Bikes for the World

Friday, March 27, 2015

BfW's Newest Partner Helping Students In Morocco

Bikes for the World's next shipment of bikes is heading to Northern Africa to a group called Darna in Tangier, Morocco. This pilot effort will mostly serve the youth project, the bikes being distributed to kids ages 8-15.

This is our first time shipping to Darna (meaning Our House) and only their second container of bikes ever, the other delivered from a French group about seven years ago. Depending on the success of the received shipment, we hope to continue donating bikes to this group in the future.

Our bikes will be used for youth empowerment, the majority to be distributed to students to assist in their commutes to school in Tangier.

Darna runs comprehensive social programs including a youth community house, women's community house, and a teaching farm. The youth and women's houses provide temporary homes for children and women at-risk. They also provide various training programs to help them re-integrate into society.

The Farm School helps encourage agricultural development and a return to the agricultural sector outside of Tangier. The Farm houses 30 children, many boys at-risk. The boys receive agricultural training while there, as well as training in agricultural machinery repair.

The boys at the Farm School will be learning the mechanical skills needed to help refurbish our donated bikes to put them into use for this program.

Bikes will be made available to youth living in nearby, low-income apartments to help them get to and from school.

One of Darna's main focuses is to get kids off dangerous streets and into school where they receive an education and learn job skills. They are also surrounded by positive role models that help provide a community of learning and empowerment.

This initial container of bikes will serve to address two focuses in Darna's overall mission. First, boys enrolled in the Farm School will learn valuable mechanic skills while repairing bikes donated through Bikes for the World. Second, many youth, especially young girls, will receive a bicycle to help them get an education and travel quickly through the dangerous streets of Tangier.

Girls on the streets who are illiterate and uneducated often find themselves forced into a life of prostitution and eventually face drug abuse and AIDS. The Girls' Center at Darna provides girls with emergency, transitional, and long term housing; professional and civic training; and an education in not only reading, writing and arithmetic but also in their rights and duties as citizens.

Photos courtesy DARNA.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Carroll Creek Rotary Club Gets a Jump On Collecting Bikes

Norm Birzer, Dick Foot, Pat Gunnin, Greg Light, and Phil Ruth

Bikes for the World is proud to partner again with the Carroll Creek Rotary Club for their annual bike collection in Frederick Maryland. So far this year, they have already collected 100 bikes in this effort....and the collection isn't until April 11th!  

at Triangle Motors
Address:  1790 North Market St, Frederick MD 21701
Time: 9am - 1pm
Richard: or 203.505.7088

Rotarians Norm Birzer, Dick Foot, Pat Gunnin, and Greg Light joined with Bikes for the World volunteer Phil Ruth to load 80 bicycles on the Bikes for the World truck and trailer (an impressive load!). These bikes were collected over the winter in anticipation of the annual community bicycle collection to be conducted on Saturday April 11th.

The bicycles have been stored in Buzz Macintosh's vacant dairy barn, where Rotarians prepared bikes for shipment. We collected the bikes from the Carroll Creek Rotary Club early for two reasons: one is for space. In anticipation of a record setting collection next month, BfW needed to make sure we could get all the bikes in the truck on April 11th. Picking up early allows us to make two trips, ensuring we can easily transport over 200 bikes.

Beneficiary students in Bohol Philippines
More importantly, we are sending a shipment of bikes to a new potential partner called Darna in Morocco the first week in April. We wanted to include some of the bikes collected in Frederick for this container. Getting them into our warehouse now will allow us to send some to Africa before April 11th. Our second donated container in April will be heading to our education project in the Philippines where the remainder of bikes collected through the Carroll Creek Rotary Club's efforts will be sent. These bikes will help students in need get to and from school on time and eventually graduate.

Rotarian and BfW collection manager Dick Foot has pulled together an entire community network of volunteers to contribute to this bike collecting effort. The Visitation Academy, Mount Saint Mary's University, Frederick Community College, Hood College, the Bicycle Escape, Wheelbase, and Triangle Motors, where the collection will take place on April 11th are all currently collecting items to be donated to BfW.

Already Rotarian Tom Meacham, principal of Triangle Motors, reports that a dozen additional bikes have been dropped off at Triangle Motors, in anticipation of the Saturday April 11th community collection.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Turning Grease Into Bronze

Bikes for the World works with dozens of Boy Scouts throughout the year on Eagle projects where they collect bikes to be donated overseas. And we've found the girls LOVE working with us too. So we've made an effort to reach out to area Girl Scout troops to partner with them on collections and in the warehouse.

