Shifting gears on the road to success

Geoff and Josie Fox combined backgrounds in physics and art history, an appreciation for adventure, and a willingness to change course to gain incredible traction in the action sports industry.

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Geoff and Josie Fox visit the Botanical Gardens at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. (Sarah Morton, College of Letters & Science)
From left: Geoff Fox, Josie Fox and Pedro Trullas at the Memorial Union Terrace (Submitted photo)

On motocross tracks and BMX courses, on rugged mountain bike trails and the world’s gnarliest waves, look closely and you’ll see a little fox head bobbing through that dangerous terrain. 

It’s the emblem of Fox Racing, an international action sports company that outfits top athletes and enthusiasts. The symbol is recognizable globally, while its history starts on the UW-Madison campus — specifically with a filthy motorcycle.

Each day on his way to Sterling Hall where he was pursuing a Ph.D. in physics in the 1960s, Geoff Fox parked his 90cc Honda in a small lot just off University Avenue.

“Every Monday, I’d notice one of the cycles was covered with mud,” he says. “One day the owner showed up at the same time as I did, so I asked him about it. He said to come over on Saturday and he’d show me how it got so dirty.” 

This new friend took him off-road riding, and Geoff, a Chicago-area native, was hooked. “Riding through streams and mud was very much an adventure,” he says.

Josie and son Greg sit on Geoff's first motorcycle, a Honda S-90, in front of Lake Monona in 1966.

Off-road motorcycle riding remained a passion for Geoff as he finished his degree, completed post-doctoral work and joined the faculty at Santa Clara University as a physics professor. His wife, Josie (left) — an art history grad student he met at a mixer for Catholic students at UW-Madison — wasn’t a rider, but she had a connection to motorcycles through an epic trip her father had taken before she was born. 

“In 1926 he rode from our hometown of Muncie, Indiana, all the way to Portland, Oregon and back — much of it on unpaved roads,” she says.

The couple were part owners in a motorcycle shop near the SCU campus until Geoff decided to leave teaching and start his own business. In 1974 the Fox brand debuted as a mail-order company focused on shock absorbers, chains, sprockets, handlebars — “anything that could break when you crash,” Geoff says. 

They started small with Geoff as the only full-time employee and Josie helping to create the company’s first catalog on the dining room table in their San Jose home where they raised three sons and a daughter and still live today.

Soon Geoff noticed his biggest competitors were sponsoring race teams. He got in on the action, quickly realizing motorcycles don’t offer many places to put a logo. “The real advertising space is clothing,” he says.

The company had custom outfits made for Team Moto-X Fox and customers started calling wanting to buy the same motocross gear. By 1985 the Fox brand was focused almost entirely on motocross clothing and it only grew from there.

By the time Geoff and Josie sold the company in 2014 it had expanded to more than 800 employees, and the eye-catching Fox logo could be seen around the world.

“I consider that global recognition to be a compliment to us and to all the great employees we have had over the years,” Geoff says.

The couple returns often to UW-Madison where they’re generous sponsors of the physics and German departments. Both are of German heritage and they enjoy supporting the UW program that sends students to Freiburg, Germany — Madison’s sister city — for a year.

Geoff attributes much of his success to the ability to recognize and act on opportunities, and he appreciates giving back to the physics department for instilling in him a vital lesson: “The only constant is change.”