In June 1995 MBUK gave away a cover-mounted video called “Dirt”. This short but influential film starred Jason McRoy, who would tragically die in a motorbike crash just two months later. The surf-style film was shot by Pete Tomkins at his house overlooking Robin’s Hood Bay in Yorkshire. This house was bought with the help of a slither of injection-moulded black plastic, the iconic Crud Catcher.
“Mr Crud” still lives in this house. In his studio-come-mancave, Tomkins stores memorabilia such as a framed double-page spread from the “Dirt” issue of MBUK, and an advertising sign for the pre-Crud “Peter the Painter” business.
“When I started Crud, I thought the best case scenario would be that I’d only have to decorate three days a week,” remembered Tomkins. “I never set out to make a fortune.”
He started Crud Products in 1991. The manufacturing is still done within thirty miles of Chez Tomkins.
“I’ve never been to the Far East,” said Tomkins. "I’ve got no interest in going there. The tooling and the injection-moulding is done in Pickering.”
He employs five P&P staff in a hamlet outside Loftus, near Guisborough. “I rarely need to visit; it all runs itself,” said Tomkins.
His firm has an annual turnover of nearly £1.5m. Tomkins doesn’t do much to promote it: the recent stand at Birmingham's Cycle Show was Crud’s only second full-on expo. Tomkins attended to promote his latest product, the Mk3 Road Racer mudguard set for road bikes.
“It’s probably going to be my last product,” Tomkins stated, wistfully. “It was a lot of hard work; lots of sleepless nights.”
The Mk3 is a complete redesign over the Mk2, and is attached not with zipties or bolts but with Duotec: Velcro on steroids.
“I saw it at a fastenings show, and knew I had to design a product to use it.”
The plastic guards – CAD-designed by his son, Jamie – are attached with Duotec strips attached to the inside of the seat-stays. The guards float, “but they’re rock solid,” enthused Tomkins.
The Crud Catcher might have been the kick-off for the business but it was the Crud Claw in 1992 and then the DCD in 1993 which really mainstreamed the business. Both were products of their time: the Crud Claw prevented a build-up of mud on rear blocks, and the DCD – or Dave’s Chain Device – was one of the first DH-specific products, a pressed-aluminium clamp housing a roller to prevent shipping of bouncing chains.
Crud benefitted from a lot of media exposure, and here’s how: during the start-up years Tomkins paid riders for product placements.
“There was a gang of riders back in the day that all the mag readers knew really well: people like Jason [McRoy], Martyn Ashton, and Rob Warner. I said to them if you get a front cover with a Crud sticker showing I’ll give you £1000. Every semi-professional rider in the country was hot for that – they all ran Crud Catchers just in case they got photographed.
“I never sponsored any riders – but I supported them.”
This results-based system was in response to the time when Tomkins had been a sponsored rider himself: he rode for Dawes in the 1980s. “We got bikes, we got our travel paid, we got a really good deal.”
It didn’t do Dawes much good. “My race results weren’t brilliant,” admitted Tomkins.
A Londoner by birth he lived in Brighton in the 1980s, and became a surfer, a sport he still enjoys. Never one for crowds, he moved with his wife and two small children to the North York Moors in 1986. He made a living painting houses, but by 1990 the decorating work was drying up. “I figured I needed to do something else to make money. I had two ideas: repair surf-leashes or make the Crud Catcher.
“After we’d sold our house in Brighton we had a nest-egg of £2500. I started looking into the mudguard thing early in 1991. I had no background in manufacturing or sales. I figured mountain bikers would buy a splashguard; people had been making them out of plastic bottles for years.”
He paid £250 for a drawing of the tool required, and £2000 for the manufactured tool. He also paid for the production of 2000 Crud Catchers. “They cost 20 pence each, the shrink wrapping cost a bit more, and then I sold them for eight quid.”
He sent one from the first batch to MBUK, which gave it a glowing review.
“I also paid for a half-page ad – in the first week there were all these eight quids arriving in the post. After a month, shops started asking for ten at a time. Then Michael Elson Marketing rang up and said he wanted two thousand. At £3 each. £6000!
"As a decorator I used to earn ten grand a year. In just three months we had turned over fourteen grand, and the profit was something like 60 percent. I stood back: either I could take the money and run, or I could reinvest and redesign the product. A new tool would be six grand, which would eat almost all of the profit. I did it: it was the right move, the Crud Guard Mk 2 was the product that really sold shit-loads!”
But Tomkins stressed: “I’ve never pushed for growth; I’ve just done my own thing.”
This own thing includes “not working,” he said.
“I don’t really have a day job. I go paddleboard surfing, I cycle a bit, I play with the grandkids a lot; I look after the horses.”
As we left for my lift back to the station, two mountain-bikers ambled past, black plastic mudguards to the rear. “Yours?” I asked. “Yes,” replied Tomkins. “I didn’t stage that, honest.”
Lots of cyclists ride with Mr. Crud’s products, and after seeing the sleek and clever Mk3 Road Racer guards in Tomkins’ house-HQ I predict an awful lot more will be riding with them in the future.