Bike It Now! is a Clyde-based cycling company with retail, hire, workshop and cycle tours throughout the Central Otago region, including the opportunity to tackle all, or sections, of New Zealand’s original Great Ride, the fabled Otago Central Rail Trail. They also sell some of the country’s best bikes.
“Our operation is not just about bums on seats,” says co-owner Kathryn Fletcher, who goes by the name Fletch. “We’re not looking at simply sticking 400 bikes out on the trail, but ensuring a high quality, personalised experience on the highest spec bikes in New Zealand.”
Fletch bought the firm five years ago with Lisa Joyce and Duncan Randall following a chance encounter that proved to be sweetly serendipitous. “Lisa and I were walking the dogs one day in September 2012 and met Duncan,” says Fletch. “By August 2013, the three of us had gone into partnership!”
All three hail from Dunedin, Fletch is a former PE teacher, Lisa’s background is in IT, while Duncan has 15 years experience in the retail outdoor industry. “Between us, we have a great range of skills, and Duncan already had good connections within the industry,” says Fletch. “But the one skill that we didn’t have was that we had never run a business before.”
However, it’s a “steep learning curve” that the trio have tackled admirably. “We have grown to the point where last year we were named the number one Haibike retailer in New Zealand,” reveals Fletch. “Yet there are just around 970 people in Clyde.”
From the start, the team knew retail would be an essential element to long term success. “When we first started, we thought that we might shut for a couple of days over a week over winter, but we’ve done retail every single day the shop has been open,” Fletch says. “Also, during winter people start booking the tours for the following season, and we do airport transfers to keep things ticking over. We certainly don’t sit around twiddling our thumbs. This is also when we fully service our rental fleet and customers get their bikes serviced for the next season.”
Some fortuitous timing also helped boost business. “Twenty-six-inch tyres used to be the standard size, but around six or seven years ago, it changed to 29- and 27.5-inch,” Fletch says. “So we never had to have 26s in the shop and didn’t have to suffer through that transitional period. We’ve also been hiring and retailing e-bikes for about five years, so we’ve always been a step ahead of everybody. Even though we’re tucked away in the middle of Central Otago, we’ve developed good traction. Plus, once people find a good old fashioned bike shop where they’re not going to get sold a tent or sleeping bag, well, it’s like how people are going back to butchers and farmers’ markets. It’s that kind of trend, with great service and the latest highest quality products.”
Fletch was energised by the number of bikes they shifted at Christmas too. “More kids got bikes last Christmas than the five years we’ve been operating, which is great,” she adds. “It means people are thinking about their children getting out and exercising and not parked up in front of technology, which has got its place, but I think that sometimes health and wellbeing gets left behind.”
With that philosophy in mind, Fletch will often try to discourage parents of teenagers hiring them e-bikes to tackle the local tracks. “I have my own personal issues with that,” she says. “If someone rings up and says they have a 13-year-old who’ll only ride a trail on an e-bike then I tell them that they’re doing it for the wrong reasons. It’s a soft option for the youngsters.”
Though, they’re not without benefits for those past their teenage years: “If you do only have a couple of days, then an e-bike enables you to complete everything without being too tired to go out at night. An e-bike basically gets rid of headwinds and gets rid of hills. The smiles on the faces at the end tell you everything. Especially as our e-bikes keep the experience as ‘pure’ as possible as they are peddle assist only, no throttle. It’s not cheating, just making it easier.”
They’re also useful for those with young families, enabling kids to be easily towed in trailers behind.
“It doesn’t matter where you go in the world, people understand that cycling is good for you, and the growth in cycle tourism is huge,” Fletch says. “The money that has been put into cycling by government, driven initially by John Key, has had a huge effect. But the difference here is that the Otago Central Rail Trail has been operational for 20 years, and initially outside the realms of the government funding. It was set up by hardworking volunteers who saw something that nobody else did. It is an amazing multi-day experience with so much history. Just recently, 152km of it was designated a heritage site by Heritage New Zealand.”
Because it was New Zealand’s original trail, Fletch says that everyone else has learnt from it. Just recently, Fletch reveals that a trustee from the Twin Coast Trail had came to ride the rail route and “had also been picking my brain”.
The team at Bike It Now! run tours with accommodations to suit all wallets, from the budget traveller to those looking at heading down for an adventurous yet luxurious weekend break. Consistent is the service and high-end bikes.
“We have also been making an effort to spread people over the shoulder seasons,” Fletch says. “We’ve had people go through in winter and it has been absolutely stunning. Plus, there is less wind — and wind is cyclists’ biggest nemesis!”
The biking boss says those quieter seasons also afford visitors the opportunity to properly mix it with the locals — and likely share a beer or wine with them too, close to a warm, cosy fire.
“We pick you up from Queenstown and deliver you back, it’s a door-to-door service,” says Fletch. “Some choose a day on the rail trail and a day on Roxburgh Gorge for two different environments. Or some go for two days on the rail trail and spend a night out there. Clyde’s really developing as a destination as well. There are some amazing restaurants with great reviews, and the old architecture is beautiful — there are some wonderful stone buildings around the historic precinct.”
Words: Jamie Christian Desplaces