Zahier Davids uses a combination of creative ingenuity and ambition to succeed in a unique business
Few people are able to perceive retrenchment from a stable job as a blessing in disguise. But Zahier Davids, a Cape Town based bike designer, not only took it in his stride, but used the opportunity to start a successful business by finding the right niche.
15 years ago Davids, who is self-taught, founded Flywheel Custom Chariots. The company, based in Cape Flats suburb of Kensington, designs and manufactures bikes, including lowriders, cruisers, choppers and motorised bikes.
Davids’ interest in bikes was influenced by the neighbourhood trend of customising cars into lowriders. He revived what had been a childhood love for bikes and shifted what he had seen done on vehicles, to bicycles.
“I had no business knowledge. I didn’t know anything about mechanics, but I had determination”
Flying the wheels of business
Flywheel Custom Chariots produces custom made low-rider bikes from old standard bicycles. What started as a one-man show, the company now has five employees and a host of apprentices who produce one-off bicycles, three-wheelers and other bikes specifically to a customer’s specifications.
“Every single nut or bolt on the bike is redone, or replaced, or customised. Most of the bikes are original, but we redo almost everything to achieve specific designs,” says Davids.
Davids says he also gets commissioned to do once-off custom jobs on rare vintage bicycles by private customers, and has been contracted by prop-houses for films as well as the motorcycle manufacturing companies. One of his more special projects has been recumbent units for the physically disabled.
A customised Flywheel bicycle can set you back anything between R3, 000 and R7, 000, all the way up to R15, 000 depending on the customer’s specifications and the costs of material. It takes Davids about a week to three weeks to complete a single bike.
Flying into the future
The company has over the years gained momentum and the market has grown substantially. They have even diversified and now manufacture vending bikes for both commercial and small business in and around the CBD which go in line with the city of Cape Town’s environmental efforts to reduce the number of cars on the road.
Flywheel has exhibited at numerous national events including the Design Indaba, SAHot Rod Street Festivals, Cape Town Fashion Week, and the Cape Town Bike Show among others.
From the humble beginning
Davids recalls that in the first year he had to call in a lot of favours from friends and family to lend him tools and machinery as he has no start-up capital for the business after losing his office job in a reputable insurance firm.
“I had no business knowledge. I didn’t know anything about mechanics, but I had determination,” he says.
He says it was difficult to rely on suppliers to design him the specific parts he needed as he was never happy with the end results. “So I had to teach myself a lot of things by watching videos and reading books at the library as there was no one doing this business,” he says.
Through a friend’s connections, Davids managed to obtain the much-needed welding machine but he couldn’t afford it.
“I was very frank with [the machine owner]. I told him that I had no money and explained my vision to him. Because he knew the type of person I am, he trusted me. But it took me three and a half years to pay him back every cent,” says Davids.
A positive role model
David’s other passion is to be a positive role model for the youngsters and the youth in the area where drugs and gangs are the norm.
“There are always kids coming over here and I’ve started involving them in the assembly process, teaching them the ropes,” he says. “It’s better if they hang around here than in the streets because they stay away from drugs and learn something in the process.”
Davids is currently participating in a pilot project that aims to promote local entrepreneurs and give them access to international markets. He recently spearheaded a local activism group, REVIVE, that aims to rid the streets of drugs and gangsters, and also promote and support local small enterprises.