Every bike has a story according to Phil Wilkinson, who has set up a “crazy bike venture” with some friends in his home town to give pre-loved bikes a second chance at life.
My name is Phil Wilkinson and this is my push-bike story.
I say push-bike because that what we called a bike round our way in the north of England as kids.
Other kids called them “me wheels”, “me treadlie”, “me bike”, but never “my bicycle.”
I’m 47 years old and I live in Macedon, Victoria with my Welsh partner and two beautiful girls who are 13 and 15.
I have a degree in mechanical engineering from Sheffield University and work as an executive manager in a not for profit organisation. We are a bit like a guild for the air con and refrigeration industry. We are like the industry glue, so my professional role is all about making connections between people and ideas.
Basically, we are a community of people that used to love playing with Lego as kids.
The early years and my push-bike
Going back to when I was a young lad of about six or seven, we never had enough money for new stuff, so I always had second hand clothes, toys and bikes.
My uncle Tom, who was about nine year older than me, used to live with us. He was always tinkering with stuff like his motorbike and video recorders and I’d just hang round watching him.
Anyway – he was the one who taught me how to change tyres, fix gears and other simple stuff on a bike.
Ever since then I’ve always had bent spoons and tyre leavers lying about. I’ve always enjoyed riding my bike – I could go anywhere I wanted, when I wanted. I rode everywhere – to friends’ houses, weekend sports, school and my girlfriend’s house. Over the years I’ve always looked after my own pushbike.
I moved to Macedon not realising it was the bushfire capital of the world.
My first day on the train I found out that Macedon burned down in 1983 in the Ash Wednesday fires. That was an “Oh sh%t” moment. I thought I should get to know a bit more about fire and what I needed to do living in this sort of area.
The local fire captain came around to check out our place to see how it would go in a bush fire. He gave me a heads up on what we needed to do around the home to make is safer.
He also invited me to come along to the local CFA (Victorian volunteer fire service) on Sunday morning training and think about becoming a volunteer fire fighter.
The idea ticked a couple boxes for me: Get to know a few people, and get to know about the risks of fire.
Macedon CFA’s annual fundraiser is the “flea market” – it’s the main community event for the year in Macedon.
It has a simple format – we collect people’s crap out of the back of local’s garages, sell it to someone else in the community. Then wait a year or two then collect it again to resell it.
Some people buy stuff and don’t even bother coming to get it – they just enjoy the day and see the CFA as a great cause to give to. A local auctioneer offers up his services and so does the local electrician to test all the electrical stuff.
Since I first got involved in the flea market there were always bikes dropped and we would sell them for a couple of dollars.
Over three or four years I’d look at them and think we could get much more if we tidied them up a bit – and so it started.
I’d take the bikes home – give them a clean, get them going again and charge a few more dollars for them.
The local kids thought it was great because they got to ride them and see which ones they liked.
Our bike venture ended up with the name “Wilkinson’s Wheels”.
As word got out each year more people donated bikes – but all at the last minute.
In 2016 I thought I’d be smart and get the word out early so I could get the bikes in early with plenty of time to fix them.
Problem was it was too successful and I ended up with about 80 bikes to fix up. I mentioned it to a couple of mates and before I knew it I had them in my shed fixing up the bikes with me. I learned heaps because these lads were hard core bikers.
We ended up with about 140 bikes all together.
I reckon we sold 70 or 80, so stacks of the local kids are riding the bikes round town. We had left over bikes for the following year but unfortunately we also had to chuck some of the older bikes in the scrap metal bin – it would’ve been great if these bits could be reused by some other charity.
Anyway, it’s really rewarding fixing them up and getting them back into the community. It’s great to see bikes come back from time to time and it’s great to see a bike that is dirty and scratched – it means it’s been used!
The future of “Wilkinson’s Wheels”
What does the future of “Wilkinson’s Wheels” hold ? Well – I’ve already been to see the guy at the landfill in Sunbury about a “favourable” price to buy the stuff he gets just before Christmas (that’s when the really good stuff gets cleared out of sheds – ready for Christmas).
I’ve spoken to a not for profit cycling organisation called Bicycle Network to see if they have any sort of volunteer workshop. I’m wondering if we can work with the Gisborne “men’s shed” to help fix them bikes up because it’s getting a bit too big for my poor shed.
We made about $1600 this year – the previous high was about $900 so we are moving in the right direction.
Why this is important to me
For me the bike venture gives me a sense of community and connection which is so important for my mental health.
We have no family close to us in Australia. I’ve had depression over the years and the support I’ve had from local people and the CFA members and their partners has been brilliant.
The sense of connection is so crucial for me – if we’re not careful, we take it for granted. We get too busy to recognise our community needs our contribution.
It’s healthy for my kids to be part of a community that cares for its own. I want to live in a place where I feel my kids can ride safely around on their bikes and I know they will be looked out for by friends and the community – like when I was a young fella.
Keep your eyes out for our movie trailer coming out soon.
Phil Wilkinson is the co-founder of Wilkinson’s Wheels. He’s also the executive manager – government relations and technical services of the Australian Institute of Refrigeration Air Conditioning and Heating.