Bikes for the World

Friday, September 7, 2012

Bike Safety

Bikes for the World was founded in January 2005 as a sponsored project under the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA).  Our first bicycles went to Honduras, with shipments following to Sri Lanka (for tsunami recovery) and even Haiti.

BfW has grown over the years averaging about 10,000 bikes shipped per year making us the nation's largest non-profit bicycle reuse program. In April 2011 BfW became an independent 501(c )(3) agency.  Since its founding, it has donated more than 70,000 bicycles internationally and in the Washington DC Metro region; in this year alone, it expects to donate more than 13,000 bikes.
Donated helmets

BfW typically sends bikes to underdeveloped areas. That is to say, road infrastructure is deficient and bike safety is not part of the culture. Helmet use is of great concern to many people involved with BfW and we, therefore, have not only sent numerous helmets overseas but we have also encouraged partner agencies to distribute and support helmet use among beneficiaries.

Bikes for the Philippines requires the use of a helmet
Helmet use, however, is difficult to track. We have no way of knowing if beneficiaries are even using the helmets we ship overseas. Not so in the case of Bikes for the Philippines (BfP) where students are required to use a helmet in order to receive a bicycle.
Through a fundraising initiative, BfP raised money in order to purchase brand new helmets for all their beneficiaries. The local bike club in Manila, The Firefly Brigade, also donated lights to the students.
Peacock Garden resort sent a rescue vehicle for student

I can personally attest to A) the importance of wearing a helmet and B) the need for either lights or reflective gear. When I visited Baclayon (Philippines) in February I had the opportunity to ride with the students to and from school. Every night we returned home in complete darkness. And it is dark!

While on one of these rides I witnessed one of the students crash on the rocky terrain. Although she was pretty shaken up, she was not seriously injured in large part because she was wearing a helmet. She had a pretty good bruise on her shoulder, a cut under her eye, and a ding in her helmet where she broke her fall on a rock.

So when Carlos Ovalle, a BfW supporter and cyclist, approached us about a similar problem in Nicaragua, where his wife Angela is from, we were all ears. What Ovalle wanted to do was raise funds to purchase reflective tape and install the tape on bicycles while in Nicaragua visiting family. BfW agreed to 'sponsor' this project in order to learn more about the effectiveness of relatively inexpensive reflective tape as a means of safety among rural cyclists.
Courtesy BEN

This has also been a concern in Africa and is monitored by the Bicycling Empowerment Network (BEN). They distributed reflective sashes to some beneficiaries.

As Ovalle points out, as roads in Nicaragua become more congested the threat of injury to cyclists rises. Due to the economic status of many of our beneficiaries in all countries we serve, lights, reflective gear, even bike reflectors are often not an option for many riders.

Where bicycle safety is not a priority for a community beneficiaries are very much at risk. In the case of Baclayon, the Local Government Unit did take notice to the increased bike traffic and legal initiatives are being considered.

Unfortunately night riding cannot be avoided especially when the days get shorter. Even here in DC commuters start pulling out their lights in October when it's getting dark before the work day is over. Imagine how dark it would get in a rural village without street lights. Not to mention the pedestrians wearing dark clothing sharing the same streets. 

Stay tuned to our blog for an update on Carlos Ovalle's mission to install reflective tape in Nicaragua. And if you'd like to contribute to this fund or to help provide helmets in the Philippines you can do so through our website or the link on the side of this blog, just indicate "Nicaragua Safety"  or "Philippines" in the Designation Box at the bottom of the donation form.

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