Donate Your Bike, Save the World?

World Bicycle Relief is just as enthusiastic about its program. In 2005, the group reached out to victims of the tsunami by sending 24,300 bikes to Sri Lanka. "We've calculated that 88 percent of recipients are still using their bikes," said Strout, "and they save up to 30 percent of their income."

Getting Everyone Rolling

American charities have been giving old bicycles a second life in developing countries since the '90s. Bikes not Bombs, a program based in Massachusetts, has distributed over 30,000 bicycles to Africa, South America and the Caribbean since 1984. New Jersey-based Pedals for Progress has distributed 108,424 bikes.

Despite the number of independent groups involved -- the International Bicycle Fund has 13 U.S.-based programs listed on its site -- piecing together viable bicycles and shipping them to a different continent is no small feat. Programs like Jole Rider therefore must resort to creative ways to minimize cost, sometimes pulling resources from unexpected places.

The program relies on inmates incarcerated in Gloucester, Cardiff, the Isle of White, London and Manchester to refurbish the bikes and replace old parts. "We have a team of engineers working on the bikes, but a big part of this process is Her Majesty's prison service," Swettenham explained. "We exchange the bikes with the prisons: The inmates work on the bicycles and return them to us in exchange for more."

Meanwhile, World Bicycle Relief relies on one of the largest importers in the world, Tata Industries, to deliver spare parts to Zambia and train mechanics to assemble them on the ground. "Our bikes are based on an existing design, the British roadster, which we improved," explained Strout.

The group is also training locals to become self-sufficent bike mechanics. "We give them two days of business training, three days of technical training, a bike, and they start off with a client base of about 50 caregivers."

Training locals to care for their bicycles is an important component of sustainable development. American charities often use the training as an incentive: Some programs, like Indiana-based Village Bicycle Project, which conducts one-day bike repair workshops in Ghana, have set up earn-a-bike systems. At the end of the free workshop, Ghanaians can buy a bike for $15.

"Other than the shipping cost, one justification is that people tend to value things more if they have paid for it," said the director of the International Bicycle Fund, David Mozer. Some programs use other techniques to make ends meet. "The shipping cost is about $10 to $15 per bike," said Mozer, "so some programs charge $10-$15 for receiving the bikes as 'Shipping and Handling' fees."

Recycling at Home

The fact that it is quite difficult for the average person to dispose of a bicycle is one of the keys to these programs' success. Bicycles are made of so many different parts that they become difficult to dismantle. Private donors, schools and police stations who cannot return lost or stolen bikes, all provide Jole Rider with precious cargo. "In addition, a typical recycling station gives us 15 bikes a week," said Swettenham.

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