Ground Effect was conceived in the early nineties – the precise
moment somewhat lost in a fug of Guinness, the preferred creative catalyst
at that time. It was founded amidst varying degrees of frustration
with our salaried lives. Like many, we aspired to create a work environment
that better matched our own values. Mountain biking and cycle touring
had long been our collective passions, so of all the business ideas
we brainstormed it was perhaps inevitable that cycling would sneak
into the mix.
saw an opportunity to make cycling and cycle clothing less serious – more
fun, like surfing with big baggy shorts 'n' all. Think back to last century.
Mountain biking was well-established with a huge following, but no identity.
Clothing options were limited to roady-strip or ‘polypro’ outdoor
clobber. Our premise was to create cycle clothes from technical fabrics,
that weren't necessarily shiny or body hugging, nor made you look like
a mobile billboard… and didn't cost an arm and both legs. A novel
concept back in 1994.
Direct selling appealed to us. At a personal level we liked the idea
of quenching our needs without the drama of 'going shopping'. We rationalised
that as a customer nothing could beat dealing with the people who actually
design and make the gear you're buying: the good oil comes straight
from the horse; your feedback goes back directly to the designer; and
prices are sharper with no additional links in the chain. You'd get
a lot of bang for your buck with top shelf quality at real world prices.
Mail order suffered a bad rap for its tradition of slack service.
By our calculations it could and should be more convenient than visiting
a shop. Our best anecdote is from an Auckland customer who phoned just
prior to 5pm and received their gear, along with the Herald, the next
morning before work. Sweet.
often suggested that our left-of-centre product names are generated
by mind-altering substances. If only. The initial tone was set on
a grim winter trip to Central Otago. We had just purchased Big
the 1964 EH Holden Special. Within an hour of leaving Christchurch
it became apparent that the heater was kaput. The quarter-lights
had to be reversed to demist the windscreen. We all froze. At Naseby,
campground caretakers declared us crazy for choosing to tent. The
curling season had opened. The riding was frosty and fast. We moved
on to Middlemarch.
Ice coated the inside of the windows as Big Blue descended into the
permafrost. All were clad in down jackets, sleeping bags, and expedition-style
mitts. ‘I Spy’ and ‘Number Plates’ weren’t
grunty enough diversions, and were soon supplanted by product name-storming.
Helter Skelters, Daddy Long Legs and Black Mambas all emerged from
that road trip.
the world has a nice ring to it. However our expectations in that
area have always far exceeded our efforts, skills and achievements.
it feels right to be involved in the business of cycling - encouraging
and enabling people to ride bikes. Bicycles deliver so much good
for our society: as a recreation they get us outside and keep us
transport they counter the trends of increased congestion and energy
consumption. Advocacy has been integral to Ground Effect since the
start. Our ‘Slush Fund' delivers cold cash to worthy projects.
Steve is involved with ‘cycling as transport’ issues and
Guy with mountain bike access. The lengthy fight to regain mountain
bike access to the Heaphy has always been close to Ground Effect’s
heart. Quite possibly the best 10th birthday reward for us has been
the NZ Conservation Authority's preliminary decision to allow mountain
bike access on selected tracks in National Parks.
Finding the balance between work and play is a personal thing. Our
objective was to create a business that was inherently stimulating,
but would also let us recreate, a lot! There have been oodles of great
cycle trips over the decade: the three of us scored two weeks mountain
biking in Idaho; Steve has cycled Europe and Australia several times;
ditto for Frase (with kids bundled up in their little trailer), plus
a month in Colorado; Guy cycle toured in France, took his mountain
bike to South America and Colorado, and completed the first off-road
mountain bike traverse of the South Island along with Joe Arts and
of course is a mountain bike original, acclaimed photographer and
child labour broker. Ground Effect catalogues and his images are
Given Dave’s pagan predilections, it seemed amusing to land him
with 'the Rev' moniker. No one ever complained about our irreverent
Reverend but we did have some confusing correspondence with those who
thought Dave’s day job did actually involve confession and
Ground Effect has been fortunate to receive the odd accolade for its
achievements over the years. It always feels good when someone says
or writes something nice about the brand. It is our belief that it
takes as much good luck as good skills to create an enduring business.
Statistics are certainly stacked against you when embarking on a new
venture. What really gives us a buzz though is that the three of us
started out as good mates, and a decade later we're still as tight
Steve van Dorsser,
Frase McLachlan and Guy Wynn-Williams
is littered with good ideas that failed to dazzle
the market. Here's an exposé of our 'failures':
rain jacket. Our 'flagship' product from the
first catalogue. Battleship grey with vents that turned
into a shoulder bag for storing your helmet. Sold a
mere hundred over two and a half years before admitting
jacket. Like the Windshield, may have just suffered
from being ahead of its time (we wish). Had a lot of
street cred' and a vocal owners' club but a dismal
Taco courier satchel. Maybe if there were just
a few more urban cyclists? It's been difficult to say
goodbye to this gem – a great bag with a fabulous
name and a great story – "Defy rush hour
and become the envy of zillions of frustrated motorists
- jumping curbs, slipping through traffic jams and
sneaking the odd illicit left hand turn on your trusty
tee. We made an initial run of 150. Then, before
the first catalogue was even printed we got nervous. "This
will be such a big seller, we'll run out and won't
be able to make any more before Xmas". Panic ensued.
