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Plus Ça Change

07 October 2019

As a bushy-tailed start-up, it would have been an ill-advised display of hubris to envisage negotiating a quarter century in business with our sanity, passion and friendships intact. Yet we arrive at that milestone this month - 25 years since our first catalogue hit the streets, err mailboxes, in 1994.

We live in wildly different, arguably turbulent, times. To sample the French, much has changed but equally much has remained steadfast. So please excuse the indulgence as we muse over the successes, misadventures, changes and constants that have coloured Ground Effect so far.

Made Right Here

Against all odds we continue to make almost all of our stuff right here in Otautahi, Aotearoa. From the get-go we were hell-bent on small production runs with maximum flexibility - not an option with off-shore production. Keeping it local lines up with our values. And a short ride down the road to our factory for a chat works better for us than a barrage of emails and video conferences to some far-off land.

Baggies and Advocacy

Our first range of ‘pedal threads’ included a pair of baggy riding shorts, the Helter Skelter - inadvisably short in the leg and resplendent in black watch plaid.

Over the following few years these morphed into the more contemporary Supertankers and Double Happys - still pivotal in today’s line up. Baggies quickly became the default uniform for mountain biking, yet pre-1994 we all rode in a blend of traditional stretch-lycra and fast-drying tramping gear. Case in point, with this motley crew assembled at the James Mackay Hut on the Heaphy in 1991.

Mountain biking the Heaphy in 1991 was still a legitimate pursuit… until it was swallowed by Kahurangi National Park and became taboo. More than a decade of lobbying ensued before mountain biking on selected tracks in National Parks was declared ok and access to the Heaphy was restored. A different epoch from today where we enjoy access to the Heaphy, Old Ghost Road, the new Paparoa Trail, an ever-expanding network of state-sponsored cycle trails and a myriad of other epic backcountry and front country rides.

Sew What You Reap

Also hard to comprehend, but for all intents and purposes the internet didn’t exist in 1994 - beyond the sacred walls of academia. Ground Effect launched its first website in 1998. Catalogues, freephone calls, cheques and zip zap credit card transactions eventually gave way to modern e-commerce.

In that pre-internet era Ground Effect’s ‘warehouse and call centre’ was Steve’s front room with a second ‘office’ found in Guy’s spare bedroom. We imagined a virtual network - connected with dial-up modems and a network of outworkers. The reality is that we hated working alone. Our original motivation to work together was in part social. A year and untold DIY hours later we set up camp in our bohemian inner-city warehouse-style office at Bedford Row. Raw bricks, timber floors, rafter ceilings and bitterly cold.

They were halcyon days - with numerous stories not to be repeated, mostly surrounding the now unacceptable ‘low-emissions’ coal burner. Magnificent stainless steel hoppers perched on either side of the hearth like gargoyles - holding supplies of Fast Eddy and Slow Thomas coal. One winter lunchtime we lifted our spirits with a slab of seared fillet, fresh bread, chutney and smelly cheese. it was a grand idea at the time… but like fush and cheeps in the car, it was several weeks before the olfactory reminders dissipated.

Serendipitously, we exited Bedford Row the year before the Christchurch earthquakes. No clairvoyance, just a general desire to hang out somewhere less cold and grubby, and indulge Steve’s passion to create a low-impact, energy-efficient work space. We were lucky to escape Bedford Row - sadly and predictably its 1920’s construction imploded during the shakes.

We love our current ground zero - Tussock Lane - singletrack to the door, a fully equiped bike workshop, constant views of the Port Hills, solar everything, ‘short and t-shirt friendly’ year-round climate and a kitchen that lets us create daily fresh scones and coffee.

Blue to Blau

There once was a metallic blue 1964 EH Holden, imaginatively named Big Blue. Blue was our general conveyance for road trips, events and ferrying fabrics around town. It could easily fit 4 bikes on its XXL roof rack - we liked to brag that the bikes were (as they should be) of considerably greater value than the car.

It's 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 in the recently purchased Big Blue. 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 froze. At Naseby, the 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.

’Blue’ was infamously difficult to drive and often required a second opinion to gain its WOF. Pragmatism eventually triumphed over sentimentalism and Blue was replaced by a near mint ’72 VW Kombi. A new love affair commenced. Where Blue garnered incredulous sideways glances, the Kombi received full-noise adulation and offers to purchase at any price. It’s witnessed numerous epic trips - including a two week North Island sortie with Jamie Nicoll and his classic Old School Bus.

The Kombi has since been returned to its original Niagara Blau livery. Gorgeous, and chomping at the bit to hit the road for further adventures.

Frase, Scott, Cherie, Liam, Steve, Guy & Jo

Thick as Thieves

Upon turning Ten, Ground Effect hosted a rip-snorting party in a cave. Jazz, dinner jackets, black frocks and Bordeaux. Like many things, the cave did not survive the 2011 earthquake.

On hitting Twenty we hung the ‘gone fishing’ sign at the office spent four days ski touring at Tasman Saddle. As our guide Anna declared “the best work do ever.

For Twenty Five, we are booked to ride the brand new Paparoa Track. An eagerly anticipated extension to the Croesus - an oft ridden traditional West Coast historic benched track that predates the discovery of knobbly tyres.

It’s fair to say that Ground Effect has been a great gig so far with too many tales to recall and plenty more waiting in the wings. Thanks for being part of that ride.

Steve, Frase and Guy
Tussock Lane, October 2019