Sunday, November 11, 2007

Bikes to Ghana


On Saturday November 10th, 2007 my friend Matt Newlin and I rode our bikes over to a Total Reclaim warehouse in Seattle to help load a shipping container with bicycles to go to Ghana. Total Reclaim provides warehouse space to the Village Bicycle Project and Bike Works who gather up various donated and abandoned bikes. Several times a year VBP ships a container load of bikes to Africa and Saturday was one of the loading days.

After Matt and I carefully locked up our bikes (we wanted to make certain our own means of transport didn't accidentally get loaded in the container!) we pitched in with the work. Some of the bikes we were loading were bikes that had sat for months in the Metro and Sound Transit lost and found, some had been donated by various individuals and organizations. Quite a few folks were helping out and the folks who'd done this before, people like VBP volunteer Meg Watson , Craig Lorch of Total Reclaim, and Melanie Lyons of Bike Works, provided clear direction and guidance to those of us who were new to the process. They also made sure we had both breakfast and lunch, which was good because even with a dozen or so volunteers, it took a full day to get the container loaded.

The bikes were made as small as possible by lowering the seat, removing the pedals, taking off any extra bits and turning the handlebars. Bikes with serious problems were stripped of useful parts and the parts filled every extra bit of usable space in the container. We rolled bikes, stripped bikes, moved bikes and packed bikes. A fellow named Ben Haney had a real skill when it came to figuring out what bike or piece would fit where in the container. I suspect Ben might have played a lot of Tetris at some point in his life.

The most surprising part of the day was also surprisingly hard. I'd expected to see what we saw the most of: Huffys, Magnas and other low-end bikes. There were also some very nice and serviceable old Treks, Giants, Peugeots, Bridgestones and things like that. But there were a few bikes, a full Xtracycle, a custom 531 Rodriguez and an unlabeled Campy Record equipped road bike that Matt and I argued would do more good at Bike Works. "Keep the bikes here, sell them at Bike Works, and send the money to Africa" was our basic pitch. Meg Watson agreed with our logic, but that those bikes had been donated to go to Africa. Meg was right and we have to respect the wishes of the donors. We loaded the bikes into the container. It was really hard.

At the end of a long day we got 487 whole bikes, who knows how many tires, brakes, wheels, derailleurs, saddles, handlebars and other assorted bike bits packed into that shipping container. On the ride home Matt and I speculated that maybe years from now we'll see some African rider racing in the Olympics or the Tour de France. The interviewer will say, "how did you get into bicycle racing?" and the rider will reply, "it was the darnedest thing, some big container full of bikes from America had this one Campy-equipped racing bike tucked in with all this other stuff..."

Maybe it won't go that way.

But I want to load the next container bound for Ghana and I want to get more involved in collecting the bikes to go to good causes. And if someone wants to donate a high-buck bike I'll still try to talk them into turning that bike into money and using the money to pay for shipping or training Africans in bike repair or buying tools to keep the bikes going.

The website at:

http://www.pcei.org/vbp/


has great stories of how bikes and bike know-how change lives in Africa. If you've got a bike that you're not using folks like Bike Works, VPB or your local equivalent can repurpose it and do some real good, maybe in your neighborhood or maybe on the other side of the world. And if you've got a little bit of skill with a wrench, that can do a world of good.
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