Rodney Mullen explains Tensor from concept to completion.

Rodney Mullen is one of skateboarding’s most prolific innovators.

His incomparable style of technical freestyle through the 80s revolutionized street skating in the 90s. His involvement in establishing World Industries turned the skateboard industry on its head. Through all of this, he has continued to push the envelope of technical skateboarding.

And when Mullen was given the opportunity to use his background in chemical engineering and skateboarding together to design a skateboard truck,he embraced it and designed the most innovative and unique skateboard truck in modern skateboarding. “It was something I always wanted to do,” says Mullen, vice president of Dwindle Distribution, the exclusive distributors of Tensor Trucks. By the late 90s, when other major distributors had at least one truck company under their wings, Dwindle didn’t. So, its decision to follow suit wasn’t surprising.

Two years passed from the time the idea was hatched until the first Tensor trucks debuted at ASR San Diego in 1999. “It seemed like we were one of the last people to do trucks,” says Mullen. “They honestly just dumped it in my lap. I guess I was the obvious choice, being a pro skater and having an engineering background,it was the nerd in me that appealed to them.”

Unlike starting a skateboard company these days, creating a truck company isn’t a total breeze. Knowing this, Mullen had to ask himself what he wanted out of a truck before he could even begin to sit down and draw sketches. “I wanted stability,low, stable, and light,” he recalls. “That was just the key. I really did it selfishly, too. If you start asking too many people, you get too many opinions. Your goals start to convolute. So I learned to keep a lot of things to myself.”

Before designing a prototype, Mullen realized he first needed to study the other trucks on the market: “It took some time to really get the feeling of a truck to relate to a number regarding the angles of the pivot and the kingpin, the distance between them, where the axles stood between them, and how high the ring sits,it’s all quite a mixture.”

Mullen says there were many points at which he wanted to give up. He chuckles to himself, thinking in retrospect about those moments: “The guys at Dwindle would ask me how the trucks were going, and I’d just shake my head at them. I tried to be as cool as I could.”

The result, he says, was totally gratifying: “I basically got everything I wanted out of it, as well as I could, on the first try. No major thing was shot down. I had a lot of goofy ideas, but in the end everything pretty much worked out. It was basically all figuring out how to do it.”

At a glance, the Tensor truck may look no different from other contemporary skateboard trucks. It is, however, far from generic. Perhaps the most noteworthy feature of the truck is the replaceable slider, a pivot-cup platform that locks into the baseplate and is visible on the front of the truck. The slider is designed to promote longer, more consistent nose and tailslides without the kink of the baseplate edge to throw off the trick.

The specially designed top and bottom bushings are another interesting feature. The lip of the top bushing fills all of the space in the hanger’s ring and helps stabilize the truck. It interlocks with the bottom bushing, resulting in a truck that centers quickly and consequently also reduces wheel bite.

Other significant features include a streamlined kingpin that also happens to be made of the strongest steel on the market, and nibs,or little teeth on the bottom of the baseplate,designed to secure the truck in place on the deck.

After a year of anticipation and hard work, clearly the height of Mullen’s excitement was when he received the first samples: “I had these two 5,000-dollar-a-piece trucks. I got them on Christmasve, and I was skating them. The clock was ticking, and I had to get it first try. We hadn’t even begun the slider yet. They came from a brick of aluminum that was machined into these one-of-a-kind irreplaceable trucks. Had those been destroyed, the only thing that would’ve been left is miles of code. We made about two more baseplates, but I only had one set of hangers.”

This stage of design was the scariest for Mullen, because so much time and money had already been spent. Developing a truck poses countless challenges, and Mullen experienced a lot of them in the year and a half that it took to develop the first Tensor prototypes. Although he had the fortune of understanding both the engineering and the skateability sides of the truck, he admits it was difficult turning angular and chemical properties into a truck that works and feels good. “It made all the difference that I understood skateboarding,” he says. “There were a couple of aspects I thought might be problems, but they haven’t been.”

Other seemingly rudimentary aspects of designing a truck turned out to be much more complicated than Mullen anticipated: “Bushing consistency was a nightmare in the beginning, as we had batches of bad bushings when they first came out. Things happen on a daily basis when you’re making something in quantities of tens of thousands, but on the whole it’s been good. We improved the axle, too. Now it has a little protection on the end, so the nut doesn’t strip it.”