Another 150 were urgently manufactured. It was two
years before we had to make them again, to satiate
the 'rampant' demand.
TIME WARP THE FIRST 10 YEARS
||Fantasy meetings at Mainstreet Bar. Lots of Guinness, flatbread and single malt. Bugger all planning.
|Cut out the beer. Concoct a utopian vision for our partnership and for saving the world, but have no idea what we will actually create or sell.
Hit on the idea of mail order cycle clothing. And to make cycling less serious, more fun.
|Register Cyclic Solutions Limited. Purchase our first asset – a whiteboard (how disappointing).
Design, print and distribute the first Ground Effect catalogue. Steve orchestrates his own redundancy. Now can state his occupation as ‘Company Director’. Also has no income. Waits for the phone to run hot. It doesn’t.
Produce the first UnderGround newsletter.
Along with John and Glenda, dream up and run the first Ground Effect Cyclic Saga (mountain bike orienteering event). A mighty 36 entrants – two of whom have competed in all ten Sagas.
Steve and Kate evict the office-warehouse from their front room. Actually both Steve and Guy find working alone at their respective home offices a bore. Bedford Row is discovered, secured and returned to some sort of former glory. Was a thoroughly unpleasant three months of DIY. Java’s Jersey Burger became the staple sustenance. Some years later Unlimited magazine describes the office as a scruffy student flat. We like that.
||Tracy becomes our first real employee. Spends the first few hours each day navigating around a substantive hangover. Entertains us with outrageous tales from Christchurch’s dark side.
After working with a few cut-make-trim local manufacturers, finally nut out a partnership with just one, our mate Hamish. Together we develop a quick-response, low-stock production model that still hums along today.
Heaphy track becomes part of Kahurangi National Park and is off-limits to mtbs. The campaign for its return starts in earnest.
Bedford Row, affectionately known as the GE-Spot, feels
like a cool store. A clean air approved coal burner is purchased.
Steve and Frase risk their all clambering from the fire escape,
up the ladder, over the rickety parapet, and onto the roof
to secure the flue. Dave Mitchell supplies stainless coal
hoppers for the two grades of coal: Fast Eddie and Slow Thomas.
|The worldwide wot? Register www.groundeffect.co.nz and .com. Give birth to email@example.com, our virtual office boy.
||Tony Hutcheson lassoes Sadie (our first ever ‘Revolutionary’ – or sponsored rider), Hira, Maggie, Richie and the Count to form the Auckland-based Ground Effect Latte Race Team. Fuelled by Cookie Time and Roasted Adiqtion.
|Australia discovers Ground Effect. Get hold of three Wind Cheetah recumbent tricycles. Have untold fun touring around Australia.
Big Blue, our 1964 EH Holden requires a few too many second opinions to gain its warrant. The Latte Racers adopt it and we acquire the oft-coveted VW Kombi.
Arthur Smithers finally recognised as a photographer of note. Arthur first turned up in our original catalogue, endorsing the Cappuccino: “A modern day rendition of the classic cycle cap as worn by Arthur Smithers during the Giro d'Italia." Subsequently learn of his reputation behind the Hasselblad, and lean on his enigma for a series of 'caught in history' photos that continue to feature in our current catalogues.
Two years after registering the groundeffect.co.nz url,
our friend Jo designs our first web site, complete with secure
|'Passion For Life', a book about young kiwi businesses, is published. Includes a chapter about Ground Effect.
|Take Ground Effect to the UK with a stand at Bike 2000. Meet guru bike designer Mike Burrows.
|E61 espresso machine is procured. Discover we know nothing about making drinkable coffee. Laurence is subsequently employed to sort that out.
have seven staff in total. Steve, Frase and Guy compress the
working week into four days. More time for biking. Staff revolt.
Mountain Bike' magazine (UK) names the Double Happys and Manta
Ray in their "Best of 2002" awards.
|'Unlimited' magazine declares Ground Effect as one of their "ten cool companies". 'Spoke' magazine includes Ground Effect in a list of ten significant 'people' that have helped NZ mountain biking.
Ground Effect turns ten. 19 catalogues and 40 UnderGround newsletters under our belt; hundreds of prototypes tested and mostly rejected; 200 Kg of C4 coffee beans imbibed; 17 Apple Mac and 5 printers purchased; tens of thousands of dollars dished out from our Slush Fund to worthy cycle projects around the country; countless tyres worn out on backcountry epics, overseas adventures and the daily bunch ride to and from the GE-Spot. Get to work with some thoroughly neat people - Thirza, Laurence, Cherie and Jo. The NZ Conservation Authority says "yes" to mountain bikes on selected tracks in National Parks.