Bikes for the World

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Honoring Keith Oberg, Founder and Director

Bikes for the World's executive director, Keith Oberg, was recently honored for his 'extraordinary humanitarian service', as the recipient of John's Hopkins University's 2014 Distinguished Alumnus Award. A 1977 graduate of JHU's School of Advanced International Studies, Keith accepted the award on behalf of Bikes for the World community -- volunteers and staff -- who have built the organization over the last decade. For this reason, the JHU medal will enjoy a prominent place in the Bikes for the World Arlington office.

Keith and Craig Annear in Reston
From the beginning, Keith set out to establish Bikes for the World as a reputable, sustainable program with international reach while also benefiting his local community.

"Primarily due to Keith's commitment and hard work, BfW has emerged as an organization that delivers a broad range of benefits:
  • for the ultimate beneficiaries, sustainable transportation to schools, health care, and employment and economic empowerment;
  • direct environmental benefits by keeping bikes out of U.S. landfills and promoting nonpolluting transportation worldwide;
  • community service opportunities in the United States; and
  • promotion of a reuse/recycling ethic,"
                                                                 Craig Annear, BfW volunteer and Board Member

Otterbein's 10th annual bike collection
A testament to Bikes for the World's impact and Keith's influence as the founder and director, one has to look no further than the hundreds of volunteers powering the organization. Many dedicated volunteers have been with Keith, leading bike collections and packing containers with bikes, from the very beginning over a decade ago.

"Not only does our partnership with Bikes for the World extend to global projects, it creates a unique local opportunity for service and outreach. For Otterbein (United Methodist Church), it is one of the many "parking lot" ministries offered throughout the year. Outreach on our lot brings together church neighborhood and members,"
                                                         Cindy Brown, Collection Manager at Otterbein United Methodist Church. Over the last decade Otterbein has collected and donated over 2,000 bikes to Bikes for the World

Keith in Costa Rica with beneficiary
"From the beginning Keith impressed me with his intuitive understanding of the complex issues facing an NGO with limited finances, but endless possibilities to serve the less developed world by re-purposing bicycles headed for US landfills.

I never doubted Keith's abilities, dedication to the mission or charm, and I always knew he would succeed; but I could never have imagined that 8 years after starting Bikes for the World, it would have delivered nearly 100,000 bikes overseas, making a difference in the lives of nearly 100,000 farmers, students, health care workers, carpenters and entrepreneurs of all kinds and at the same time expand its mission to elevate the lives of so many young people at home,"

                                  Sarah J. Jelin, President and General Counsel The Karnak Corporation

"Keith's vision and incredible hard work have translated into an efficient, productive organization which measurably enhances the quality of life for some of the world's poorest and some of its richest,"

                                                            Hellen Gelband, BfW volunteer and Board Member

Monday, February 2, 2015

Teaching By Doing

Young student in the Philippines
"The idea of expanding students' global awareness of life in developing countries where children are unable to attend school or get to the doctor because of the lack of personal transportation is an important concept.

"The whole notion of our throw-away society was also something we wanted to convey as well as simple activism and becoming involved in service to others," Ted Haynie, retired school principal Calvert County MD.

Haynie organized a collective effort among Calvert County schools to collect bikes for Bikes for the World and participate in a 'live' load as part of a school wide service project. The project collected over 600 bikes and taught students the value of affordable transportation, community service, and recycling efforts.

Students at Irving Middle School, Springfield VA
Bikes for the World  regularly offers a variety of activities that engage students and teach them valuable lessons and skills while earning them service hours and connecting them with people in need around the globe.

Whether students are working with us to collect bikes or load them for partners overseas, they are learning to work with their hands and how to work together to complete a common goal. They are also learning about our beneficiaries, how the bikes improve their lives, and why their work with us is so important.

Family in Honduras
Each bike donated through Bikes for the World often benefits four people. Because of the work our volunteers do in compacting bikes during collections and loadings, BfW is able to pack our donated containers tight with bikes, increasing the value of our shipments by including even more bicycles per donation.

Many beneficiaries overseas are also using these donated bikes to help students get to school and stay in school to graduate. The bicycle is helping the students get to school faster, leaving more time for homework and house chores.

Our student volunteers at home can easily identify with the kids we are helping overseas and this project shows them how their old bikes are changing lives.

