Bikes for the World

Friday, June 28, 2013

High Rollers

Eagle scout Senthil Kannan and Yvette Hess of BfW
Don't you do anything for kids locally?

We get this question all the time. We absolutely do! In addition to providing bikes for the Rockville based TERRIFIC program, Bikes for the World's mission is to offer rewarding community service projects to youths, teens, and adults.

Whether they are collecting bikes in their community or assisting to load a container for overseas our volunteers are walking away with an invaluable experience. In fact it coincides with the high standards of Eagle rank, thus making Bikes for the World a perfect fit for an Eagle project and why we've partnered with over 70 scouts over the years.

So even though it's about the bike, it's truly about so much more. Board member Ted Haynie, a retired school principal, put it like this: 
We engaged in many opportunities for our students to develop awareness traits like respect, responsibility, self-discipline, empathy, etc., all the standard stuff but not by just talking to them about it; rather by giving them multiple chances to experience these traits in practice.  This led us to Bikes for the World.  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 was an important concept.  The whole notion of our throw-away society was also something we wanted to convey as well as just simple activism and becoming involved in service to others.”
Rockville TERRIFIC bike recipient
 But don't you provide bikes to the 'World'?

We do. But it's not that simple. First, Bikes for the World has donated over 80,000 bikes to date. That's a lot of bikes! We get that a lot too. We aren't impacting that many people by dealing with beneficiaries on an individual basis. What we do at Bikes for the World is select other non profits who receive bikes from us in bulk that they will then in turn donate individually.

Second, keep in mind these are used bikes. They don't always arrive to us in trail-ready condition. A bike mechanic has to look them over and often repair or replace parts in order to make them safe to ride. Providing helmets, locks, reflectors, and lights is also a good idea. This is time consuming and costly, which is why we leave it to organizations who can focus on the safety aspect AND see to it that the bikes are delivered to people who need them most.

Courtesy Phoenix Bikes
Where do you donate bikes locally?

BfW has donated bikes to several local community groups over the years. Because of the abundance of unwanted and discarded bikes in the DC area, most local bike organizations can easily find bikes to support their programs.

Meet Phoenix Bikes in Arlington. This group collects bikes locally, runs a successful earn-a-bike program, and sells used bikes to support the shop.

Springfield bikes for Kristi's Christmas
You may recall earlier this year we partnered with the West Springfield Rotary, who partnered with Irving Middle School, and The Bike Lane, and Kristi's Christmas, who worked with the Fairfax area school district to collect, fix, and distribute bikes to kids in need.  Phew, that was a lot. But that's what it took just to collect, transport, and fix up 13 bikes to use locally.

It's practically a full time job. Which is why Bikes for the World focuses on its mission to collect and distribute (as-is) bikes, leaving the rest to organizations who are focused on the the final steps. So no, unfortunately, we can't donate a bike or two here or there, simply because do have the staff or time to devote to doing so, but what we can do is recommend another group who might be able to help.

Next time we will bring you the story of a local man who is doing just that, collecting bikes, fixing them up, and finding them new homes. Charles Jones started up a local organization called Alexandria's Bikes for Tykes, Teens, and Adults in need. He teamed up with Bikes for the World several years ago, and now some of our donated bikes end up right back here locally, thanks to the dedication and hard work of Jones, affectionately known as the Bike Doctor.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Africa Or Rust

Courtesy VBP
Donate or dump? As much as we'd like to make use of every single bike out there, there are just some that aren't suited to be sent overseas. And it's not always for reasons you might think. Although the bike seen above doesn't look very functional the main issue is often maintenance. Some parts are just hard to come by in Africa and some bikes impossible to work on. If the mechanics can't keep them running, they aren't much use.
Courtesy VBP

Keeping those donated bikes rolling is a high priority for everyone involved. This is why Bikes for the World tries to send as many parts and accessories with our bike shipments as possible. Not only does it often help us better pack our shipments, but they are also in high demand on the other end.

