Local Spotlight: Hobart Bike Kitchen

In Tasmania, a place where bikes can be chopped, changed, fixed and re-born.

By Oliver Lovell

With the sun setting over Mount Wellington, greasy hands work in the dimming light to put tools away. Pedals, handlebars, frames and wheels go back into their respective storage spaces and more than one happy traveller rolls off on a new iron steed.

It’s 4pm on a wintery Sunday in Hobart, and the Hobart Bike Kitchen (HBK) can pat itself on the back after another great day of service.

Hobart is a seaside city of 200,000 people in the Australian state of Tasmania. It’s the capital of the little upside-down triangle island located at the bottom of the sunburnt country.

Due to its size, Hobart hasn’t got the population density that has enabled so many other capital cities to have efficient public transport infrastructure, so most inhabitants drive to work, school and university. That said, a large proportion of the population lives within a healthy bike ride of their daily activities, so there is a huge potential to increase the number of bike riders in and around the city.

HBK began in late 2009 in a muddy backyard with a few old frames and a lot of enthusiasm. Inspired by projects in other cities such as the The Nunnery in Sydney and The Bike Kitchen in San Francisco, HBK was started to (in the words of co-founder Gus Potts in this video) ‘Get Hobart Riding’.

Due to the generosity of one homeowner, a backyard about a 20 minute cycle out of the Hobart CBD was slowly converted into a place where bikes could be chopped, changed, fixed and re-born.

HBK operated out of that backyard for a couple of years. It was a scenic venue looking over the Derwent River and hundreds of bikes were worked on, but the distance from the CBD, the limited bus service and the fact that a lot of people who want a bike don’t have access to a car meant that the effectiveness of HBK was really limited by its location. The number of ‘chefs’ (volunteer bike mechanics) during those first couple of years varied from about 6 down to 3 or so, and as with many community projects it was left to a few core members to try to keep the momentum up.

It was clear that a location change was needed and the search began. An old petrol station in town, abandoned city car parks, another backyard closer to the CBD.

After much searching, an agreement was made with The Wilderness Society Hobart to use their backyard, a great location only a 10 minute walk from the CBD!

It took a year to get from location confirmation to installation. HBK suspended operation as the few main drivers of the project waded through the necessary paperwork and got a grant for a trailer and a shed.

Finally, on 14 April 2013, HBK was ready to launch at its new location.

Since the move, HBK has been cranking — attendance is skyrocketing to the point that it’s absolutely necessary to have three if not four ‘chefs’ on deck every week.

The project continues to grow, and it’s good to stop and take stock of how far HBK has come in such a short time. The successes of this initiative are beautifully highlighted in the following observation written by one of HBK’s long serving ‘chefs’, Mark Parssey:

The key outcome (of HBK) has been the creation of an active community based bike recycling organisation with a growing engagement with the wider community.

Hobart Bike Kitchen’s mission is to have more people riding bikes by recycling old bikes and parts into usable bicycles and by providing advice, assistance and tools for everyone to have a bike.

To meet that goal it has been important to create the environment to allow that to happen. Part of that is physical, obtaining the bikes, parts and tools and the location to host the operation. All of that has been achieved.

More important has been creating an environment that has engaged people in what HBK offers. This has meant that as the two other founders have left Tasmania, there have been other people who have taken their place and grown HBK. It means having recognition in the community where people are happy to make donations to HBK. It means that HBK has developed a relationship with other community groups ( The Wilderness Society, Migrant Resource Centre, Red Cross, Housing Choices Tasmania, Hobart Bike Polo) that see the value of what we do.

The initial goal of more people riding bikes is being met, and that brings with it the benefits of healthy transport, better use of resources with material not going to tips, reduced demand on transport infrastructure etc…

But increasingly it’s as Lance Armstrong wrote ‘It’s not about the bike’. The outcomes for HBK are more and more about community and social inclusion. A bike becomes a means of transport to a new job, a way of meeting new people or a chance for fun, family activity. Also HBK becomes a venue to meet others, improve English skills and to give back to the community.

Mark’s comment rings true, and as he says, the social benefits of the project are becoming more and more apparent. This is a space that HBK is planning to explore more, and one project in the works is a community meal that will bring together several of the groups mentioned above to further facilitate and inspire connections and working together.

HBK has also recently had several Hazara refugees attending sessions and helping out with the project. On the topic of the upcoming community meal, and the involvement of refugees in HBK’s operation, one of HBK’s newer chefs (and he’s a real chef too!), Paul Cullen, writes:

This just keeps getting better. Food + friends + work = life.

I haven’t been a refugee, but I have lived in lots of countries and I have worked with refugees in Ireland, where the regime was a little more enlightened than Australia’s. There, we cooked food sympathetic to the person’s culture (I know how to do this, and I’m willing), we welcomed them to a small community and we gave them real work to do that could be accomplished without knowing how to say ‘I would have been ready to get on the bus if my friend hadn’t delayed us by going back to retrieve his previous flatmate’ (try saying that in any foreign language you think you speak).

These guys need our help. Fixing bikes is real work and it’s fun and it’s easy to teach the skills.

This is a good thing (the dinner) — we ought to do it.

To me the story of HBK is an inspiring one. It encapsulates so much of what is Post Growth. It’s recycling, it’s low impact technology, it’s not for profit, it’s gift based, it’s inclusive, it crosses cultural, religious and societal boundaries, it’s fun and it’s alive!

It’s been fascinating to see the journey of HBK to where it is today, the different locations, and the different people, and the different bikes.

I have a feeling that as Hobart continues to change over time, HBK will continue to be one of those defining projects that will continue to support a more healthy, active and lower impact city into the future.

Originally published in September 2013 on the Post Growth Institute (PGI) blog. Find out more about the PGI here and Post Growth in Action here.



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