Wellington has an interesting relationship with Bikes. Those who love it, REALLY love it. Like pure evangelists, they seek to convert the non-believer - and usually do so with success.
Take Bicycle Junction for instance, which has just opened a new store on the corner of Marion Street and Ghuznee Street, in the heart of Te Aro, Wellington. Unashamed in their brashness they claim on their website that although they’re a bike shop that sells, builds and fixes bicycles, that's really just the means to an end (albeit a beautifully designed means to an idyllic end). They state that "Our job most importantly is to encourage as many people as we can to get out and ride for transport and enjoyment. We'd love to make riding a bike as commonplace as your morning cup of coffee, which by the way is our other obsession." Reading this, I can't help but think a better name could be Bicycle Junkies!
One such Bicycle Junkie is Catarina. And she's taken her passion for cycling one step further. In fact, it is her job to convert people to the power of two wheels. And by the end of our chat over hot coffee at the Leeds St Bakery, she's got me asking about bringing in some old bikes to get a WOF. Full of personality, Catarina is exactly the kind of woman you'd want around to you get sh*t done. And safe to say that with the new store opening for Bicycle Junction thriving, she's living up to that impression well.
WHO IS CATARINA GUTIERREZ?
An American in New Zealand, Catarina has lived here for 5 years. She job is working for Bicycle Junction, an independent bike store, formerly based in Newtown and now Te Aro. "I'm the community and marketing activator, which means I do all the communications and am putting on events in our space on corner of Marion and Ghuznee Streets" she explains beaming. "We have lots of cool community activities going on!"
Indeed they do - on the day I pop in there is a live concert going on in the bike shop, complete with fiddler and pianist. Catarina says that the biggest misconception about Bicycle Junction is that it is just a boutique bike store. "We have a full cafe now, we have bikes at all prices and ranges and also will service your bike, even if it isn't from here!" she explains. "The biggest space we now have lets us fit 120 people in the space. We also start rides from our new store. It is a very convenient location."
HOW DID SHE GET HERE?
Catarina has had to travel half way across the world to get to her antipodean bike mecca. "I was born in Atlanta Georgia, south-east of the United States," she says "My father is an architect and my mother was an interior designer. We all rode bicycles and as my parents were a bit older, I was the baby of the family." She has strong memories of growing up in the South, particularly smells. She remembers after church each Sunday her family would go to a diner called Waffle House. "The smell of a waffle and freshly brewed coffee reminds me of home, as does blooming oak trees like we'd see in spring" she reminisces.
At school, Catarina never let a minute pass without being involved in some form of activity. She swam, did tennis, gymnastics, fencing and synchronised swimming, cheerleading. After school, she studied business and economics at a liberal arts college in Atlanta and then started working for social enterprises when finishing university. Her first job finishing university was at a real estate office, as a paralegal. "It was just before the global financial crisis and I realised we were closing really bad loans for people," Catarina says. "I was like 'I want to get out of here.'
She moved onto something which fitted her personality more, helping to give back through business "The first real, big job I had after that was for a social enterprise called Better World Books. The business model is like Tom shoes, where you buy a pair of shoes and they give one away. We'd give a book away for every one sold. I stayed there for 6 years!"
Catarina then moved to New York and worked for another social enterprise, Catchafire (not related to the band). "I really liked it there. I was there for two years" she says. She then met someone and moved to New Zealand to be with him.
During the first few months in New Zealand, Catarina wrote a book and traveled. Landing in Wellington, it wasn't long before she sought out Bicycle Junction. "I was into adventure biking more at that time, but not so much into road biking. Now I dream of Wellington being a city like Portland in Oregon where people bike everywhere!" she says.
Catarina moved down to Christchurch, got really into her cycling, and when she was back up in Wellington giving a talk at a conference in March 2017, she popped back into Bicycle Junction where the owner, Dan, had a job offer she couldn't refuse, linked to their plan of moving the bike shop from Newtown to Wellington's Te Aro. "My dream job!" Catarina enthuses.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE REALLY INTO CYCLING?
"It means doing it every day, regardless of the weather. It brought me so much life and I would say I was pretty addicted at that stage. All my friends were into cycling, and I tried to make it a job - but I couldn't at that point." She also is a firm believer in the benefits and good timing of introducing cycling to more Wellingtonians. "The council are investing on infrastructure for biking. While the terrain may be a little difficult in Wellington, but there's no reason you can't invest in an e-bike and that gets you around. Why isn't cycling an option you choose before a car?"
"Wellington is small enough that it fits my lifestyle," Catarina says. "It is really diverse. Coffee, arts, bikes and music - but it doesn't have the problems that bigger cities like New York have."
WHAT BIKE WOULD SHE BUY IF SHE COULD BUY ANY?
Right now Catarina has her eye on a few converted boutique e-bikes. "I really like stylish looking bikes, but I also want the ease of an e-bike which will power me from Te Aro to Lyall Bay on a Windy Day" she laughs.