Some parts in high demand in Ghana and Sierra Leone specifically are 26" tires, chains, tubes, freewheels, and brake pads. Many of our donors call to inquire if their bike is in decent enough shape to ship. The biggest issue typically? No air in the tires. I kid you not. Frame and components perfect.

No rust-buckets please.
Occasionally we get bikes that just have too much rust to send. These bikes are stripped for parts (when possible) and the rest recycled as scrap metal here. It's one of the important volunteer jobs at King Farm.

It is very important for us at Bikes for the World to not unload 'junk' onto another country.  And sometimes that includes usable items that we often receive like tag-a-long bikes and trailers, which aren't wanted in Africa. This is why we sell some of the donations we get here, where they are still quite useful. The money then goes back into our program to help support our mission.

From the Director of Village Bicycle Project (VBP) David Peckam:

"Unwanted parts fall into two categories, scrap and waste. What happens to most rubbish is that it is burned.  Those rotten tires and plastic pieces and packing is all burned, into everyone’s air.  If you have the time, remove any broken or brittle plastic accessories. Broken and useless reflectors are BURNED."

Bikes donated to VA's Bikes for Tykes and Teens
Supporting the bikes sent is just as important as sending bikes alone. If they don't have the parts, they can't support the bikes. This is why we pull out all the 18" wheel bikes made at Wal-Mart. It's not that it's a marginal bike, but rather an odd wheel size that isn't readily available overseas. If Africa can't get tubes for the wheels, the bikes are useless.

And again, this is why it is so important that we get donations of usable parts and tires to help support these local shops working on the donated bikes. Here is another update from VBP about a shop in Sierra Leone.

Peckham goes on to mention that new parts are available from Asia in Africa, but the quality is so low our second hand parts are often more desirable. Torn seats can be mended by upholsterers in Ghana and Sierra Leone. Combination locks can be cracked over time. U locks with no key...waste.

Rusty wheels must be considered carefully. If spoke nipples are rusty, the wheel is of no use to them. If the rim is still good, the spokes can be cut. If the hub has usable parts it too can be stripped and sent. This is time consuming work for Bikes for the World. You can help by donating only good usable bikes and parts or volunteering at King Farm and helping us sort through some of our stock.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Along For The Ride

Back in March we told you about a local book shipment heading to Cameroon that was sponsored by Bikes for the World partner Parole Rotary. We got an invitation to come along for the ride, so to speak, when they made space in their container for a few of our bikes. Well, they have arrived!

Here is a short update on their arrival:
The 30 bikes we loaded earlier this year in Annapolis--in conjunction with the Parole Rotary Club’s Books for International Goodwill--have arrived in Cameroon, a west African nation located between Nigeria and Gabon!!  These bikes—which came from DC area donations as well as drop-offs at Bike Doctor, an Arnold MD based bicycle retailer--were “flattened” (prepped) and fitted by BfW operations manager Nick Colombo and executive director Keith Oberg in the narrow spaces around and on top of eight 4’ x 4’ x 6’ pallets of donated books inside a 20’ sea container.

This donation is a pilot effort to promote access to school by young people in northwestern Cameroon.  Given the frequent challenges in clearing bicycles through Customs in African countries, we wanted to “test the waters” in this new country and see how expensive the process would be, and how capable our local partner, the Cameroon Education Foundation, would be.

The photos (above) confirm that the container has been unloaded in Cameroon.  The next step is to learn how the bikes are distributed, how suitable they are, and what their impact will be.  We expect feedback.  Stay tuned. 

Monday, June 10, 2013

Featured Volunteers: Our Superheroes

George Tyler and Hellen Gelband, BfW board members
Bikes for the World boasts an active and passionate volunteer base, and that doesn't stop at the Board. Some non-profits have board members who aren't overly active in the organization. That couldn't be further from the truth at BfW!

Behind the scenes they've got a ton going on from committees, documentation, interviewing, you name it. But come out to a collection, loading, or event and you might find a board member driving a truck, handing out literature, or wrestling a rusty pedal off a 2013 DICK'S donation...Karen Hendrixson!

