18 April, 2017   By: Jessica Zoiti

From the streets to the saddle, Perth-based organisation Dismantle is using the humble bike to put disadvantaged young Western Australians on the road to change.

Dylan* ran away from home when he was just 14. Forced to live on the streets, he was antisocial, withdrawn and refusing to engage with his peers or the professionals who were trying to help him.

At 15, he was introduced to Dismantle, a special Perth not-for-profit organisation that uses bicycles to empower seriously disadvantaged young people.

Dismantle's core program, BikeRescue, places these (mostly) teens to work alongside mechanics – who double as trained social workers – to restore bikes, grow confidence and learn new skills.

For Dylan, the course allowed him to build trust with his course facilitators and propelled him into more training, employment and, eventually, further education in youth work at TAFE.

Pat Ryan, CEO of Dismantle, says Dylan's success story is one of many.

Dismantle CEO Pat Ryan
Dismantle CEO Pat Ryan

“(Initially) he wouldn’t engage with anyone and sat there with earplugs in his ears the whole time,” Ryan says.

“By week six he was having better conversations with our staff and was starting to engage with the other young people in the program. His earplugs came out and he started to participate in the sessions.” 

Why bikes?

While it may not be immediately obvious, the link between bikes and youth social work is very natural says Ryan as bikes are an important form of self-expression for kids.

“A bicycle to a young person represents the ability to get around their neighbourhood. So it offers independence but it also helps form their identity," Ryan says.

“Do they have a race bike, or a mountain bike, or a BMX? It says a lot about who they are.

“Fostering the relationship between adults and kids can sometimes be difficult. A lot of the time, the adults providing support get in the way of young peoples’ fun and it’s really difficult to overcome this dynamic.”

“With bike mechanics," Ryan says, "we’ve found a really engaging shared activity that staff – youth workers – can do, but also that young people are motivated to take part in.”

Dismantle runs two bike-inspired programs, BikeRescue and BikeTherapy, working with between 200 to 300 kids every year.

Alongside these programs, they operate BikeDr - a business that generates income for Dismantle to fund its charity initiatives. BikeDr makes money from mobile bike servicing, repairing peoples’ bikes at workplaces throughout the Perth CBD and at cycling events in Perth and regional WA and also partners with workplaces, local councils and schools running bike maintenance courses.

Dismantle's John Montgomery
Dismantle's John Montgomery
BikeRescue – mentoring bike mechanics

BikeRescue is Dismantle's flagship initiative and follows a simple yet successful formula.

Up to 12 young people (per program) choose two bikes each to restore – the first for charity and the second to keep for themselves. Over 10 weeks, they’re mentored and trained by bike mechanic / youth workers to repair the bike and help themselves.

“What happens when you place a bike between two people and start working on it? Turns out, it’s a really natural and positive dynamic,” Ryan says, “and the recipe for really special and positive relationships between youth workers and kids.”

Rusted, busted and abandoned bikes are donated to Dismantle by partners including  WA Police, Department of Transport and Rottnest Island Authority.

BikeTherapy – not your typical occupational therapy

Beyond BikeRescue, Dismantle also runs BikeTherapy, a more tailored initiative that looks to give stronger support by teaching them emotional skills.

“Through BikeRescue we could see that a lot of the young people we were meeting needed a higher level of focus and support around gaps in their resilience – a lot of the time they display a lack of emotional resilience resulting from experiences in their disadvantaged worlds,” Ryan says.
"We want to help young people to better handle the extreme highs and lows in their lives – especially the lows – that are typical of emotional disregulation. 

"If kids can identify their emotions, they can better manage them in their day-to-day lives. It's also helping young people identify and avoid negative relationships," Ryan says.

BikeTherapy employs an occupational therapist and combines BikeRescue workshops with Dialectic Behavioural Therapy (DBT) group sessions, with an emphasis on mindfulness, emotional regulation, interpersonal effectiveness and distress tolerance.

“Ultimately, we want to give disadvantaged young people the tools they need to pursue exciting employment pathways and new education opportunities – all while getting their hands dirty and having some fun."

*Not the subject’s real name

Outside the Dismantle bicycle workshop in West Leederville
Outside the Dismantle bicycle workshop in West Leederville

Image credit: Clayton Jauncey

Dismantle by the numbers

  • 200–300: The number of young people Dismantle engages with each year.
  • 400: The average number of bikes Dismantle receives and restores.
  • 90: The number of partners Dismantle works with, ranging from RAC to Lotterywest and the Department of Education.
  • 13–17: The average age range of the young people participating in BikeRescue.
  • 26.4%: The percentage of young people aged 16–24 who experience a mental health issue or substance misuse disorder each year.
  • 10%: The percentage of young people aged 15–24 who are not in education, employment or training.

Did you know...

In just three years leading up to 2016 there was a huge 70% increase in bike theft claims, according to RAC Insurance claims.  If you've got a bike you want to protect RAC Bicycle Insurance can cover it from just $2 a week. 

Bike insurance