me.
One man is called Jens Engelking, he used to be the manager of Pirelli in Germany and the director and part owner of GoldenTyre World Service. Jens saw my idea and we really had the same way of thinking; he immediately took charge of the European markets alongside me and introduced me to people all over the world. He was really the driving force behind turning a British company into a global company, so all praise to him for believing in this project.
What would you say separates Gibson Tyres from a company like Dunlop or Pirelli?
That’s a good question and something I get asked a lot. It’s actually really simple; we work in much the same way as a company like Apple. We specialize in designing the product, developing the product and sourcing production with the most-efficient technology available to us.
This means we never have huge long-term investments in production lines, and production facilities, which would always hold back development of any product, because it makes the agenda of the company more related to the production line instead of the product and the product only. For example, 3D printing is one of the most-exciting technologies we use. In the future 3D printing will surely become a household technology – anything from a pair of trainers to a tyre will be possible to print.
The real industry experts will be the company that is the best at designing and developing products, which means being able to make quick decisions and keep the team closely connected. That is what we are good at, getting things done. We don't need to sign off between ten different senior managers. If I think it’s a good idea, we can start tomorrow and it will always stay that way.
If you think about it, this time has already come. Apple are the world’s highest-earning technology company – all they do is design and develop products. I believe startups should be focused on design and development. It’s so important to try to be the best and do it in a modern way that can move with the times, so that you are not left behind. You need to build a business for where the world will be in ten or twenty years, not how the world is today.
Seeing as all research and development takes place in the UK, do you feel that gives you the ability to react quickly when changes need to be made?
The main core of the company is completely held in the UK. For chemical development, we use the very best PHD Chemist that the country has to offer. We also design tyres at our HQ in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. The core of the company is connected directly to me and this means that, when we test, right away I am the person who informs and educates all of my team about what area we need to push forward with, whether that be tyre design, compound performance, carcass material or design development.
There are many different people that have a huge impact on the tyre and, as with any company, the closer you can all be the better. That goes directly for racing as well. I personally attend the races – I hear the feedback first hand and I relay the feedback to my team with precision. We are also a young team. I am twenty-five, my designer is twenty-six and we all love racing. It’s our first passion. We do have some older folks behind the scenes too. Gary Crutchley is our lead consultant and has over twenty-five years of experience working for some of the biggest tyre companies in the world. He works out of the most renowned industry expert facilities in the world that's based right here in the UK.
If an average rider came to you for advice on which tyres to use, which would you recommend and why?
I’d always recommend running a set-up that suits the general terrain you race on. Where I'm from there is little or no sand and the tracks are normally pretty worn out, so I always run the MX 1.1 (intermediate front) and MX 4.1 (intermediate/hard rear). I think it’s vital to think about what tracks are coming up and choose a set of tyres that will cover eighty percent of those tracks.
Most athletes very rarely change tyres, even though on TV they all say ‘yeah we changed tyres in between practices and made some changes.’ The reality is completely opposite; most pro riders use the same front and rear tyre on eighty percent of the tracks they race and practice on. For this reason, they are completely used to the way the tyre reacts. They are not faced with multiple different settings that they can use. Even the world’s greatest riders become confused and anxious as to whether their tyre choice was the right direction.
It’s the same as suspension. Find a perfect-base setting and you try to stay pretty much on that line all season; tyres are the same. Keeping it fresh is huge, also, as it’s crazy the amount of brand-new bikes around with half worn tyres and shiny levers. If you want to go faster, it’s a must to have fresh tyres and good suspension. They are the two key points on the bike.
What gaps do you feel there are that need to be filled in the tyre industry? Are Gibson Tyres now on the verge of the next big thing?
I feel the tyre industry has become a sorry state in the off-road world and the whole world in general. There is no cross competition and people just aren't excited about tyres. There is a huge monopoly in the tyre world. If you remember back in the 90s, everyone wore the cap on the podium and everyone said how awesome the tyre hooked out the gate. Now, in the USA, no hat is worn on the podium and the tyre manufacturer is hardly ever mentioned.
I feel like the care in the tyre industry has all but gone. People just aren't excited about tyres anymore, because nothing cool and exciting is happening. Let’s say that we are here to change all of that. The fact that three of the top five tyre brands that operate within the off-road industry do not compete at the highest level within the sport, but a company like ours with less than two years of history is developing and racing at the highest level should show people that these companies are not here full of passion. They treat our sport as a revenue source.
If a company like ours can race at the highest level, then I believe it’s pretty shameful that these companies don't line up next to us to try and compete with us. Surely motorsport companies should be at the race track? For me, it just doesn't make sense. I have never been able to understand it. Gibson Tyre Technology will always race at the highest-level possible. It’s of vital importance to show the integrity behind what we do; we are not here to take part and build up a business that makes some money. We want to be the best and we want to set ourselves apart from any tyre company in the world.
The GIB Moutech Speedy Mousse appears to something you're proud of. Could you give us more details on that product?
This product, for me, is something really special, because of the amazing story behind it. Luigi Mazzoni is a wonderful Italian man with more passion for racing than I have ever known and a huge passion for tyre. When we met, naturally, we fell in love [laughs], but really we sat down and JJ (as he's better known) explained to me his plans and his ideas. We made a plan, teamed up and he is now my chief tyre technician. He carries some weight behind that title, as he worked for nine years at GoldenTyre as the chief technician. He was at MXGP every week, fitting and developing products alongside his former colleagues.
When I met JJ, he had this great idea for a mousse and he showed me the concepts behind the idea. I loved it. This idea is a mousse with circular rings that enables you to change the hardness of the mousses and it enables the product to stay cooler and last longer. Such a simple idea amounts to such an increase in performance.
When you combine that with JJ's knowledge for how the tyre works with the mousse, he is the perfect man to be working on such a product. We supported him fully and decided to enter the market with it this month. Now JJ's patented product turns into a global product; Gibson Moutech Speedy Mousse, brought to you by JJ.
It’s an incredible story and he is, for sure, an incredible man. At sixty-years old he has spent his whole life in the race paddock and won three world titles as a mechanic to Alessio Chiodi. Kind of like Roger DeCoster, he carries his own weight when walking around the paddock. I just love that, as a racer myself, as I don't like people who do a lot of talking but don't have anything behind their words to back it up. JJ backs it up, is a really special man and is vital to the success of Gibson around the world.
Finally, what's next for Gibson? What goals are there to achieve in the next twelve months?
The goals are really simple. Move forwards with every aspect of the company, no matter whether that’s distribution, product development or race service. We just want to be full gas on all aspect of this company and really feel like it’s just getting started for us. There are loads more ideas and really cool projects that we have coming up, so I hope we can work with you guys at MX Vice to keep bringing the message to the people.
The British people should be proud of the amazing companies held within this country, as both MX Vice and Gibson Tyre Technology are walking proof of how diverse we are in this country and how much the youth of the sport turn into the future of the sport. The youth are all really pushing on now and there is a new wave of cool companies arriving, just like Pro Circuit in the early days. You can see cool things are coming and the racing heart has not been lost.
Interview: Lewis Phillips | Image: ConwayMX