The Cyclist

When I bought a fancy new bike recently, I was keen to recycle my old bike. I discovered WeCycle – a non-profit run by volunteers that restores old bikes and gives them to refugees and asylum seekers. They also sell bikes at minimal cost to people who could not otherwise afford them. 

One of the project’s founders, Gayle Potts, kindly shared the story of WeCycle, her love of cycling and some of the unexpected things that have come from the project. 

Bike riding has always been a part of my life. I grew up in a small farming community on the South Island of New Zealand. We had a long driveway and biking, mostly as a means of transport, was something we did as kids from a very young age. I was the second youngest of six, so I usually got hand-me-down bikes.

In my 40s, I was introduced to the wonderful world of cycling. I was gifted a Cannondale Road Bike and joined a group of women going out on early morning rides. I discovered the joy of being in the cycling community and riding being more than just transport.

From road cycling I grew a big network of friends who cycle. In my later 40s, I got into mountain biking and discovered a whole other world of excitement and the joy of feeling like you’re 15 years old on the bike again. From that came gravel biking [riding on dirt tracks]. I much prefer being off main roads and out in nature.

Nature is my happy place. It lifts my spirit and gives me a great sense of wellbeing. I’ve cycle toured in New Zealand and Queensland and spent two months cycling up the coast of Western Australia. I’ve just completed the 900-kilometre Mawson Trail in South Australia with three other women. I have very adventurous friends. As soon as we finish doing one trip, we’re planning the next one. 

I am interested in the environment and try to do the right things at home, but I was feeling there was more I could do. I wasn’t active in the community. I completed the Community Leaders in Sustainability Program run by the City of Darebin in 2015 as I wanted to make a difference. I met Craig Jackson on the course.

Craig and I gelled. We both grew up with bikes and felt every child should have the opportunity to own and ride a bike. Craig’s father was involved with a bicycle rehoming program in Geelong with his local church, so Craig had a grasp of how this project could work and how we could rehome bikes with refugees and asylum seekers.

The two of us teamed up and created WeCycle. We put a call out in the local newsletter saying we wanted bicycles for rehoming. Straightaway people started flooding us with offers. At one stage, Craig had about 20 bikes in his single car garage, and I had bikes in my backyard. Getting bikes was not a problem. 

After six months, the project was bigger than the two of us could manage. The council found us a building ideally located at Batman Park in Northcote. We put a sign up on the St Georges Road bike path inviting people to come and fix bikes. From there we got a regular stream of volunteers.

It’s surprising how many people in the community have bike fixing skills and other people who have no bike skills but want to learn. We team up someone who is experienced with somebody less experienced, and they work together so you have sharing of skills. Some people drop into the bike shed looking for a part, or just wanting a flat tyre repaired. We show them how to fix it, so it’s empowering people.

We don’t choose who gets a bike. Case workers email us with the name of a client, and we try to match up a suitable bicycle along with a helmet, lock and lights. At the moment, we’re trying to catch up with a backlog of about 70 referrals.

We want to know the bikes are making a difference to peoples’ lives. One of the highlights is delivering a bike to each member of a family and being invited in to share a cup of tea and hear the story of their journey to Australia.  The people we give bikes to tell us they’re using them to go to the shops, to their English classes or to visit the library. Children can ride a bike to school. A bike provides affordable transport. 

I love that from this project has come great friendships. I value greatly the people I’ve met through the project. At the bike shed, we share lunch and have a coffee machine but it’s very full-on, so we sit down after sessions and spend time together. 

We are networking with other bike organisations and now WeCycle is part of this greater community that’s fixing and recycling bikes. I feel this sense of pride in the team and what we have created. WeCycle is not me anymore, it’s bigger than me and has become its own entity. It has grown to become something enduring. 

Interested in volunteering, donating a bike or learning how to fix your bike? Community-based bike organisations in Melbourne include: WeCycleBack2BikesBikes For Humanity, and Footscray Bike Shed.

© Matilda Bowra 2021