ACT News


Pedal power to the people

What if yet another very distinctive thing about this unique city was the way in which its cycling citizens used a distinctively Canberran, Canberra-made ''people's bicycle''?

Such a thing does happen elsewhere in the world and youthful and very NewActonesque Canberra businessman Myles Chandler has seen it.

''I've lived in Italy for a short while, and I know that over there the towns have their own bicycle companies, and everyone from the little kids onwards, they're all riding that town's bicycle. And there's a great sense of ownership in it and a pride in it. I love the idea that we could do that here [in Canberra].''

Now the greyhound-lean Chandler (he is a living advertisement for the benefits of cycling) and three like-minded business partners (all of them Canberrans and business creatures of avant-garde NewActon) are trying to make that lovely notion come true with their Canberra-imagined and now Canberra-built Goodspeed bicycles.

It all began back in 2007, when he and fellow cycle enthusiast brother-in-law David Alcorn (Alcorn is the co-owner with him of Mocan and Green Grout Espresso in NewActon) ''started rebuilding old bicycles as a sort of side business, a hobby''. Then they fell in with NewActon movers and shakers Nectar and Johnathan Efkarpidis and the four of them, all possessed by strong beliefs in the green and the sustainable, decided to build the little cafe so as to go into business together.

''But we knew there was going to be a connection with bicycles down the track and behind this cafe has always been this notion of a business to do with bicycles … that's always been the underlying passion. The long-term goal was to build a bicycle brand, which is what we've done. We've designed our own bicycle. We've done all the design work and all the drawing work, here in Canberra, at the same time we're doing this little cafe.


''This is where we're from. This is our little town. Everything [about the Goodspeed bicycle] is done here in Canberra. The metal that we use comes from a small business in Melbourne, but we do all the rolling, all the notching, all the painting, the assembly, the delivery. All the skills are here, and the only hurdle we had to overcome was going up against a more mainstream production-style model which can be done in Taiwan at one-umpteenth of the price of what we can do it here.

''But I felt very strongly that that was the design challenge and a business challenge for us to take on. It's worthwhile and there's real value in utilising local skills, encouraging people here to sort of take an ownership in something that is of their own town, so it truly supports the local economy.''

His background is in industrial design and he has designed the curvy-framed Goodspeed, while acknowledging some ''cues'' from other designs.

''I wanted us to build a bike that was very elegant, to build a bike that was very practical, very solid, very tough, that would accommodate a broad range of riders, something different to your standard triangle frames. It has no cables and that helps create the clean lines, but it's also very important from a maintenance perspective as well, because I want to build a bicycle that people won't feel intimidated by and that [by being mechanically simple] people won't be afraid to mix and match. I want to encourage people to buy this bicycle and then feel when they go to a market and find a lovely old set of handlebars that this bike is so simple they feel they can take those handlebars and swap them over. That's another part of the sustainable activity: the recycling of old parts.''

Although he sees there's a very strong competitive cycling community in Canberra of people who custom-assemble their very special bicycles at sometimes breathtaking costs, he wants his Goodspeeds to be ''people's bikes … encouraging people to see cycling as just a mode of transport''.

The hand-built bicycles (only 15 have been made so far but there are orders for 16 more and Chandler can imagine there being 50 of them out and about in Canberra this year) are elegant, uncluttered-looking objects. When you see them leaning against walls in public-art-festooned NewActon, you have to double-check that they are real bicycles and not witty little bike-shaped works of art.

What's the score on sport of vigoro?

Tuesday's column discussed the long-lost sport of Rockley, a ''ladylike'' form of cricket introduced to Queanbeyan and its girls and damsels in 1899. Now some places in the new township of Googong are to be named after Queanbeyan exponents of the lost sport. Watch this space for more about Queanbeyan and Rockley, including some excitingly sepia-tinted photographs.

Meanwhile, although our Tuesday request for reminiscences from any women who ever played Rockley has yet to bear fruit (the game may have petered out far too long ago), several readers have been reminded by Tuesday's description of Rockley of a game called vigoro.

''Having been born and bred in Townsville,'' reader Reay Sampson reports, ''we 'ladies' played the game of vigoro, which is a bit of a combination of cricket and baseball. It is played on a shorter cricket pitch, with stumps at each end. The bat has a paddle shape for hitting the ball. Bowling is from one end only and you have to run if you touch the ball with the bat.''

She says it is still played today in Queensland, New South Wales and Tasmania, and that we know that once upon a time it was played in Canberra because on November 28, 1938, The Canberra Times reported on some vigoro matches.

Yes, on that day the Times published results of the previous weekend's clashes of vigoro titans in ''the second round of matches of the Canberra Girls' Vigoro Association''. The ''girls'' of Government Printing Office had lost to the ''girls'' of St Christopher's Reds and the ''girls'' of St Christopher's Blues had trampled over their sisters of the YWCA.

What became of vigoro in Canberra? Where did it go? Did modern Canberra women, always the most progressive in the nation, spurn girly sports and turn to real cricket?


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