Wanna be in my gang?

Published in Treadlie Issue 1, December 2010

When Sydney bike gang the Feather Brigade held their first public event, HalloWheel, in October, co-founder Kathi Herricks wore a very fitting costume. ‘I went as a cult leader,’ she says, ‘which is kind of appropriate for the Feather Brigade because we’re trying to get people to join our little cult.’

Kathi and her housemate, Jai Saunders, started blogging as the Feather Brigade in June after rediscovering the joy of riding. Neither had hopped on a bike since childhood. ‘All of my memories were of being a kid and getting bruised and banged up shins from the pedals and almost riding into a river – my bike memories weren’t very happy memories,’ says Jai. But something about watching the Sydney cycleways develop inspired her to get back on a bike. Then she found Florence.

‘She’s white and floral and beautiful!’ Jai gushes. Florence is an Electra Amsterdam model from the series inspired by mid-century master designer Alexander Girard and features his Tree of Life design. Kathi’s bike, Hildegarde – Florence’s ‘evil twin sister’ – is decorated in a more DIY style. Festooned with the output of Kathi’s craft obsession, Hildegarde has a knitted witch on the front basket, teddy bears hanging from the seat (‘I call them my butt bears!’) and a crochet skirt guard. ‘It’s kind of a work in progress,’ Kathi says. ‘Every now and then I get the urge to add something to my bike.’

The girls are determined to show the world that it’s okay to dress up and ride. ‘It’s about providing an alternative to the lycra-clad cyclists,’ says Kathi. ‘Showing that you don’t have to worry about what you’re wearing. That’s what intimidated me about getting a bike at first – I thought you had to wear appropriate bike gear and I really couldn’t think of anything worse.’ They’ve never found a pair of heels they couldn’t ride in. ‘It’s easier to ride in them than walk in them!’ says Kathi. ‘I get blisters when I hop off.’

Membership of the Feather Brigade is growing gently as the girls find new members at parties or convince friends to take up cycling. They’ve also had lots of fun hanging out with other like-minded groups, such as Sydney Cycle Chic, on their outings. ‘One of our goals this year was to make new friends and we’ve definitely done that,’ says Kathi. ‘We haven’t met a bad cyclist yet. They’ve all got their quirks. It’s actually really interesting in Sydney at the moment because there’s so much going on with bikes and so many people starting up their own things.’

They’re always interested in meeting new people who are into ‘rhinestone helmets and bedazzled bikes’, and have plans to publicise the Brigade by leaving cards featuring their blog address with feathers attached on bikes they fancy around town. So what does it take to be a member of the Feather Brigade?

‘A willingness to name your bike and to dress up for rides and be a little bit ridiculous,’ says Kathi. ‘That’s it, I think. We’re not bike snobs. We’re just happy to meet other cyclists and go, yay, isn’t cycling great!’

The Brigade meets up for picnics in the park, trips to the markets and midnight rides. The girls live in Glebe, so waterfront rides are a favourite. They also love riding to the park at night to play with sparklers. Ultimately, Kathi wants to attach a bubble machine to Hildegarde. ‘We’re about being as crazy as you can and putting it on a bike,’ she says. ‘One of our dreams is to cover our bikes with feathers.’

At the end of the day, though, it’s really all about the joy of hopping on and having a ride – quite literally at the end of the day, in fact. Kathi and Jai frequently head out for a ride after the work day is over and the rest of Sydney is getting ready for bed. Kathi finds it therapeutic. ‘It’s helped me through some tricky times,’ she says. ‘You can just hop on your bike and go for a ride and you feel much better.’