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.
At the time of this visit, Tumi’s shop has been open about 2 years. In that time, due in large part to Tumi’s effort, cycling has exploded in Lesotho. When we first opened his shop, it was rare to see anyone riding around on a bike. Now they are everywhere! And with the formation of more clubs, the Lesotho Cycling Association (with Tumi as its president) has seen incredible growth. All the while, his shop has grown into the hub of the local cycling community. This growth has not been easy and as with everything that starts small and turns into something larger, the strain of managing that growth presents serious challenges. In addition to running his business and the LCA, Tumi is a husband and father, one of the fastest cyclists in Lesotho, and has taken on several community projects that help develop cycling (the biggest of which is coordinating the distribution of almost 1000 donated bikes from our Chicago friends, Jeff and Dave). As we dug into his business with him, it became apparent that the shop had not been getting the attention and focus required to grow a small business from scratch. It was our opinion that everything Tumi was involved in had grown to a point that it is now impossible to manage it all successfully. We helped him develop a plan in that allows him to focus his efforts where it’s most needed, his business. The LCA is now in a place where it can succeed without Tumi’s direct leadership and we advised him to not run for re-election and reduce his involvement to an advisor role. The next element of our plan was to institute more financial discipline so he can keep his debt manageable and maintain the vital flow of inventory to keep his business operating. (Remember, after the initial startup funding provided by the Mike’s Bikes Foundation, we assign a cost to future bikes that covers the freight and duty of landing those bikes at his door. Covering the transport costs of the inventory is a major step towards the ultimate goal of sustainability.)
While here, we were fortunate enough to be introduced to Peter Joel, an American who had spent many years in Australia, and now lives in Lesotho. He’s a business consultant by trade but spends a considerable amount of time helping out where he can. And he offered to help Tumi. We think this turn of events was extremely serendipitous and we’re gracious for the help. Regardless of the time we can put into advising Tumi from California, regular face to face communication and mentoring has a massive impact. With his accounts settled, Tumi will receive one more order on credit before he’ll need to start paying upon delivery. Peter has been tasked with helping Tumi develop systems and discipline that will ensure this happens. Tumi’s wife, Mamonyane, handles the bookkeeping, so Peter can also advise her on proper procedures and structure as well.
One thing was clear on this trip - Tumi’s energy and passion for growing cycling in Lesotho is incredible. He has built a foundation for the sport to thrive. Whether it’s working with the government to build a BMX track for kids, supporting the racing scene in both mountain and road, or growing his business to be able to fuel this growth, cycling in this country is ready to explode. The Kingdom of Lesotho owes a heartfelt thanks to Tumi for everything he’s done. But now it’s time for him to focus on only a couple things, and let others take what he has built and continue to grow them.
It was amazing to able to relate our own experience in growing Mike’s Bikes and what we’ve learned along the way. Tumi seems to truly understand what we advised him to do, and we're excited to see the outcome of his renewed focus. Add in Peter’s assistance, and the future is bright for Tumi’s Bike Shop and cycling in Lesotho.
It was an honor to finally meet some of the kids from Our Fertile Ground in Cape Town to ride the Cape Argus with them. We supplied the bikes (each donated by MB customers in California), and our new friends at Indola supplied their matching kits. The kids were super excited for the ride, and had been training for months.
These kids come from very troubled situations in the townships, and some of their stories are just heartbreaking. Participating in an event of this caliber is something that would have been completely out of reach without the involvement of Robert Shea and Our Fertile Ground. An experience like the Argus gives hope to the kids, and exposes them to how amazing and supportive the cycling community can be.
Hi Ken and Matt,
On 23rd February, 26 bicycles from donors of Mikes Bikes and Bikes for Lesotho were donated to 3 cycling clubs to motivate needy kids that lack bicycles in their clubs or village, and 20 cycling shorts and 20 jerseys were donated on behalf of donors from Lesotho Sky.
Yesterday 10 bicycles and parts were donated to needy kids from Thamae village.
About 30 bicycles are left at Tumi's shop, these bikes are to be distributed to Qacha's Nek district for needy kids.
Please be aware that with your good contribution of your bikes that you donated to the container to Lesotho, brought the change of life to more than 600 kids that were showing tears of joy when receiving your bike.
I (TUMI) on this project of handing over bikes to needy kids, has been my great time and this has also built a great relationship with kids, together with their parents.
It's amazing about containers of bicycles have entered into a small country like Lesotho because of you American people.
I also thank the relationship that I have with Mikes Bikes Foundation because this could have not happen.
Today's donation in Lesotho of the now-famous Jeff and Dave bikes was to small students at a local school, along with the dolls hand sewn by ladies in Chicago. Also, we received through Tumi last week a letter from a school in town seeking donation of bikes for some vulnerable students there to use for transport to school. Tumi of course obliged, and invited the kids to the shop to receive their new bikes.
Today's Lesotho bike donation was to 20 needy students from Cenez High School. These students are orphans who endure an extremely long walt to and from school each day. We've seen the morning school rush first hand in Africa, and it's quite a sight. Hundreds of kids, all in uniform, some of whom have been literally been walking for hours, all arriving to school at the same time. What a perfect problem to solve with bikes!
Today's donation unfortunately happened during a torrential downpour, but the students (and Tumi) didn't seem to mind one bit.
The donated bikes from Jeff and Dave's second container into Lesotho is now reaching high into the rugged Moloti Mountains. This batch of 30 bikes was delivered to kids in Quthing Dele Dele, about 120km outside of Maseru. It was apparently quite the village event!
25 bikes donated today at the Teyateyaneng Youth Resource Centre, 45km outside of Maseru.
Today's bike delivery was in Haramoshabe village, about 60km outside of Maseru. On the way, Tumi noticed 3 kids walking to the local shop to buy achar (african salad) for their parents. He surprised them with a new bike and I think it's safe to say it made their day.
Upon reaching Haramoshabe primary school with his trailer full of donated bikes, the kids welcomed Tumi "with great voices and big smiles".
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.