The Marzocchi Bomber - 15 Years of Fork Manufacture
The Marzocchi Bomber has been a constant in Dirt from the very first issue 14 years ago...
From Dirt Issue 110 - April 2011...
Words by Steve Jones. Photos by Steve Jones and Marzocchi.
marzocchi bomber - a tribute
The Marzocchi Bomber has been a constant in Dirt from the very first issue 14 years ago. There are others – Peaty, Warner, DMR, MRP, Will Longden, Yeti’s in turquoise and yellow. Vouilloz is still winning and they all still wear lycra. Gone however are the riser bars, 100mm stems and a whole raft of fork manufacturers back then that never made it out of the twentieth century.
One that did, and continues to offer reliability and performance when others are either stuck in the garage or on the hard shoulder, is the Marzocchi Bomber. The name at least. The Z1’s orange legs with a massive four inches of travel were certainly not light compared to today’s offerings due to their steel steerers, but hell did they work so much better than anything else at the time for the privateer racer.
Even though they became available to the public in 1997 it was obviously not new. It had emerged sometime before on the World Cup circuit with the Sintesi team and the UK’s Rob Warner. On a stinking day in Kaprun he overcame the mighty Nicolas Vouilloz to gain both Marzocchi and the UK’s first World Cup win. He was on the Bomber Z1 naturally.
“I loved those Marzocchi forks, I can’t quite remember when I first got them but think it was ‘96. Until then it had been Pace, then RockShox elastomer Judy’s I think, then in ‘95 it was those spindly air Marzocchis, they were like chop sticks they moved so independently of each other. The Z1 was definitely the first proper fork I'd used, relatively stiff but the movement was what made them, I think me and only a couple of others had the factory polished steel stations, real slippery uppers, and as a result they where so sensitive and plush, and spring and oil, I loved them. They were just like the motorcycle trials forks I was used too, I ran them super soft and drove the Marzocchi engineers’ mad by insisting they were sticky after every run meaning they had to pull them apart and clean them. Just young, factory and mental I suppose. Did win them their first ever World Cup though."
By issue four of Dirt things had become somewhat looser and longer. Animal’s Tim Ponting was moto style on the cover with triple clamp Bombers. The usuals were still skinned up and Bas de Bever had won South Africa, the opening round of the World Cup series. I wonder how many Marzocchi riders will be on the podium this month in the same event? Yup 1997 was a hell of a year. The year downhill heated up into something special, the year Corrado won the World Cup for Marzocchi, the year top Spaniard David Vasquez was sponsored by a fag company, the year that concluded with Marzocchi offering riders a triple clamp six inch fork – oh and with series winner Herin on the cover.
If Corrado was the first and last Italian to cover of these pages, the Z1 Bomber was also the beginning and end of single crown forks at World Cup races. From four inch to Monster forks happened very quickly.
Whilst it’s been a decade of American owned fork domination at the sharp end of the World Cup circuit the Marzocchi 888 and bomber has been the rock of reliability most riders want. Open bath, always working, a two–year maintenance free fork that is the faithful servant to riders worldwide. Sadly the Bomber name will not be dominating the company’s dampers from now on. American giant’s Tenneco (who bought the company in 2008), one of the largest suppliers of shockers to the automotive industry will obviously be keen to stamp their mark on the brand. A refresh and all that. It looks very likely to be the start of something very special, the re–emergence of the name Marzocchi big time. So just as the Bomber ends it could mean a whole new beginning for one our most faithful friends of the past 14 years. It might just kick off… >>
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Brief run down of the past fifteen years in terms of downhill:
1996 Rob Warner wins Kaprun. First UK World Cup win
1997 Bas de Bever Stellenbosch/Animal Team on Mister T/Corrado Herin World Cup Champion/Bomber girls debut
1998 Bomber Superstar
1999 Super T available. CNC Super T. First 40mm stanchion tube fork
2000 Monster T becomes available
2002 Shiver SC
2003 888 becomes available
2004 Fabien Barel wins Worlds
2005 Fabien Barel wins Worlds
2006 Brian Lopes (actually Lopes rode in 1992)
2007 Gracia rides Marzocchi
2008 Tenneco buys Marzocchi
2010 Marzocchi back on the World Cup Scene
Last summer Dirt visited the company out in Bologna, just half a mile down the road and about the same time as Rossi was in town to sign for Ducati. We spoke to Fabio Sturaro, one of the main men at Marzocchi, and later to Bryson Martin in the US.
When was Marzocchi first world cup win?
Dave Cullinan was World Champion on a Marzocchi 50mm travel XC400, Marzocchi rear shock and Marzocchi frame. It was the first frame of the future in Bromont, 1993 or 1994.
When was Marzocchi last World Cup win?
Barel on a 888 circa 2005.
There was a significant move to support freeriders around 2005. Is that correct?
Actually we started moving to freeride before it was actually called ‘Freeride’. The time was 1996. Our US team was doing a lot of riding in British Columbia and felt the need to have better suspension in this harsh environment. That was the ‘birth thought’ for the Bomber Program. Christian Begin and Bjorn Enga really got us motivated to help promote the ‘sport’ called freeriding, we all brain–stormed together and thought that we needed a film to showcase this movement and products to go with it, the Bomber Program was born.
