Calum Laird is the owner of Dirt Bike Co., which is a small BMX company that is based in the small country of New Zealand. Mike Davies sat down with Calum to pick his brain about where the company came from, what their products are all about, and where the brand is heading. If you are into the “behind the scenes” kind of stuff in the BMX industry, you’ll definitely want to check this one out. -Fat
First of tell us a little bit about yourself, where are you from, what you do, and what your riding background is?
I was born in Kohimarama in Auckland, New Zealand, and was on a bike slightly before I walked steadily as far as my parents tell me! I'm currently working in the liquor distribution industry as well as running Dirt Bike Co. I started racing BMX in 1989 and have had a BMX ever since then, the past few years I havent raced, but will be back on the track this year regardless of how slow I may be now. I currently ride a single speed road bike, my BMX bikes and an awesome Foes 4X MTV and have ridden just about every bike there is. I spent some time in downhill, velodrome racing, observed trials, BMX racing, dirt jumping, street, park, etc. Basically if it has two wheels I'll probably ride it, but will always be my first and true love.
How did Dirt Bike Co come about, and what made you want to start your own BMX company?
In some ways, a long story, but the guts of it came out of a dissatisfaction surrounding the prices we were being forced to pay all the way down here in this beautiful country due to our distance from America and the world's hub of BMX. Couple that with a silly nine-year-old’s thought of, "wouldn't it be cool to own a BMX company" a long time ago, and I decided that rider owned companies needed to have higher numbers producing high-quality product at much more reasonable prices than we have had in the past. So after talking a few friends around the place I ended up realizing if I wanted to see these things happen I needed to bite the bullet, put my balls and money on the line, and do something about it myself.
Your company is named Dirt Bike Co., are you frames designed primarily for Dirt? And what made you come up with the name Dirt Bike Co.?
Not exactly, the frame is really designed as an all-purpose frame. I opted to go for some classic geometry that has been proven time and time again over the last 20 years that would perform well on just about any terrain you thrown at it. With the variety of riders that have been on these frames so far I would say it's been proven to perform as a great all-arounder. The name came out of the memories that BMX started out as racing only, as far as organised sport was concerned, and that was started on dirt. Basically I wanted a name that took us back to the roots of the sport we know and love today that had some meaning behind it. Along with that I think every person riding BMX today would tell you they loved playing in the dirt, skidding in the dirt, and generally rolling around in the dirt when they were a kid. I think part of me wanted to try and capture the inner kid we all have that just wants to skid around and play in the dirt.
The Dirt Diggler, your first frame you have produced, tell us a little bit about the frame…
It's a clean and dialled frame that is comfortable to ride and has a great stability over every other frame I have ever ridden in pretty much all applications. It comes in the Henry Ford color scheme right now, any color you like as long as it's black. The seatstay brake mounts were chosen due the super small chainrings that are on the market these days to make sure no matter which brakes you run you always have chain clearance. It has clean lines, amazing welds and 5mm thick peg-friendly dropouts to suit just about any riding style.
And the name Dirt Diggler…where did that come from?
Haha, that's a two-part process. Most people who enjoy riding on a set of trails from time to time also enjoy digging and creating jumps, so it kind of had a dirt digger ring to it whilst incorporating the company name. The other part was more of a piece of humour involving a character protrayed in "Boogie Nights" by Mark Wahlberg that was a 70's pornstar by the name of Dirk Diggler. Our frames be pimpin’!
Do you think there is anything special about your frames that separates them from other frames on the market? Or is it a more straight forward quality frame?
As a really honest answer, there isnt a lot that separates them from other frames on the market. That being said, there is also little in the way of separation between most other frames either in the way of geometry by more than .5 of a degree in angles. The Dirt Diggler is more about a straight forward quality frame that is versatile and great to ride. The main things that do separate them from other frames are the fact that it is from a New Zealand, rider-owned company, and has a great price point when compared to the regular retail tag on most imported products we have down here without any compromise on production or material quality.
