Interviews

    Norco with Julian Millis

    Who is Julian Millis?…

    Julian Millis has been around the BMX scene and in the Australian bicycle industry for a long time now. Considered a bit of a bad boy of BMX racing in his time, having been suspended a number of times. He was also an early pioneer of Australian dirt jumping. Of late he has mellowed out somewhat.

    I guess you would have to say he’s been too busy. The outspoken Millis has single handedly put together arguably the greatest race team in Australian history, and designed a range of BMX products that would rival any other on the market today. Read on to find out more about Julian and Norco.

    bmxultra.com: How did you first find out about BMX?
    Julian: In 1980 some friend of my family were involved in the Lilydale BMX Club, so I went a long to watch one time and from there joined and began racing at the following meeting.

    bmxultra.com: What made you want to get involved?
    Julian: Words can’t really describe how I felt at that first race that I saw, it was like a buzz went through my whole body and the hairs on the back of my neck stood upright, it just made me feel full of excitement , it was kind of like the motocross scene but was so much more accessible and affordable.

    bmxultra.com: What was your first race bike?
    Julian: Well my first BMX bike was a metallic green Madison, all steel. 6 months after racing I actually got a “race” bike it was a black Redline MX 2 with Skyway Graphite Tuff 2’s, Skyway Graphite Pedals, and all sorts of stuff that I’d love to still have.

    Julian on S&M back in 1991

    bmxultra.com: At what stage did you think you were ready to ride pro?
    Julian: When you used to be able to race Age class and Pro at the same meeting (can you now??) I was gauging myself against the guys in my age class that had jumped into Pro before me like Dean Patch, Scott Lewis, Adam Hillier etc, and once I was competitive with them I gave it a go, not that I could ever beat Patchy.
    I was only ever a winning A pro and a struggling 7th or 8th spot in a AA Pro final.

    bmxultra.com: You left racing the last time, coming back to watch from the sidelines every once in a while, what was it that made you leave and what made you get back on the track?
    Julian: I left as a result of the Rock N Roll lifestyle poisoning my soul, I got a job around 1996 as a DJ in the Heavy metal nightclub “The Cathouse” in St.Kilda, Melbourne. I was working/partying from 10pm to 7am every Saturday night/Sunday morning, I did that job untill 2000, ironically I DJ’d with Dean Patch who had also hung the bike up at that stage. Thunder Dan Galea was known to show up every now and then and Rock out!
    I also floated in and out of rock bands in the Melbourne scene trying to get something going, which now I finally have.
    I don’t consider that I have returned to racing at all, if at the moment people see me on that track at the occasional race, that will be the first time I have ridden a BMX bike since the last time you saw me on the track. I have no time to ride between working for Norco, running the team, playing in my band and trying to keep my girlfriend. I would love to ride more, not race more.
    One thing is for sure I love BMX, I am a rider that may race every now and then, not a racer. When I did race all the time, I spent most of my time dirt jumping at Croydon hills (Circa 1993) or riding Knox Skatepark.

    bmxultra.com: What do you do at Norco?
    Julian: My title is Product Manager, however my actual job covers a lot more than product, I am part of the International design team for Norco bicycles Worldwide, which includes working on all styles of bikes in the Norco Range. As far as BMX product is concerned It basically is put together by myself and Canadian Jim Jamieson, we basically take everything from our concepts through to production. I am also the Norco Factory Team manager for the Australian team for both BMX and Mountain Bikes, I am also responsible for all media and promotional advertising in Australia.

    bmxultra.com: Do you think it’s a job that anyone can do?
    Julian: Not at all, I have spent 9 years in Bicycle retail, 3 years in bicycle wholesale (Repco/Haro/Diamond Back) and 22 years in the BMX scene and somedays I feel like I am beating my head against a wall. The hardest thing to balance is working for a company that wants to make a good profit, management that have no interest in cycling, trying not to prostitute the sport I grew up with, making the best value for money bikes possible, have a killer image, work to a strict budget and still have a good time. It’s not easy.

    bmxultra.com: My first contact with Norco was the green RPM monocoque…what was it like to walk into Norco and develop the BMX range?
    Julian: Ahhh Yes the RPM range, when I first started at Norco the first thing I said was that the BMX program had to be overhauled or dropped because the RPM range was not up to speed. I went to Canada in May 2000 with some ideas for a BMX range that would work along side the MTB range the same way that Specialized and GT did. In Canada I met Jim Jamieson the product manager that had been in charge of BMX bikes to that point. Jim and I got along right from the start as he also grew up with BMX racing and even has a RAD Movie poster in his office at Norco in Vancouver!  The reason that Jim was unable to have had a more dedicated BMX product line previously was due to lack of input and resources from the other product managers at Norco, when I came on board and basically had similar ideas and dreams of what the line could become, they gave us the green light to develop the product line further.

