Resurrecting the old for a new culture

Three young men with fixed wheel bicycles

Subsistence: these old bikes are being recycled as trendy single-speeds. Photo: Eddie Barkla

Subsistence is a social enterprise, run by three Long Gully residents, Cam Farrall, Finn den Otter and Ali Turnbull. They build quality single speed bikes from old men’s racers. Most of the old bikes are from steel recycle bins around the place as well as from the council recovery yards. They also receive bike donations from other enterprises run by CVGT and St. Lukes.

The oldest and most simple bikes were fixed gear single speed – i.e. if the bike is in motion, then the pedals are moving. In the past this was more necessity than choice. Now there are a number of reasons people are choosing these types of bike over more complex geared bikes.

Partly it’s in line with a general trend in society to return to old ways of doing things. The movement back to these old ways, being driven by the need for simple technologies that consume less energy and help reduce pollution. With single speed bikes there’s a whole lot of metal you don’t need to mine, process, manufacture into parts and then transport. Also, there’s barely anything that can go wrong, so low maintenance requirements.

As with most things old school, the compromise is- extra effort required from the user. But herein lies the magic of going single speed: The extra effort required, creates a closer communion between you and your bike on the road. There is almost a mystical connection between a fixed gear cyclist and bike. To a lesser, but still tangible degree, this is created by a single speed bike with a freewheel – where you can coast as you are rolling.

Partly it’s just a fad and a fashion at the moment as well. Big city messengers and couriers have been looking gutsy and slick for years, weaving through traffic on their single speeders. You only have to walk along Smith or Brunswick street in Melbourne to see how fast the fad is growing. Single speed bikes are easy to mount, manoeuvre, dismount, throw against a pole and tie up. They are a great option for getting across town.

The other interesting thing that Cam , Finn and Ali often hear people alluding to is the reduced quality of the steels, alloys and coatings on many of the new bikes being mass produced today. Old parts are being sought after not just because they are Retro, but also because they are perceived to be better quality.

Recycling is another thing that they are achieving by investing in these bikes by trying to minimise the amount of new parts they buy to make up their bikes. A big bonus with their bikes, the purchaser gets a before shot and a list of which parts are refurbished and which are new. The average bike is more than 80% by mass recycled. Another focus is that they try and source new parts from within Australia where possible but this is particularly hard with the mass overseas market.

Subsistence operates out of St. Matthew’s Church in Long Gully and the enterprise is being supported by Seeds Bendigo. The Anglican Diocese is allowing Seeds to use the Church for community engagement and the aim of the bike venture is to create meaningful paid work for one or two people in the Long Gully area. There are lots of young guys in Long Gully who are good with their hands, but would not otherwise be paid for the work they do and this a means to create an avenue for a shift in the culture of the place.

Most kids here ride 18 or 20 inch BMX bikes from their local department store, until they are old enough to get their licence and drive. Once the car is on the scene, the BMX’s rust away in the back yard (or front yard actually). Subsistence is aiming to introduce a practical alternative form of transport as well as respect and good treatment for our two wheeled counterparts.

The bikes sell for between $400 and $900 and for a start hours of business are open just Fridays between 8am and 4pm on the corner of Creeth Street and Eaglehawk Road. Donations of men’s race/track bikes and bike parts such as wheels and hubs would be gratefully received.

Contact can be made via (03) 5410 0663 or

See you on the road soon God willing.


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