The Mechanical Tempest is a bike workshop located at the Radical Community Social Centre, which is a beautiful old house on Abel Smith Street. The workshop is in one small room of the house, and can fit at least 3 volunteers, 8 bikes, 16 or so people working on them, about 1000 bike parts, all the tools you need and one photographer. It is a busy little space where you can come to fix your bike, get some help and advice and have a chat. Adding to the chaos is a noisy punk band that rehearses upstairs. Russell is one of the volunteers at the workshop, and is also a bicycle courier in the city. He has a pretty good attitude for someone who rides a bike around in the windiest city in the world. This is what he had to say about bikes, nachos and Sard Wonder.
How many bikes have you owned?
Too many to remember. But hot damn there have been some gems!
Why are two wheels better than four?
Two wheels engage your senses, you smell the literal flowers, you feel the ground resonating through your bike. The silence of a bike allows your surroundings to sing and the absence of any roof or screens lets the air embrace you, be it full of warmth or laden with rain.
They offer independence and invite satisfaction. They keep you honest.
Also, by their nature two wheels are unstable, they require motion to make sense. I think this is a good analogy with life. If we stop we risk becoming obsolete, through forward motion we find purpose and success. For me, bicycles represent wellness.
What’s the best way of getting chain grease off your hands?
DIY – cooking oil + sugar + warm water.
Bought: Solvol or Sard Wonder Soap.
If you had to start a new workshop with just three tools, what would you take?
A large adjustable spanner
A multi set of Allen keys (that’s probably cheating though?)
A small Phillips head screwdriver
What has been your best bike stack?
I remember a pretty good one down at the Chaffers market on a Sunday morning. I can’t remember why there were so many of us but it was pretty good.
Otherwise, the nachos at midnight. Stacked as.
What’s the best thing about volunteering at the Mechanical Tempest?
People from all walks of life come through the doors. I’ve learnt so much about the world and myself via the people that I’ve met at the Tempest, they never cease to amaze me. And we’re all bought together by bicycles.
(And all the weirdo bikes are good too)
What music do you like to listen to in the workshop?
I usually try to play something inoffensive and inviting but that can risk being cheesy. On Monday someone was jamming some roady punk upstairs and that seemed to fit really well, maybe because the workshop was completely packed and busy as all hell. I’m terrible with music though so I try to let someone else choose.
What’s Wellington like for cyclists?
I like it. Once you’re confident on a bike you can explore and escape so easily. Everywhere becomes accessible.
A lot of people worry about the hills but they’re alright; the top of a hill is a great place to be. We have an incredible network of tracks running through them and stunning views at the top. And once you’re at the top you probably get to ride down and that just simply kicks arse. I lived in Amsterdam for a while and I really missed the hills. It’s almost like you shed your worries and anxieties the higher you climb until your at the top and all your worries are laid out below you and they look really small and you can make sense of them easier. And then you get a high speed blow-out-the-cobwebs refresher on the way down.
The wind is also a common complaint but it isn’t going away. Just relish the tail winds.
And of course infrastructure. We’re seeing really positive changes and I am super excited about the next 10 years. When I think back to riding bikes in Amsterdam – the everydayness of bikes – riding everywhere is the most natural thing. That’s what I want to see in Wellington.
Have you ever tried to ride a unicycle?
Yeah, I tried. If anyone has one I could borrow I’d love to give it a proper go!