Published in Treadlie Issue 8, September 2012
Eleanor Jackson lives on Whynot Street. It’s a fitting home base for someone who says yes to so many endeavours – performance poetry, broadcasting, artistic collaborations, and of course, cycling. Originally from Melbourne, Eleanor moved to Brisbane nearly two years ago, drawn by the sun and the city’s “amazing grass roots arts scene”.
“I met this great tattoo artist in the first week that I was here, and she said Brisbane is a fabulous place to get on with what you love because you won’t be distracted by everything being exciting all at once,” says Eleanor. “She made it sound a bit cynical but over time I’ve come to realise that it actually is a great benefit to this city. Like, I’m not overwhelmed by it. I love bikes, and I love poetry, and I feel so wholehearted about those things, but I’m not worried that I have to go to the latest opening or the newest cafe or the most crazy new taquiera.”
An accomplished spoken word artist, Eleanor has taken the Midsumma Poetry Out Loud slam title twice and has appeared at major writers festivals in both Melbourne and Brisbane. She is also the poetry editor for Peril magazine and produced the Melbourne Poetry Map, a series of audio tours of the city featuring work by local poets.
Her own work is often composed on the pedals. “It’s that kind of moving meditation feeling,” she says. “It’s quite rhythmic and it’s not like it requires a lot of coordination – legs up, legs down. I do a lot of spoken word and oral storytelling, and it sounds silly in the bedroom talking aloud to yourself, but you can whizz past someone and they won’t notice that you’re trying to rehearse a poem.”
She might zoom past on one of two treadlies. One, known as Jana Wendt, is a Surly Steamroller that Eleanor had painted cream and fitted with a Busyman custom saddle “which is ageing like a lovely Chesterfield”. The other is Eleanor’s first geared bike (“Brisbane’s hills finally triumphed”) and was hand built and painted in Brisbane. “I got it custom painted to match my house – that’s so embarrassing, isn’t it?” she says. The build was done by Bike Bestie, and the car detailer who did the paint job even visited Whynot Street to match the colours to the walls – cream, jade green and a touch of gold leaf. “It’s so untough,” she says. “You know when you look at something and go yeah, thanks for taking all the tough of that bike and putting it back to pretty.”
The bike is named Helmets Are Hot, after Eleanor’s bike safety blog which she started to encourage more women to take up cycling. Back in Melbourne, when she and some friends started women’s single speed cycling group the Sugar Spokes, lots of ladies told her that they didn’t ride because they didn’t like the way helmets looked. Eleanor, however, believes that everyone looks hot astride a bicycle. “I’ve got a pretty low threshold for attractive,” she says. “On a bike you are instantly cute.”
The blog gives her a great excuse to chat to strangers in the street, and sometimes take photos of them showing off their lids. There was plenty of street style inspiration in Melbourne, but she’s found the project a bit trickier in Brisbane. “When I arrived it was hot and summery and everyone was wearing legionnaire attachments on their helmets and crazy fluorescent, high-vis, sun-protecting outfits. People don’t often ride in their street clothes,” she says. She made a valiant effort to establish the trend but the tropical weather proved to be too fierce. “After the first four or five times, getting really burnt and really, really sweaty, I came to realise I was going to have to invest in some better lycra.”
But no amount of Brisbane sweat can dampen her enthusiasm for riding. “Being a cyclist for me is not just a mechanism for transport,” she says. “It’s a really visible expression of the things I like to do as being part of a community.”