This article originally appeared in the 2016-2017 TransWorld SNOWboarding Gear Guide. Subscribe here.
Words: Drew Zieff
After Bent Metal Larry was fired, he hit rock bottom. He is now, thankfully, in rehab.
Larry was the unofficial mascot for Bent Metal, Mervin Manufacturing's recently relaunched binding brand. Rarely seen and occasionally quoted, Larry was a lurking legend—a method-throwing, cigarette-brandishing Sasquatch of snowboarding.
"He wasn't a real person, but he was real," lamented team pro and marketing manager Jesse Burtner, who described Larry as "a rocker dude who drove the brand identity." A longhaired albeit imaginary manifestation of Bent Metal's aversion to the candy-coated mainstream, Larry gave no fucks.
That attitude is what drew riders like Jamie Lynn to the fold. "They didn't care about the way it was perceived," said Lynn, who collaborated with Bent Metal on artwork for the relaunch. "They were going to put it out whether it was punk rock or not."
Throughout the '90s and early 2000s, Bent Metal built a raucous reputation with the help of Larry, Lynn, and friends. The graphics were metal, the vibe hesh, the team anarchical. But quality of production—a phrase synonymous with Mervin's other hardgoods brands, Lib Tech and Gnu—was lacking, and Bent Metal closed shop in 2014.
"We had a lot of fun with the marketing," Burtner said. "But it was almost entirely marketing." Pete Saari, creative director and co-founder, put it this way: "We were so focused on building boards that we couldn't put that energy into bindings."
Before Bent Metal pulled the plug, even members of their own team refused to ride the bindings, due to failures caused by outsourced components and subpar molds. Saari called the first iteration of Bent Metal a "learning experience" and went on to say, "Every rider we've given the new bindings to has come back and said, 'Hey, I want to ride 'em. I love 'em.'"
Mervin attributes that turnaround to a brand-wide shift. Today, marketing is less of a concern; time and money are being spent almost entirely on production. Steven Cobb, director of product development, said they wanted to design "a simple, durable binding that was strong, light, responsive, and easy to use." To do so, they've been quietly testing and fine-tuning their designs, with the likes of Lynn, Burtner, and riders like Eric Jackson and Ted Borland supplying constant feedback. "We went through many parts, prototypes, and configurations to get them where they are now," Cobb said, "and we couldn't be happier with them."
Most notable among the bindings' new features are the Flex Control Drive Plates, which are interchangeable "little snowboards for your bindings," according to Mervin. By using materials that are usually reserved for their premium snowboard construction—like a maple wood core, UHMW sidewalls, and a sublimated Bio Beans topsheet—Bent Metal's new baseplates improve energy transfer by allowing riders to customize binding stiffness to match board flex.
After production stopped, Burtner said, "I wrote down, "Bent Metal: You can't kill an idea" and hung it in my office." According to Saari, there was talk of rebranding the bindings and selling them under another name, but to do so seemed sacrilegious, against everything that Bent Metal stood for.
"Watching them evolve to where they are today, I'm proud to welcome them back underneath my feet," Jamie Lynn said. But it's not just pros who are loving BM 2.0; TransWorld testers happily handed over two awards to Bent Metal's new offerings. Read the reviews on pages 38 and 41.
For now, it's good Larry is facing his demons, although it's clear his influence on the brand will never fade. One thing's for sure: When he gets out of rehab and straps into a new pair of Bent Metals, he's going to be in for a bit of a shock.