Inside Velobike HQ
Just an old bike and toy factory
In the ’40s, ’50s, and ‘60s, New Zealand’s sandpits and toy boxes were filled with aluminium trucks, soldiers and cork guns under a brand called Fun-ho. The toys were built to last — in fact, I still have a few tractors with tipping buckets passed down from my father who had them when he was a child in the ’60s. Aside from most of the paint being worn off from decades of abuse and exposure to the elements, the tractors still function the same as the day they left the factory.
The factory has changed a few times over the years. Trends and market shifts saw multiple pivots for the family-run toy-manufacturing business, which saw a change from small scale sand-cast toys, to larger ride-on toys under the Tri-Ang brand name amongst other things. A well-recognised product that was designed, and fabricated here in the factory is a tricycle that came in either red or blue colours.
During the ‘80s the factory was manufacturing bicycles for The Warehouse (New Zealand's version of Walmart). These low-mid level children's bikes were designed and made for maximum cost-efficiency. To achieve the low cost of manufacturing to compete with China, they had to be smart with tooling and jigs to make the process as efficient as possible. These bikes were manufactured in their thousands, with their cost to manufacture NZD$36 each.
In the mid ’90s, the factory wound down its production. China's relentless push and ability to reduce manufacturing costs, and the removal of local tariffs meant that industry in New Zealand begun to wilt. Today, most of the factory remains just as it did 3 decades ago. Shelves are littered with jigs, moulding dies and press tools for the hundreds of various products once produced. Bins are still full with hundreds of tires and wheels that never found their home on a tricycle, buckets piled up of sprockets and scrap bins still half full of offcuts and unsuccessful prototypes.
Over the past two years, we have had the opportunity to take advantage of the factories facilities, which has continued to add to our design capabilities and how we can develop new products for riders around the world.
My main role at these facilities is an industrial designer for a product development consultancy called Indemic. We have a small design studio in a front office space of the factory, with an adjacent prototyping workshop -- around 200m2 combined. Space is in constant flux, thus has evolved quite a bit over the last year and will continue to do so. Both Nick and I enjoy the heritage of the factory and the many stories that are hidden in its walls. We are on a mission to bring them back to life.