Wheel art: Bespoke bikes
Custom-made bicycles are part of a flourishing new market on Victoria’s cycling scene.
Steve Gardner is standing next to a futuristic-looking bicycle, fixed on a plinth and illuminated by dramatic downlighting. The bike’s paint scheme is elaborate: angular lines of electric blue, black, yellow and red vibrate across its chunky frame, reminiscent of intricate, high-end graffiti.
This is not the kind of pushie you’d use to pedal to the corner shops for a litre of milk. It’s an object of art. And Steve painted it.
“People just want individuality,” says the man behind Melbourne custom bike painting business, Bikes By Steve. “They want something that nobody else has.”
A year ago Steve, 41, used to spraypaint cars for a living but now, thanks in part to a “midlife crisis” and burgeoning demand, he attends exclusively to two wheels. In this case the design was inspired to match the owner’s (let’s be honest) garish-looking racing kit. The complex design, says Steve, took him about “a million” hours to complete and cost his client more than $2500.
But business is thriving for Steve, who estimates he’s painted hundreds of bikes in these first 12 months. Indeed, the event we are both attending today – the Handmade Bicycle Show Australia at the Meat Market in North Melbourne – is proof that interest in bespoke bicycles is more than alive and well. By close of the three-day event, 48 builders representing 22 workshops from around Australia will have talked bikes with more than 1500 bicycle-obsessed punters.
It’s difficult to be certain exactly how many bikes are handmade or custom built in Australia each year, says Peter Bourke, the general manager of Bicycle Industries of Australia. He estimates two-thirds of the 1.2 million bikes imported into the country each year are sold through big stores such as Kmart, with the rest, about 400,000, sold through bicycle shops.
“The biggest bespoke bike manufacturers in Australia are Baum in Geelong and Bastion in Kensington – they make about 100 bikes a year each,” he says. Also in the mix are businesses that build bikes to order for customers from parts gleaned on the internet; others buy off-the-rack rides and then customise certain parts, most commonly wheels, gears and saddles.