MakVeto Bikes: Serving all of the Bicycle Needs of the Greater Caprivi Region

It's been far too long in coming, but here, finally, is an update that describes the scene that we left in the village of Mutjiku, Namibia.


As the metalwork was being completed on the container-turned-bike-shop, we scraped its surface and painted it a thick coat of white to ward off the triple digit daytime heat that's common in the summer months. The white paint would also make the MakVeto bike shop stand out from the landscape as people passed by on highway B8—a heavily traveled route by virtue of being the only paved connection through the Caprivi Region.


By painting the shop name on the side, with the word 'Bicycles' prominently placed, the entire area would be buzzing with news of the bike shop in short order. With no other signs for miles, save the all-important Elephant Crossing notice, one couldn't wish for a more effective means of outdoor advertising. Erasmus had some experience in drawing and painting, and in fact he had made a logo and sign for the shop that was ready before we even arrived.


Taking his lettermark MV straight from the sign, I measured it out and painted it on the side of the container. Once the orange and red paint was dry Erasmus would finish the black parts with a bicycle illustration, the MakVeto name, a listing of their services, and finally a message that mentioned that they're a Sister Shop of Mike's Bikes in California. I felt it was important that these be in his handwriting and not mine. Sadly these last parts could not be completed by the time our stay was up, but we'll post a photo here as soon as we have one.


Inside the container, hooks for vertical bike storage were set up. These hooks would hold donation bikes that were freshly tuned and ready to be sold. Shelves and hangers were mounted to store parts and consumables like tires and tubes. The office area was outfitted with a desk, chairs, file cabinet, and a lock for the door. Multiple runs to Rundu for building supplies were made, which was no easy task, for even with our trusty rental truck it was a two hour trek each way.


While Ken and I were doing construction and making supply runs, Matt took time to give the MakVeto crew clinics on bicycle repair. With an overflowing pile of donation bikes, there certainly was no shortage of repair patients on hand. And while Erasmus and Ludwig had been given some preliminary training by Bicycle Empowerment Network Namibia, their skills needed some honing if they were to provide quality service to their community.


Mukena and Elisabeth (at right) were coming in with no formal training, but over the course of two days of clinics they proved to be quick learners with natural mechanical ability. Starting with the basics of changing tubes, lubricating chains, and adjusting brakes and derailleurs, Matt then went into more advanced fundamentals such as replacing cables and overhauling hubs, headsets, and bottom brackets. At the close of our last full day in the village of Mutjiku, MakVeto bikes was ready to roll with 25 bicycles freshly tuned and ready to give life-changing experiences to their new owners.


On the morning of our departure from the Caprivi Strip, we stopped by the shop before running some errands in the area. We caught Erasmus and Ludwig holding their first official staff meeting, which was pretty thrilling to see in and of itself. They were going over bicycle, accessory, and service pricing, and the basics of profit and loss. Matt and Ken were able to give the guys some help in pricing the bikes, which included determining what prices the local people could afford to pay and why some bikes were higher quality (and therefore more expensive) than others.


While we were hoping MakVeto would be able to open for business that morning, we got the bad news that the Fumu (the local Tribal King of sorts) had announced that he wanted a personal audience with Erasmus and Ludwig before they would be allowed to sell any bikes. As with many things in this part of Africa, there was yet one more piece of tribal bureaucracy to be dealt with before progress could be made. We then set off on our errands and promised to return for a final goodbye. When at last we were able to get back to MakVeto Bikes one last time, we were surprised to learn that Erasmus and Ludwig had gone to meet the Fumu at the very time we had come to bid farewell.


Though it was a little heartbreaking not to be able to see the guys one last time, later on that day we received a text message from Erasmus that made us all cheer out loud. "Fumu let us open the shop. Today we sold three bikes. Thank you guys for all you have done!" We'd like to add one thing: Thank you to all our Mike's Bikes customers for all YOU have done too.