Hot on the trail of a holy-roller mystery

Tom Cowie

It’s the case of Christ on a bike.

For the past few years, mysteri­ous bicycles have been appearing in Melbourne’s CBD carrying signs preaching that “Jesus died for our sins” and urging people to “turn or burn”.

The Jesus bikes can sit for up to a week shackled on bike racks with heavy-duty reinforced clamps before disappearing again, only to be resurrected elsewhere.

Despite vandalism and abuse, the bikes continue to appear.

While the City of Melbourne sometimes removes bikes parked for “illegitimate purposes”, the council is essentially powerless to fine the owners because tracking them down can be difficult.

Linking most of these holy rol­lers is a mobile phone number painted in the bottom corner, urging people to call for “Christian guidance”.

When Fairfax Media rang the number after a bike appeared in Collins Street this week, a man who wanted to be known as only “Barry” picked up.

Barry declined to provide his second name or the suburb where he lives. Although he did say he was 64 and goes to church in Box Hill.

The bikes, Barry said, were about promoting the gospel and “encour­aging people to get saved”. He repurposes old BMXs and moun­tain bikes that are donated or re­trieved from hard rubbish.

Barry said he converted to Chris­tianity at 19 and eventually turned to street preaching. About four years ago, he started making the bikes.

But not everyone is happy with his methods. The bikes are often vandalised, while a Twitter account was set up devoted to tracking them. “People attack the bikes all the time,” he said.

Barry also gets abusive phone calls, mostly from non-believers and people angry that he is taking up valuable parking real estate.

“There are a lot of crackpots around. Some ring up and swear away, we get all sorts of weirdos.

Particularly on Friday or Saturday nights.”

Producing each bike with an off-sider can take up to eight hours, Barry said, which includes a decent chunk of time painting the sermon on the side.

The shackles, which look like a Dickensian torture device, are made out of steel and reinforced with concrete. In Barry’s words, the clamps are “pretty tough”.

The bikes are typically deployed either late at night or early in the morning. Hoops towards the end of bike racks are the best locations, because they maximise exposure.

If someone rings up seeking genuine spiritual guidance, Barry says he is happy to chat about the Bible or refer them to a church.

He doesn’t mind that people get angry at his methods: “At least peo­ple are seeing them,” he said.