Well, we took a week off but we’re back. And we’ve got a such a nice guy for you to meet. As always, Cycle Aware Wellington wants you to get to know each other. To that end, please meet a new friend.
Cool Bike Person #5: Tom Elliot
He’s smart, he’s funny and he’s way into bikes. Tom Elliot grew up riding a borrowed bike—imagine 70’s chopper—around the farm where his parent stationed their housebus. He remembers a few long rides to Palmerston North with his mom along a trail strewn with rocks and roots. He can still feel the bumps and sway of the kid’s seat behind his dad on shorter trips. Then he cycled through a Healing Cruiser, a plain-spoken Raleigh 20 rip-off, a used BMX that rocked the farm trails and finally landed himself on an adult size Avanti hybrid. He was 10 and the bike was about two times his size.
Fast-forward a few years and Tom is now an energy analyst working in the Ministry of Economic Development’s energy group. Everyday, he’s cranking out high-level thinking about New Zealand’s use of oil, coal and other resources. It’s not surprising that he prefers to self-power and he readily admits that the obvious environmental benefits are the foundation of his love for the bicycle. But that’s not the whole of Tom’s story. The love continues to grow.
While working his way around Europe a number of years back, Tom needed a bike. His job on a yacht kept him outside of town but a long line of derelict bikes left behind by sailors called to him. He found an old, folding Rog among the bunch, cleaned it up and made it operable. When the yacht didn’t sail, Tom cycled the Rog to its homeland—Slovenia (formerly Yugoslavia). By chance, he found the former Rog factory, now home to an anarchist squat. Tom’s Rog got a little upgrade with free, found parts and he turned toward the UK.
Tom hunkered down in London, taking advantage of the vast, new network of bike lanes and boxes. He participated in London’s Critical Mass, pedaling alongside more than 800 riders (a small ride by London standards—more than 2000 is about normal) through a cold, wet evening. London cops who used to do everything in their power to curb the event, including taking cyclists to court, now provide support for the monthly ride. Tom loved the experience and took note. He also found a recycled bike shop and put himself to work helping honing his new hobby: the refurbishment of abandoned bikes. The shop was council-funded and offered not just a market for used bikes but also skills-training for people with developmental disabilities. As one of only 10 mechanics in a huge warehouse of bikes, Tom got the hang of bike building and repair on a grand scale.
When it came time for Tom to head home, he emptied his suitcase and packed up his Rog. No way he was leaving that baby behind. He had a warm flight home, wearing everything he owned so his bike could journey with him.
Since returning to New Zealand, Tom has immersed himself in bike building and bike socializing. When he moved to Wellington early in 2011, he brought his bike love with him. Unable to immediately locate a bike community, he started one. He and a friend talked about Critical Mass and heard that a couple other folks were talking too. Only four people rode at first, the same four doing the talking. By June, with a little promotion, 16 riders showed up for Wellington’s Critical Mass. Since then, the numbers have bounced, reaching about 50 on the Halloween ride. Tom says the rides have been consistently enjoyable, following the same, easy route and, more recently, rolling along to music thanks to speaker-endowed bikes.
Tom thinks the resistance to things like Critical Mass is sad. “Above all, I cycle for fun. I like to cycle with as many people as I can, in a microclimate of bikes, because that makes it more fun.” Tom has never felt or seen any rage in the Mass rides, however he’s aware that there remains a hangover of opinion on the subject. “It’s an awesome ride and a great way to meet others who ride. The past has passed.” These days, after a Mass ride, riders might meet up for dinner or even a few films about bikes. Tom loved the moment on a recent ride, when some 10-year old kids joined up with the ride, pumped their fists and shouted “bikes are the future.”
I asked Tom for a rundown on the elements of a Wellington bike utopia. He’d like to see a car-free CBD, improved access between Wellington and Hutt City, a bike lending library or even monthly lease program, bikes permitted on all public transit, and more bike parking. He believes that infrastructure tells people how to behave, so he’d like to see Wellington go on a road diet: “if we give one lane to bikes and leave one for cars, people are going to change their conduct. People will ride if they have proper and safe lanes.” He also wants to see more bike fun around town. “Bike polo is awesome,” he says. “Anything bike related usually is.”
Last year, a car intentionally hit Tom while he rode late at night with friends. His bike was broken but he wasn’t. He was, however, disappointed by the police response: “they said they couldn’t help me if I didn’t have the number plate. I wanted to know if they say the same thing when someone is assaulted on the sidewalk.” If Tom finds the men driving the car, (and he looked high and low), he’ll invite them to Mechanical Tempest to build a bike. “And if they ended up being nice,” he said, “Maybe I’d ride with them. They’d have to be nice though.”
If you’d like to meet Tom in person, then head down to the Civic Square this Friday at 5:30 pm. He’ll be at Critical Mass and he’d love to introduce you to some friends and bring you along for the ride. And tell some friends too. They should also meet Tom and go along for the ride.