Frank Clavis in his Masterton workshop, with one of the new run of Pantha BMX bikes. PHOTO/ARTHUR HAWKES

ARTHUR HAWKES
arthur.hawkes@age.co.nz

A BMX bike, built by the iconic New Zealand company Pantha, has been donated to Central Wairarapa BMX Club. It’s to be raffled off in support of the renovation of Masterton’s BMX track, which needed one final funding push to see completion.

Masterton-based bike builder Frank Clavis started Pantha and built New Zealand’s first BMX bikes in the late 1970s, from his shop in Palmerston North.

“The whole thing started when a couple of teenagers popped in, back in the late 1970s, with a couple of BMX American magazines,” Clavis said.

“Being a frame builder, they asked me if I could build one, so I did.

“They were pretty happy with it, and then the whole thing exploded.

“I had to sell my bike shop and go into manufacturing full-time.

“We got into production and got to a peak of 700 bikes a month, with 50 staff across the region.”

Because of the import licences at the time, pre-Rogernomics, almost everything had to come from New Zealand. This made obtaining spokes a problem, so Clavis initially had to develop an entirely spokeless wheel.

Clavis said he was contacted by an ex-BMX rider, Hamish Douglas, who presented him with parts of an old Pantha model for him to rebuild and restore for the raffle.

“I’ve been involved in helping them restore the track, which has come out very well.

“One of the donors of the bike was originally a young rider, back in the 1980s, Hamish Douglas.

“He sent me a parcel and, blow me down, there were a whole lot of bits, and he asked if I could build it up, so I did – I was only too happy.”

Clavis said the BMX would be great for younger riders, and that the restored bike looked as good as new.

“This is a juvenile BMX, a great starter bike, and it’s totally original, looks as though it just came out of the box.”

Pantha began in the late 1970s and was based in Bunnythorpe, in a large factory that had housed the pharmaceutical company Glaxo.

Clavis left the company in the mid-1980s, when the financiers were making decisions he didn’t support – 18 months later the company would go into receivership, a victim of deregulation and cheap imports flooding the market from abroad.

The new management decided not to renew the rights for the Pantha name, so Clavis’ son, Scott, was then able to register it, which was the start of a much smaller family affair.

Over the lockdown, Clavis said the family knocked heads, and decided they could produce again on a larger scale, which culminated in a shipment of 50 bikes from a partner company in China which specialised in high-end BMX bikes.

These were designed by Clavis and built to the same standard as their 1970s and 1980s counterparts. The next run of models will use imported hardware but will be built entirely in New Zealand.

Kane Harris, president of Central Wairarapa BMX Club, said that progress on the revamp had been “really good”.

“We’ve just got the start gate to rebuild, we’ve got all the components, and the contractors lined up to do the build itself.

“We just needed that bit of a top up so we’ve got contingency if anything goes wrong.”

Masterton’s BMX track went up in the 1980s, but the revamp began about two years ago.

“We got a group of guys together who were interested in rebuilding the track. It was very grown over, and very hard to ride, a single lane goat track.

“The track we’re building is more historically old-school, so it’s still all lime, whereas Olympic tracks are all tarmac and very fast, and all about speed, but ours is more about skill and agility, and fun.”

Harris said that he didn’t have an exact timeline of when the track would be completely finished, but said contractors would be starting the final jobs in spring.

“I’d love to say September or October, but it’s pretty open because we were looking to get it done, but then covid-19 came and put everything back three months.”

Raffle tickets were still available for $10 through the Central Wairarapa BMX Club Facebook page.

The restored BMX prize would be suitable for a rider of about five or six years old, or as a collector’s item.