The first product you started producing was frames…tell us a little bit about the process you went through to get frames made…
Frames are quite a complex product from a design and manufacture standpoint, so my first need was to get the dimensions right, then I needed to have literally every other measurement you can imagine for every piece of the frame. Things like adjusting how far the brake mounts were from the seat tube to make sure pads could be adjusted in both directions, how thick and how wide the dropouts were. tube wall thicknesses, thread pattern, and size on brake mounts, integrated head tube angles and depth, bottom bracket size and ridge depth…the list really goes on. I had no idea how much work behind the scenes would be required to even do the design before I started, so it was quite a rude reality check! Once I had all the measurements I needed a computer-aided design sketch with full dimensions and a 3D model done. Jonny McDonald was the man behind that magic and did a great job of putting the design together for me. The process of design alone was nearly 18 months before a single decision was made surrounding samples or telling anybody that the company even existed so it has been a long time in the making. I needed a manufacturer as nobody in New Zealand is set up to produce this kind of thing so I scoured Taiwan who are renowned for having the best quality of manufacture in the world. These guys have huge factories with multimillion dollar machinery and well-trained staff. Their quality control process accepts nothing less than perfection, and the company I am dealing with has been making some of the worlds best frames since 1985. Even just locating a manufacturer with good credentials and capabilities was several months of work and creating a relationship for business was also quite a lengthy process but it's well worth taking the time.
How many prototypes and samples where made before the final production run was produced?
Due to a shoestring budget that was tight at the best of times I decided to make a single sample to start with and see how it went together. Once it arrived I transferred all my parts onto it and incredibly every single thing was precise…all measurements from the design to that sample were perfect. The BB bearings pressed in easier and nicer than they had on my previous frame as did the headset, and the brake mounts were just right. Given a severe lack of funds I decided to keep that as it was, ride it around, and get as many other people to ride my bike as I could. For the most part this was a good way of doing things, but the next product we do will likely go through a more stringent test by the team guys to make sure they are totally satisfied with how it performs.
We recently saw a preview of a prototype sprocket, can you tell us a little bit about this sprocket and when we expect to see it released?
The sprocket is something I really wanted to do as its a small part that you can get creative with and also has a fair bit of science involved in where you can cut material out etc to make it lighter and stronger. We will be using a 6061 hardened aluminum for it due to it being one of the hardest alloy materials available giving longevity and it is also easier to anodize. The design is simple, functional, strong and lightweight that is loosely based on a five spoke pattern used in circular products for decades. We have gone with a dual ridge so that both sides of the chain are level for optimum cranking and radness to be displayed at speed whilst not wearing out your chain as fast. At this stage my first prototype is a week or so away with two more sizes being prototyped after that, which hasn’t had a timeframe put on it yet, so keep your eyes peeled for updates as they happen! My favorite part about this sprocket is that it is handmade in Auckland, here in New Zealand, and we are supporting a local business here that makes some very high quality product.
So you currently have frames and a sprocket in the works, what's next for Dirt Bike Co? What other products are you working on?
Correct, there is a frame already out and a sprocket in the works, we have a covert operation going on right now with handlebar prototypes being made from dimensions given to me by Piggy and Hugh from the Dirt Bike Co. team. I can’t say too much yet, but I can let it slip that these handlebar prototypes are being handmade in California and should be seriously great product once the guys have them to ride. We have a couple of designs that aren’t able to be finalised yet as the concentration is on one product at a time right now to make sure it’s done right, but stems and pedals have started to hit the drawing board and will be worked on for the rest of this year with a view to prototype ASAP.
Are you products currently only available in New Zealand? Is there any ambition to go global with the company?
At the moment products are only available in New Zealand, but there is definitely ambition to go global, and we have been talking to a few international people in BMX looking to establish some of those global aspirations. Within the next couple of weeks the frames will be stocked by Helensvale BMX in Queensland, Australia, so things are starting to move a little bit global already.
Who is currently on the DBC team, and are you looking to expand the team?
Right now we have a small crew on the team consisting of Alan "Piggy" Cameron in Auckland, and Hugh Wotherspoon in Wellington, who are both rad guys and amazing riders. We are always looking to expand the team and get young talented riders hooked up. There is a lot of really cool people in our sport, and its great to be able to support some of that through Dirt.
If a rider is looking to get a hold of one of your frames where can they find one?
Hedgehog Bikes Takapuna and T Whites Bikes are our major retail support, and through either Trademe or through our website product can be bought direct from us until more widespread retailers around the country have stock in store. Contact details are available on the website www.dirt-bikeco.com, or hit us up on Facebook. If your local shop doesn’t have a frame in stoc, let them know and they can get one in for you. Supporting New Zealand businesses and your local bike shop keeps New Zealand BMX growing and progressing.
