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.

Inside the Velobike HQ Factory

Inside the Velobike HQ Factory

Myself as a child in the 90’s towing my younger brother around on one of the iconic children’s tricycles that was once made in the factory.

Myself as a child in the 90’s towing my younger brother around on one of the iconic children’s tricycles that was once made in the factory.

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.

A couple of New Zealand made Milazo bicycles sitting in the factory.

A couple of New Zealand made Milazo bicycles sitting in the factory.

Buckets full of old sprockets that never made it onto a BMX bike or tricycle.

Buckets full of old sprockets that never made it onto a BMX bike or tricycle.

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.

Tooling jigs, prototypes and half finished products lay waiting on shelves. Notice a wheel on the very top of the stack, its the same as the one on my old tricycle.

Tooling jigs, prototypes and half finished products lay waiting on shelves. Notice a wheel on the very top of the stack, its the same as the one on my old tricycle.

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.

An old jig to mass manufacture a product. There are 100’s of these scattered around for the vast variety of bicycles and toys that were once made.

An old jig to mass manufacture a product. There are 100’s of these scattered around for the vast variety of bicycles and toys that were once made.

Stillages full of wheels and tires. I want to turn these into go karts for children.

Stillages full of wheels and tires. I want to turn these into go karts for children.

Vintage spec sheets of tools and equipment dotted around the place.

Vintage spec sheets of tools and equipment dotted around the place.

Cabinets with tools and equipment left over from the old days.

Cabinets with tools and equipment left over from the old days.

A corner of our design studio. Bits and bobs, samples and prototypes sitting around that inspire us for new innovative ideas and product designs.

A corner of our design studio. Bits and bobs, samples and prototypes sitting around that inspire us for new innovative ideas and product designs.

 
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