In 1992 Alan Croad was thinking about a child's buggy or pushchair that could go wherever he wanted, when he saw a picture of a buggy in an American magazine. It was a three wheeled buggy that American joggers used to push their children in while they ran.
He recognised it as something close to what he wanted and headed off to the garage to knock together a rough version of what he had seen. He made his first buggy out of a child's car seat and an old golf trundler that had been bought for $5 at the school fair. It worked well enough to encourage him to design a more elaborate version and he had soon begun work on his first proper mountainbuggy. Mr Croad worked on modifying the American design he had seen to better suit New Zealand conditions; the first thing he did was to install smaller wheels. He says he was pretty sure that if he could make a working model then people would buy it, and besides he still wanted one for himself.
Mr Croad was a physical educator before he moved into the mountain buggy business and says he did not have the engineering skills to make all of the buggy himself. So he talked to around five different engineers about what he wanted and got them to make the parts for his first proper mountainbuggy. Four months after the initial idea the first fully functioning model was built. It had three 12 inch (42cm) knobbly tyres and a lightweight aluminium frame and was strong enough to travel on rough tracks through the bush or over hillsides. A strip of material, like a type of hammock, supported the child, moulding to the shape of their body thus making it a comfortable ride for the passenger even over bumpy ground. At this stage though it was still pretty simple, but Alan says it looked a lot better than the American version.
Interest in buying the buggies grew and the manufacturing of them was contracted to a company in Wanuiomata, near Wellington, who now make all the buggies for Alan's company.
The really smart adaptation that Alan made was to design the buggy so that most of it could be made out of moulded plastic not machined metal. Alan says the costs of making the moulds was initially high, but being able to construct most of the buggy out of plastic was not only cheaper, it also made them stronger, lighter and better able to stand up to wear and tear. He also spent a lot of time working out the right angles for the seat so that a child's head would be supported and not fall forward if it fell asleep in the buggy.
Overall the mountainbuggy has a number of advantages over the traditional pram or buggy. They are stronger, more stable, steer better (because of a fixed single front wheel) and most importantly can go almost anywhere. At first it was mainly families living on farms or based in the country who bought and used the buggies, but Alan says he believed the idea would catch on in the cities too just as soon as people got used to them looking so different. Now families in both urban and rural areas of the country take their children for walks in mountainbuggies, from trips to the supermarket to walks in the bush.
The mountainbuggy is exported from New Zealand to several other countries including Australia, Holland, Switzerland, Germany and the United Kingdom. About half of the buggies are sold overseas. Mr Croad believes his mountainbuggy is an example of kiwi ingenuity and believes it is easier for people like him to be successful with an invention here than it is in European countries. He says overseas all the inventions are directed by big companies and smaller people aren't taken as seriously as they are here. However he believes it is getting harder here too as big companies come to control the production of more and more products.
But that is not to say his inventiveness has stopped and further refinements are always being made to the design as Alan thinks of new ways of improving his buggy. Soon to be released is the mark 6 buggy that replaces more metal parts with moulded plastic ones as well as coming with a number of new accessories. With this model, people can take their sleeping child straight out of a car seat and clip the car seat into the buggy. The buggy can also be turned into a pram so the child or baby lies flat. A special sleeping bag is provided to keep the child wrapped up and warm.
Mr Croad says the buggies have also been used by families with a disabled child. A specially designed buggy in bigger sizes is now made for this very purpose. Children over the age of four or five can now be transported in them. When he started there was no-one else making similar buggies in New Zealand but now he says there two other companies doing so and that making improvements all the time is one of the keys to ongoing success.