Chesterbrook Elementary, McLean VA

While students can contact us directly to earn service hours on their own, many teachers volunteer to help lead their students in this process. Some schools hold bike collections right on their campuses and some bring the kids to our warehouse in Arlington to help with a loading.

This past weekend we were joined in our warehouse by Eastern High School out of DC and Chesterbrook Elementary from McLean VA. The schools worked together to prep bikes for donation, organize our warehouse for upcoming loadings, and finish the container for Costa Rica.

Teacher Sarah Miller instructing students in the warehouse
Maria Pike, teacher at Chesterbrook, and Sarah Miller, from Eastern HS, organized warehouse work sessions with BfW to help students gain service hours for graduation. It was a way to get students involved while teaching them about the importance of affordable transportation and the value of recycling.

This effort is an exercise in leading by example. Miller knows the value a bike brings overseas and she wanted her students to learn how they could make a bigger impact while earning service hours.

Throughout the session, Pike noticed her students embracing the tools and skills involved in prepping bikes. Getting kids comfortable around a bicycle will give them confidence on the road as they begin riding on our trails and streets here at home.

Teachers at Colvin Run manage regular bike collections
In fact, teachers tell us this often. It's not just using tools or even working on the bikes, kids involved with this project often seem shy with the activity when they first start but are soon experts at removing pedals and using the right tools for the right job. This is something that will stay with them for life.

"I feel more responsibility than ever before. I feel impelled to spend more of my time giving back to the community and volunteering whenever I can. I hope that the recipients, who receive the bikes I load, will find the same freedom that invigorates me when I ride," Stone Ridge student volunteer Allie Arinaga.

If you are interested in setting up a collection or organizing a group to help with a loading in our warehouse, please contact

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Where The Rubber Meets The Road

Container unload in Ghana
Donated tubes and tires are nearly as important to our shipments as the bikes themselves. All donated parts, tubes, and tires included in our containers add value to what we are sending overseas.

These tires, although used, still have miles and miles of use left on them. They will be used to replace tires on bikes that are no longer good either in the same shipment or on bikes already in use overseas. Rural mechanics value our donated tires to stock their shops and keep bikes in safe working order.

Loading tires in Virginia
Back at home, we get thousands of tubes and tires annually from individual donors, bike shops, and our corporate partnership with Capital Bikeshare (DC) and Citi Bike (NY).

Tires made for the American market are generally of good quality and durable. Many of our African partners prefer even our used tires to what they can get new imported from China. According to sources overseas, those new tubes often pop on inflation and tires wear out within 25 miles.

In the last few years, Bikes for the World has made an effort to get the word out to cyclists and bike clubs to donate used tubes and tires to us instead of adding them to our waste stream.

Bikes heading to Kenya, Africa
Tires are also very valuable to us when packing a container. To the right you can see Director Keith Oberg inside a shipping container destined for an African partner, where we send tons of used tires.

Tires are placed between columns of bikes before we place a sheet of OSB on top. The tires not only even out the board to make the next row of bikes more stable, but they also help protect brake levers and shifters on the lower row of bikes.

In Costa Rica, however, we face a major roadblock- used tires are prohibited by law from entry.  Costa Rican Customs will confiscate any used tires found in an incoming container.

Container received in Costa Rica
As you can see in this photograph, when tires are not used between the rows of bikes the OSB bends under the weight of the bikes in the container. This is why, at Bikes for the World, we take special care when prepping bikes for shipping to try to turn the handlebars in a way that will help protect components by shifting them underneath the handlebar rather than sticking up above.

This container was shipped to Costa Rica last December and contained very few spare tires. Because of the prohibition of tires in the country, we can only ship new tires in our containers. We save all new tires for Costa Rica for this purpose, but only have about a half dozen to include in every shipment.

Our next shipment to Costa Rica, being loaded this week, will contain 42 new tires donated by Kenda Tires, a Taiwanese company with its American headquarters in Reynoldsburg, OH.

Kenda has graciously supplied these new tires in commonly-used sizes (20", 24", and 26") for our partner FINCA Costa Rica. These tires will be put to good use in the local market where quality tires are difficult to come by at prices most rural Costa Ricans can afford.

