The Evolving aims of the BikeShed

A key element of the Bikeshed project is that we help people do their own work. That was not how the project began, but was the result of a long evolution.

The beginning was with a course for "youth at risk", sponsored by Brunswick and Coburg councils. Council provided the venue, and paid the instructor (John Harland).

When the bikes were moved to the kindergarten in Northcote, a team of volunteers from Brunswick, Northcote and Coburg BUGs built up bikes and sold them cheaply to economically-disadvantaged people.

The project continued in this way on the CERES site. The more-accessible location led to BUG members coming to the CERES shed to work on their own bikes, and volunteers would also repair people's bikes for them, if requested. The amounts charged were only symbolic. The idea remained that the service was mainly for "poor" people.

When the Bikeshed was ready, all the bikes were brought in from the two other sheds on the CERES site. A lot of the bikes stayed for a long time right where they were put. Repairs were done on people's bikes and a trickle of bikes were made ready for sale.

However, with the Bikeshed completed, the volunteer construction team largely dispersed. Only 2 or 3 of the team were enthusiastic about the week-by-week task of readying bikes for sale or repairing people's bikes. At this time, too, the Bikeshed was open several days per week, so a lot of the time was very quiet.

The major significant activity that developed during this period was the building of bicycle trailers, carrier racks and then bicycle frames.
In 2001 John H returned from working 5 months with the successful Smerig bicycle collective in Amsterdam, Holland. Although much of the way they worked was not transferrable to Australian conditions, they at Smerig had done a lot of work on sustaining volunteers and virtually eliminating volunteer burnout. A key notion was of evening-up the contributions of their volunteers. They pointed out the need to limit the input of particularly-keen volunteers so that others with less available time do not feel their contribution to be insignificant.

This led indirectly to another significant step forward: that of refusing to take orders for bikes. Until then, we had allowed people to choose a bike they wanted recycled, then do it for them. The problem with doing this in a volunteer team is that someone has to take final responsibility for the bike. That often ended up being someone other than the person who took the order. This meant that one or two volunteers were forced to work far more time than they had volunteered to do. Their extra time then made the work of other volunteers seem peripheral so there ended up being fewer volunteers. Refusing orders for bikes allowed a real levelling of the efforts of the members of the volunteer team.

Another improvement around this time was to define more rigorously just when the Bikeshed is to be open. That allowed scheduling of volunteers. We could then strive to ensure that there were adequate numbers of volunteers when ever the Bikeshed is open.

Through helping people take control of their own transport the Bikeshed project is contributing to a population of cyclists who will keep on riding. By making ordinary bikes available for everyday travel, we are helping build a sustainable local transport system, By getting more people travelling by bike, we are making it safer for all cyclists. By linking into the local culture and history of cycling in the local area, we become better informed of the real needs of local cyclists and these needs do not align closely with the top-down, eastern-suburbs models pushed by Bicycle Victoria and VicRoads, amongst others.