Truck makers hope to capture the market with the next big thing.
The evolution of skateboard trucks has been a slow and gradual process since their introduction in the mid 70s. In spite of this some of the companies that have entered the truck-manufacturing arena in past couple years are pushing designs to a new level.
In the March 1990 issue of TransWorld SKATEboarding, California Cheap Skates mail order was offering six brands: Venture, Independent, Thunder, Tracker, G&S, and Gullwing. Today there are 23 distinct truck brands. That’s nearly a four-fold increase in just ten years, which means that manufacturers are having to develop unique and innovative features to distinguish their brands from the rest.
Tensor, one of the newest and most anticipated trucks, sought to address skaters’ every need in their debut model. The kingpin head was shortened to reduce weight, also allowing it to be recessed deeper into the baseplate to provide a greater grinding clearance. The most obvious innovation, though, is the replaceable slider piece that forms the pivot cup and the tip of the baseplate. It provides a smooth sliding surface for nose- and tailslides, so you can say good-bye to those little tugs you feel when attempting kickflip backside tailslides on your favorite ledge.
Rodney Mullen, the main brain behind the project, has gone to great lengths to make the Tensor truck absolutely perfect. He’s even designed and formulated the bushings to enhance performance and function. The top bushing, made from a heavily cross-linked stiff polymer, inhibits distortion of the bottom bushing, which supports the skater’s weight. Since the lower bushing takes all the compression, Tensor uses a softer urethane with a high “memory,” which basically means that it can distort to a great extent and quickly return to its original position. The lip on the top bushing interlocks with the bottom bushing filling the dead space between the bushing cup and the kingpin, which acts to stabilize and center the hanger.
Tensor trucks have nibs molded onto the underside of its baseplate to keep the truck in place if the mounting hardware loosens. Modification of the pivot stem of the hanger was also part of the plan. Mullen has kept the head of the stem fairly broad and hemispherical in shape for stability and to reduce wheel bite. All of these features, plus Tensor’s lightweight design and cast-in axles, cover just about every possible concern for modern skateboarders.
Royal, the new brand started by Guy Mariano and Rudy Johnson exclusively distributed by Girl, is designed to be a fundamental, lightweight truck. “There’re so many trucks out there,” says Rick Howard, who helped Mariano and Johnson design the truck. “We definitely wanted to keep it as simple and unique as we could.”
Royal trucks went through many design chapters, beginning with a three-dimensional drawing that became a clay model, followed by a wood model to which further refinements were made. “It took well over a year to design, with all the phases,” says Howard.
The first thing you notice about the Royal truck is that, with the exception of an embossed “R” on the baseplate, it has no distinguishing structural features. It basically looks like a cross between an Indy and a Venture. The Royal has all the basic features of other truck brands, like a cast-in axle and lightweight design, but its unique colorways make Royal stand out. “One thing we had fun doing was color-coordinating our logos with our bushings and making an overall tight package,” says Howard.
Royal and Tensor are examples of new brands whose designers set out to address specific needs. Each team approached the problem from opposite sides of the spectrum. Tensor’s founders wanted to fulfill the technical aspects of design, while Royal’s crew borrowed a working formula and focused on the aesthetic nature of the truck.
So how are some ofhe veteran brands updating their designs to remain on top or gain market share in the crowded truck market?
The Unit Phantom truck went through an extensive and lengthy design process before it debuted last November. The Phantom was designed using a 3-D CAD (computer-aided drafting) program at a Los Angeles-based company that also makes products for NASA. “Every feature,” says Rob Mertz, Unit’s chief designer, “from the dual-nurled nonslip axle to the extra-lightweight skull-patterned baseplate, was designed on this CAD system, as opposed to the old wooden-plug method.” The 3-D drawing enabled Unit to make laser-cut models from plastic and modify the design before the mold was actually made. The program also allowed them to conduct simulated strength tests. “It helped us with a lot of things like stress-to-load ratios, things skateboarders like us never even heard of,” says Mertz.
The Unit Phantom has all the features you’d expect from a modern truck, plus its Impact Dispersion System, a 1/16-inch rubber riser pad under the baseplate. “The Impact Dispersion System is designed to keep hardware tight and lower board stress,” explains Mertz.
Similar to the Phantom, Fury has incorporated a 1/16-inch rubber riser pad into their truck as well. But while the Phantom’s riser pad is relatively permanent, Fury’s can be removed.
Another interesting feature of the Fury truck is its unique mounting system¿hexagonal nut-hugging slots in the baseplate. You don’t need to carry a bulky skate tool, just an Allen key or a small screwdriver. “It’s a quick and simple way to do it,” says Lance Mountain, Fury’s product tester and design-team member. Fury’s most distinctive characteristic, though, is the patent-pending ballpoint pivot. The ball end of the pivot is about 5/8 inch in diameter (just for comparison, the average pivot head is about 3/8 inch in diameter). “The ball allows the truck to turn and pivot on a full radius,” says Mountain. “It doesn’t just lean back and forth in the hole. It actually swivels on a circumference, it’s got a tight, smooth turning radius, and it just flows when you roll around.”
