Frank Witowski’s daily work commute is roughly 20 paces. He stacks his breakfast dishes, walks through to the garage and opens the big roller door. “By eight o’clock the sun is coming in,” says the expat German engineer and entrepreneur, founder of fledgling electric bike venture Hybrid. 

Home for Witowski is a solar-powered, energy-positive house he designed in a new hillside subdivision near Nelson. Work is the garage, which serves as a daytime showroom for Hybrid’s groundbreaking carbon fibre e-bikes, and at night becomes a workshop where he services bikes and develops ideas.  

Inside Frank Witowski's garage, the Hybrid Bikes workshop.
Inside the Hybrid Bikes workshop. Photo by Matt Philp

Hybrid was seeded in 2017, during a momentous period in Witowski’s life. He’d been treated for cancer, had sold his solar consultancy business and was in rest and recovery mode. Keen to get fit again, he had a look around for an e-bike but couldn’t find one he liked at a decent price. “I thought ‘if it’s not out there, then I’ll make it happen’.”       

He consulted bike dealers about what they’d want to see in their ideal e-bike – the checklist is still pinned up in the garage like a piece of memorabilia – and later brought in Nelson-based former Olympic cycle mechanic and retired bike store owner Jim Matthews (now Hybrid’s Business Development Manager) to help on the mechanical side. 

The result is a range of half a dozen e-bikes that have all the advantages of carbon fibre – they weigh three to five kilograms less than your average e-bike – but without carbon fibre’s usual premium price. Parts are manufactured in China, but the bikes are re-built and customised in the Nelson garage. 

In 2019, Consumer magazine nominated two of Hybrid’s range among its top e-bike picks, second only to a billion-dollar French brand. More recently, Witowski was named Supreme Winner of the 2021 David Awards, New Zealand’s small, home and micro business awards. Meanwhile, the business has grown rapidly and has distribution deals in Europe and Australia firming. “If we keep growing like this, God knows what’s going to happen. Somebody told me I’ll have to build a house with a bigger garage!”

That may yet happen. He’s certainly fond of the garage; fond of garages in general, really. “You should have seen my garage in Germany where I worked on my Harley,” he says. “That garage was my life.”

The Nelson garage is tidily carpeted thanks to a visit a while back from a TV reporter. “We got the call they were coming and I thought ‘Oh no, they’ll see the cracks in my concrete floor!’” 

It’s still very much a working space, however, and an expression of Witowski’s creative engineer’s brain. Hidden behind the showroom banners is a work station for servicing and customising bikes.

And he makes regular use of his electric-powered height-adjustable desk. “It can act as a place for doing office work, but you can also drive it up and have a mechanical workspace where you can stand and repair a motor or whatever, just by pushing a button.”

A happy space? You bet. “To end up in a garage, doing this now, was never the plan. But I just love working from home.”

Reported by Matt Philp for our Spring 2022 issue

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