When asked about volunteering with us, the girls are usually very enthusiastic and that doesn't die down once we put a tool in their hands. The experience is valuable to these young girls who often work alongside Dad, get experience working with a team and following instruction, and actually learn a thing or two about how a bike works and how to use a few basic tools. Gaining mechanical confidence around their bikes is something these girls will take on the road with them for years to come.

The following is an article from Girl Scout Troop 5740, who worked with us in the warehouse:
On Saturday, February 28, 2015 we volunteered with Bikes for the World to fulfill community service requirements to earn the Girl Scout Bronze Award. 
We met at the Bikes for the World warehouse on Eads Street in Arlington, Virginia and volunteered for four hours.We used tools to take apart bikes to ship to Kenya in large containers.We made the bikes smaller by taking off the pedals, lowering the seat and turning the handlebars.
Bikes for the World collects bikes of all models in repairable condition (no tricycles), bike accessories and tools.They partner with non-profits globally to provide affordable used bikes to low-income recipients for access to school, work and healthcare.
We learned a new skill, we got to ride unicycles and bikes with motorcycle wheels.We watched them load 478 bikes into one big shipping container.
We had fun, we worked hard and we helped others in need.We even got dirty! If you want to get involved, check out their website

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Featured Volunteer: Phil Ruth

This month we honor and recognize Phil Ruth who has been with Bikes for the World since 2006. Phil received our five-year volunteer pedal wrench award back in 2011 when we loaded our 50,000th bike. Phil is responsible for collecting and loading thousands and thousands of bikes for Bikes for the World. After Keith, Phil has probably had a hand on more bikes than anyone at BfW.

In 2012 Phil left the area to be closer to family and his absence left a hole around the BfW warehouse. Fortunately for us, Phil returned last year just as the entire BfW team was tuckering out from taking in over 5,000 bikes from our partnership with DICK'S Sporting Goods.  Phil brought energy and spunk back to our effort and we managed to successfully pack our warehouse full of bikes (so much so you could barely walk without sidestepping a bike).

Looking back, Director Keith Oberg recalls the first contact with Phil, who lived all the way out in Hagerstown Maryland. At that time, BfW operated out of our five trailers at Tysons Corner, were in transition out of a site in SW DC, and had just signed the lease at King Farm. "Initially, I was skeptical that Phil would do all that driving to participate. But he did and became not only our most dependable and hard-working volunteer colleague, he ranged furthest afield, looking for bikes!" Keith Oberg

One of his first volunteer tasks back in the beginning was to help Keith clean out the newly acquired warehouse space in the old hay barn at King Farm. Ironically, Phil was also the last one to turn out the light when we vacated the space last year.

Phil leaves a lasting impression on everyone he works with, whether it's a young volunteer struggling to process a bike in the warehouse, a collection manager impressed with his knowledge and passion, or board and staff members who can call on Phil for anything. Phil believes in the importance of recycling/reuse and the value a bike can bring someone overseas....and it shows in everything he does.

Even before Phil returned to the area last year he was in touch with BfW planning his return and filling his dance card (literally, Phil is an avid  round dancer). He immediately committed himself to driving and picking up bikes, prepping bikes for shipping, mentoring volunteers, recycling scrap metal, cutting wood for our containers, and tackling the most-challenging bikes to process (which we always leave for him to fight). Phil works tirelessly and endlessly...sometimes calling Keith as late as 11pm with a report or idea.

Keith credits Phil's yeoman's efforts for making it possible for BfW to survive our largest weekend ever, when we netted more than 700 bikes at four collections on the last Saturday of April in 2009.

Outreach Coordinator Yvette Hess would argue our busiest weekend (or really DAY) occurred last year when we took in about 1,000 bikes in one day from DICK'S after just taking in close to 1,000 earlier in the week. "You honestly couldn't walk through the warehouse end to end. The bikes stacked against opposing walls were closing in on the middle. Phil jumped in that weekend to help process bikes when staff was absolutely tired of looking at them! Not only that, but he took the initiative to get more OSB ready so we could stack bikes and create more room in the warehouse. It was a critical time in our operation and Phil saved the day."

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.