Designers at Webb trucks have also become familiar with the patent process, as the company was recently issued a patent for its streamlined hanger. “If you take a look at our truck, it’s different than anything else anyone is doing right now,” says Webb’s Ronnie Goodnow. In order to design a truck with less mass, Webb’s head foundry-man Leo Oso had to experiment with different metal alloys to find the optimal strength-to-weight ratio. Goodnow explains, “It’s so light and there’s so little metal there, we had to make it hard in order to make it functional and strong.”
Webb is currently working on a lighter baseplate for their new model, the Omega, which should be out this summer. “We try to think of every minor detail, because nothing is minor when it comes to performance on your skateboard,” says Goodnow. “Every time we find a way to make it better, we change it.”
After staring at the plethora of trucks on my desk for the past two weeks, subtle differences and similarities become evident. For one thing, Grind King uses a completely different kingpin system. Well, it’s not that different¿it’s upside down. The nut is placed on the underside of the baseplate while the hex-key head rests close to the hanger to reduce kingpin hang-up.
“With the Grind King bolt,” says Donald Cassel, chief designer for Grind King, “being that it’s designed low, you really get a true grind without interference.”
One key feature of Grind King trucks are their low weight. “A lot of kids like that truck Low 5.0 because it’s lower, lighter, and good for the flippier tricks,” says Cassel.
Although the GK-6 is a fraction heavier, it’s designed to take more of a beating. The baseplate has been beefed up in the pivot-cup area, and on the underside you can make use of a small hole that was designed as a bottle opener¿at least until you mount it. And in early summer the GK-6 will be available with a graphic baseplate in a few elaborate designs like camouflage, stars and stripes, and flames. “We’ve developed a secret coating that goes over our baseplates,” says Cassel. “It’s a real strong coating that feels almost ceramic.” The graphic baseplate is definitely one of the most innovative aesthetic features found on trucks today.
Is there anything that can be said about simple and basic designs? Well, the almost-never-changed Independent truck continues to dominate the market*. The Duralight Stage 8 is the most recent modification to the Indy line. “The hanger has been trimmed down a little bit to make it lighter, and the axle is cast in, so they’re 100-percent guaranteed to not slip,” says NHS’s Jeff Kendall. Other than that and an array of anodized colorways, not much has changed. “It’s one of those things: ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’”
In contrast, there have been quite a few changes for Krux, which introduced the cast-in axle with its debut in 1989. The cavity in the hanger, which widens from the hanger face toward the kingpin, was modified to further reduce weight. Besides removing excess material, Krux has added embossed logos and sizing information in the “armpits” of the hanger, and lowered the bushing cup. “Where the hanger fits between the two bushings was dropped down a little bit so the kingpin could be lower, so it doesn’t get in the way,” says Kendall.
The baseplate has gone under a bit of revamping as well. “The baseplate was totally trimmed down to where it’s got this Formula One-looking race-car shape to it,” says Kendall, adding that all of this has resulted in an overall weight reduction for the Krux 2s.
Amazingly enough, Tracker has been manufacturing skateboard trucks since 1975. Currently Tracker produces the Axis and the Dart. The major difference between the two is seen in the pivot cup. “The pivot on the Dart truck is angled differently than a lot of other trucks,” says Tracker’s Kevin Bergthold. “It gives you a real stable turn.” This feature could come in handy for bombing your favorite hill.
The Axis, on the other hand, has a steeper pivot angle. “The turning is more of a flop from side to side than a smooth radius turn,” explains Bergthold. “The word is getting out there about the quality of the Axis truck, and we’re seeing sales increase a lot.”
In 1993 Tracker spawned the Climax Manufacturing distribution company, which in turn launched another truck brand, Orion. The new Orion Ultimate has a cast-in axle and totally redesigned bushings. “It’s a new proprietary material that looks totally different, but when you actually get on the truck, it’s very responsive,” says Bergthold. The Orion truck was designed for street skating, as witnessed by its lower profile and 130 mm hanger.
Destroyer is the newest truck company from Giant Distribution. The hanger resembles that of an Independent, and the baseplate isn’t too far off, either. The most distinguishing feature on this truck is the lip on the bottom bushing, which fills the gap between the kingpin and the bushing cup, stabilizing the hanger. This is similar to the Tensor bushing system, but the main difference is that Tensor’s lip is on the top bushing and Destroyer’s is on the bottom. Basically this truck is the beefiest of the bunch. As the name suggests, it’s built to destroy every obstacle in its path.
With so many truck brands on the market today, it would serve retailers well to really know their clientele and the available product. There is a truck being manufactured for everyone. The designs are constantly evolving¿especially now¿and you can be sure we haven’t seen the last of the innovations.
* Based on the 1999 Fall TransWorld SKATEboarding Business Retailer Survey.