At the ripe old age of 72, Israel Molebatsi came in to the Gaborone shop recently to have his very old and broken down bike serviced (the one on the left), and the shop guys determined that it was simply beyond repair. This old bike was Israel's only means of transport, so he was beyond happy to receive a good quality replacement bike (the one on the right) courtesy of The Bike Shop Gabs. And we're beyond happy to see this awesome old dude still riding!
With our first donation of 24 bikes and a slew of product from our generous sponsors, we're super excited about our new partnership with Children in the Wilderness (CITW).
CITW is a non-profit organization that facilitates sustainable conservation through leadership development and education of rural children in Africa. Insight, care and commitment are required to conserve Africa's pristine wilderness and wildlife areas. To ensure that these places continue to exist - in this generation and those to come - we need the rural children of Africa to understand the importance of conservation and its relevance in their lives. Hence, the Children in the Wilderness program: and environmental and life skills education program for children, focusing on the next generation of decision-makers; inspiring them to care for their natural heritage and to become the custodians of their wilderness and wildlife in the future.
CITW's Eco-Club program forms part of the normal school curriculum and uses interactive sessions to involve children in projects that benefit both the community and the environment. This donation will enable CITW to run competitions in its Eco-Clubs, with winners each receiving a bike, a helmet and riding gear. These bikes are a huge reward for child participants who demonstrate a commitment to conservation and community service.
Huge thanks to our industry partners who made this possible: Specialized, Raleigh, Giant, Ivar, Bike and Roll, and of course our generous customers right here in NorCal!
Achieving personal mobility is awesome, but sometimes you've just got to carry stuff too.
We've gotten more than 16,000 Africans rolling on bikes so far, but moving stuff around with them on those bikes remains a challenge. Rack and basket compatibility is tough, and there's not a good supply of donated or inexpensive trailers. We've seen some amazing examples of pure African ingenuity to solve this problem - and another solution is as simple as a backpack!
Not only do our friends over at IVAR have the coolest and most comfortable backpack design on the market, they also share our soft spot for Africa and our belief that clean, green, individual transport is a no-brainer. With their donation of more than 800 backpacks to our projects, IVAR packs are making a huge difference.
Just last week, we visited the shop in Gaborone, where Sparks, our legendary mechanic, showed up for work sporting an IVAR pack. Sparks says it's the most comfortable pack he's ever worn. They're also being used in other parts of Botswana, as well as Namibia, Zimbabwe and Lesotho. Huge thanks to IVAR for their generous support, and for helping everyday Africans make their newfound two-wheeled freedom more productive and more comfortable.
Our buddy Paul was out on a mountain bike ride in the bush outside Gaborone, Botswana, and happened upon this lovely old man, Madala, on his donated Giant Revel that he received a few months ago. He's enjoying the heck out of his bike and riding it everywhere.
Big thanks to Giant Bicycles and Bicycle Warehouse in San Diego. And to Paul for grabbing the pic.
Ride on, Madala!
Our friends at Team JonMol Cycling sent us a recap of their remarkable achievements on the local, regional and international race scene in 2014.
Aside from numerous top finishes in the local races, this junior team earned a podium in the African Youth Games (hosted in Botswana this year), 1st in Team Time Trail in African Youth Games, National Champion in MTB, Duathlon champion in the Scania Race in Kgale, sprint winner in the Jwaneng race, 1st overall and 1st mixed in the Time Adventure Challenge, and took part in the Lady Khama Charity Event and the Botswana Independence Day celebrations.
It was an active year for Team JonMol, and we're all very proud of their accomplishments.
A note from team representative David Lebalelo:
As we look back, the Team had great achievements locally and internationally this year. Our juniors didn't disappoint. Being part of these events leaves a historic legacy to the team. Appreciation and Recognition are priceless. We always learn as we move forward. To sum it up, 2014 realized growth in terms of our podium finishers. This was never an easy task. People had to commit their time and resources to make this dream become reality. As we get into year 2015 we face new challenges which need full commitment and dedication. We also require support from companies - since we do not have sophisticated bikes, we rely on the bikes we're given by Mikes Bikes through the Bike Shop Gabz.