Calvert County 2008
Board member Ted Haynie brought us this massive effort in 2008 where the Calvert County school system banded together and did a gigantic collection AND loading on the same day. And if you look closely at the picture you'll see two other board standouts...George Tyler and Hellen Gelband.

George and Hellen were on the steering committee before we formed an official Board. We can't honestly say how many years they've been at this, but let's just say it's longer than Bikes for the World! Hellen joined the bike collecting effort back when it was Pedals for Progress and she was instantly hooked. Her first collection was at Hudson Trail Outfitters in Rockville with another BfW veteran running the show, Zoltan Nagy, from Carroll Creek Rotary fame.
Takoma Park Alternative Gift Fair

Hellen and George are pretty much 'fixtures' at the Alternative Gift Fair in Takoma Park, representing BfW. They've also been spotted at the big Green Fest in downtown DC.

George is our Treasurer, which is a natural fit given his background. George worked on Capitol Hill with Senators Hubert Humphrey and Lloyd Bentsen, and as Senior Economist on the Joint Economic Committee before being appointed by President Clinton as a Treasury deputy assistant secretary.

And just for the record, he is our newest budding author! George recently finished his first book, which is already receiving rave reviews. You can look for it on Amazon: What Went Wrong: How the 1% Hijacked the American Middle Class...And What Other Countries Got Right. Preorder your copy today; it's coming out this July.

Hellen in Kenya with Prisca Oluoch of Wheels of Africa
Hellen is one of the few people in BfW who has actually seen the work we do internationally on the ground. Through work, she has traveled to Kenya many times and met with the director of one of our newest partners Wheels of Africa.

Both Hellen and George worked tirelessly (pun unintentional) on another international mission outside the biking community. Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi) was started a decade ago in connection with Doctors Without Borders. In short, this organization works to make things better for doctors in the field by concentrating on certain parasitic diseases that are often neglected by drug companies. Seriously, check out that link above, what Hellen and George have done for BfW is nothing short of amazing, but the work with DNDi is most definitely saving lives.

At Takoma Park Middle School
Back at BfW, these guys could fill a scrapbook of bike collections over the years. They've been to Maryland, Virginia, DC. They have loaded containers at every warehouse we've ever had. They've written receipts, mentored youth, spun off a pedal, or two, or a thousand. They have seen that our audits were completed, and our annual reports edited. Basically they keep Keith, and the rest of us in line and on track.

Through sweltering temps, heavy rains, and an occasional blizzard you can find this dynamic duo wielding a pedal wrench or piloting a 26 foot Penske truck through the city. This spring they have been out working with BfW almost every other weekend. We know you're not asking us WHY we chose to feature them, but rather WHY IT'S TAKEN US SO LONG!

Thank you George and Hellen !

Sunday, June 9, 2013

A Perfect Record

BfW shipment to Wheels of Africa, Kenya
Each country we ship to has a different set of rules and regulations. And the cost of shipping varies from one location to the next. A country such as Panama might only cost a few thousand dollars to ship a container of bikes while Uganda will cost three times that.

One of the reasons we choose our international partners carefully is to ensure our shipments arrive safely. One of our main criteria is that they have a proven track record of getting shipments successfully into the country. A hang up could be the port authority or government, and that could create insurmountable issues clearing customs.

Shipments going into Kenya and Uganda both pass through the Kenyan port of Mombasa. You can see from the map to the left that Uganda is still very much inland from this port. A container of bikes from the Port of Baltimore to Mombasa may cost $5,000 US. However, to move those bikes from the Kenyan port to Uganda by truck will cost another $4,000.

If the government were to impose an import duty on these donated shipments, those costs could soar upwards of $15,000, for a container of 500 used bikes! This could impact our relationship with Uganda. And this is where we are now.
Courtesy Prisoners Support Organisation

In fact, our latest shipment to Uganda suffered an even worse scenario. This was our 27th shipment to the Prisoner's Support Organisation (PSO) in Uganda. When it arrived at the port of Mombasa, it was pulled aside by the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA). Up until recently, we had no major issues clearing the port and moving inland, via truck, to the Ugandan capital of Kampala. This time, however, the PSO's shipping agent was told that the KRA had determined that our shipment was mischaracterized on the bill of lading-the critical shipping document-and that we would be fined, held responsible for the costs of unloading and verifying contents, and charged for storage. The alleged issue was that the KRA considered the bikes to be 'assembled', and not 'semi-disassembled', as we have consistently stated on our shipping documents.

