Bigger and better: Drift Bikes owners, from left, Sophie and Rhys Smith, and Alana and Robbie McNaughton. Picture: Jonathan Carrollte.
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In 2003, Rhys Smith and Robbie McNaughton were both 21 and opening their own Newcastle family businesses, respectively Sanbah surf shop and Drift bike shop.
Strangers then, their paths crossed more than a decade later when competitive downhill mountain biker and surfer McNaughton popped into Sanbah. A friendship grew and Mr Smith, son of Surfest founder Warren Smith, caught Mr McNaughton’s bike bug.
The thrills are continuing: nine weeks ago he accepted Mr McNaughton’s offer to buy a half share in Drift, just as a bigger retail site for Drift came up for lease in Northcott Avenue, Kotara, across the road from the first store.
Drift version 2.0 is about diversification. Its stock has expanded from mainly mountain bikes to include road, recreational and kids bike plus ever-popular e-bikes. And far more.
Both men note the retail and brand synergy between surfing and biking, and Mr McNaughton appreciates his new partner’s business nous: “The surf industry is ahead of the cycling industry, it's more mature, and Rhys is at the top of his game,” he says.
Mr McNaughton believes the biking industry is closely following the surf industry’s retail stance to broaden its appeal.
“It's the first time that lifestyle and bike shop has been combined properly [at Drift], and that's across the country: it's saying cyclists have an identity and continuing to sell hardware to them doesn't allow that identity to grow,” he says. “We'll be the first bike shop to sell Patagonia – we are bringing a highly technical product but it doesn't mean you have to own a bike to wear it.”
The old Drift store is now a bike workshop, with renovation plans afoot to ensure it offers a state-of-the-art service level. There are plans to more than double its mechanical staff, with a focus on training up local youth.
Mr McNaughton opened the original Drift with his wife, Alana, and Smith is supported by his wife Sophie.