Your frames are made in Taiwan, you also mentioned that your sprockets will be produced in Auckland City…Is it important to you to been a New Zealand company to have some of your parts produce in NZ?
Correct, they are, and I chose Taiwan for several reasons that include simple facts like nobody in New Zealand being set up to produce frames, amzingly high quality control standards, state of the art machinery, and a long, proven history in the industry. Price is obviously a factor, too, and when I wanted to make smaller parts like the sprocket I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could get really high quality manufacture with the very best materials right here at prices that can rival offshore. New Zealand is a small place, but a great place, and having at least some of our parts made here is hugely important to me. I want to see local businesses getting support, so I want to make sure I show some and support the ones that I can.
What has been the hardest part about getting Dirt Bike Co. up and running?
I'm not sure if I could define one thing. There are a lot of hard parts to starting any company, and in this case one of the largest obstacles is really the financial backing. I've done this on a shoestring and basically everything I have is invested in Dirt right now. Having great ideas, the ability to design, and people to make the product is all hard work, but when you have limited cash, zero staff, and a day job, it can get really hard to make it work the way it should. Money and time would basically summarise the hardest parts of getting it up and running, I think.
Where do you see Dirt Bike Co. in five years from now?
I would say a great rider owned company representing NZ in several other countries in terms of sales and product. Sponsoring overseas riders, mulitple products including a range of frames and several other parts. I think the team will always grow, and getting things like DVDs filmed and constant product development will be a major part of our future. To have Dirt Bike Co. on the regular international BMX scene through magazines, retail stores, and events is the dream or vision I have for where I want to see it go.
So far what has been the general vibe about Dirt Bike Co.? Are you getting lots of support and positive feedback?
Its always mixed with new things…not everyone knows what to make of it or how legit things are. I've had a really large amount of positive feedback from a wide variety of sources, which includes the team. Pretty much everyone who has ridden the frame has loved it, with pieces of really good criticism coming out of those who have preferences as well. In general, I would say most feedback has been positive and there is a really good amount of support for the product, the company, and what we are doing in BMX here. Its not going to be for everyone, just like any company, but those who are showing support are stoked on it, and so am I.
Its not often someone start's a New Zealand based BMX company, do you have any advice from your experience with DBC to those who are thinking about starting there own company?
So true, it's been rare, few and far between that New Zealand based BMX companies have been started. My advice to those who are thinking of starting their own company, especially in BMX, is to make sure you have accounted for all variables and done every bit of research you can before you start. Ask every stupid question you can think of, one of them could easily save you thousands of dollars. And speaking of dollars, figure out how much you think you need and then triple it! It’s hard work and it will probably make my hair go grey early, but I love this sport, and I love this country, so it still feels like as much fun as pulling skids in the mud when I was 10 years old. If you don’t do it, you'll never know.
Are Piggy and Hugh enjoying the frames?
Yeah, they are both stoked on them so far. Piggy is kind of old school and prefers the taller standover and stable bottom bracket height. Hugh loves the feel in a variety of applications and has been pretty happy with how versatile it is, given he rides a variety of terrain. I get great feedback from those two guys and appreciate all the input they can give the company. Piggy's first frame even outlasted his previous American-made frame by a good couple of months, so I think we have something pretty good on our hands here.
Thanks for answering all the Questions, Calum, any last words, anything you would like to mention or to thank anyone?
No problems at all, Mike. I have to say a few thank yous to people that have helped me out and supported me with this: Tim Hunter, Tim White, Bevan Cowan, Logan Smith, Piggy, Hugh Wotherspoon, Ryan and Phil from Hedghog Takapuna, Jonny McDonald, Josh Parrant, Steele Gibson at Utopia Optics NZ, my family, every kid on a BMX in the country, every overgrown kid on a BMX in the country, Hagan Hill, Fat Tony at Ride BMX USA, ATi grips, Lester at QuietChaos, Scot Breithaupt of SE Racing for inspiring me by accident, everyone I have ever, or will ever ride with, and most importantly my wife for believing in me, the company, and the investment.
Dirt Bike Co. isn’t the biggest or best company on Earth right now, or the trendiest. It's just good quality, simple, and affordable BMX parts that you will enjoy riding, and it's from right here in little old New Zealand. So go ride, support anything and everything you can that comes from NZ, and have fun…without it we may as well all be on rollerblades.
Interview by Mike Davies of zombiebmx.com. Interview and photos provided by Dirt Bike Co.