I WISH YOU THE BEST CHRISTMAS AND A HAPPY 2015!
Our guys up in Harare have distributed their entire last batch of bikes, and they showed up again one early morning last week for more. But this time, they brought two new additions, friends of theirs eager to set up their own small bike shop businesses. So along with Enoch and Lovemore, we now welcome Gift and Charles, who are also making the 15 hour bus journey from Harare to Gaborone to pick up their own supply of donation bikes, strap them to the bus, and log another 15 hours home to Harare. We really like working with these hard working guys, and we're thrilled to be landing so many bikes in Zimbabwe.
About a year ago, Ken challenged our friends Mike and Debbe Simmons, owners of the Bicycle Warehouse stores in San Diego, to run their own Africa Bike Drive, and they jumped right on board! All Bicycle Warehouse locations became drop off points for donated bikes, and Mike built a massive shed behind their house to store them all. Before we knew it, they had rounded up a full container of bikes, along with 300 helmets donated by Kali, new parts donated by Giant, and piles and piles of carefully organized used parts. This week, Ken visited Mike and Debbe to show them the tricks of cramming as many donated bikes as possible into a shipping container, and Container #29 is now en route from San Diego to our facility in Gaborone, Botswana.
Here's a hats off and a huge, huge THANK YOU to the entire Bicycle Warehouse crew, and to all of their awesome San Diego customers who donated bikes.
We think they kind of like the idea, because Mike and Debbe have already begun collecting bikes for their next container!
Thank you to our customers and supporters in NorCal who have donated enough used bikes to fill our 26th container to Africa. These bikes were unloaded this week in the new distribution facility in Gaborone, where they'll be catalogued, rehabbed, prepped and delivered to the Sister Shops. From there, they'll find their 2nd home out in an African community and change lives!
We've worked really hard to identify, vet, train and set up proper Sister Shops across the region, but sometimes great partnerships just land in your lap. Meet Lovemore and Enoch, two guys from Harare who heard about the availability of bikes down in Gaborone and are overcoming huge obstacles to give their community access. Once or twice a month, they spend more than 15 hours on the bus ride from Harare. They arrive at our warehouse in Gabs well before dawn and wait for Paul to show up. They then select 15 - 20 bikes each time, reimburse us right away for what we've spent on the ocean freight and duty, and then they strap the bikes to the top of another bus for the 15 hour ride home. They've got a good little business going, they're not afraid to work hard for it, and we're thrilled to have them as partners in Zimbabwe.
Adam Austin started an organization called Kit Up Africa to collect gently used bike clothing in Southern California to donate to aspiring African racers. As we've learned over the past several years, there's a surprisingly strong racing community in southern Africa, and they're always after better equipment, including more professional clothing. Adam personally delivered the first truckload to us today in Novato, and we're loading all the neatly sorted bins into our 28th shipping container to Africa. Huge thanks to Adam for this effort, especially for delivering the clothing all laundered, folded and sorted. It will make the distribution from Gaborone so much easier! Also huge thanks to our friends at all the SoCal shops and teams who are helping with the collection. We're quite confident we'll find excellent second lives for all of this gear.
After leaving Tumi in Lesotho, we headed to Gaborone, Botswana to visit our distribution partners and see the The Bike Shop, which Jere helps run. Our distribution partners in Gabs are Rob and Paul from WhiteTree and they have been instrumental in supporting our Sister Shops. If you remember, we formed what we like to call the Robin Hood Model a couple years ago. WhiteTree is a proper distribution company that serves Southern Africa and they have several high-end brands in their portfolio, Wilier and Specialized (SBC is Botswana only) bikes and BikeSmart accessories being the primary brands. In exchange for our support in getting them access to high end product, they deliver our donated bikes and parts at no markup to the Sister Shops. This allows the shops to buy at more affordable prices and manageable quantities than an entire container and gives them a greater chance at success.
