For someone who openly admits they’ve “never done business before”, Mel Waters is having an excellent first crack with the Port Adelaide bike shop that was launched last August.
Labelling Honeybee Cycles a mere “bike shop” is a mighty disservice — decked out with a burnt-orange thrifted couch, pot plants and a teak record player, the space feels more hip cafe than Lycra central and regularly plays host to pop up cinemas, gigs and art exhibitions. “Businesses can’t just be one thing. I’ve never done business before but I do know I can’t be just a bike shop. I’ve got to do other things as well to survive, incorporating music, literature, culture and events,” says the 30-year-old, who recently added feminist bicycle zines to the store’s bookshelves. Waters got into cycling about four years ago when a car broke down and realised it was easy to survive without fixing it. Overnight, Waters became a car-free commuter cyclist and even worked in a traditional bike shop for a while, but felt like an outsider in stores so obviously targeted at the 100-kilometre-a-day Lycra set. “It’s a very masculine vibe,” Waters says. “It makes it more difficult for just anyone to get on for the first time. Even what you wear on a bike is pushed on you at the other shops. I’m trying to bring it back to the everyday rider. You don’t need to wear a kind of uniform or ‘look’ to ride a bike, you just need to like it.” Honeybee Cycles launched almost out of the blue, after Waters casually mentioned to a friend a half-baked plan for a small-scale bicycle hire service in Port Adelaide. “I went off for a month, riding my bike across Thailand, and I got back to an email saying: ‘Mel, Renew Adelaide want to meet you.’ They were like: ‘We love your idea, do you want to see the space?’ And I was like: ‘What? Are you kidding me?’” Taken under Renew Adelaide’s wing, Waters immediately deferred her environmental policy and management degree and moved into a rent-free space on Port Adelaide’s St Vincent Street, alongside several other artistic and creative start-ups helped under the urban renewal program, which is slowly breathing life back into the rundown area. Though foot traffic is still slow, Waters is chuffed to land in Port Adelaide during its “time of change and creation”. “There’s a lot of opportunity here to do stuff here that wouldn’t be possible in the city,” Waters says. Waters calls the area a “little secret” but it is one she’s increasingly willing to share — because that initial bike hire dream did come to fruition. Once a month Honeybee Cycles transforms into a pop-up cinema and Waters leads a loop ride around Port Adelaide’s historic buildings and beachfront, before heading back to the store for a movie and a few drinks. “It’s really beautiful here in the evenings when the sun sets over the water and sometimes we get dolphins, which makes it even more special,” Waters says. Waters has set the challenge of replacing one car ride per week with a bike ride so the 30-year-old focuses on selling accessories and bikes likely to inspire people to ride, like practical shopping baskets or bright and fun frames with colourful pedals or funky handlebar tape. Waters will often take on repairs that are turned away by other bike shops or quoted at high prices. Waters is skillful with all manner of repairs thanks to years spent tinkering in the Adelaide Bike Kitchen, which provides an open workshop where volunteers and locals share knowledge on how to fix their bikes. “It’s creating community around bikes,” Waters says, which perfectly describes much of what happens at Honeybee Cycles, too. Community is increasingly important as Adelaide’s cycling culture ramps up, leading to an inevitable clash with motorists unimpressed that they have to share the road. “There’s not a day that goes by when I don’t think, ‘you jerk’,” Waters says of cycling in the city. “But it’s about empowering the rider to know that they, too, have a right to use the road. The bicycle solves a lot of social, economic and health issues and that’s what I want to focus on.” With plans to eventually return to study, for now Waters is thinking big and hoping to take Honeybee Cycles to Alice Springs to hold free bike repair workshops for Indigenous communities. Waters is in talks with council to do something similar locally and is also working on a clothing label with a friend. “I’m a people person so I meet friends and I just get excited,” Waters says of the medley of plans. “I’ll take any avenue I can to let my creativity out. So yeah, I’m having a bit of fun with it all right now.” renewadelaide.com.au/portfolio/honeybee-cycles