The inclusion of this donation from Kenda will increase the value of this shipment to Costa Rica and prolong the life of bikes already on the ground locally. Kenda has offered to donate any surplus or discontinued product on a periodic basis to augment the contents of our shipments. The 20" and 24" tires are especially in-demand as they are not as abundantly donated to BfW.

Monday, January 26, 2015

BfW's 100,000th Donated Bike Has a New Home

Gerardo Jesús

Gerardo lives at home with his mother, two brothers and one sister in Tempate, a rural community located in Guanacaste, Costa Rica. He graduated with excellent grades from the elementary school in Tempate. Because of this, his teacher helped him obtain a scholarship at a private bilingual high school. This high school is called Educarte and is located in another community called Tamarindo.

The scholarship is assisting his family financially to allow Gerardo to attend this private school. This new school is almost 21 miles from his home in Tempate. Every day, to get to school, Gerardo first has to go to Cartagena, which is 7km, or 4.3 miles, from his home. Then in Cartagena he takes a bus to Tamarindo which is 17 miles from Cartagena.

Thanks to Gerardo's bicycle, he can ride the first four miles from home to take the bus and make it safely to his high school. Without a bike, Gerardo would either need to walk to the bus stop or pay someone to drive him there.

Harvey Ollis with the 100k bike
This 'special' bike delivered to Guanacaste in December from Bikes for the World is helping Gerardo attend this great school, and saves him valuable time he can now use to study. It is also helping his family avoid the high cost of paying for transportation to deliver Gerardo to catch the bus he needs to arrive to school on time.

This red Specialized was Bikes for the World's 100,000th donated bike and was loaded and shipped on November 15, 2014 as part of America Recycles Day festivities. The 100k bike was donated to Gerardo in Costa Rica because he has proven to be a person who works hard to achieve his goals and has been able to provide for his family and ensure their well being.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

New Bikes vs. Used

Modesto Pinto

Modesto is one of Bikes for the World's oldest beneficiaries. Meaning, he's owned one of our donated bikes since the beginning. Modesto purchased this Trek from Goodwill Panama, our partner in Panama, ten years ago and it's still in great shape, a testament to the value of a quality used bicycle.

Modesto lives in Valle de Antón  where he owns and operates the town's bicycle repair shop. Anton Valley is about two hours from Panama City, making Modesto's bike shop invaluable to the residents outside the city. In addition to bike repair, Modesto repairs flat automobile tires for the local police and residents. He also salvages damaged truck tires, turning them into planters by cutting them in half and then selling them to local gardeners.

Modesto supports his family with income from this diverse repair shop. He is especially proud to have supported his daughter through nursing school. Modesto's shop is successful enough that he also has an assistant, Ismael Rodriguez.

Ismael Rodriguez (Rápido)

Modesto's assistant Ismael, also known as Rápido, bought a brand new Rali two years ago. Rali is popular bicycle brand out of China that is relatively inexpensive...initially. Rápido has already, in two years time, replaced everything on the bike, except the seat.

Fortunately Rápido works in a repair shop and has the skills to do the maintenance work himself. He has replaced the brakes, handlebar, crank, shifters, seat post, even the wheels. The only original parts truly are the frame and the seat.

Modesto's Trek has served him well since 2005. With simple tune ups and basic care, he has kept it running for the last decade with minimal cost. In contrast, Rápido bought a cheaply made Rali that began breaking down immediately.  In order to make a bike more affordable, lesser quality parts are often placed on the bike initially. While this brings down the cost of a bike, it also diminishes the quality, ensuring the bike will not survive long without constant care and repairs, in the end costing more.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Featured Volunteer: The Youngest and Oldest

We are kicking off 2015 by honoring two very important volunteers who bring life to our warehouse on a regular basis. Peyton and Eli are both hard working volunteers who are dedicated to the job in front of them as well as the overall mission of Bikes for the World.

One of them loves SpongeBob and the other PBS NewsHour. One likes Dumb and Dumber To and the other, the Sound of Music. One probably falls asleep by nine and the other begs to stay up past it. If you added Taylor and Yvette's ages together you still wouldn't span the years between them.

But one thing they both share: a love of bikes. They both love to ride. Eli rides a Giant MTX 225. Peyton tools around Arlington on a Bionex electric assist 87. He says he's not even thinking of slowing down until 90.