This combination is most visible at their shop in Gabs called The Bike Shop. It is common to see a wealthy expat deciding whether to go with the Epic Comp or Expert before this year’s Cape Epic along side a local security guard choosing between the donated bikes so he can get to work more reliably. [Bike Shop Pic]
The primary purpose of the visit was to check in on the progress for the new distribution facility. Rob’s other company (along with his brother Andrew) is GMR freights. GMR owns a now empty warehouse in Gaborone that will serve as the primary distribution center for all of their brands, including the bikes for our Sister Shops. This will be hugely beneficial for our Sister Shop program as there will now be a proper place to sort, inventory, and prepare our donated bikes for the Shops. When our container lands and the hundreds of bikes are unloaded, they will be sorted by style and condition. Some bikes are not fixable but have parts that could be used on other bikes. These can now be stripped and organized to make repairing other bikes easier and faster. The end goal here is that Tumi and the other shops will get their deliveries of bikes in sellable condition and we prevent the scrap pile from growing. It allows us to get the most out of the bikes we do receive, train and employ more mechanics in Gaborone, and lessen the burden on our Sister Shops.
Another major benefit of this new facility is that it will allow us to begin the hunt for new bike supply. A main focus of our entire program is sustainability and a traditional model of buying and selling new bikes is a huge step forward. New bikes can smooth out the peaks and valleys that we face due to only being able to send a container of 500 bikes when we have received that many donations. It can also allow us to expand our network of shops as it allows the donated bikes to be spread thinner across more Sister Shops. We envision the new DC in Gabs to be much like our own here in CA. New bikes arrive unassembled and a team of mechanics does the work to prepare the bikes for the stores. Then the shops can order the right mix of bikes and price points based off of their market and consumer demand. It’s pretty damn cool to be this close to having built a proper distribution channel that can reliably supply bikes to communities where access to bikes was impossible or very challenging. Now we just have find a new bike source that is affordable enough for these markets and durable enough to last. Easy, right?
On our most recent visit to Africa, we made the journey up to Shakawe in the far northwest of Botswana to check in on Trinos. We met Trinos last year, started chatting with him about bikes, offered to send a few to see if he could move them, and next thing we know, he's calling to order more, and then more, and then still more. He's the caretaker at the Shakawe house of our buddy Brett, who is probably the biggest supporter of cycling in all of Botswana, and Brett has no problem allowing Trinos to essentially operate a small bike shop out of his garage. Trinos has run with this opportunity. The community now recognizes him as "the bike guy", and when he receives new stock, he simply posts up a 8x11 white sheet of paper on the fence saying "bikes available" and the customers start showing up.
Shakawe is another of those places in Africa where there were literally NO bikes just a year ago, and now they're quite common, all thanks to the Sister Shop program and our local star Trinos.
Trinos has even started to help get product up to our Namibia shop, which is about 40 minutes north, just across the border. Our Botswana partners at Whitetree have regular truck routes up to Shakawe, but they don't cross into Namibia, so Trinos helps complete those deliveries. It's a beautiful example of independent folks cooperating to contribute to the greater good and help us spread cycling across the region.
Funded by a Mike's Bikes customer, 4 Buffalo Bikes were presented this week to game rangers at the Mokolodi Nature Reserve outside Gaborone, Botswana. We've spent quite a bit of time in Mokolodi. It's a beautiful and expansive reserve where patrolling by bike makes perfect sense, and this is yet another great example of the many ways bikes are a perfect tool for Africa.
Mokolodi Nature Reserve, just outside of Gaborone, was established as a protected area to benefit Botswana youth and natural environment. It is a non-profit charity organization that relies largely on income generation through tourism related activities and on donor support and sponsorship.
As part of an effort to increase the value of the Reserve to the local Gaborone community, Mokolodi introduced cycling to encourage greater use of the Reserve and to create interest amongst a wider spectrum of clientele. Following on from this, the Reserve has also started to make use of mountain bikes to assist with various management activities, including fence patrols, rhino monitoring, facility inspections (pumps, water pipes and solar power installations etc).
In recent years, the reserve has been struggling financially. Under the new dynamic leadership of Park Manager Ian Johnson, changes are happening and a huge effort is being made to introduce new revenue streams. We see bikes as one of those, and we're proud to play a part.