Since Tensor was launched in the fall of 1999, only a few relatively minor changes were made to the truck. One critical change made in the weeks immediately following the launch of the truck was in the webbing,the flat of the ring sandwiched between the top and bottom bushings. “Initially it had been designed too thin,” explains Mullen. “The plates were changed to solve that problem. Sliders were made a bit better to lock them into those matchplates, and everything in the truck’s design has been the same since then.”

While its original truck was optimized early on, the job was far from over. Mullen’s next task was to design a high-profile model, which turned out to be a few millimeters higher than the original Tensor Lo. “The geometry on the Hi is slightly quicker and has a more fluid turn,” says Mullen. “It’s built for more impact with a thicker barrel along the axle, thicker webbing, and all the other things that go along with that.”

Mullen says he favors the geometry of the Hi truck but still rides the Los, as he prefers the low and light feeling.

In February of this year, another one of Mullen’s creations hit the market,the Tensor tool. Designing the skate tool that he says is shaped like a little power drill was a huge challenge: “It’s made overseas, as most tools are. And the rest of the world has more sense than we do, as they do things in metric. So everything I was sent was in metric, which is where I got lost. It took a while to figure that out.” Fortunately Mullen is very satisfied with the outcome of his work.

Despite Tensor’s initial success, Mullen is always looking to improve upon things. He’s currently designing the Tensor Lo Stage II and discusses it with a great deal of excitement. “I’m working so much with drawings right now and going through the drafting stage,” he says. “It could be six months away. I’m revising the geometry. I feel the highs have a better geometry, and I want the Low Stage IIs to resemble and surpass it,as well as have more resistance to wheel bite.”

Having gone through the learning curve with the first truck, have the later versions been easier to produce? “In some ways yes, and in some ways no,” he responds. “What was surprising for me was actually casting the thing. There are a lot of restrictions, especially when you make molds. These are mainly code and mathematical issues, relating to the perfect and precise geometry and alignment of the molds, which I wasn’t prepared for.”

And as to whether he will tackle anything so demanding again, Mullen answers with an air of calmness: “It’s all a real relative thing. Now that I’m prepared, it’s not really that demanding,kind of like skateboarding.”

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Looking Back

Just a handful of Mullen’s achievements.

1980 Thirteen-year-old Mullen clambers out of his Florida basement to win the Oasis Freestyle Contest in San Diego,a professional freestyle world championship. He proceeds to win every professional freestyle contest over the next eleven years, except for the March 1983 Del Mar Spring Nationals, where he placed second behind Powell Peralta teammate Per Welinder.

1981 Fourteen-year-old Mullen helps design the Indy 109, giving input on the dimensions of the truck.

August 1982 The first-ever public display of a flatground ollie opens Mullen’s contest run. Crowd goes wild. “I made up a high percentage of freestyle tricks,” he says. “But, the ones that have transferred over to street skating probably mean the most to me. I guess I’m one of the guys who brought the ollie from vert to flat.”

1983 Mullen invents the kickflip, originally known as a Magic Flip. A couple of months later he invented the heelflip, and later that year he gave skateboarding the 360 flip.

1983-1988 Over the next few years Mullen introduces a series of seminal street tricks, beginning with the impossible. “First they were static and you used your hand,” he says. “That was replaced with static impossibles using your foot. Then the half-Cab impossibles came, and then the ollie impossibles. I also brought Caspers and darkslides along, and crooked-grind flips out,I can’t really remember a lot of them.”

1988 Mullen drops out of the Florida university, where he was studying chemical engineering. Soon after, he quits Powell Peralta to join forces with Steve Rocco at fledgling World Industries. The company operates out of Rocco’s house, and sales calls are made from local pay phones.

1990 Focusing on product development at World, he designs the Blind wheel for Jason Lee. The narrow, double-radius, center-set, doughnut-shaped design becomes standard. Mullen characterizes it as “a pretty big wheel at 45 mm.”

