I don’t remember when I first rode a bike exactly. I have this memory of my big sister dinking me down Paine Street in Ayr, dust flicking up around us until I slid straight off the back and grazed my face. We laughed afterwards at how I kept moving forward along the ground because of the inertia. I also remember hooning around on bikes we found under Nana and Grandad’s house in Kilkivan, speeding down the dirt track to our cousins’, and then out for exploring cattle dips and sheds or just playing spoons and making plays. I remember spending full days in the cubby house dad built for us in Ayr around our mango tree, mum bringing us cheese and Vegemite crackers and Nana Pat screeching for us to evacuate when she spied a snake nearby. Once, when I was climbing the barbed wire fence to our neighbours’ yard, I slipped and cut my leg open on a piece of wire and Blake Kelly’s dad had to unhook me, leaving a hefty scar, which I love. I was so proud going to school and telling my mates how many stitches I needed in my leg and how the blood was the colour of watermelon. I cherish these memories of my childhood, and while it may seem like a cliché to look back with rose-tinted specs, I trust that the happiness I got from that sense of freedom, adventure, and from meeting up with mates to create things, was very real.
In adult life, there seems to be less time for simple play, creation and adventure. Instead, there’s stress, work and commitments. When it all feels like too much, we drink or eat excessively (and badly), or just become stagnant vegetables on the couch. While I love cities, and this may seem like an extreme generalisation, I often feel like I don’t have the time to go for a walk, to take in my neighbourhood, to just simply create or play with mates. I stress about the things I need to be doing, until I’m so sick or anxious that can do nothing. It wasn’t until I was working as an intern architect in Shanghai that I encountered the perfect antidote to brain stagnancy, tedium, stress and hopelessness without having to ‘take time out’ of my serious day - a flight on a bike as a means of commute.
I started by loaning bikes until, eventually, some mates built me one of my own. The bike afforded street connection, exploration, running into mates, always being (relatively) on time, and feeling autonomous in an overwhelming environment. Everyone rode in Shanghai. When I rode around on my bike, I found happiness in the freedom, adventure and excitement of meeting up with mates – just as I did as a kid.
Back in Brisbane during my Masters degree, I was one of only a handful of kids who rode in my class. I knew that riding had its limitations. You could only wear a handful of things to feel comfortable on a bike, you had to find somewhere to lock up your bike, and you had to carry everything you needed for the day on your back. Cars weren’t very well versed in navigating bikes, so that during the ride you’d always feel on edge; the city was designed for cars, with busy highways, no paths, spaced out hubs of activity with parking lots. I still rode all over, but I began to wonder what might encourage others to pick up a bike when so little support was provided by the city. Or maybe, if enough people adopted riding into their daily lives, then our urban context might change to support us.
When I rode around on my bike, I found happiness in the freedom, adventure and excitement of meeting up with mates – just as I did as a kid.
It’s not a far leap from architecture, to work on something functional and beautiful, under budget, and using current technologies in creative ways. I have always been obsessed with ‘cool’ culture, how there can be a positive kind of pressure and savvy marketing to influence the big important things like sustainability, conscious consumption, community connection, and so on. I wondered how I might market cycling to my mates, or how I might change the perception of the commuter.
When I first moved to Melbourne and began riding around the city, I identified a few types of riders. There were the ones in lycra who looked serious, fast, and naked. The ones in regular clothes, often wearing jeans or tied up dresses. And the ones in ‘tech’ black clothes – the hard-wearing garments that allow breathability and movement, provide warmth and moisture-wicking qualities, and often much more. I used to wear a mish-mash of things and often changed bottoms or tops when I arrived at work in the city, at an architecture firm.
I started hearing of a number of companies bringing out hybrid styles – jeans with reflective patches and spandex in their composition for increased movement, and work shirts with moisture-wicking and antimicrobial characteristics. But I felt these garments didn’t have the capacity to lure someone into cycle commuting because they were adapted basics, not by any means innovative. I had the view to influence the fabric of the city by really making people consider changing up their main transport mode, and the catalyst would have to be good, because cycle commuting can be a hard sell to an urban dweller who has grown accustomed to their safe car or tram ride to work. Rather than retrofitting basic garments to be more appropriate, I would have to create unique things that people would aspire to own. This became to Barwyn and back’s ultimate goal.
My awareness of crucial changes taking place worldwide was increased during my architecture degree. I became conscious of rising sea levels and city densification. I learned that demographics have been changing dramatically with a generally longer life expectancy, a decrease in marriage numbers, and an increase in both physiological and psychological/psychiatric illnesses. I look to the humble bike as a prescription for connection and health.
Graeme Miller aptly said in 2010 (and I have quoted this more times in my life than I can remember):
We live at a time when people increasingly express the feeling that the world outside our windows is a dangerous and fragmented place. Once upon a time, people walked through the city and it gave them a chance to name places and make contact with each other […] humans need to mark their lives against a real space and other people. When they cease to walk, the real spaces become less plausible then the centralized reality of the media.
While a commute on a bike and a walk provide very different experiences, I believe the bike allows the same kinds of meaningful connections and points of references noted by Miller. In addition, riding also provides convenience and, most excitingly, the feeling of flight.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to succeed in creating highly durable, highly technical garments. I ran out of resources. Instead, I have produced a small collection of ‘more’ durable and ‘more’ technical streetwear garments than I could see on the market. They are also more ethical and more innovative than most of the existing cycle-commuter options, and I’m proud of that.
For over two years I’ve hassled with textile suppliers and manufacturers, while researching, testing and playing with various design styles. In that time, I’ve also learned how to run a business and create a brand, juggling part-time work in a café and as a babysitter all along. What you see is my very best effort. And while I am exhausted, I hope I can continue to be challenged in producing my ideas to further this vision of mine: of having all our butts on bikes.