Peyton came to us this fall and asked if we had anything he could work on...he had mad handyman skills, so we knew he knew his way around a toolbox. We invited him to the warehouse and he's been coming most Thursdays since.

Eli's mom approached us early in 2014 and asked if we'd let a pre-teen volunteer with us. Most programs require students be at least 14...and we are no exception. But we did make an exception for long as a parent came with him we said, sure, join us at REI and we'll see how he does at the collection.

Since we lost King Farm it's been harder for Eli to join us at volunteer events but he's already planning for the next REI collection and he's been down to Arlington to help at the warehouse more than once.

Another thing Peyton and Eli have in common is their passion for Bikes for the World. And a knack for passing on their knowledge. We overheard Peyton explaining our mission to a scout troop who came to volunteer recently. And he was very thorough.

After some time away from volunteering, Eli and his dad came to put in some hours at the warehouse in Arlington. We prepared to come over and introduce processing to Dad as well as give young Eli a refresher. No need. Eli immediately grabbed bike tools and starting teaching his dad how to remove the pedals.

Even though these tool guys are two of our hardest workers, it's not all work when they hit the warehouse; we have fun too. Since Yvette has worked in some good ole classics into the warehouse playlist, you can often walk in and find Peyton twirling Yvette, showing her another step in his favorite dance, the Jitterbug.

You might even catch him singing to a song or two: "I'll be down to get you in a taxi honey/ You'd better be ready around half past eight/ Ah baby don't be late I want to be there when the band starts honey," one of his favorites.

Turns out Eli may also have an old soul, diving into some new old classics to find his favorite song, Eye of the Tiger. Or, like a lot of younger volunteers who seem to know Yvette's's probably been used in a recent movie or cartoon like Turbo. Which by the way, does have a great soundtrack.

 If you find yourself in the warehouse working alongside either of these guys...or really anyone, make sure you aren't too focused on a rusty pedal. Everyone who comes through our warehouse has a story...and it's usually interesting.

Peyton grew up in Japan, is still a professional handyman who can fix just about anything, and he holds a PhD in Theology.

He now volunteers at Meals on Wheels, HOPE, and Doorways in Arlington. He was a missionary in Japan for years after the war, will be quick to show you the Jitterbug, or share a story about how he rode bikes in Japan that were way too big for him.

Who knows what path Eli will take over the years. For now Eli is a 7th grader at Frost Middle School. If you find yourself in the warehouse with this guy, make it your mission to find out more about him. Who is Eli's favorite wrestler? And see if he prefers Turbo or Rocky.

UPDATE: Bikes for the World was sad to learn that Peyton Palmore passed away about a week after this article posted. He will be sorely missed around our warehouse on Thursday nights. His family tells us he loved working with Bikes for the World and believed strongly in our mission. We are proud to have worked with Peyton.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Canalete Beneficiaries


Aura is a little girl in Costa Rica who recently received a bike from Bikes for the World. She lives in poverty in a crime-plagued neighborhood. Despite losing her father recently, Aura excels in school and works hard to help her mother care for her four siblings.

Aura's bike allows her to go to the farm to collect lychee fruit for the family and she'll use her bike to travel to high school next year. Despite facing big challenges, Aura has big dreams and hopes to be an accountant.


Tonito lives in the same area as Aura. Both Tonito and Aura were given bikes by the community because of their hard work and dedication to the community and to their school studies.

Tonito's family struggles with poverty, so he was delighted to receive a free bike from the community. He helped unload bikes from the container when it came in from Bikes for the World.

Tonito was very shy and quiet when we first met him but once he hopped on his bike that all changed. He was smiling ear to ear and showing off his skills by popping wheelies for us in the driveway.

Tonito uses his bike for chores and clearly, for fun.


Senor Fabio is a member of EC Canelete. Each supply of bikes donated by Bikes for the World is used as a type of 'loan' to a community group known in Costa Rica as an Empresas de Credito Comunal or ECC. Each ECC is a community-run micro-credit group

Fabio is invested in EC Canalete. He also helps the community by looking over the bikes in the village and making sure they run smoothly. 

The kids in Tonito's school let the air out of his tires one day. Fabio makes sure Tonito and all the other kids in the neighborhood have properly inflated tires and that the bikes are safe to ride.