When was the beginning of this movement?
The beginning was with Richie Schley, Wade Simmons, and Brett Tippie along with the film crew from Kranked (Christian Begin and Bjorn Inga).
Some moments to remember?
There are so many, but a few stand out. When we mounted the first Z.2 Bomber, head tubes were still 1" and bikes weren't as robust as they are now. Needless to say, the fork looked HUGE! After that some samples were tested and our riders hit the road driving from California to British Columbia. After some meetings with large OE companies, we tested the fork with the boys from Norco and Kona, we went testing in the North Shore and they were completely blown away with its performance and the rest became history. A big thanks to Kona and Norco and the free ride boys for making it all happen.
Where are Marzocchi at with Freeride today?
The global freeride market is slowing down and in 2010 we really moved heavily back into DH racing. We still support a lot of freeriders, it’s our core business. The 888 RC3 Ti is hands down the best DH race fork on the market, we need to show case it.
And obviously the Bomber has featured prominently as far as dirt jumping is concerned?
Yes the DJ market has been a strong hold for Marzocchi since day one. We really moved quickly into this market which is quite natural for Marzocchi. The DJ market needs ‘bomb proof’ products and Marzocchi knows a lot about making products to hold up to the abuse.
Bomber production in Italy up to 2007, that correct?
Actually it was 2008 when we moved the entire production to Taiwan.
You still make products for motorcycles though?
Yes, all Moto production is in the original Bologna facility. Our main customers are Ducati (60% share), BMW (75% share), MV Agusta (100% share), Moto Guzzi (100% share).
Lets talk Bomber. Bomber Z1 almost the beginning and end of real quality single crown forks in downhill in many ways?
Yes it was, at the beginning we received negative feedback claiming the fork had too much travel and was too plush. In the end the fork was very much appreciated.
Where was the Bomber designed?
The Bomber Project was a combination of USA and Italy. They called out for the ‘at the time’ oversized 30mm stanchion tubes, open bath damping, cartridge damper, coil spring, etc., and Italy made it happen.
Who designed it? It was not a single individual, the project was the result of a strong collaboration between USA and Italy.
Where did the name come from?
The Bomber name came from the US and Italian team, while they were having dinner and discussing the project. We are now all familiar with the term ‘bomb down hills’ and ‘bomber reliability’. It was a natural name for a product that is bomb proof.
Marzocchi never attempted to attach ‘ultimate race fork’ label to their products, more a case of a quality piece of equipment needing less maintenance.
Yes, that's the core business competency of Marzocchi. Every business entity has a core competency, Marzocchi's is ‘open bath’ hydraulic suspension. Back then there was a huge issue with blown Judy cartridges and deteriorating Manitou bumpers, the Bomber team wanted something that could withstand the abuse of the harsh Canadian riding conditions and open bath was the only way to go.
Fox and RockShox domination. Not even in top ten last season for Marzocchi. Can we expect to see a change?
Yes! For sure, we are heavily investing in DH racing, we also have our own USA based Junior Pro Team with GoPro and a list of other DH teams we are supporting.
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What is the current maintenance guideline on a 888? Two years?
The 888 contains a lot of oil (380cc total), oil is the heart of the system (lubricates, dampens, cools the system). To keep the system fresh under race conditions, an oil change twice a year is needed. If you ride in conditions that can contaminate the oil/seals you may want to change the oil more frequently. We routinely encounter riders on Mr T's that have never changed the oil.
The Bomber Girl concept came from the USA. The date was Interbike Sept 1996. MTB people like girls and the bike show was full of guys so we decided to bring in girls (friends) to make espresso. We got some cool outfits and the rest was history. It really took us by storm, Marzocchi management was surprised by the excitement and how legendary the whole Bomber Girls became.
There have been many versions of the Bomber over the years. JNR T, MRT, Super T, Monster T, 888, Shiver. No other company had such a variety of gravity forks. Will we see the current design stay around for sometime now or will we be seeing change?
Bryson Martin: There are a lot of exciting projects we are working on. 2013 will be off the hook!
FS: In the last two years we have worked in order to reduce the weight of our forks by optimizing the design of structural parts (without jeopardising safety, which is the first concern for our engineers whenever they start to design a product) and improving our inner systems making them lighter and more reliable (reliability remains the other key point in our design philosophy). Anyway, we are continuing to work to design totally new products and the next few years you will see amazing stuff.
Ti nitride and so on. Where is this coming from design wise? And is Ti nitride the way ahead over Kashima coatings?
BM: We have been using Ti Ni on our moto forks for years and years now. Ti Ni coating works best for steel tubes but over the years we pioneered a process to coat our nickel coated alloy tubes with the ever–precious Ti Ni gold.
FS: Ti Nitride comes form the higher requirements in terms of durability and reduction of friction that we have set for our forks. The advantages of this surface treatment are many: high surface hardness and reduction of friction are only some of them. But Ti Nitride is only one of the surface treatments we are researching and testing, and we can say that it is only one of the effective options we will offer to our customers in order to dramatically improve the performance of our forks.
