Published in Treadlie Issue 3, June 2011
It simply cannot be denied that Kate Rhodes has a beautiful bike. Her Grand 1888, a big glossy black Dutch coaster, has led strangers to chase her down the street to ask questions about her ride. And with a lengthy CV that includes curatorships at several major galleries and design centres in Melbourne and Sydney, a former role as editor of architecture and design magazine Artichoke, and current posts as Director of RMIT’s new Design Hub as well as Creative Director of Victoria’s State of Design Festival, it stands to reason that her treadlie would be something of a looker. But according to Kate, the definition of design goes far beyond aesthetics.
“Design is about the possibility of making the world a better place, doing things better, greener, smarter,” she says. It’s about systems, and finding answers to problems and challenges, and in that sense the act of riding a bike to work every day is a design solution. “I’ve always fantasised about running a design elective at RMIT about how you might get away with only riding your bike for a year,” Kate says. “What things would you need to come up with in order to move house or to have a huge party or travel to Sydney? How could we get the bike to replace the car at every point? That would be a pretty interesting project.”
Kate’s life might be pretty close to this ideal already. She has a driver’s license but doesn’t use it (“I have a fear of killing people”), preferring instead to ride to work, to do the grocery shopping, to get to parties and to visit friends. For Kate, riding brings freedom, as well as the chance to really observe her surroundings. “I know all about the best window sills and mail boxes and flowers on my ride because I go slow enough to take in those details.”
With a busy career to manage (she rarely has fewer than three jobs at any given moment), Kate’s extracurricular bike riding is limited. However she does make it out for the occasional special event, one of her favourites being the Cultural Transports Collective’s Ride-On-Dinners. Getting out for a group ride lets her tap into a sense of community. “There’s something about riding with others which is incredibly joyous,” she says. “I think you give off a lot of vicarious energy to people who see you. There’s something in the idea of being a mob that might encourage others to get on board or just follow along and find out where this big gang is going.”
Last year Kate was a panellist at Melbourne Bikefest as well as a judge for the Better By Bike competition. This year she has her own festival to run. The theme of this year’s State of Design Festival is ‘Design that moves’. “It’s about the revolutionary and the transformative, the nomadic, the modular,” says Kate. “It’s about transitional zones. We want to have lots of exhibitions in stairs and thoroughfares and bridges.” So can we expect to see some bike-related events in the program? “Absolutely! If I can get a bike involved in something, I will!”
And no matter what exciting new developments Kate’s career will bring, her love affair with the coaster is built to last. The Grand 1888 doesn’t have a name, but “she’s definitely a she”. “It wasn’t a cheap bike, but I’m working on the per lifetime cost – and maybe cost per comment,” Kate laughs. “I’ve got muscles from this bike because it’s so heavy. She takes up a lot of road. She looks out for me – we’re a team.”