By Seb Kemp

Often when we think of innovation we think about the ingenuity of engineers to design creative, new technologies, rather than the creativity in ways to market them. However, self-made Kiwi millionaire Michael Mayell is an entrepreneur with a reputation for creative innovation who thinks the two things go hand-in-hand. Which is why, as a businessman who has a strong interest in health, nutrition and sports, he has partnered a very novel means of marketing what he calls the “the world’s most balanced energy food” and another bit of Kiwi ingenuity, the Zerode G-1 bike.
But before we get into that, let’s rewind 25 years and start from the start.
In 1983, at the age of 21 and working from his bedroom in Christchurch, Michael began smashing up blocks of chocolate for a new business idea he had in the oven. He started baking cookies and delivering them to the local dairies (corner shops in the Kiwi vernacular) in his trusty Mini Clubman van. After seeing a niche in the snack foods market for quick, tasty and relatively healthy product (it’s just milk and eggs after all), he came up with the idea for individually wrapped Cookie Time cookies. Now, a quarter of a century later, drive through any town in New Zealand and you’ll see the classic image of the Cookie Muncher staring back at you from just about every corner dairy. It is now considered an 'Iconic New Zealand Brand.'
     Right from the inception of Cookie Time, Michael wanted to create the ultimate healthy snack food. With a strong interest in food and nutrition, Michael spent years researching and then applied his knowledge to create his own personal nutritional program. By 2003 he created and released the One Square Meal, a snack bar that uses natural ingredients such as manuka honey, rolled oats, dried apricots and berries to provide one-third of the recommended daily intake of key nutrients. These bars are seriously heavy, but any active Kiwi knows it’s worth carrying one to avoid the dreaded bonk. The One Square Meal is another Kiwi snack food mainstay and you will see them eaten everywhere by kayakers, climbers, mothers, school kids, truck drivers and farmers.
     The One Square Meal, in just eight years, has become the most successful product that Michael’s (and brother Guy’s) company has released. But Michael is a prescient man who believes his product can go further, which is why he thinks One Square Meal is a product that would suit the rigors of mountain biking. Of course, it also helps that Michael is a keen mountain biker himself. Which is where the Zerode One Square Meal collaboration comes in.

Enter Mountain Biking
Michael has been an ardent mountain biker “from way back when they were new to New Zealand,” as he puts it. However, it wasn’t until a chance visit to Whistler around 2004 that he saw the potential for mountain bikes. Being an avid skier, he was instantly drawn to lift-accessed riding because of its gravity element and the social vibe of riding a chair lift. When he returned to New Zealand he went straight out and bought a Kiwi-made Lahar.
     Some of you may be familiar with the Lahar ‘brand’, but those that aren’t, just imagine a snake that swallowed a goose and you have an idea of what the downhill bike looks like. If you stretch your minds back to 2006, you may remember that Cam Cole rode a Lahar when he won the Junior World Championships in Roturua.
     The Lahar is a peculiar looking bike and was arguably well ahead of its time. It was made entirely of carbon fiber, when it was unthinkable to most anyone else to use this wonder material for downhill application. The Lahar also had a high pivot and gearbox, making it about as far-removed from anything else available at the time. Made in small batches in the basement of a Christchurch home, the Lahar, despite some financial influx a few years ago, was doomed to become a mythological bike, respected and misunderstood in equal measures by the mountain bike industry and consumers.
Enter Zerode
Michael now spends a lot of his time living in Queenstown, where the town gondola just re-opened to mountain bikers after a ten year hiatus. The Lahar had been passed along to new owners and Michael was in the market for a brand new bike. After scanning the shop fronts and magazine racks for a while, one bike stood out from the masses. This bike was the Zerode G-1.
     The Zerode, just like the Lahar, attracted Michael because of its innovative and pioneering approach. One look at the bike and he knew that was the perfect bike for him. It was obviously different, employs some radical, yet straight-forward design ideas and it is visually striking. It suited Michael and his sensibilities down to the ground.
     It has taken a number of years for production Zerodes to become a reality. The design is rather unconventional, the designers behind Zerode had high standards in production quality, and having only a small number of them built slowed things down. After a false start in Tiawan, they have moved production to the United States and in recent months the first frames are being ridden by the public. Michael had his name down for one of the first one hundred frames to roll out of the factory and recently got his built up.
But that isn’t the full story...
Any millionaire business man could go out and buy any bike they wanted, but Michael has always chosen to do things a little differently.
     Looking for a way to market the One Square Meal to mountain bikers, Michael decided to use the remarkable and distinctive Zerode bike as a sandwich board for One Square Meal. His Zerode is now emblazoned with the One Square Meal logos and as he expected, many gawking eyes that are drawn to the Zerode likewise fall upon the One Square Meal branding.
     So what? Well it doesn’t stop there. Michael doesn’t just want the bike to gather dust whilst he is off busily attending to his business or engaging in one of his many other sporting activities (in his youth he represented Canterbury in both rugby and ski racing. He was a New Zealand national jet ski champion two years in a row and now keeps in shape with mountain biking, quad biking, skiing, running and weight lifting). Instead he would rather see his Zerode get plastered in the dirt, so starting in September, he will be renting the bike through Vertigo Bikes in Queenstown. Riders who wish to try out the extraordinary Zerode for themselves will be able to rock down to the store - handily located at the bottom of the Queenstown gondola - and rent the bike for a half day. All for just $25 and a One Square Meal. This is a bargain as the standard rent rate for a DH ready bike is $49. Zerode bikes only exist in very small numbers at the moment and many riders who are tempted by the Zerode will undoubtably want to try-before-they-buy something so unconventional, so this is an ideal opportunity to sample one first.
     There is a slight catch, however. Renters must be a member of Queenstown MTB club to be able to take advantage of this deal. Membership is only $30 and any upstanding and committed mountain biker should support and join as many mountain bike clubs as they can, simply because more often than not it is the community mountain bike clubs who build and maintain the trails that we all enjoy.
Spreading the Joy of Bikes and Business
What started out as wanting to own the sickest bike and then seeing the potential to market his own products, Michael has assisted the local mountain bike club, is cross-promoting with Vertigo Bikes, and allows people to try-before-they-buy a very exclusive and exotic bike.
     It is simple, yet innovative approaches to brand promotion that could help our sport. Placing some vinyl on a bike may not sound like much, but it is remarkable that more of this kind of thing isn’t happening. Coca-Cola and many other iconic global brands have begun branding rental snowboards and skis with their own logos all around the world. The snowboard is a great location for branding as it provides a highly visual and high profile space upon which branding can be replicated. A mountain bike frame is prime real estate for branding beyond the branding of the manufacturer. Perhaps this is something that should be considered for rental fleets in bike parks across the globe.
I know Naomi Klein and some other social commentators berate the pervasive nature of global brands and the repercussions that the profit motive has over societal needs, but I can’t see any wrong with a healthy past time like mountain biking being aligned with other companies with a similar outlook.
     These ideas behind this story may not sound like much to praise, but it is the accumulation of many little ideas that make a movement. A movement that may help progress mountain biking. Perhaps cross-marketing from businesses outside of the mountain bike industry will elevate our two-wheeled love. Cross pollination could draw more attention from outside the closed doors of mountain biking. Rather than being a sport that is, metaphorically speaking, hidden in the woods, mountain biking could benefit from a bit of corner store, highway billboard, main street exposure.
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