Postie bike noun: an Australia Post motorcycle used for mail delivery; a second-hand Australia Post motorcycle.
This year in the ACT the familiar sight of the postie delivering mail on a red motorbike began to change. In May we saw Australia Post’s three-wheeled electric vehicles on our streets, the new mode of transport being rolled out across the nation to replace the postie bike. Postie bike is an Australian term dating from the 1980s. (The word postie is much older—this informal abbreviation for a postman or postwoman is first found in the 17th century.)
The electric vehicles are a move to a greener technology, and a response to the increasing volume of parcel mail delivered by posties. ‘The new vehicles are safer, narrower, cleaner, and can carry more than the traditional postie bike’, says an Australia Post flyer.
Many will be sad to see the last of the postie bikes, first introduced in the 1970s. The motorcycle of choice for Australia Post has typically been the Honda C110, a two-stroke bike with a top speed of about 80 kph. Because they are made especially for Australia Post, the rest of us can buy only used postie bikes when they are sold off from the fleet.
The second-hand postie bike (or postie motorbike) is popular with Australians, and often has an interesting life long after postal service. Early evidence of the term occurs in the context of fast-food meal delivery:
Rex's dial-a-rib operates across Sydney…. Rex's has outlets in Bondi, Neutral Bay, Willoughby and Eastwood and deliver to your door courtesy of a ‘postie bike’, as they call them. (Sydney Morning Herald, 15 July 1988)
Cheap to buy and run, it has often inspired a sense of adventure:
Grant Denyer is returning to read the weather for Sunrise… His first big task for Sunrise will be riding a postie motorbike across Australia, starting in Byron Bay tomorrow. (Adelaide Sunday Mail, 24 January 2010)
It has found a niche in many charitable events around the country, with long distances no object to riders: ‘The annual Postie Bike Challenge from Brisbane to Darwin gets underway on September 21 covering 3700km in 11 days.’ (Newcastle Herald, 2 July 2003) Other events have included: the Australian Postie Bike Grand Prix; the Great Murray River Postie Bike Adventure; the Postie Bike Run in Queensland, and the Late Mail Postie Bike Ride in New South Wales.
The typical rider enjoys the slower speed: ‘Nick Healy is taking a standard “postie” bike on his round-Australia trip, and he said the miserly top speed of his transport should make the trip all the more relaxing.’ (Northcote Leader, 22 January 2003)
But the speed doesn’t suit everyone: ‘A man on a postie bike led police on a low-speed chase at Logan last week.... Police weren't sure if they should laugh or not as they tailed the guy at speeds right up to ... 45km/h. (Gold Coast Bulletin, 18 December 2001)
Despite its adventurous history, this cheap and cheerful mode of transport lacks prestige for some road users. A spokesman for an outlaw motorcycle club spruiked the club’s tolerance with one caveat: ‘You can ride any bike as long as it’s not a postie bike.’ (Gold Coast Bulletin, 1 June 2019)
Our fondness for the postie bike means that we will be sorry to see them go, despite the fact that our online ordering habits have partly driven their demise.
Postie bike and postie motorbike will be considered for inclusion in the next edition of the Australian National Dictionary.