Recycling

A Melbourne man is using the humble push bike to create a greener, fairer world. Kathleen O'Connell reports.

Published October 31, 2007 by The AGE 

A Melbourne man is using the humble push bike to create a greener, fairer world. Kathleen O'Connell reports.

BILL BRETHERTON is living the maxim. No matter how many times you fall off, you have to get back on the bike. Even after four months of your life have disappeared.

Not that the 27-year-old remembers much of how his world came crashing down in the middle of 2000 after he landed on his head while mountain biking on Mount Buller. What he does remember is that it prompted a radical meaning-of-life analysis that has seen this big-thinking Brunswick man start a bicycle recycling business to fund his charity work.

"It was a crazy time and because I couldn't pick up the same life straight away, I had a lot of time to think about where I wanted to go. It took about 18 months before I could ride again but I was determined not to let it beat me," Bretherton says.

This mental journey he pedalled during rehabilitation has seen him arrive, seven years later, at Human Powered Cycles, a volunteer driven co-operative that pushes pedal power as the solution for a more sustainable world.

Each weekend countless people visit the workshop at the bottom of his garden, wheeling in their injured bikes. "Bill the Bike Man's" reputation is far reaching.

"Most bicycle repair shops have half-an-hour for a service and whatever doesn't happen in that time doesn't get done, and they charge ridiculous prices. That won't promote cycling. So, we started this to give the best service, how ever long it takes, at competitive prices.

"We've also got Saturday morning workshops to teach people how to do their own repairs or service, and hopefully they'll pass on what they know, and that chain of knowledge will continue."

Bretherton realised early on that if you want to change the world, you have to start in your own backyard – or front yard, as in his case.

Armed with a dozen mates and endless cups of tea, the group set to work fixing second-hand bikes that they had scrounged from tips and hard-rubbish collections. The chain gang then rented out the bikes at different sustainability events around Melbourne but most were never returned.

"We soon realised that the system was never going to be sustainable. People were taking a bike even if they didn't want or need them, so they weren't valued. We realised we had to change the way we worked."

The group found a workshop in Bretherton's backyard, trained other volunteer mechanics and invented a pricing system that stayed true to their original cause of promoting cycling across all tiers in society.

Browse the racks of second-hand bikes; the black tyres and vivid frames stacked like velocipede liquorice allsorts and there are three different price tags. One ticket is for those who can afford to pay, the next is for students and concession card holders, while asylum seekers get a free ride.

The Human Powered Cycles has given away more than 70 bikes to newly arrived refugees since receiving its first referral from an asylum seeker agency three years ago.

This self-taught bicycle mechanic sees it as a simple equation; just like he was given a second chance from surgeons, it is his turn to give a new taste of independence to others.

And the number of riding refugees is expected to soar, with Bretherton joining with the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre to run a bike education course starting in October.

"It means we're always needing more second-hand bikes to do up or use for parts; we're constantly scrounging," he says. "People want to do the right thing with their old bike but they don't know how. Here we recycle everything we possibly can."

(They even use extra virgin olive oil instead of petrochemical chain lubricants.)

The next leg of Bretherton's journey, when he isn't teaching bicycle mechanics at Parkville's youth training centre, will be furthering his line of pedal power products. The furniture-moving bike trailers, strong enough to move a fridge or mattress, are only the beginning.

In the meantime he will continue working towards a world where travelling by car isn't the norm, where bicycle-powered washing machines are common place and where people take time to help others get back on the bike.

www.humanpowered.com.au