Bikes for the World

Monday, December 9, 2013

Earning Is Learning

Recycle Bicycle in Harrisburg invited Bikes for the World into their warehouse this past weekend to raid the parts room. We were like kids in a candy store feeding a sweet tooth!

Wheels, derailleurs, and brakes, oh my!

Recycle Bicycle is basically a free community run bike shop serving the community in Harrisburg, PA. Director and Founder Ross Willard started the non-profit about 15 years ago and the demand for bikes just keeps growing. Good thing the supply is also still strong.

Willard collects unwanted, used bikes and helps get them back on the streets and into the hands of people who need them to get to work, the market, or school. Sound familiar?

Anyone who needs a bike can get one at Recycle Bicycle...for a small price. Grease and sweat. The shop is open Mondays and Tuesdays and Willard is on hand, along with other volunteers, to mentor anyone needing a bike repair or bike...they just need to do the repairs themselves. Every bike that leaves the shop will have working brakes and every kid on a bike will have a free helmet. He'll even give you a lock to make sure it doesn't get stolen.

Courtesy Recycle Bicycle
Willard doesn't believe in giving away bicycles. As with most things in life a greater sense of pride and ownership comes with something that is earned. And this earn-a-bike program comes with a Wiki-filled supply of life lessons to boot.

What Willard does give away is valuable knowledge. Whether he is working with men who came to him through a halfway house looking for transportation to get to work or out in his mobile bike shop teaching kids how to fix a flat and adjust their brakes, the end result empowers a bike owner of any age.

Courtesy Recycle Bicycle
Recycle Bicycle does, however, partner up with half a dozen or more local groups around the holidays to provide bicycles to kids in need. The warehouse was a flurry of activity this weekend; it's all hands on deck this time of year.

Who are these generous elf mechanics shivering in the unheated warehouse refurbishing bikes for Willard's organization? Many of them earned bikes themselves and returned to use their learned mechanic skills to give back to the organization that reached out and helped them. Life lesson learned. If that isn't reward enough, those huge smiles on the faces of the new bike owners should be.

Even without the organized collections that Bikes for the World oversees for donations, Recycle Bicycle gets thousands of bikes every year.  Last year they distributed close to 1,000 bikes and repaired twice as many flats. Since their mission is to refurbish bikes, their volunteers are focused on stripping bikes for parts and rebuilding bikes that will find a new home in their community.

What this leaves them with is shelves full of parts; too many to ever be able to use. They then turn around and donate excess stock to organizations like Bikes for the World and Pedals for Progress who ship them overseas where they are put to good use refurbishing the bikes donated to organizations in Africa and Central America.

Wendy Powell, Yvette Hess, and Chad Bieber
The truth is, there are so many unused bikes in America that bike organizations who recycle these bikes back into their neighborhoods often end up with more bikes than they know what to do with. It may be not enough man hours, not enough warehouse space, not enough need, or not the right type of bike; whatever the reason, Bikes for the World is often called to relieve another organization of surplus bikes and/or parts.

Since our mission is to supply large quantities of bikes and parts to other organizations without focusing on the time demanding chore of fixing them up, we are able to absorb, store, and distribute tons of bike parts, which are in high demand in the countries where we donate used bikes. This year Bikes for the World is on target to donate over 13,000 bikes to recipient organizations across the globe. Much of the haul from Recycle Bicycle will be included in our next shipment going to Village Bicycle Project in Ghana.

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