Getting Your Hands Dirty With Tumeke

Getting Your Hands Dirty With Tumeke

Bike Auckland

Just off Karangahape Road, at the bottom of a nondescript commercial street neatly bisected by a cavernous Southern Motorway, is a little hub of community goodness. It’s called Tumeke Cycle Space. It’s where you go when your bike is sick and you want to mend it yourself with the help – for a koha or even for free – of people who know their way around bikes.

It might sound too good to be true, but that’s what Tumeke does every Sunday afternoon and on Wednesday and Thursday evenings.

Tumeke describes itself as a non-profit, community-run, do-it-with-others bicycle workshop. When I dropped in one evening recently, a steady trickle of customers was turning up with unhappy velos. There was a chap with an ageing Avanti road bike with dodgy gears, a woman with wheels that had apparently been installed with a mallet, someone else with a mountain bike needing new cables. They each got some help from an experienced volunteer, armed themselves from Tumeke’s surprisingly comprehensive workshop toolset, and started ministering to their ailing steed.

Volunteer Finlay Stevens-Hunt worked with the Avanti rider while his partner, Sanna Moeller, lent a hand with a lady dealing to the drivetrain of her Repco Calypso. The result: happiness. “She told me she always thought bikes were complicated,” beamed Sanna. “Then she discovered that they’re not!”

Finlay reckoned the evening’s challenges were about normal for Tumeke. “Flats, brakes, rear derailleurs slipping. They’re the most common tasks,” he says. “The most complicated job here was rebuilding a coaster hub. All the manuals said not to do it, but we managed.”

Tumeke was inspired by community bike workshops overseas and in New Zealand.  Alex Raichev, one of Tumeke’s founders, points to Wellington’s brilliantly named Mechanical Tempest and Dunedin’s The Crooked Spoke as examples. Others, such as Whangarei’s Whare Bike, have followed. “They’re part of the do-it-yourself movement, although I prefer to call it the do-it-with-others movement,” he says. “The idea is to provide a space where people can come, share skills and tools, and learn how to fix their own bike.”

What do-it-with-others looks like: Tumeke volunteer Sanna Moeller helps a customer sort out his rear derailleur.
What do-it-with-others looks like: Tumeke volunteer Sanna Moeller helps a customer sort out his rear derailleur.

That’s pretty much what Tumeke has offered since it started up in May 2010. It has run continuously since then, driven by a revolving core of five to 10 volunteers and funded by grants and koha offered by grateful customers.  And there’s no shortage of those customers. Alex says they range from seven years old to over 70, although there’s no real profile of a typical customer. “Most of them have heard that we offer some element of learning, and they turn up expecting to get their hands dirty. A lot of them tell us at the end that the repair was easier than they expected. And it is true – the bicycle is a simple machine and it is usually simple to repair.”

Three of Tumeke’s wise men. From left, volunteers Nico Woodward, Emilio Escayol and Finlay Stevens-Hunt.
Three of Tumeke’s wise men. From left, volunteers Nico Woodward, Emilio Escayol and Finlay Stevens-Hunt.

The Tumeke collective is small but active; its latest initiative is a low-cost tutorial series — the next is an introduction to bike maintenance  on Sunday 22 May and yes, you can still book. (They’re also running a bring-and-buy bike market on Saturday 21 May).

Want to get involved? Alex says Tumeke is always looking for volunteers. “You don’t have to be a professional bike mechanic. In fact, none of us right now are,” he explains. “We learn from each other and we learn by doing.”  If you’re keen, drop into Tumeke and chat with one of the crew.

Tumeke Cycle Space is at 27 Edinburgh Street, Newton. It is open from 1 to 3pm on Sundays, and from 5:30 to 7:30pm on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

— Ross Inglis 

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