By MARK BAKER
This is a classic story of New Zealand automotive ingenuity. Clever provincial Kiwi bloke sees a need for a new product, hatches an innovative solution to meet the needs of his customers.
He hand-builds it from scratch in his back yard using good old Kiwi know-how and almost all local materials, and sells his product by the hundred to grateful consumers - in this case farmers across New Zealand.
There is more to the story, however: Clever Kiwi bloke gets frustrated by Government bureaucracy and finally sells the concept to a bigger manufacturing concern with sufficient clout to lobby for necessary import permits.
Adding to his chagrin, the concept is quickly copied and improved by Japanese manufacturers. It's a popular concept, and is imported to New Zealand in huge numbers with inevitable huge loss of potential export earnings.
It's a story with a certain irony. It has been 30-something years since the Mountain Goat farm bike was born, won acceptance on the farms of New Zealand and overseas and was finally crushed under the weight of imported imitations from Japanese manufacturers.
In that time it seems New Zealand has learned little. Although lip service is paid to the value of a knowledge economy, the brightest people with the best ideas are still finding they are obstructed by bureaucracy.
The Mountain Goat, born of necessity in the early 1960s in New Plymouth, was the very first true farm bike - smaller and lighter than rival designs which used road bike components, low-geared enough to climb hills which would defeat horses or even that farmer's other favourite of the time, the Series One Land Rover.
At the time, many farmers still used horses, especially in hill country. There was a need for a small, light motorised transporter. Even better if the bike could tow a trailer into those areas.
The few attempts to build such a motorcycle were based around British road bikes, which were heavy, unwieldy and high-geared.
The Mountain Goat was the brainchild of New Plymouth motorcycle dealer, Johnny Callender.
He hand-built the very first model in his back yard, and that bike was later used by Kiwi icon Sir Edmund Hillary on one of his Kathmandu school-building expeditions. In fact, the name Mountain Goat was coined by one of the expedition's members, Lt Peter Mulgrew.
The original bike made a religion of simplicity. A parallelogram tube frame, bar-tread tyres on pressed steel wheel rims and rudimentary front suspension, with a no-frills seat and a metal tool box built in close behind the rider, it was light enough to be lifted out of deep ruts or bogs, and had a low centre of gravity that made it easy to ride in steep country.
It was also simple enough that it could be repaired by any farmer with even the most basic mechanical knowledge. Best of all, according to one owner, he didn't have to tie it up while he worked.
The only parts not made by Callender in his backyard were the engine itself - an 80cc Suzuki single-cylinder unit - and the brake hub. For those, he needed an import licence, and there began his problems. With strict constraints on imports, there was little support in Wellington for a Taranaki motorcycle dealer who wanted to bring in Japanese motorcycle engines.
Callender lobbied hard for a licence, pointing out over many months of communications with Government officials that his venture would provide manufacturing jobs and export revenue. As frustration mounted, the MP for Stratford raised the problem in Parliament. Nothing happened.
It took some thinly disguised industrial espionage to stir the Government to action. Suzuki, which supplied the engines for the Mountain Goat, obtained a black and white photograph of Hillary, Mulgrew and Callender with the prototype Mountain Goat, and from that photograph built a replica for the Toyko Motor Show.
Callender's local MP showed the Minister of Industries and Commerce a photograph of the replica on Suzuki's Tokyo Show stand.
The bureaucrats gave way and granted Callender a licence to import 100 engines a year - not enough to make the project viable. Best estimates were that it would take at least 1000 bikes a year to begin to make export headway. Despite further lobbying, a licence to import more engines was not granted.
Newspapers picked up the cause, and railed against the likelihood that the Japenese would build the bike and export it to New Zealand if Callender couldn't get a licence. Production efficiencies in the big motorcycle plants in Japan would enable such a bike to be made in numbers far beyond the 1000 proposed in New Zealand.
That, eventually is what happened. Although Callender sold his concept to a bigger company which was able to obtain import licences, and which built the Mountain Goat in some number during the later 1960s, the bike had become another item in the lengthy list of innovations and refinements which helped make Japan the manufacturing power it is today.