Trash to treasure: Council backs upcycled bikes for uni students

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One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. For second-hand bike seller Kieran McMahon, the adage is more than a truism: it’s a charity-business model – and it’s coming to the cobbled streets of Melbourne University’s Parkville campus.

Brainwave Bikes, a social enterprise that refurbishes bikes destined for landfill to professional standards and on-sells them for a brain injury charity, will soon be trundling out cheap, trusty steeds to Melbourne University students on a regular basis.

Kieran McMahon (right), CEO of Brainwave Bikes, and employee Nicholas Di Nuzzo are giving bicycles a second life at Melbourne University.Credit: Luis Enrique Ascui/The Age

Thanks to a grant from the City of Melbourne, from the end of semester two, students, staff and the general public will be able to buy affordable bikes on campus at a pop-up workshop once a month.

It can’t come at a better time, with news last week that myki public transport fares will be jacked up from July 1 when daily full fares increase from $9.20 to $10, and students and concession holder tickets jump from $4.60 to $5.00.

“Things are getting expensive and we want everyone to be riding affordable transport,” said McMahon, general manager of Brainwave Bikes. “Our adult bikes start at about $180. So for 18 trips on a tram [at a $10 per day ticket], you’ve bought bikes, so to speak.”

Brainwave Bikes receives about 90 donated children’s and adult’s bikes a week, then a team of volunteers and workers – some of which live with a disability – restore them, generating income for Brainwave Australia, a charity for people with brain injuries or neurological conditions.

Nicholas Di Nuzzo, who suffered an acquired brain injury after a serious BMX bike accident during the pandemic, was desperate for work when he was hired by Brainwave Bikes.

The 27-year-old former linesman electrician was adrift after his accident, which robbed him of the ability to drive and work, and was going door to door looking for any work – paid or not.

“I was just looking for a bit of structure for my days,” he said. “Even finding some way to be able to volunteer was difficult. [Businesses considered] me a liability.

“I was even offering people to sweep their floors for free.”

After inviting Di Nuzzo into the Brainwave Bikes store in Dingley to tinker with the bikes, McMahon said he quickly realised Di Nuzzo had great talent.

Brainwave Bikes receive about 90 donated bikes a week, with some only needing a chain fixed.Credit: Luis Enrique Ascui/The Age

“I thought it would be a shame to waste that, and I saw the change that Brainwaves Bikes had on him when he was there, so I was very happy to employ him,” he said.

Sadly, Di Nuzzo can no longer ride bikes himself but has brought a lifetime love of cycling to his job, where he was formally trained and is now a qualified bike mechanic.

“I grew up riding bikes, pulling them apart and putting them back together,” he said. “My dad always said to me [growing up], ‘Why can’t you just leave it alone? Why can’t you just ride the bike?’“

Brainwave Bikes does not want the public to view its bikes as “pity purchases”. Its mantra is that all bikes can have multiple lives if given the appropriate care and attention.

McMahon said many bikes he received were destined for hard rubbish or landfill despite them needing less than an hour’s work – sometimes they just have a broken chain.

Just this weekend, someone donated a high-end carbon road bike that would have been about $5000 off the shelf. It only needs some new pedals and a tune up, he said.

Once up and running, the pop-up shop will have a large selection of bikes to try out on campus and students can be kitted up with a bike, helmet and lock for around $300. Old bikes can also be dropped off for donation too.

“A student can ride away with a bike the same price as something from Facebook Marketplace without all the risk of scams and uncertainty about it’s safety,” said McMahon.

The campus bike store was among 10 recipients of the City of Melbourne’s annual Social Enterprise Grants program, which awards grants of up to $20,000 to startups and existing enterprises with a distinctly social purpose.

Other recipients this year included Recova Wear, an organisation that works with orthopaedic departments to expand their line of clothing specifically designed for people managing long-term injuries.

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