Back2Bikes is a Melbourne-based social enterprise that gives back to the community, one bike at a time.

Riding through the streets of Mordialloc, thinking about his next career move, Phil Warren stopped at a café for a mid-morning break. Here, he met a fellow rider – they exchanged pleasantries, compliments and stories. Phil was also told about an organisation called Back2Bikes. That chance encounter would lead to the start of his next career move and another bike adventure.

Beginning with a desire to recycle bikes, the organisation has grown and diversified its operations with time. Back2Bikes was founded in 2012 by Mike King and now represents much more than just a bike recycler: it has transformed and primarily focuses on the community. As a social enterprise, it provides bicycle training, repair and recycling services. The workshop that houses volunteers and the impressive ten-stand workspace is adorned with art from the Port Phillip Specialist School, creating a sense
of fun and highlighting the enormity of the place.

The sheer size of the workshop is matched by its output, with twenty to thirty bikes assembled each week. There is clearly demand for Back2Bikes’ services, such as those that Phil provides. Phil tells me of that fortunate day in Mordialloc and why he keeps coming back: “I enjoy doing service and repair work, because there’s always the little things to learn.” Phil ponders
and adds: “I learn something every day.”

Volunteer Helen Bean at work.

Phil, like most of the other volunteers, is semi-retired and finds the low-pressure environment welcoming. Back2Bikes fills the days of the retired volunteers; which consist of pleasant rides to and from the workshop, as well as a communal lunch during the day. The lunchroom fills up with banter once 1pm comes around and all the volunteers dine together. We were fortunate to witness the sacrosanct lunch hour and chatted with one of the workshop managers, Mark Bradley, as the dedicated team enjoyed wraps. Mark is “mental for bikes” and talks about the cohesion of the group: “Volunteers … have a shared goal and that is to keep bikes moving.” And if they can’t be kept moving, then no part goes to waste – the workshop has a partnership with a local scrap metal processor. It’s this desire to propel bikes into the hands and minds of the general public that is most epitomised when we talk about the activities that Back2Bikes helps facilitate. There are local workshops at the South Melbourne Market on the fourth Saturday of every month, a female-only workshop every Wednesday and collaborations with the local specialist schools of the area.

Helen Bean, another avid cyclist and volunteer, is especially proud of the latter of these initiatives. Helen has been coming to Back2Bikes for over two years now and has struck up a heartening relationship with another volunteer, David – who hails from the local specialist school and loves tinkering with the endless supply of bikes.

Helen assists David on Tuesdays, and David relishes the learning environment. With a broad smile, Helen remarks that “[David] normally goes to another program afterwards and he sometimes says:
‘No, I don’t want to go there today.’” Helen provides the majority of support to him, but everyone in the workshop has their own specialty that can be drawn upon at any time. Helen yells over the chatter: “Take Ian, he’s the triple chain champion! If I can’t do it, he will. We’ve all got our own tricks.”

Dedication to knowledge sharing and collaborative effort forms the nucleus of a successful community-run bike shed. Back2Bikes seems to have cracked the code.

Words Harrison Sinclair
Pictures Tamsin O’Neill and Courtesy of Back2Bikes