Bikes for the World

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.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Bikes Build Leadership From the Ground Up

Bikes for the World offers a great outlet to corporations looking for a rewarding team building experience for their employees. Whether the corporate group joins us for a loading or just a processing day in the warehouse, it's a fun activity for colleagues to connect with each other outside a cubicle.

A third way for a corporation to bring employees together for a team building activity to benefit the community is a bike build. Two companies recently donated two dozen bikes from these bike builds that we turned around and donated locally and overseas.

During a corporate event, Rockville based Apex Companies purchased and assembled seven Diamondback 24" mountain bikes. The event was held in Chantilly and involved employees from all over the country.

Teams were responsible for building the bikes from the box and ensuring that the wheels turned and the brakes stopped.

Apex Companies contacted us before the event to ensure the bikes would be useful to our program. We asked that they donate a larger size bike, which would be more beneficial, so they purchased the 24" size from DICK'S Sporting Goods.

Bikes for the World identified two local organizations who could use the bikes to support two school programs. During our 100k donation events in November, BfW donated two Apex built bikes to Gearin' Up Bicycles in DC and two to Phoenix Bikes in Arlington. We also included two in the container to Costa Rica that will be arriving just in time for Christmas.

DICK'S Sporting Goods also recently hosted a bike build (to experience what their mechanics in the bike shop do) at their headquarters in Pittsburgh. Those 16 20" bikes were donated to Bikes for the World and also shipped in the container heading to FINCA Costa Rica.

Student mechanics at Phoenix Bikes
Both local bike organizations that received these new bikes offer earn-a-bike programs to area youth where they can learn mechanics while earning a bike. Most bikes donated to the program are used and in need of repairs and tune ups which offer a great experience to these student mechanics.

The new bikes from Apex Companies will be used in two local school projects that promote cycling as a healthy lifestyle choice. The bikes will also be used to increase bicycle safety and awareness .

Phoenix Bikes identified a school in Alexandria that needed the Diamondbacks for a school project next spring. Cora Kelly Elementary School operates a program called Bike for your Brain that is turning students into safer cyclists and bike advocates.

Fifth graders will bike between elementary schools to learn safe bike routes while improving their riding and safety skills. Through their PE class they will learn how biking supports an active, healthy lifestyle. They will also improve leadership skills and become better bike advocates.

Over in DC, Gearin' Up Bicycles has identified a program designed to teach similar skills to students at Capital City Charter School. This winter, students will begin by learning the mechanics of a bike. The Apex Companies bikes donated to Gearin' Up Bicycles will actually be stripped down to the frame and rebuilt by students in this learning earn-a-bike experience.

Students will then learn safety and practice their riding skills as it starts to warm up next spring. The program ends with a 335 mile bike ride from DC to Pittsburgh....uphill!

Apex fall bike build
Team building activities can motivate the team create energy, and inspire enthusiasm amongst staff. It's a valuable tool in a company to increase productivity in the workplace...and can be used to make a huge impact in the community.

Apex Companies offers comprehensive professional and field services to assess, prevent and cure environmental issues related to water, ground, facilities and air quality. Blending superb technical skills with creativity and business savvy, they focus on how to reduce or eliminate environmental risks and liabilities economically and expediently.

Simply put, this partnership was a perfect fit!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Meet Brenda Geist: Featured Volunteer

If you look around in a crowd Brenda won't necessarily stand out. She's doesn't volunteer for recognition or to stand around. She's there to work. And good luck trying to slow her down.

The whole group is like that. Brenda is part of an over 40s Meet Up group out of Fairfax which regularly volunteers with Bikes for the World. Sometimes we see the same familiar faces time and time again and every now and again we see a new one.

Brenda organizes all of that for us. All we need to do is show up and keep them busy...which sometimes is hard enough. Just last year, the NOVA MeetUp group joined us maybe 4 or 5 times to help load, process, and sort bikes in the warehouse.

Some of them bring their own tools and they jump right in processing bikes as soon as they get there. They are quick to mentor others and do whatever is long as we keep them moving. You really couldn't ask for better volunteers.

Brenda is always looking to schedule the group to come back to the warehouse. If she hasn't heard from us in a while she'll reach out to us and offer to help in any way we need.

The MeetUp group exists as a community service volunteer group. They distribute food to those in need, help in thrift stores, work in the parks...really anything and everything. They socialize, meet new people, have some fun, and make a global impact in the process.

This group has joined us in Springfield, Lorton, and both warehouses in Arlington. In fact, they helped us clean out and close Springfield, Lorton, and 1200 Eads. They have impacted lives in Ghana, Costa Rica, Panama, and El Salvador. Below we tracked the same container they help load in Springfield VA to its arrival in Accra Ghana.

Brenda even helped us deliver a strider bike to a young boy in Springfield who left his too close to the curb on trash day. When we heard the story about how the trash truck took his bike away, we found one in the warehouse that we wanted the boy to have. Brenda delivered it for us and made his day.

Brenda had loaded bikes, turned a hundred handlebars, removed twice as many pedals, unloaded bikes, stacked bikes...she even hosted a collection in her neighborhood.

Most of all, Brenda has introduced many people to Bikes for the World: volunteers, donors, and more importantly supporters. Just this past year, the MeetUp group has helped us load about 20% of the containers we donated in 2014. They were with us when we loaded number 100,000 and we hope to see them a lot on our way to 200k!