Ten years ago, Graeme Roth and his partner Suzanne Kowalski-Roth, took the plunge and left Sydney with their two young children – keen to forge a future in Blackheath.
Today they run Bike Storage, an innovative national design and manufacturing business employing eight, and revolutionising bike infrastructure in Australia.
As keen cyclists, who’d spent a number of years overseas, they both saw that Australia was lagging behind in providing the infrastructure needed to grow a strong biking culture. They looked at the issues of obesity, depression, traffic congestion and pollution, and believed that cycling offered a solution to these problems.
“It’s a no-brainer. Cycling is such a great way to get around”, says Suzanne. “It’s so sensual and it brings out the child in everyone. If people really knew how much fun it is, and if infrastructure made it easy to get back on bikes, a lot more people would start cycling.”
The first step in their journey to setting up Bike Storage saw them drop to part-time work, which still involved commuting to Sydney a few days a week – Graeme was working as an industrial arts teacher and Suzanne, a journalist, was working on an early childhood education campaign at the Independent Education Union.
Describing themselves as cautious people, they spent a number of years researching and testing the waters to prepare their business strategy, and Suzanne credits a course at the Blue Mountains Business Advisory Centre early on for helping make their dream feel feasible and tangible.
They kept adapting and learning along the way but have managed to stick to their vision as they’ve tackled one steep learning curve after another.
Graeme eventually left teaching and while the business slowly developed, worked for 2 years on and off with local builder Andy Robards, earning a carpenters’ ticket and a builder’s licence.
His first bike rack installation was at the Pavilion in Centennial Park … and it just happened to be where he and Suzanne got married years earlier.
Sadly, most early bike infrastructure in NSW has been described as wheel-bending! Graeme and Suzanne slowly educated people about what works, and what doesn’t, and even spent three years lobbying to get Australia’s outdated Bike Parking Standard reviewed.
Just under six years ago, Graeme started work on the business full-time and a year later Suzanne joined him. Today they’ve moved into an office near the station, thanks to the security of a three-year government contract. You can no longer hear a rooster crowing in the background when you ring them at work!
In less than 6 years, they’ve built state-of-the-art bike racks, including the stunning structure at the National Museum of Australia; been asked to troubleshoot for the Parramatta Cycleway; built bike cages, and end-of-trip facilities or hubs; and developed a business that makes cycling easier and more convenient.
Graeme’s greatest satisfaction is walking around the city knowing there’s good infrastructure that they’ve built and thinking, “wow, did we do that?” And for Suzanne, it’s seeing the growth in the numbers of people cycling, and realising that the people have chosen and are choosing this.
Bike culture in Australia is growing, and Suzanne and Graeme’s work is clearly one of the reasons why.
To find out more, visit www.bikestorage.com.au