May shipment of BfW bikes in Ghana
Upon learning of the problem from our local partner, PSO, we responded that the KRA position was in error, that our bikes-with their pedals removed, their handlebars turned and rotated, seats down, and sometimes with wheels removed-were indeed 'semi-disassembled' as stated on the bill of lading, and that neither we nor the consignee were responsible for any costs incurred. "Try and ride one of our compacted bikes!" If they were not ride-able, they were surely not assembled.

BfW shipment of bikes arriving in Colombia
A few weeks later, we received the gratifying news that the KRA-which has inserted itself into a matter we considered best left to Ugandan authorities-had dropped the fine and associated charges, and the container had already proceeded on to Uganda.

After 150 shipments, going back to 2005, we have never yet 'lost' a container (and its contents) to abandonment and confiscation.

In large part, this is due to the commitment and competence of our receiving partners, who research import requirements, hire a freight agent, and move quickly to clear the container from port before storage costs begin to mount up. Another reason is that Bikes for the World commonly requires that its receiving partners pay a portion of direct costs ahead of time, making them 'invested' in the shipment and motivating follow up.
May BfW shipment to Village Bicycle Project, Ghana

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Taking The LEED To Save The Environment and Change The World

What a difference a bike makes. One bike can change one life, and often times it doesn't stop there. Overseas, a bicycle is a ticket to work, school, or healthcare, but what we've seen at Bikes for the World is it changes lives in so many different ways. Really, one bike can change an entire village.
Courtesy BENN
For example these young children in Namibia are being fed through the Catholic AIDS Action soup kitchen. That soup kitchen is, in part, being funded with proceeds from the Omaruru BEC, a local Bicycle Empowerment Centre. These Centres are essentially remote bike shops set up by BfW partner Bicycling Empowerment Network (BEN).

BEN trains local Namibians in both bicycle mechanics and business so that they are able to run their own locally run bicycle shops. Often the shops are no more than a used shipping container, just like we pack our bikes into when we ship them overseas.

Shop owners then come to a centrally locally BEN facility to purchase bikes and parts at low cost to take back to their bike shops for neighboring villagers. Mechanics then make sure the bikes are kept in good working order. Many BEC owners turn around and put the money they make back into the community, such as feeding orphans through a community organization.

For the second year in a row, Bikes for the World has partnered with national retailer DICK'S Sporting Goods( DSG) to take part in their annual Trade-In Trade-Up sale. The sale, which took place in early May, encourages bike owners to bring in their old rides to upgrade to newer models and hopefully get them out riding more. The owners, in turn, receive money off a new bike at DICK'S.

Better yet, DICK'S turns around and donates all the bikes received through this promotion to Bikes for the World where they end up changing lives. Thousands of lives are made better through this one promotion alone. A true testament to the value of reuse.
David Johnston from DICK'S joined us
Last year DICK'S donated over 4,000 bikes to Bikes for the World. As late as earlier this year, we were still shipping some of those bikes to our international partners. Each one changing ONE life, ONE family, perhaps one COMMUNITY.

A few weeks ago we started receiving shipments from this year's sale. We are expecting over 5,000 bikes to come into our new Pentagon City warehouse by the middle of June. We were honored to have DICK'S Marketing Director, David Johnston drive down from Pittsburgh to check out our operations.

Thanks to Vornado, our generous landlord, we currently have TWO warehouses in Arlington, blocks away from the Metro yellow/blue lines. (no excuses for you to not come down to help pack a container!) Not only do we LOVE this location, but it is truly making this year's DSG shipments smooth, not to mention POSSIBLE. We have electric, a dock, and plenty of room to store bikes.