    bmxultra.com: Were you given free reign of the look and feel of the bike?
    Julian: Pretty much, there are some things that we have to stick to, such as all bikes have to feature the Norco headtube badge and I also have to keep in mind that everything that Norco manufactures has to be commercially sound, the bikes need to meet what the dealers and consumers are looking for at the various price points. It’s not as easy as going mental and developing the dream bike that I’ve always wanted…….that one is still coming.
    However all specifications, geometry and graphics are decided by myself and Jim in Canada.

    bmxultra.com: You got the product off to a good start in Australia just before the demise of GT and when GT finally collapsed it seemed that Norco was the dominant BMX manufacturer, and still is, where will you go from here?
    Julian: Thanks for the nice words there about being dominant, we were a little lucky with the demise of GT, they were a great company that had a serious commitment to BMX all the way to the end, it will be good for the sport to see their name around again. For Norco we will continue to concentrate on making quality bikes at affordable prices, we have a few new products on the drawing boards for 2004, but it’s too early to lay anything out yet.

    bmxultra.com: Where are the Norco BMX products available?
    Julian: Norco products are distributed throughout Canada, Finland, Japan, Mexico ,United Kingdom, Russia, Singapore, Switzerland and through approximately 100 bicycle dealers Australia wide. At the moment sales into the US are being concentrated on Norco’s flag ship Mountain bikes the VPS Series. However all interested US bike shops can buy all bikes direct from Norco, contacts for this are available at www.norco.com

    About the Norco team…

    (Left to right) Julian, Luke, Khalen, and Chloe

    bmxultra.com: You have put an awesome team of riders together Luke Madill, Khalen Young, and Chloe Macpherson can you tell us what it was that made you sign each of these riders?
    Julian: Luke Madill – I signed Luke because I believed him to be the fastest and most consistent Pro rider in Australia, he also had youth on his side and had yet to come completely into his stride. He was well respected by all riders and and had been around the sport since he was four years old. I had watched him race with MCS, GT and Champion Cycles as a kid before he was a pro on Powerlite. Luke was also a double edged sword as he is an incredible mountain bike rider, so it matched with Norco very well. Khalen Young – This guy blew my brains out when he backflipped the doubles at the Australian Titles in 2001 at Happy Valley, Danny Galea had pointed him out earlier in the weekend to me during racing and he just had a killer style on his bike. At the time we were looking to expand the team to include a dirt jumper, and what better than a dirt jumper that raced at national titles level. Khalen went on to double at the Aussie titles in 2002 showing that he’s a lot more than just a backflip. He’s now also giving Mountain biking a fair shot too. Chloe Macpherson – Having a top Elite and Junior Elite rider all I needed to complete the team was a top female pro rider, and quite simply Chloe is the fastest. She is so fast and has so much power in her legs it’s amazing. Over the years I’ve watched a lot of top BMX Pros influence the Australian BMX scene, however most of the companies that they have ridden for have not taken those riders and promoted them in a way that both the rider and company will benefit. It’s almost like they sign the rider then sit back and expect the sales to just start rolling in, all the while their  investment is out their busting their ass in races and most of the companies employee’s don’t know who they even are.

    bmxultra.com: You must be happy with the Luke Madill signature products…did it help when Luke went to the US to generate international interest?
    Julian: We are very happy with the products that bear Luke’s name, he has helped us in every way that he can. The new line of bikes is a testimony of his efforts in helping us cater for micro markets like the junior Cruiser that we have done this season. As for interest in the US market, for sure there has been interest generated, but there are many factors that then go with that interest to turn into actual sales such as bicycle dealers, distribution, freight costs, and production delivery, it’s so hard to gauge.

    bmxultra.com: Were you ever worried he’d get offers from bigger companies with bigger budgets?
    Julian: Oh for sure, it’s always going to be a fear of mine. But we’d be a pretty terrible bunch of people to try to hold him back. I have to hope that not everything is about money, and I know with Luke that it’s not.

    Julian and Music…

    Julian heading up the Dead Things

    bmxultra.com: What’s your bands name?
    Julian: The Deadthings

    bmxultra.com: What sort of music do you play?
    Julian: Punk Rock meets Heavy Metal, kind of Misfits meets Motley Crue meets The Sex Pistols and looks kinda Punk-Goth

    bmxultra.com: What sort of music do you listen to?
    Julian: Mostley Obscure 80’s hard rock or metal, some Punk ,some Nu Metal.; Black N’Blue, Keel, Ratt, Motley Crue, Marylin Manson, The Murderdolls, Disturbed, Rob Zombie, Shake The Faith, Orgy, Eve 6, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, BodyJar, Union Underground,Twisted Sister, Good Charlotte, Marvelous 3, Fozzy, Drowning Pool, Dio.

    bmxultra.com: How many CD’s do you own now?
    Julian: Around 1500 CD’s and 600 LP’s

    bmxultra.com: What do you think of Neil Young?
    Julian: I think he’s still searching for that heart of gold…… I think that he influenced a generation of rockers that would be known as the Grunge movement of the early Nineties, that were responsible for the fall of Hair Metal and for that alone I will always hate him.

