Inside WD-40 Company
Why is there a sentiment from the mountain biking community that using WD-40 is a sin? It was the question I wanted to most ask WD-40 Company CEO, Garry Ridge. Garry, by the way, is known internally as the Tribal Leader, not CEO. WD-40 is the household name when it comes to a do-it-all lubricant. As a kid, using WD-40's multi-use product on my bike was a no-brainer, but somewhere along the line, the readily available and affordable spray became the arch enemy of the cycling world.
What started as a product for the aerospace industry in 1953 made its way into homes and garages worldwide as the go-to squeak remover, parts un-sticker and rust remover. Interestingly enough, however, Garry says "we're in the memories business," when he refers to the brand, something that I wasn't expecting when visiting the facility in San Diego. I was expecting laboratories and clean rooms.
Audio Interview with Garry Ridge, CEO of WD-40 Company
WD-40 Company launched their bike-specific lube and cleaner line in 2012. In a saturated market, they used their resources to develop refined products that went deeper than what the original all-purpose spray offered. Chain lubes, cleaners and washes now round out the line-up. And at the helm of the Bike division is former World Cup downhiller and 4x racer, Robin Baloochi. Robin took a hiatus from riding and racing for a couple years to go back to school. Not long after, he found himself involved with two wheels again through a job at WD-40 Company and he has worked his way up to the newly-created position of Sports Marketing Manager for the Americas.
I visited the company headquarters in San Diego twice. My first visit was to their long-time headquarters. The dated building with a massive WD-40 logo stamped in the rock exterior was dark, with low ceilings, tight cubicles and fluorescent lights. When I visited, however, they were transitioning to their new headquarters a few miles away in Scripps Ranch. The old facility had historic relics of the brand's legacy positioned here and there, but one of the more exciting rooms featured display cases full of WD-40 Brand rip-offs; products that tried to look exactly like the original WD-40 or products that claimed to be as good as the original. I knew people stole photos or pirated music and movies, but there was a comical collection of physical WD-40 imitators. SP-80, MD-50, KRAP 40 - the collection went on and it showed the good humor of those behind the brand to showcase these cons.
Fast forward two months and my visit to the brand new headquarters. The difference between the new and old facilities was night and day. The new building was bright, roomy and full of message-driven decor. There was a small area of material storage and production at the old facility. At the new facility, there is none of that. Production and product distribution is handled off-site.
Robin joined as Garry gave me a guided tour of the cutting-edge facility. He described the ethos of WD-40 Company. He referred to the employees as the tribe and the goal of the work environment was that of community and connectivity. Many of the employees had been with the brand for years, some decades, and the attitude around the new headquarters was bright. The design of the building reflected the global reach of the "blue and yellow can" with meeting rooms named after cities where a company office is located. Each global region has their own manufacturing facility.
Robin Baloochi, Manager of Sports Marketing
WD-40 Company heritage was everywhere, from photos of the original manufacturing facility, to plaques with funny sayings to vintage WD-40 Multi-Use Product cans. Robin's tenure had given him the latitude to help create a bike-specific room and create a demo bike fleet for the employees. Lunch rides are common on borrowed bikes by tribe members who previously had little interest in mountain biking. The growth of riding is contagious within the brand. In the bike room, Robin showed me photos of old marketing collateral displaying the best BMX racers of their day riding for the lube; riders like Dale Holmes, Gary Ellis and Jamie Lilly. Pro mountain bikers also rocked the blue and yellow logo years ago, too. That household name of the brand rang out, but where did product lose its way among serious cyclists?
When I asked Garry and Robin this question, they alluded to the push of new, bike-specific lube brands in the late 80's trying to find purchase in the market. Their angle was to paint WD-40 Multi-Use Product as inferior or even dangerous for use on real mountain and road bikes. Without doing any research, I know I had swallowed that pill of information. I didn't or wouldn't use WD-40 on my mountain bike. Garry said there was no reason to be afraid of the product if used properly.
After my visit, I did some online search about this WD-40 debate. While a lot of two-wheelers are still (and possibly ignorantly) against the original WD-40 formula on their bikes, there are a handful of reports by experienced riders and mechanics who say the lube is in their regular rotation. As a chain lube, gunk-remover and rust-preventer, the original still works. They claim it is not a degreaser like many speculate. There was plenty of caution by the experienced concerning use around disc brakes and sealed bearings, as the original formula will penetrate and break down packed grease on such components.
So if the original Multi-Use Product is alright to use as a chain lube on our expensive bikes, why would the company need a bike-specific line of products? Robin said, "We're always doing research and looking at who's using the multi-use product and where they're using it. Bicycles have always been a huge user group of WD-40 Brand products. As bike technology developed, we knew we could provide better, higher-tech products specifically for cyclists; products that the cyclist understands and wants to use for maintaining their bike. As that happened, we used the best products in the cycling market as a benchmark and then took it a few steps further, launching our own formulas; the best products that our experienced scientists could come up with for bike maintenance."
Robin went further saying the original multi-use WD-40 is continually re-inventing itself. "I know e-bikes are a controversial subject, but the original blue and yellow can formula is the best thing out there for removing grime and protecting the electrical connections on e-bikes. So even though we developed these awesome bike-specific products, the original formula continues to stay relevant. We see this through all our channels like auto, marine and more."
WD-40 Company has made it clear that they're serious about providing solid products for bike riders of any kind. They work with riders like Danny Hart, Erin Huck, Leigh Donovan and Geoff Kabush while sponsoring teams like the USAC-backed BMX Junior Development Program to help develop our next BMX Olympians. Robin and his team hit the ground in the kitted-out Sprinter van providing bike wash stations and rider support at events like Sea Otter, the B.C. Bike Race and the MSA World Cup. If you thought the blue and yellow can was something to shy away from as a mountain biker, it's time to think again.
You can learn more at www.wd40bike.com