1995 Mullen starts A-Team with an all-star cast, including Gershon Mosley, Marc Johnson, and Chet Thomas.

September 1999 World Industries distribution becomes Dwindle Distribution, and the World Industries brand splits to stand alone and make room for new lines at Dwindle. Tensor is launched after almost two years of research and development.

2000 A-Team folds. Tables turn. Marc Johnson starts enjoi and sponsors his boss, Dwindle Distribution Vice President Rodney Mullen. “In the 1990s, with skateboarding and all the development going on, it took so long for me to find my place, in a sense,” says Mullen. “I had to restart from freestyle to street,I had to start from scratch all over again.”

2001 Mullen considers his achievements and contributions thus far: “Every goal I had, everything I thought I wanted to have was senseless. First I wanted to be best in the neighborhood. Then I wanted to be best in the state. And then I wanted to be best in the world. And then, when you finally win the world championships, you realize it’s not an accomplishment. I made up a lot of tricks, but that’s not why I did it. There’s no more gratification than creating something that’s your own. It’s a big lesson to learn that these big goals don’t make any difference to you. I don’t really have any accomplishments in skateboarding.”

pared for.”

And as to whether he will tackle anything so demanding again, Mullen answers with an air of calmness: “It’s all a real relative thing. Now that I’m prepared, it’s not really that demanding,kind of like skateboarding.”

**********************************

Looking Back

Just a handful of Mullen’s achievements.

1980 Thirteen-year-old Mullen clambers out of his Florida basement to win the Oasis Freestyle Contest in San Diego,a professional freestyle world championship. He proceeds to win every professional freestyle contest over the next eleven years, except for the March 1983 Del Mar Spring Nationals, where he placed second behind Powell Peralta teammate Per Welinder.

1981 Fourteen-year-old Mullen helps design the Indy 109, giving input on the dimensions of the truck.

August 1982 The first-ever public display of a flatground ollie opens Mullen’s contest run. Crowd goes wild. “I made up a high percentage of freestyle tricks,” he says. “But, the ones that have transferred over to street skating probably mean the most to me. I guess I’m one of the guys who brought the ollie from vert to flat.”

1983 Mullen invents the kickflip, originally known as a Magic Flip. A couple of months later he invented the heelflip, and later that year he gave skateboarding the 360 flip.

1983-1988 Over the next few years Mullen introduces a series of seminal street tricks, beginning with the impossible. “First they were static and you used your hand,” he says. “That was replaced with static impossibles using your foot. Then the half-Cab impossibles came, and then the ollie impossibles. I also brought Caspers and darkslides along, and crooked-grind flips out,I can’t really remember a lot of them.”

1988 Mullen drops out of the Florida university, where he was studying chemical engineering. Soon after, he quits Powell Peralta to join forces with Steve Rocco at fledgling World Industries. The company operates out of Rocco’s house, and sales calls are made from local pay phones.

1990 Focusing on product development at World, he designs the Blind wheel for Jason Lee. The narrow, double-radius, center-set, doughnut-shaped design becomes standard. Mullen characterizes it as “a pretty big wheel at 45 mm.”

1995 Mullen starts A-Team with an all-star cast, including Gershon Mosley, Marc Johnson, and Chet Thomas.

September 1999 World Industries distribution becomes Dwindle Distribution, and the World Industries brand splits to stand alone and make room for new lines at Dwindle. Tensor is launched after almost two years of research and development.

2000 A-Team folds. Tables turn. Marc Johnson starts enjoi and sponsors his boss, Dwindle Distribution Vice President Rodney Mullen. “In the 1990s, with skateboarding and all the development going on, it took so long for me to find my place, in a sense,” says Mullen. “I had to restart from freestyle to street,I had to start from scratch all over again.”

2001 Mullen considers his achievements and contributions thus far: “Every goal I had, everything I thought I wanted to have was senseless. First I wanted to be best in the neighborhood. Then I wanted to be best in the state. And then I wanted to be best in the world. And then, when you finally win the world championships, you realize it’s not an accomplishment. I made up a lot of tricks, but that’s not why I did it. There’s no more gratification than creating something that’s your own. It’s a big lesson to learn that these big goals don’t make any difference to you. I don’t really have any accomplishments in skateboarding.”