Next up in our NZ Designers blog series, we chat with Rob Metz, a classic kiwi garage innovator who is making waves on the world stage in mountain bike design.
Rob is the founder of Zerode Bikes, a company that is devoted to delivering the ultimate riding experience. Zerode’s latest offering, the Taniwha, is the culmination of many years spent riding, designing, building, testing and refining. Rob’s curious nature means that he is always questioning the status quo. This shines through in his bike design, which is uniquely built around the concept of a gearbox to remove gears off the rear wheel. It results in better suspension performance, an optimal chain line and the ability to change gears on the fly, among many other benefits.
I took a trip to Rotorua to chat to Rob and see where all the magic happens.
Describe what you do in one sentence?
Really, I just try to make the best bike for myself and making a business out of it is pretty exciting, it allows me to invest enough to continue developing the best bike for myself.
How did you get to where you are today?
I started out as an engineer at Fisher and Paykel. While I was working there I got into the NZ team for Downhill Mountain Biking and I needed some time off to go racing overseas. I went to see my boss to ask for time off and he said no, so I went back to my desk and wrote my resignation. After that, I came to Rotorua and worked for a guy who made carbon fiber track bikes. It was back in the day when not many people were doing carbon. Then I went traveling for a couple of years. When I got back home I was out riding a bike I had made and I bumped into a guy in the forest who said: “did you make that bike?!” I said: “yeah” and he said: “come and work for me”. He does special effects for TV and Movies and while I was working there we made all sorts of contraptions. I did this for about 8 or 9 years. We made things like a 7m long radio-controlled flying fish for a TV ad, chairs for the spaceship in Avatar, and a handbag-to-Eiffel-tower-transformer for Louis Vuitton’s 150th-anniversary party that traveled to New York, Shanghai, and Tokyo. Then one day I was in the forest with Dodzy, James Dodds, we were building the trail Billy T and we decided we should start a bike company and that was it really.
What was one of your biggest challenges in the early days and how did you overcome it?
Acceptance. The product is radical enough that there are a lot of unknowns for people. Getting your message across to a huge market without the resources that the big guys have is still a major challenge. Time helps. You can definitely go too far with the design, sometimes it’s a bit too much for people to accept.
What does a work day look like for you?
I wander around and pick up some greens from the garden and some eggs and have breakfast. I’ve got a big commute! [Zerode HQ is in a shed on Rob’s property a few meters from his house]. Then usually it’s a mixture of some workshop stuff – working on new designs or some hands-on assembly, then it’s dealing with emails, logistics, admin etc. and everything associated with running a business. It can take up a lot of time. It’s the classic not having time to work on the business because you’re working in the business. It’s something I’m quite aware of and that’s why I have taken on some help.
The mountain biking industry has some big corporates in it, Zerode has carved a place for itself in the industry. What advice would you give someone trying to enter a market that has well-established big dogs?
Just be true to yourself. Stick to the reason you are passionate about your product in the first place – the why – and just trust it.
People often say the little guys are more adaptable, but it doesn’t really seem to be the case most of the time. The tooling costs are so high and the big guys are bringing stuff out all the time. It can feel like you are chasing moving goal posts.
What does success mean to you?
A good and balanced life. Being content.
What do you do to get in the creative zone?
I think it’s just always there. I’ve always tinkered and made stuff. I’m always questioning the status quo. I built a wood burner for my house and it uses 1/4 of the wood compared to the old one and warms the whole house rather than warming one room – It’s just about questioning all that stuff.
What’s something that’s on your bucket list?
I’m keen to do a world scooter trip. Everywhere you go in Asia – everyone is riding scooters. They are pretty neat, a 125cc goes 100kmph, it has storage and you can lift it over a fallen tree or something in your path. I’d start in Spain or somewhere and head from there.
What are 3 of your favourite possessions?
– My permaculture garden (can you possess a garden?!)
– My 1972 Honda CB 750 four motorcycle, it used to be my dads
Really, I’m trying to get rid of possessions.
What are you reading, listening to or watching of late?
A super interesting book by Michael Pollan called How to Change Your Mind.
Who do you have a design crush on?
Buckminster Fuller. He’s brilliant. He developed the geodesic dome, the Dymaxion house and car. (The geodesic dome is the inspiration for the dome house I’m building at the moment). He does things on his own terms.
What’s one life hack?
Try and live life without an alarm clock.