480 Bikes: Container #9 is on its way to Gaborone, Botswana

The bikes filled one entire bay of our warehouse, from wall to wall.

The bikes filled one entire bay of our warehouse, from wall to wall.

This year, we are really ramping things up with our Projects in Africa. We have an ambitious goal of sending FOUR 40-foot containers of bikes! The first container has already arrived in Sierra Leone for our new project there, a partnership with Village Bicycle Project which distributes bikes to rural villages.  The second departed San Rafael on May 25, heading to Gaborone in Botswana. There, the bikes will be warehoused and parceled out in smaller, more manageable "shipments" to two of our Sister Shops, Jonmol Bicycle Service in Botswana and MK Cycles in Zimbabwe.

Loading this second container was a bit of a challenge to say the least. We had less than four hours to load these bikes into a shipping container in the most efficient way possible, along with clothing, parts, and accessories. The bike pile was at least ten feet tall, twelve feet wide and thirty feet deep in our warehouse; there were a lot of bikes in that pile.

The weather forecast only called for a 20% chance of rain, so despite the ominously dark clouds overhead, we were hopeful we could get it loaded before the cutoff time and stay dry.

To pack as many bikes as possible into one container, each bike needs to be prepped:  pedals removed, handlebars turned, and some wheels removed, depending on how it will be packed.

Tom got this LeMond ready for its trip to Africa.

Tom got this LeMond ready for its trip to Africa.

We started at the top of the pile and staged as many bikes as we could fit onto the sidewalk in front of the warehouse while we waited for the empty container to arrive from the Port of Oakland.

Jimbo and Sean turning bars.

Jimbo and Sean turning bars.

Soon after, the container arrived, along with the rain. As some of the crew started to load bikes, the rest of the crew set up tents to continue prepping bikes as they get pulled from the pile.

Staying as dry as possible.

Staying as dry as possible.

This is the ninth container we've sent, and we're getting pretty good at maximizing the number of bikes that will fit, as well as the time it takes to complete the load. Our buddy Sahr from Sierra Leone (now living in Minnesota) taught us the "pancake" method, where the bikes are laid down flat and stacked on their side.  Bikes fit in much more efficiently than lining them up, wheels down, in rows.  We fill in the extra space at the top with extra wheels, kids bikes, and other small accessories.

The first stack is done in the nose of the container. Bikes are staged along the sides of the can, so the loaders can select the bike that will fit best in a particular spot - like Tetris.

The first stack is done in the nose of the container. Bikes are staged along the sides of the can, so the loaders can select the bike that will fit best in a particular spot - like Tetris.

Thumbs-up from Ken as the first stack takes shape.  The kids bikes at bottom right get shoved in the small space at the top of the pile.

Thumbs-up from Ken as the first stack takes shape.  The kids bikes at bottom right get shoved in the small space at the top of the pile.

Thumbs-up from Ken as the first stack takes shape.  The kids bikes at bottom right get shoved in the small space at the top of the pile.

And as the container reached about half full, the skies opened up and it started to pour. In May? In California? Seriously??

Nick (the guy in the black hat) is loading one of the carbon fiber bikes that got donated this bike drive. These bikes are going to the MK Cycles racing team.

Nick (the guy in the black hat) is loading one of the carbon fiber bikes that got donated this bike drive. These bikes are going to the MK Cycles racing team.

When we first started the Africa Bike Drive several years ago, we generally received not-ridden-in-ten-years beaters. Now that the project is maturing, we're getting a greater variety of bikes donated, meaning we can serve a greater variety of riders in Africa. This round of donations, we received six higher-end carbon fiber road bikes, all destined for the cycling team formed by MK Cycles in Zimbabwe, and co-sponsored by our own local racers, Team Mike's Bikes. These kinds of bikes are non-existent in Zimbabwe, and they'll go a long way toward helping the Zim team reach their true potential.

After loading the last few things in to the container, we sealed it for the journey to Africa.

After loading the last few things in to the container, we sealed it for the journey to Africa.

If anything, the torrential downpour got us working faster.  We crammed more than 480 bikes plus parts, wheels, shoes, clothing and accessories into a 40 foot container, in three hours.

"Dude, I'm stoked! All these bikes are going to Africa. That's sick!" - Jimbo

"Dude, I'm stoked! All these bikes are going to Africa. That's sick!" - Jimbo

This load should arrive in Gaborone in about 6 weeks, and will then be distributed to the Sister Shops, each one ending its journey in the hands of a local resident. The drive to collect bikes for Container #10 is already under way. This next one will be our second load bound for Sierra Leone. Please help us spread the word for more tax-deductible bike donations!