Kuwahara with Julian Millis

    This is an unfinished interview that we started with Julian Millis some time in 2007, not sure why it was abandoned, things just work out that way sometimes, however we still think it’s relevant to fill some of the gaps in the rebirth of Kuwahara especially to the Australian market. It’s been a while since we last spoke to you, you were at Norco, then working at Elite Cycle Imports. How did you come to working with Kuwahara?
    JM: While working for Elite Cycle Imports (ECI), we began distributing FUNN mountain bike products and PERV BMX products. These brands were owned and operated by a company called Muchachos International. As well as these brands Muchachos International designs, manufactures and sources products for companies around the world in the Motorcycle, Automotive and Bicycle industry. Kuwahara in Japan was also distributing the FUNN and PERV Products into their country, they had many discussions with Muchachos about resurrecting Kuwahara as a BMX brand again. With the Olympics putting BMX into the view of the public and the recent return of other older BMX companies such as SE Racing, the Kuwahara family were keen to see the return of their brand into BMX with the help of Muchachos overseeing the whole project. I had known the guys at Muchachos for many years with my time with both Norco and ECI, and they knew of my love of BMX, BMX racing and old school brands and had seen the BMX lines that I had put together for Norco. From there I began work for Muchachos heading up the 20″ BMX program covering both Kuwahara and the Perv freestyle lines of bikes. Can you sum up who and what Kuwahara for those that don’t remember the name from back in the day?
    Initially Kuwahara started out manufacturing bikes for other brands such as Schwinn and Takara etc, but as the company progressed into the late 1970’s Kuwahara made their first Kuwahara branded bike which was the first Kuwahara BMX. Kuwahara then began to export their bicycles and frames around the world and during the early 80’s were highly regarded for their quality and design.
    Kuwahara had some of the top riders in the world representing them at the highest level including Kevin McNeil, Gary Ellis and Clint Miller. Probably the most notable thing that Kuwahara became famous for was being the BMX bike that Elliot flew through the sky in the movie “E.T.”. After the movie was released Kuwahara also released E.T. replica Models. To be competitive with other BMX brands on the sales floor Kuwahara had to move to Taiwanese production, so they closed their Japanese manufacturing facility. Kuwahara tried to move with the Freestyle boom of the mid to late 80’s, and although there was some success, this ultimately was when Kuwahara for various business reasons disappeared from the BMX Market. Kuwahara then became one of the largest bicycle distributors in Japan for many brands and products for the last 15 years or more. The Kuwahara family still owns the brand to this day. Where can people currently buy Kuwahara products?
    JM: The 2007 Kuwahara models have shipped and will be available in France, UK, USA, Russia, Singapore, Japan and Australia throughout the next month or so, some countries earlier than others depending on when the distributors placed their orders. What difficulties have you found in reviving the Kuwahara brand?
    JM: The biggest difficulty has been getting distribution in the USA settled, being a foreign brand with no base in the USA, we have a disadvantage to Haro, Redline, GT etc. So after many discussions with distributors in the USA we have set up our own distribution that is based in Indiana, and headed up by Natarsha Williams (Ex Pro Women’s Racer/Sun Ringle). Have the industry been positive about the products?
    JM: It’s incredible the feeling a lot of people have towards the brand still after many years. I’m talking Bike shop owners, old school racers, magazine editors etc, everybody seems to have a soft spot for Kuwahara which has been very cool to see. People have been very positive of the range and the bikes designs. As time goes on and we receive feedback from dealers and distributors the product line will only get better. You have some great riders on Kuwahara promoting your products, how did you come about signing Matt Pohlkamp and Warwick Stevenson?
    JM: From the very first meeting we had, I voiced that we needed a name Pro rider to help re-build the Kuwahara name and brand. At that particular time it was mid season and a lot of guys had already signed up for the season, after speaking with Ryan Birk (Sun Rims) and Jerry Landrum (BMX Mania) they both suggested I talk to Matt Pohlkamp as he had just been let go by DK. So after talking with Matt we signed him up and began working on a frame design with him immediately. With Warwick things were a little different, I’ve known Warwick since he was a kid and have watched him become the BMX superstar that he is, I knew that he had returned to Australia but was completely unsure of his movements and plans. When I saw him at the Australian BMX Nationals, we began talking and took it from there. Both Matt and Warwick are great representatives for Kuwahara and two of the nicest guys I’ve ever worked with in the BMX racing scene. Do you ride a Kuwahara yourself?
