The Squeaky Wheel Says ‘Sayonara!’
After more than six years of squeaking and spreading the grease for Melbourne’s bike-riding community, we at the The Squeaky Wheel are pedalling off into the sunset. Our core team has dedicated tremendous energy to this ground-breaking organisation. We feel a profound sense of achievement and we’ve had a blast!
The Squeaky Wheel has always been characterised by change and re-birth. Company founder Pip Carroll became involved in bicycle programming in 2007, prompted by a deep belief in pedal power. “We’ve got huge problems of climate change and inactivity-induced obesity, so I see riding bikes for everyday transport as an almost heroic act,” she says. “And it’s something most of us can do – with a little support.”
Pip produced the Melbourne leg of the Bicycle Film Festival until 2010, when it evolved into the Bikefest community festival and then expanded to include the bicycle valet service Roll Up. In 2011 Pip’s small team of Bikefest staff and volunteers began producing events and programs as The Squeaky Wheel. “I always felt that existing advocacy organisations were missing a piece of the puzzle when it came to promoting cycling as transport,” says Pip. “One one hand, they spoke of pursuing a normalised bicycle culture, whilst simultaneously celebrating cycling as a feat of athleticism and endurance. It didn’t add up to me.”
Pip’s goal was to re-frame bike riding as fun, easy and accessible to everyone– no lycra required, which made her a bit of an outsider in the industry.
Since its inception, The Squeaky Wheel has produced hundreds of rides and events, growing quickly and adapting to the needs of partners and communities. One of our flagship events, ‘Pushy Women’, began as a show at the Malthouse theatre featuring writer and comedian Catherine Deveny as well as actor Noni Hazelhurst, feminist writer Clementine Ford, and five other women delivering witty and impassioned dialogues about bike riding.
Since then we have staged 10 Pushy Women speaking events, featuring high profile names including Claire Bowditch, Kate Langbroek, Myf Whahurst and Helen Garner. From there other Pushy Women programs were developed including skills training, group rides and social excursions. The response was overwhelming, we’ve helped so many women take to our roads and bike paths with confidence.
Another source of great pride at the Squeaky Wheel is our series of cultural rides and tours. Participants would meet in the city and ride with a qualified host, stopping at locations relating to the day’s theme. These included the MoreArt series that toured the Upfield bike path discussing public art, and the Melbourne Design Ride, which featured presentations and discussions on different aspects of Melbourne design. “Our cultural tours were great examples of a new idea that was really well executed,” says Pip. “The notion that you could have a great discussion on feminism or sustainable architecture or contemporary art with a stranger whilst riding up Swanston St is pretty exciting to me. I saw this happen and it felt like magic."
This ‘magic’ has sustained the business though some challenging times. In 2012 the company was delivering training programs and events all year round and Pip was juggling first-time motherhood. As the demands on her time and resources grew greater, Pip realised she had to make significant changes. High-intensity events like Bikefest would have to go and the business would have transition to a not-for-profit company structure.
In 2013 a board was formed, with Pip as Executive Director. The business continued to grow (from an annual turnover of a few thousand dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars in just a few years) but the organisation remained a tiny one. Even at its busiest periods it employed only a couple of full time staff, often working from a single desk. “There were definitely times when keeping all the wheels in motion was challenging,” says Pip. “Fortunately, we were a very hard working little team. And I was ridiculously determined.”
All of that hard work paid off in memorable moments. Pip fondly recalls riding around the city with a group of asylum seekers who had just graduated from our Good Wheel Project training program. “You could feel their excitement as they navigated their new city on their new bikes, while we did our best to explain how not to get hit by a tram,” she remembers.
The Good Wheel Project was created in 2014 in partnership with not-for-profit social enterprise Good Cycles. Participants received a bike, helmet, lock and comprehensive road-skills training, and Pip says the effect on refugees and others experiencing disadvantage was profound. “I often received thank-you notes from people we’d taught to ride or helped get back on a bike, relating the transformative effect it’s had on their lives,” she says. “The little moments like that kept us going.”
Partnerships have always been key to our impact. In 2014 we partnered with behaviour change experts Studio Huss to develop and deliver City of Melbourne's road safety campaign Share Our Streets. The program was designed to help the public navigate shared spaces and combat ‘car dooring’ and pedestrian distraction, and was so successful we were asked to continue the program into 2016.
Every one of our projects was only made possible by our extensive network of casual staff and volunteers. Pip estimates that close to a thousand people have volunteered their time over the years, and says she always tried to make sure people felt like the project ‘belonged’ to them. Belonging was also important to the organisation’s core team, without whom Pip says The Squeaky Wheel would have never have succeeded. “We were a family, we all trusted each other to do our part,” she says, naming Jette Achleitner (The Squeaky Wheel’s General Manager), Bernadette Reithmayer, Nell Sudano and Faith Hunter as the backbone that held up whatever leadership she offered. “It was as much their creation as mine.”
Over the years we at The Squeaky Wheel have seen cycling culture in Melbourne change and become more integrated into the mainstream, with less ‘bike-vs-car’ sentiment. We believe we can take some credit for this transformation, having influenced local councils and other major institutions through our accessible and innovative bike programming.
We’re all incredibly proud of what we’ve achieved. We’ve won a host of awards and we hope we’ve set a benchmark for others to emulate. “We aspired to be a vehicle for change,” explains Pip. “We wanted to be like the bicycle itself; a simple structure that can make a profound difference to the way we move through time and space. I think as a society we are hungry for true things and I think that’s what we were. “
We’d like to send out a huge ‘thank you’ to those who have kept our wheels turning: our unflappable core team, the board, our wonderful and hardworking volunteers, our project partners and clients, and the thousands of happy riders who have joined us on this wild ride.
We are very pleased to say that some of our favourite programs will live on under the stewardship of very good friends. And for us, well we’ll just be sitting here watching the wheels go round and round…
Awards and Recognition:
Winner: 2016 Best Women’s Development Initiative (Pushy Women), Cycling Victoria Int. Women’s Day Awards
Highly Commended: Good Wheel program for City of Melbourne - 2015 VicHealth Awards
Finalist: The Women's Ride for Cycling Victoria - Victorian Government Community Sport and Recreation Awards 2015
Winner: 2014 Cycling Luminary Award, Bike Culture and Behaviour Change Cycling Promotion Fund & Velo-city Global
Winner: 2014 Champion of Change Award, Cycling Victoria Int. Women's Day Awards