Vornado is committed to sustainability and green living. We are extremely proud to have them join us in this massive effort. According to their website,
Vornado is the single largest owner of LEED certified buildings in the Washington Metropolitan Region. They are an active member of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and committed to LEED certification in all new developments and in their existing buildings. As of 2012, Vornado/Charles E. Smith achieved LEED certification at 40 buildings, which total over 12.5 million square feet.

The partnership between Bikes for the World, DICK'S Sporting Goods, and indirectly, Vornado is making possible the delivery of over 5,000 bikes to about a dozen international partners in the next two months. This is over one third of our typical annual bike donations. It is making good use of a bicycle no longer used or under used, hopefully getting someone here out on a new bicycle, and helping someone overseas live a better life. Visit Bikes for the World to find out more or to find out how you can help!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Mechanics Make A Bike Work

Bikes from DICK'S 2013 Trade In Trade Up Sale
Bikes for the World receives over 10,000 bikes every year as donations that we in turn mostly send overseas. We often hear, "how do you get so many bikes??" The truth is, they are right here in our backyard. Last year we collected and shipped about 13,500 bikes with 4,000+ coming from a national partnership with DICK'S Sporting Goods.

We are happy to announce a second annual Trade In-Trade Up promotion with DICK'S is bringing us over 5,000 bikes this spring. But that still means our local community groups and bike shops are turning in 10,000 bikes collected mostly in the DC area.

Some of these bikes are taken in for repairs and the owners decide for one reason or another to donate them rather than fix them. Many donors cite the greatness of our program and their ability to buy another bike as their motive.

Others find out how expensive bike repairs in America can be and opt to simply buy another bike. For example a safety check including minor adjustments will run a patron an average of $50, while a thorough tune up could cost as much as $200 not including the price of any parts that need to be replaced.

Depending on the type of bike, model, and component system, this is really not that expensive. And if a bike is kept properly maintained and cleaned it will run great for years. But for some bike owners looking across the aisle at a brand new bike price of $200-350 the choice is simple...especially with the added incentive of donating an old bike to change someone's life overseas.

Courtesy Village Bicycle Project
The cost of labor here in America is one of the reasons we ship our bikes 'as is' to our partners overseas. But it's really a minor reason. Because of the way we ship our bikes, so tightly together and partially disassembled, bike mechanics are an integral part of the receiving organization.

Many of our partners train local people to be bike mechanics.They, then, reassemble our bikes and maintain them for years for their new owners, creating jobs and increasing incomes for their own families. This supports one of our main missions, generating skilled employment.

Courtesy St. Louis Bicycle Works
However, every now and again, we find an amazing program doing great things right here in our own American communities. Meet the men of Marion, who are working in a bike mechanics program established by Bikes for the World's newest U.S. partner, St. Louis Bicycle Works. These inmates were trained by St. Louis Bicycle Works and work on bikes instead of working out in the gym or watching TV.

The bikes they refurbish are going back into the program in St. Louis where they support an Earn-a-Bike program with area youth or they are shipped overseas to similar projects we support. The inmates have, to date, given back thousands of bikes to this program and overall describe the program as very rewarding. Continue reading about this 3 year old project in Illinois.

Courtesy St. Louis Bicycle Works
June 1, 2013 Bikes for the World sent Nick Colombo to St. Louis to help Bicycle Works load and ship their very first container. For the past 5-6 years Bicycle Works has been sending bikes to our sister organization Working Bikes in Chicago who has been shipping containers for them.

The container packed this weekend as an Eagle scout project will be heading to our partner CESTA in El Salvador. In just under 6 hours, with the help of 25 volunteers, they packed about 500 bikes in this trailer under the expert guidance of Nick. Included in the shipment are about 20 bikes from the Marion Federal Penitentiary program.

This relationship is another step toward one of our current priorities at Bikes for the World which is to increase our national presence. Congratulations to everyone involved...including one Eagle candidate, Ben O'Brien, who contacted us last year to do his Eagle project with Bikes for the World. Working out of Kentucky, we were able to connect Ben with Bicycle Works and the bikes he collected were also included in this recent shipment.