Just before Auckland went into lockdown, we rode out to Ōtara Bike Burb to interview the wāhine who makes it possible: Diane.
Since lockdown started, they’ve made lots of contactless deliveries of free bikes to anyone in Ōtara who needed one, as well as contactless kai deliveries to seniors in the local community. They’ve run online bike maintenance workshops with resident expert Luke, helped to spread the word about locations of interest and upcoming vaccination hui over zoom. Then, on Super Saturday, Ōtara’s vaccination clinic did so well that they ran out of jabs.
This blog showcases how they started, and why their momentum only gets bigger.
It’s been nearly a year since Ōtara Bike Burb launched itself like a cupid’s arrow into the heart of Ōtara – and since then it’s taken South Auckland by storm.
Ōtara Bike Burb started with a wheelie competition for local kids in 2019. Today, it’s one of the fastest-growing Bike Burbs in Tamaki Makaurau, and has established a permanent home for itself in the Ōtara Kai Village.
Ōtara Bike Burb’s converted shipping container hub has become an essential part of the Village. It sells merch and donated bikes, has a bicycle repair shop, teaches people to ride, and gives local cycling tours.
“Everyone says that Ōtara is the capital of biking, that’s the saying around here.”
Diane tells us that biking has been huge in Ōtara for a long time, especially with young people. However, street biking can be dangerous, especially with sparse cycling infrastructure, and she wanted to funnel Ōtara’s passion and skill for biking into something fun, safe, and constructive.
“We have a lot of kids on the streets who have no boundaries, no care in the world, just always riding on the streets – real dangerous. So we came together, and wanted to take their tricks and make them something that would keep them off the road and something that they could win, a competition.”
The second wheelie competition in November 2020 was a phenomenal success, and that success led to the creation of the Ōtara Bike Hub. Auckland Transport and CLM donated a converted shipping container, giving the Bike Burb a central hub for reaching more people in the community.
The next step for the Bike Burb is to roll out the first ever Ōtara BMX crew. The programme would train seven kids in Ōtara to become BMX riders and participate in championships.
“Oh my god, I haven’t ridden a bike for thirty years – I need to get used to it, can you help?”
As well as organising training and competitions for kids who already love biking, Ōtara Bike Burb helps children and adults to learn to ride a bike. Diane laughs, telling us how amazed people are, watching her tiny four-year-old son race around on his bicycle. It makes them want to race around, too!
Seeing the bike hub and their social media posts is certainly inspiring people – Diane says she’s been approached by adults in their forties and fifties who have never ridden a bike before, or who haven’t been on a bike for decades. “We’re here to help anyone who wants to learn,” she says.
The Bike Burb also holds a wide range of regular events where people can get involved, including Wahine tours, Tama tours, Whanau tours, Luke’s maintenance days, and koha bike fix it days.
They’re reaching new corners of the community, and people who have never been interested in cycling before. The Bike Burb is in the perfect location for it: Ōtara Kai Village, a wonderful initiative which offers free hot meals, ice cream and cake Thursdays, kai parcels every Wednesday, as well as a space for basketball, socialising and kōrero. Come for some kai, and leave with some new cycling skills!
“We never have a set price – just five bucks, ten bucks, because bikes are pretty expensive. So we’ve helped a lot of families – it’s mean.”
The Bike Burb also sells donated bicycles for koha. Diane tells us that just five or ten dollars will get you a children’s bike, and they sometimes sell mountain bikes for as little as twenty dollars.
“You know, our team’s here to just help the community, get active, jump on some bikes, try something new – and for cheap as prices! It’s pretty much free to do something you’ve never done before.”
If you have a bike in need of repair, you can bring it into the Bike Burb and get it fixed – also for koha. When we visited, the Bike Burb was stacked with dozens of bicycles. About half of these were donated bikes that would be fixed up by Luke and Papa T’s team and sold, and the other half were customers’ bikes being repaired in the shop.
“On the journey out, that’s where the magic happens – getting ideas from kids, from parents.”
For Diane, it’s all about bringing the community together, and giving people better opportunities.
When she was growing up, she saw the positive impact that biking had on her brothers. “My four brothers and all of their friends used to be at our house, in the front and back yard, just looking like a bike wrecker. They just taught themselves to build up bikes from parts. They couldn’t afford their own bikes, so they had to build their own bike. That was interesting for me, seeing my dad and my brothers happy together.”
She thinks biking can have a positive impact on more young people – and she’s making it happen.
“In Ōtara, all the kids are into bike life, wheelies. But kids look up to the older kids, who are on the dirt bikes and in the gangs, who are, you know, ‘cool’. But once they see us, they say, ‘Oh, what are you guys up to?’ They realise they don’t have to be in a gang to wear cool clothes, you don’t have to not wear a helmet to be cool. We’re trying to teach them health and safety. As long as you’ve got a helmet on, you’ve got shoes on, you’re good to go!”
For some kids, Ōtara Bike Burb has provided an alternate path, away from gangs. So far, eight at-risk young people have been trained by Rene as bike mechanics in Mount Roskill. They now have new skills and work at the Bike Burb.
“It’s just calling out to the community and asking if they want to join, get together, and actually thrive.”
When asked about community activation, Diane is passionate. “Ōtara hasn’t been thriving for about thirty years,” she says. “It’s been dead, run down. It’s been too long. It’s time for the community to speak up, and we’ve definitely been talking, trying to create action, revitalise our town centre.
“There are a lot of youth groups now, for the support of our youngest, because Ōtara is not really a place to grow up in and get out of here. A lot of people grow up here, think ‘this is home’, and just stay here. So we’re trying to get our talented community to just get out there and use their talent. We want them to know that they’ve got help.
“We’ve got a new Ōtara Youth Fund we’ll be launching in two weeks’ time. There’s so much interest, so much feedback from the community, so we want to make it happen. We’ve got the people, the voices, so we’ve got what we need.”
And progress is happening: new cycling paths are being paved in Ōtara, and in March Diane’s team submitted a petition to build a bike park, which was signed by over 500 locals. Momentum in the community is building.
“A lot of people on bikes!”
We ask Diane what she would like to see for Ōtara in the future, and her vision is clear – a lot more people on bikes! “It’s good for getting active, fresh air, it’s good mentally.”
That’s one part of the solution for her community. “I want more people coming together, more voices speaking, and to see Ōtara thriving, and giving Ōtara a name that isn’t a shitty name, that isn’t a gang name. We’re more than that. Getting our people to speak out, that’s what I’d love to see.”
Once COVID restrictions ease, Ōtara Bike Burb will be open on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays