Growing click … a new found fondness for riding is opening doors for bicycle lovers.If you live anywhere near an urban area, it’s impossible to miss the burgeoning popularity of bicycles.
It seems everywhere you look there’s either a peloton of MAMILs (middle-aged men in Lycra) on their expensive carbon-fibre machines, or a bunch of hipsters on their fixies. And there’ll be a new bike boutique on every corner, ready to serve them a macchiato.
Bikes are suddenly big business, a $1 billion-a-year industry. According to Bureau of Statistics figures, for the 10th year in succession Australians have bought more bicycles than cars. Since 2000, more than 11 million bikes have been sold nationwide, a number is expected to explode with the introduction of new rules allowing the sale of electric models powered up to 250 watts.
According to industry data, in the first quarter of this year we imported 171,783 bicycles, which suggests there’s not a lot of employment in Australia when it comes to building our own bikes — although a few specialised frame makers remain locally.
But you don’t have to know how to weld to land a job with bikes: the Australian bicycle industry employs up to 10,000 people and generates $139 million in income tax revenue. If you have a passion for cycling and want to turn it into a career, there are plenty of opportunities out there.
“Many start their career in the industry volunteering for work experience at the local bike shop,” the general manager of Bicycle Industries Australia, Peter Bourke, says. “This can lead to specialising in either sales or servicing, and eventually to managing the workshop or even an entire store.
“As for training, Bourke says most of it is on the job, although he believes a retail course in customer management will help if your main focus is on the sales floor. Some store managers and shop owners also have business degrees.
Becoming a bicycle mechanic is another option, with big-city “wrenchmen” earning about $50,000 a year. Most of the training is done on the job, although some formal certificate study is available through TAFE courses.
The Bicycle Industries Association in Victoria has recently been disappointed by a state government decision to cut funding for bicycle mechanics training by 40 per cent.
“The result of this is that there won’t be any accredited training available at all,” Bourke says.
“Our industry employs 1000 mechanics in Victoria and we are already struggling to recruit qualified staff.”
There are also many employment options available outside the world of the bike shop.
Mechanics, for instance, can work for a local cycle team, move up to a national squad and, finally, graduate as highly paid wrenchmen with a professional team.
Bourke says another option is bicycle-related tourism.”This is an area that is expanding rapidly,” he says. “We’re seeing operators leading people on tours around wineries or even across to the Tour de France.
“As the need for integrated, sustainable transport grows, cycling departments are filling an important role in city councils, too. “More and more of these positions are becoming available at both a city and state level,” says the manager of cycling strategy at the City of Sydney council, Fiona Campbell. “I came to my role with a background in IT but I had been a bicycle advocate for a decade,” she says.
Bourke is the first to admit a career in the bicycle industry is unlikely to make you a millionaire, but says the lifestyle is good and you interact with passionate riders.
Atelier de Velo is one of the new breed of urban cycle shops — a one-stop destination for bicycle addicts. It’s a hip space in the inner city where you can get your bike serviced, buy a new jersey or a treadly, and sit in the cafe drinking Mecca Espresso, eating sour-cherry raisin toast and reading a cycle magazine.
Owners Chris Herron and Mike Shaw have been messing about with bikes since they could walk.
Both worked in management at the renowned Clarence Street Cycles until they were retrenched last year when the company downsized.
“It was always my dream to open a store of my own, so I said to Chris, ‘Let’s do it’,” Shaw says.
Atelier de Velo now employs six staff, including three mechanics, two baristas, and Shaw’s wife, Narissa, who is in charge of the cafe.
Shaw has pedalled a typical career path in the industry.His advice to people wanting to get into the trade?
“Train on the job and find your niche interest, whether it be sales, management or mechanics,” he says. “And find a bike store that fits your personality.”
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