With our partners Rob and Paul in Botswana, we have donated bikes to the park for use by rangers and support staff, and the Bike Shop Gabs is providing free weekly bike maintenance.
The park has begun to embrace cycling as a legitimate tourist attraction, and routes have been cut and built. This has drawn new visitors and revenue to the reserve, it has provided employment, and it has helped to solidify the park's finances.
Mokolodi is also deploying bikes as an effective new anti-poaching tool. Rangers follow game paths, checking for snares and traps. Bike are slower and closer to nature than cars, so rangers can spot traps more effectively, and they can reach areas that a vehicle can not. Poachers are used to running off or lying low when they hear vehicles approaching, so bikes are much more effective at actually catching them.
The owner of a horse farm in rural Botswana recently purchased bikes for 6 of his workers. These workers were previously faced with up to a 6 mile walk to and from their jobs every day. The bikes have made a huge difference by speeding up their daily commute, allowing them to spend less time away from their families. The bikes are also very helpful for their necessary trips to the local supply store, which is now much more accessible. These new riders are delighted with their bikes and there is a huge demand for more by their friends and relatives working on the other farms and cattle posts in the area.
Your donated bikes are making a big difference in the lives of everyday Africans!
Shortly after our trip to the Caprivi strip in northern Namibia to get Erasmus back on track, Paul and Sparks returned to pay a followup visit, also stopping to drop bikes at Bike Shop Maun. Paul's post-visit report:
Hi Ken, I have just returned from Maketo/Caprivi... was absolutely brilliant to breath life into Erasmus's Meketo store.. Note the name change from Makveto to Maketo..... The "V" was for Ludwig...so obviously Erasmus wishes to remove any/all reference. It was really good to have Sparks with me. He did a very good skills transfer/handover eg. Mukena/Erasmus had never done a tubeless conversion so that will be implemented in Caprivi shortly. Ken, I am positive that Meketo will be a success! I am back in Gabs now and urgently preparing Tumi's next load of Bicycles and parts.Cheers Paul
Thank you so much to the hundreds of recent bike donors who made this container possible. Our last shipment from the aptly named "Africa warehouse" in San Rafael, this 16th container bound for Africa loaded up like a dream. We're actually getting pretty good at this! So good, in fact, that we're completely changing the load process -more on that in a later post...
In any case, we crammed almost 500 bikes into this 40' can and it sets sail any day from the Port of Oakland for its long journey to Durban, South Africa, where it will then transfer to a rail car for the overland leg up to Gaborone. And not a minute too soon, as the Sister Shops are reporting brisk sales and are constantly requesting fresh supply of used bikes from the States.
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The Gaborone sister shop has been officially named "The Bike Shop, Gabz". We're also one major step closer to setting up World Bicycle Relief assembly center there, where we will import completely broken down Buffalo bikes and assemble them locally. An example of a completed Buffalo is in the photo below, and additional info about Buffalo bikes and how they're assembled can be found here.
It was an exciting morning for us at our warehouse here in San Rafael. Tucked behind new bikes and parts inventory were 343 donated bicycles that were ready to be loaded into our next container headed for Bicycle Recycle in Botswana.
These donated bikes used to have a life with somebody in the Bay Area. Santa could have delivered the tiny pink bike to a slumbering toddler. The older steel road bike may have been somebody's first race machine back in the 1990s. The haggered mountain bike with spring suspension still has dirt from its last rugged adventure. They all had their place with somebody else and served their time for those experiences; they were tools for learning and exploring.
Now it's time for new homes, new rides, and new soil. These bikes will be forgotten no more, but rather restored and reintroduced into the world, reigns held tightly in eager riders' hands. It's time for new adventure and exploration in Africa's arms.
We've loaded containers many times before and it always restores faith in humanity to see everybody work together for the same goal; to get more people on bikes, happy and carefree, all over the world. We couldn't do it without the countless donations and give thanks to all those that have contributed. There will be plenty more containers to fill in the future, so if you know a bike that's been forgotten in a garage or tucked in a storage unit without much thought, roll it out to one of our locations for a new life in sunny Africa.