What happened to upside down (USD) forks on mountainbikes?
BM: Marzocchi’s experience in USD is incomparable. We can actually say that it is an interesting project for MTB, but it has to be developed considering weight, rigidity and other critical issues. We believe in this project but what our competitors are offering at the moment is not the right answer for the current market requests.
FS: The USD fork is still a project which we want to continue to invest in the hear future. We have already developed innovative solutions for the heir of the Shiver. Then for sure a new concept of USD fork will soon come out from our workshop.
Back to Fabio Sturaro:
Motocross, enduro, supermoto, road, all feature USD. Any sign of that in future?
The Shiver is still alive. The Shiver is definitely alive and ready to come back!
Chambery (France) will become a European service centre this year?
Yes, it’s a great location and a great service point for consumers and OE's needing to test our products.
Will we see continued Italian connection in the years ahead?
Yes for sure. The R&D headquarter is based in Bologna, but since our main OE customers are in the US we decided to invest on a support branch there as well that reports to chief engineers in Bologna.
Bomber, like the BoXXer, has been a constant since 1995. But now the name is being discontinued?
The name Bomber really referred to ‘open bath’ system but our corporate department felt the need to showcase the name Marzocchi on all the products. We feel that its a good move, a new comer to the market may feel the name Bomber may be a bit immature, who knows? The forks will always be ‘open bath’ which will always mean ‘Bomber’ for those who really know.
For 2011, Giant has moved heavily into the 888 for OE spec. We've done a lot of testing with the product managers and they feel it’s the best feeling fork on the market. Commencal, Mondraker, GT, and a bunch of others all have seen the light!
What currently happens in Bologna? What takes place in US? Where is the base?
The right answer is the union of some of the previous. Marzocchi’s success comes from working as a team and the information exchange makes it possible to achieve our goals. There is no specific activity for Bologna and the US: the development and project phase happens in Bologna with the support of the Americans. California is the best place to test, as it is the actual MTB seat. This allows the final development phase to take place and testing to be run during winter, when in Italy it would be too cold to ride.
What is the testing set–up? Riders?
We employ the expertise and skill of many of our riders to include Chausson, Lopes, Wade Simmons, Richie Schley, Bryson Martin Jr, Logan Binggelli, Kevin Aiello, Quinton Spaulding…
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What are the Marzocchi family doing today?
Since the Tenneco take over the Marzocchi family still owns the very successful hydraulic pumps division. The two cousins are busy over there with the day–to–day operations.
Corrado…thoughts/memories on the Z1 when you got them for first time in 96?
With its 100mm travel the forks were able to give me a lot of comfort and more precision in riding. I’ve always been the kind of rider that spends a lot of time in bike and components settings, the suspension took a lot of this time, but it was easy to find a perfect setting in any condition and terrain. During the racing season Marzocchi developed a prototype especially for our team and they started to use a thru axle that consequently improved the rigidity of the fork with big improvement in the riding precision.
And then how different was the triple clamp version in ‘97?
The other athletes were equipped with double crown forks since ’96, so we decided to make a collaboration with the Marzocchi tech dept and develop a triple crown fork. The result was amazing and the first product was the Mr T with 100mm travel and the Super T with 145mm travel. I used the Super T for the first time in Nevegal for round 1 of the 97 World Cup. I had my first of three victories there, they ended up helping me get the World Cup Champion title. It’s clear that the tech improvement Marzocchi made to the shocks had a crucial role in that victory.
And bigger again, Monster T in ‘98!
The Monster T idea was coming from a motorbike trials project and was probably too big in sections and crown width. For me it was too heavy and rigid and the arm stress was too much. After the Monster T they released the Shiver, an awesome fork that was lighter than the Monster T, with an improved travel length, but like every upside down fork it had the problem of not being rigid enough with less precision in riding and less reactivity.
What was your favourite Marzocchi DH fork?
The Super T was definitely the best but the travel was not enough. Today I really think the 888 is a great fork, with a great balance of weight, rigidity, handling and travel. Also it is very important that, as well as all the Marzocchi products line, the maintenance needs and the settings adjustment are reduced and this thing is very important for most of the riders that do not have the support of a suspension engineer and technical team.
In the nineties the support was excellent. The collaboration with Marzocchi’s ‘Reparto Corse’ (racing department) was really unbelievable with a lot of great professionals who loved what they were doing, so the general feeling was really positive and definitely helped me in every victory. I don’t think that today there is the same passion and support that I experienced.
What you up to these days?
I’m taking care of the promotion and development of the Pila bike park. I’m also organizing here in Pila some event about DH and FR, at this moment I’m organizing an iXS European cup round (August 13th/14th) on the same track where as the 2005 World Cup took place. Also I am taking care of the Pila Black Arrows – MTB Herin School team with about 50 athletes and our top athlete Lorenzo Suding who is two times Italian champion and was 20th overall in World Cup. In the remaining time I’m a MTB teacher and I organize freeride and downhill camps.