Five years ago, Mel Waters didn’t own a bike, much less expect to own a bike shop.
But now the plan is to change the world one bike at a time, taking cycling back to basics and focusing on the fun, with Honeybee Cycles.
“My ethos around opening up Honeybee was to be different to your usual bike shop experience.”
“My idea was just to have a mixed-use non-masculine space, so feminine men and women, can come in and just be treated normal.
“You don’t have to really know much; it’s just about riding and not about the sportsmanship or anything like that.
“I’m more wanting to have affordable services and affordable bikes, to equate to more people riding and enjoying riding.”
Mel uses the term “bike commuter”. “No, no, rider, rider,” is the answer when asked about being a professional cyclist.
“I got into riding about four or five years ago, so I’m quite fresh,” Mel says.
“Someone gave me my first bike and then from then it grew into having a lot of bikes, which is ridiculous, and then touring.”
Mel started touring two or three years ago, and has been through Tasmania and Thailand on a bike
“My first trip was in Tasmania, riding Launceston to Hobart, and that was just an amazing experience of moving each day to a new spot and going through these country little towns, or hitting up the hills or the coast, and it was just like ‘wow’ and so much more receptive to people who live in the area,” Mel says.
“That then changed my whole perception of how I travel now; you can go on a holiday with your bike and you see much more of the country on a bike than you would any other way.
“You really immerse yourself and you meet people and you get to experience a place a lot better.”
When Honeybee opened in Port Adelaide, Mel had no business experience. A year down the track, “I still don’t have business experience.”
“All I’ve got is a bookkeeper and I kind of freak out every week when she walks through the door, like ‘what have I done wrong?!’
You might ask how someone who cycles for fun and has no business experience ends up starting a bike shop.
“I’ve deferred my studies. I did not quit. Well I haven’t,” Mel says, chuckling, when asked how they got into Honeybee.
“I was doing environmental policy and management and I kind of saw opening up Honeybee as a frontline shift and change opportunity.”
Mel attributes the realisation of Honeybee to their personality and the support of Renew Adelaide, which provides short-term rent-free spaces so people like Mel can try out their ideas.
“When I get something in my line that I want to do, I’ll do it,” Mel says.
“And I’m still enjoying it, so I’ll keep on doing it.
“I’ve been given an incredible opportunity, that’s why I’ve taken it on board.”
Mel had worked in a bike shop previously, but Honeybee was largely inspired by their experience as a customer.
“Look, I’ve been at the counter of a couple of bike shops in Adelaide and I’ve had people not really take me seriously or look past me.
“You know, you sit around with your friends and you hear people come out with stories.
“It’s trying to get people’s perception of riding to be changed and have a more fun experience.
“When you go into a bike shop and you’ve got all this enthusiasm and excitement, and then you’re met with ‘oh, do you even know bikes blah blah blah’, that turns someone’s experience away from going to ride a bike to a negative, so if someone were to have a positive experience in a bike shop, they’ll be going back about about their ride or about ‘oh I’ve got this now, this and that’.”
The less obvious inspiration for Honeybee comes from Mel’s experience working in a gardening centre.
“I had worked in a garden shop in Semaphore for many years and I found that that space was more like people’s daily routine; it wasn’t about selling, well it was, you know, you’re a business, but it was seeing how a retail space or a business can be incorporated into a community,” Mel explains.
“That’s what I want for Honeybee, is to just be like a drop-in, call-in hub sort of thing, talk about gossip on the street or your ride that you’ve got planned or whatever.”
To facilitate this, Honeybee hosts pop-up cinemas, rides, and music events.
Now Mel has set their sights on showing the world that anyone on any budget can cycle, as they go on a four-week cycling tour through Thailand with a $20 bike fixed up on a budget.
“You can spend say $20 on components or you can spend $700 on components, so I’ve chosen the $20 components,” Mel explains.
“The whole point of that is my bike got stolen and I spent about $3000 on that bike, because I felt like I was trying to prove to everyone else that I meant business, that I could go out cycle touring.
“But, now in my experience of opening up a shop and my experience working on bikes, now I want to inspire people that you don’t need to go out and spend $3000 on a bike.
“It can be all inclusive, for anyone, regardless of what budget you have.”
Images: Jack Brookes