    JM: You bet! I have a 2007 Laserlite Team in the ET Ltd Ed, Colours, that I’ve put new school Skyway Graphite’s onto!!! It Looks rad. Sadly I don’t get much time to ride it with everything I have going on, but summer is here so that means extra daylight hours so I’m hoping to get some more trails time in, but I have no plans on racing again, even though I am tempted by BSX. How much input have you, Matt and Warwick had in the design of the frames, etc?
    JM: The 2KZ Frames are designed by myself using feedback from dealers and distributors around the world. Where as the Laserlite Pro XXL frame featured a host of feedback from Matt. At the time of finishing the Pro XL design Warwick wasn’t riding for us yet, however we have already begun working on ’08 prototypes for the changes Warwick wants to make to the existing Laserlite Pro XL. What do you think of BMX racing today?
    JM: I’m honestly a bit on the fence on a lot of the things going on in order to make BMX “Olympic worthy”, I personally don’t think the Olympics is what we need to take BMX to the masses, I mean if you ask a kid at the local shopping mall to name a track cyclist he would have no idea at all, but you can bet he knows who Dave Mirra is!! That said I still love BMX racing, I think that the level of riding has never been higher. Is there room for growth?
    JM: I think there’s a lot of room for growth at the grass roots level, it seems to always be neglected. I’d like to see the sanctions and associations focus more energy in getting new young riders to try the sport. What do you think the UCI Supercross series can do for BMX?
    JM: At first I thought that it could save BMX and give it the adult credit that it deserves rather than being seen as a kids sport, but from what I can tell it seems to be playing second fiddle to the more mellow regular BMX format that fits into the Olympics criteria. Do you think BMX as a sport is leveraging the whole Olympics thing as much as they could be to market the sport?
    JM: It’s hard argument either way, if the path they want to take is to use the Olympics as the pinnacle of our sport then they are certainly not pushing the point as much as they should be, but as I said earlier it won’t appeal to the average kid off the street. I hear a lot about the 07 range of products, what can people expect to see in 07 that’s different to now?
    JM: The bikes have received a load of upgrades for the 2007 range; we have a full blown out of the box Laserlite Team race bike that features the Laserlite frame that Matt and Warwick race on, as well as the new FUNN Downhill Race cranks that are similar to the Saint cranks in style and design. The rest of the 2KZ range has now been upgraded to have Isis cranks and BB, Maxxis Tyres, Sun Rims, FUNN CNC Stems, and Cassette Hubs on all models. What do you think of the different directions that people are pulling the sport in? Is there a place for Downhill BMX, Supercross, Sprint Trails, etc?
    JM: I think it’s great because BMX was always the same for so long, and now we are seeing different sorts of riders excel in different types of racing, I hope that we continue seeing the sport progress with these types of variations, I think there is room for all of them. You were at the BSX this year as a spectator what did you think of the concept?
    JM: I absolutely love it, it’s the exact form of racing I would have loved to have ridden when I was racing in the Pro Class many moons ago. It makes for great racing and great spectating, I can’t wait for this years!!! How do you think it can be improved?
    JM: As a stand alone event it’s awesome. It would be nice to have one or two more during the year, some where else, I know that’s hard because the track has to be suitable, but that’s really the only thing I can see improving it. You signed up to race next year at BSX 2007…you have been off the bike as far as racing goes for a while, why would a race like that get you back into race mode and not something like the national championships?
    JM: I would love to do it, and initially I had signed up for it. As tempting as it is, I recently had a big crash just fooling around and it nearly messed up some major things that I need to be able to do. What would it take to get you back on a full sized race track?
    JM: I don’t think we’ll ever see that happen, I don’t have the drive to compete anymore, and if I ride for pleasure I’ll do it at the trails or skatepark the same way I always have. I’m very happy being a spectator, I really enjoy watching high performance BMX. Any retro products in the pipeline?
    JM: Yes, we have plans to release a limited run of KZ-1 replica frame & Fork sets. They will be 100% replicas, with original sizing, geometry and fittings. We will make Chrome, Black, Red and Blue. We are also planning on releasing two retro jerseys, firstly the original Green/Yellow/Black jersey from the Kevin Mcneal era, then secondly the White jersey that Clint Miller and Gary Ellis made famous. Both these projects are set to be released with the 2008 range, perhaps a little earlier if we can. Do you have any of the first generation Kuwahara’s in your collection?
    JM: No my collection is pretty much finished, I said goodbye to lots of goodies over the past few years, I think I only have an ESP Stem, MXR Hubs and Rick Palmer’s Serrano painted Skyway heme from 89 left. However a fully restored Kuwahara ET model would look nice at my house. What was your favourite Kuwahara?
    JM: My favourite is simply the KZ-1, clean old school design, and my favourite era of Kuwahara.

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