BRUNSWICK’S ART AND BICYCLE CYCLE

A Melbourne Arts Club report 

Words by Kate Forsyth

Photos by J Forsyth

The bicycle has become the art. It’s an easy observation to make in an arty place like Brunswick, where cute lady birds and handsome gents are getting about on two wheeled chariots in record numbers.
Moreland City Council tells us that Brunswick has one of the highest cycling participation rates in all of metro Melbourne. And the best looking people*. Census data from 2011 has Brunswick smack bang in the sweet spot for cycling, with around 15 percent of Brunswick’s population cycling to work. Bike culture is thriving in Brunswick and indeed, in the inner north. The stats tell us that and so do our eyeballs.

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No doubt, cycling is a far superior option to traffic jams and slow moving trams, but the modern bicycling love affair is more than just a choice borne out of practicality. Bodies on bicycles, streetscapes adorned with fetching fixies, pretty yarn bombed bike racks, graffiti and stencil art featuring beautiful pushies and their jockeys, and the graceful movement of the cyclist are all part of the art and joy of cycling and bike culture.

Riding a bike is a great form of transportation and contrary to what you may see in the tabloid media, it’s not just for Middle Aged Men in Lycra (or MAMILs). So says I, government-issued statistics and passionate cycling people.

Owner of Brunswick’s Commuter Cycles, Huw Vellacott (pictured below) believes the explosion in cycling’s popularity with the good folk of Brunswick is linked to the area’s demographics.  “Brunswick is made up of progressive people who are mindful of sustainability. It’s a vibrant area with a broad mix of people, many who work in the city, which is a perfect 10 to 12 kilometre commute. Thanks largely to the Council and the Moreland Bicycle Users Group, we’ve got reasonable cycling infrastructure and a population taking advantage of this great option available to them.

“Interestingly, many don’t consider themselves ‘cyclists’. It’s more that cycling has become part of the fabric of this community and its people.”

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Melbourne Arts Club often frequents Brunswick’s art galleries, spaces and exhibition openings. We’ve visited and documented exhibitions at The Brunswick Hive, Brunswick Arts Space, Tinning Street Presents, Moreland City Council’s MoreArt Festival and the Council’s Counihan Gallery. Counihan Gallery has a delightfully painted bike rack out front, readily awaiting the opportunity to stylishly house the transportation of the Brunswegian art lover; form and function! It’s clear that Brunswick is a friend of the arts and cycling, and the feeling is mutual.

During a recent trip to Tinnings Street Presents for the opening night of something fabulous, Melbourne Arts Club observed bikes spilling off every rack, pole and bollard in sight. It’s true that it’s 12,643 times easier to park one’s bike than a pesky automobile, however permanently fixed metal objects with which you can attach a bike have become a hot commodity for the local art-slash-biking enthusiast.

The graffitied lane way leading to Tinnings’ entrance, the pretty people and bunches of bikes made the scenery art in itself; the art attracts enthusiasts on bikes and the bikes are now part of the art. Their design and beauty make them an important part of the aesthetic of Brunswick.

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So, is our choice of bike and cycling accoutrements now as important as our outfit choice, profession, hair do, political allegiance, whether you’re into Beyonce or Rihanna, or if you barrack for the Bombers or some other team?

Clearly, YES! I believe it was former Age writer, all round hilarious creature and Brunswick resident, Catherine Deveney, who said a few years ago that in Melbourne, it’s more prestigious to be a Barista than a Barrister. Nowadays, I reckon being a bicycle mechanic is at the top of the Street Cred Professions List. And if bike culture keeps producing beautiful bicycles complete with lovely riders, before long, even bike couriers will be the toast of the town. If you’ve ever been to Vancouver, you’ll know this is not a prediction, but a forgone conclusion. Get your tiny caps ready people, they are about to come into fashion.

You see, I wouldn’t be able to write this story for a street press from down south – perhaps in a bayside suburb for example. Our south-of-the-river, beachside residing counterparts would attract a totally different culture of cyclists, who while they are to be commended for their total commitment, could not be described with similarly flowery adjectives.

Imagine for a moment a bayside cyclist, ‘weekend warrior’ or MAMIL if you will, rolling up to an art opening on their pushy. Wearing nugget-hugging bike shorts complete with ass padding reminiscent of Poise Pad-wearing geriatrics; brightly coloured lycra tops adorned with logos of big banks or benevolent bike rides; aerodynamic helmets; clear safety glasses; fingerless gloves; clips; a determined and dangerous look in their eyes; a sheen of gritty sweat, and of course, a bike that weighs only 240 micrograms, has $40 inner tubes, and is made of carbon fibre unicorn horns and UFO-grade titanium. In total, one person’s cycling get-up likely retails for more than all the art on display.

If I owned a bayside art gallery, I would seriously consider enacting a dress code complete with door bitches to weed out the MAMILS and their lycra clad butts. Their clips would damage the polished floorboards, the clacking may well destroy the ambience, and instead of drinking the standard issue exhibition wine, they’d insist on lattes while leaving their bikes lying around for others to trip over.

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Similarly unflattering scenarios could be adapted for those who choose to ride folding bikes, angry mountain bikers who yell abuse at cyclists they deem to be travelling too slow on urban bike paths, uni-cyclists, tourists on tandems or wacky eccentrics on Penny Farthings.

But I digress into folly. For cycling is truly a joy and it really doesn’t matter what or where you ride or what you wear while doing so, it’s the joy of the activity that has record numbers of people using pedal power. If you haven’t yet joined the game, saddle up and ride your steel horse, for it’s the most fun, most freeing activity there is.

If you’re thinking: “WELL I CAN’T ride a bike because I am too scared/ dainty/fat/macho/skinny/ uncoordinated /uncool/cool/tall/short/poor/rich/bed ridden because my leg is broken”, then take some sage advice from an expert. Here’s Huw from Commuter Cycles again:

“First and foremost, you need to choose a bike that’s right for you. It needs to fit correctly, be safe, reliable and roadworthy. The right bike will give you confidence. If traffic worries you, start practising on weekends on one of the many bike paths where you won’t have to tangle with cars at all. And do your research to find the right route – it makes all the difference between a horror ride and total enjoyment. Once you’ve found the right bike, your confidence and a route, get out there and just enjoy it!”

Ride on and good day!

*Moreland City Council does not collect statistics on good looks.

 

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Photo above – Ryan from Samson Cycles, 284 Barkley Street Brunswick

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