    The Australian BMX race scene...

    bmxultra.com: You’ve been in and out of the BMX race scene for a long time, you would have seen the sport slowly change from it’s Victorian state titles televised on ABC with 1000+ riders at state level to no publicity at 350 riders. How does this make you feel personally?
    Julian: I think that if they televised it today, they would have to present the sport from a different angle, similar to what Warwick Wheeler (BMX Press / BMX Central) with picking the tracks that have bigger jumps and bigger corners to showcase the cream of our sport;The Pro Class. TV is a great way to reach people with the message of BMX racing, but there are also a lot of grass roots levels of reaching riders that are just being neglected. I would like to see the National sanction help the local clubs with programs that can benefit every club, and that every club can afford.

    bmxultra.com: What do you think can be done about it?
    Julian: The problem truly lies in BMX Australia not BMX Victoria, BMX Victoria should not exist. There should be no state associations only a National one that all clubs are affiliated with, then the clubs should merge together to get initial rider counts increased so that there is approximately 5 tracks in each state. Then the clubs should all work to building rider numbers up and concentrate on local races only and never be concerned about running open or sanctioned races.
    From there the National sanction should set out a National series for the Pro class and a separate series for the amateur class that will coincide with some of the Pro races. The Series should be completely run by the National sanction not the clubs that are host to the tracks that the series is held on.

    think about it :
    Pro Class Series – 5 weekends of 10 separate races (Sat and Sun) with a 6th and Final event held at the end of the Calendar year ,3 of the weekends are single points , 2 are double points and the final event is triple points.

    Amateur Series – 3 weekends of 6 separate races (Sat and Sun) with a 4th and final event held at the end of the calendar year ,3 of the weekends are single points and the final event is triple points.

    All of the amateur rounds excluding the Final event are held in VIC/NSW/QLD and all at the same tracks as the single point weekends of the Pro Class with the two other double point Pro Class weekends held in SA and WA, both the Amateur and Pro class Final events to be held in Canberra ACT at an indoor venue.

    Why more rounds for the Pro riders than the amateurs?? Because the Pro riders are racing for Money and often can subsidize their travel form winnings of through factory sponsors. Most Pro’s also travel alone or without Parents reducing the travel cost that the average family would have to otherwise take into account.

    When would the season be? Would there be an off season? The six weekends could take place once a month starting in JAN as round #1 through FEB, MAR, (then the off season),OCT,NOV,DEC. approx. the middle of each month.
    That’s a Pro Season with 12 rounds over Six months, leaving 6 months as an off season for training or for Pro riders to travel to the USA every year to offset the season. This way they would be more likely to return rather than stay overseas. Oh yeah, and big ass trophies for the amateurs at every round , approx. 3 foot high, with 5 foot high trophies at the final event!!! Big Trophies rule, no matter how much BMXAustralia says they don’t.

    bmxultra.com: Do you think it would make a difference to the Australian BMX industry if BMX racing was promoted a little better?
    Julian: No doubt at all, BMX product had never been better value for money , but people hate to want to race BMX to need equipment, at the moment there are not enough people that want to race, and that in some instances stops some companies from putting any energy or money into the sport at all.

    bmxultra.com: What do you think is wrong with the sport?
    Julian: This could be a long answer, no not really . The answer is simple. The sport is awesome, it’s our BMXAustralia version of the sport that is wrong, there is no excitement no hype, no atmosphere. How hard would it be to put together a season and series like I spoke of earlier, for a sanction that already exists they could do it now.

    They need to learn something that should have been clear from the start, the sport is about riders. No riders, No Sport. Listen to the riders that have raced through all the associations failed attempts at getting somewhere and are still racing……The Pro riders. They were all kids once, you don’t just start in AA Pro , so they’ve been through it all, and in almost every single case a lot longer than most officials.

    bmxultra.com: What does it have going for it?
    Julian: In Australia, it is still reasonably affordable, riders can start on a local level at a reasonable cost and from there evaluate how far they can or want to take it. I think that it’s an exciting sport that can also be used as a cycling platform if desired for Mountain bikes or Track Cycling. It’s a very visual sport that needs to be presented that way with thrills and spills and high tech products, Professional teams and good Prize money. These are the things that when shown to younger new riders will get them stoked.

    bmxultra.com: There are few channels in which a company can promote their BMX products in Australia, how do you promote Norco?
    Julian: We use free posters and stickers at major events, a good presence at events with Team tents and product on display, Pro riders around to be able to talk about the products that they use and sign any posters or products that riders may want. Also we advertise in BMX Press magazine, the only BMX mag that covers racing, we have Luke Madill and Khalen Young competing in the BMX Central TV races, so I’m hoping that will also play a part. We also produce a BMX Bike brochure that is available from all our dealers Australia wide.

    bmxultra.com: What about the web? Do you think that has or can make a big impact on sales?
    Julian: I’m still a little unsure, we will be launching a new website soon but I see it more of a way of getting information to people faster and easier rather than a way to impact on sales, I think after they have the information from the web and they are interested that a lot of the other PR factors kick in and help with the sale.

    bmxultra.com: What are your thoughts on the BMXCentral thing? Do you think it will help grow BMX?
    Julian: hard to make a call on something that we are all yet to see. How can it not help, it’s bringing BMX to people that are either unaware of it or have an uneducated idea of it, so I am hoping that it is successful and makes difference and I wish Warwick and the crew at BMX Central all the best.

    bmxultra.com: What sort of information will people be able to get from the new Norco website?
    Julian: The idea is give the brochure information which includes; photos of all the 03 bikes, the specifications, the geometry and all factory team information including profiles, interviews and results.

    bmxultra.com: What do you think the future of BMX has in store for us?
    Julian: On the world scene I would say that someone (a sanction of sorts) will get a hold of the Downhill BMX racing in the USA and make a series or season out of it. If that does happen then we may see BMX racing get a whole new level of respect, this may bring a whole new twist to everything. This could be seen as “Pro BMX racing” similar to the World series level of base ball or the NFL or NBA etc, it will be a PRO only series that is televised that young BMXers can aspire to and start out by racing in the current set up of BMX Racing. Basically it’s giving BMX what it has always needed a Pro association like all other sports that has a new level of riding that only entering the Pro Association can provide.

    On the Australian scene, I’m not sure, based on it’s current state not a hell of a lot.

    bmxultra.com: Where do you think that BMX will be in 5 years?
    Julian: In Australia, either rescued by a new association or buried by the existing BMX Australia. On the world scene, I’d say that Downhill BMX would have developed into something more than one race a year.

    bmxultra.com: If you were given the opportunity to do one thing that would benefit BMX what would you do?
    Julian: Sink the existing Australian BMX association and construct a new association from the ground up, one that is designed by the riders and for the riders, one that highlights the pinnacle of the sport “the Pro Class”.  I’d make sure that the people involved were up to speed with all of the current developments around the world in BMX, such as Downhill BMX. Nearly every single official and BMX Australia board member would have no clue as to what Downhill BMX is, let alone know that it has been around for three years.

    bmxultra.com: Any predictions for future trends in BMX?
    Julian: Functional –

    • Euro BB’s will become the standard on every bike
    • More Pro Riders will realize that they can get away by using Mountain Bike cranks like Shimano XTR and Race face and therefore save a lot of rotating weight.
    • Look for more carbon fiber components ; cranks, clipless pedals, brake levers, etc.

    Fashion –

    • Fluro colors has to make a comeback sooner or later
    • Chrome chromoly race frames will make a comeback
    • Look for carbon fiber to be back in frame construction in on way or another (it’s becoming easier and cheaper to manufacture in Asia)

    Sponsorship –

    • I’d say that bike companies will start to play a smaller role, they will be the supplier of the bike and for instance Fox or O’Neal etc will be a main sponsor along with Marzocchi Forks or ATI Grips etc, a collection of sponsors rather than a factory ride. This protects the rider from losing it all in one shot and also takes the pressure off the bike company covering the cost.

    bmxultra.com: What BMX websites do you check out?
    Julian: norco.com, lukemadill.com, bmxultra.com, bmxpressmag.com, metal-sludge.com, melodicrock.com, sixsixone.com, marzocchiusa.com

    bmxultra.com: Where will people be able to find the new site?
    Julian: www.norcobmx.com, I’ll let you know when it is up and running probably December.

    bmxultra.com: Is there anyone you would like to thank?
    Julian: My Girlfriend Kellie for putting up with the lifestyle that I lead and still being there, Angelo from Norco Australia for letting me be myself and all his support to get the job done. Luke Madill and Khalen Young for being BMX’s answer to Jeremy Mcgrath and Travis Pastrana and for all there efforts on and off the track for the last two years, The Madill family, Everett Young, David Page, Chloe Macpherson, Thunder Danny Galea, Adam May, Dave O and JJ at Norco Canada, Warwick at BMXPress, Grant and Gary at Elite Cycle Imports, Adam and Todd at Freewheel magazine, All Our Norco Bicycle dealers, Everybody at the Norco office, bmxultra for their support and this interview, the guys in my band The Deadthings, and finally anybody that has purchased a Norco, Ironhorse, AXO, 661, Marzocchi BMX, Tangent, Perv or Funn product.

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