Bicycles for Humanity on a roll

Victoria chapter has shipped 3,500 bikes to Africa

Ryan Harris of Recyclistas and Chris Wille of Bicycles for Humanity have helped ship 3

Ryan Harris of Recyclistas and Chris Wille of Bicycles for Humanity have helped ship 3

Within minutes, Chris Wille has stripped the pedals off of a well-used 1990s mountain bike. He loosens the neck and turns the handlebar sideways, and zap straps the back wheel to the centre of the bike. He then places it in the bed of his GMC pickup parked in front of Recyclistas, where he’s collecting 25 old mountain bikes, before driving them to a half-filled shipping container.

It’s how Bicycles for Humanity packs 425 to 450 bikes into a shipping container destined for Zomba, Malawi.

“We’re nearly ready to ship our next container, which will be the eighth for the Victoria chapter, with our 3,500th bike,” Wille said. “We don’t just ship the bikes, we ship parts too.”

Wille is the co-director of the local chapter and has seen first hand what difference a bike can make to people in Africa. The avid cyclist and adventurer once cycled across the continent in the gruelling Tour d’Afrique.

“It can mean a chance for employment, or just cutting down on the time it takes for the daily trip to get water, or medical need,” he said.

Bicycles for Humanity’s Victoria chapter started in 2008. They’ve shipped to Uganda and Namibia, and are currently shipping to Malawi, where they have a trusted man on the ground, Ben Voss, to help facilitate putting the bikes into proper use.

Once there, locals are engaged to rebuild the bikes. The bikes are sold for a reasonable profit, the proceeds from which go to a local orphanage.

“The biggest challenge for us is getting the word out that we are in need of bikes, parts and donations,” Wille said.

The Me to We club at Sir James Douglas school in Victoria recently collected $3,864 which will go directly towards the shipping costs for this next container load, which is a little more than $10,000. The SJD Me to We club is holding another Bicycle 4 Humanities donation drive, May 7 at the Moss Street Market from 1 to 2 p.m.

Wille picks up bikes from Recyclistas about once a month, or whenever they call.

“We get a lot of what we call ‘department store’ bikes donated to us that just aren’t worth rebuilding,” said Recyclistas owner Ryan Harris. “It can cost us $150 just to rebuild a bike that would only be worth $150, maybe, and you can practically get a new department store bike for that.”

On the other hand, many of the donations Wille receives are old road bikes that aren’t suitable for the brutal African roads – which is where Bikes for Humanity and Recyclistas can work a bit of a deal, and swap bikes.

“Old steel mountain bikes are great for Africa,” Wille said.

To donate a bike, bike parts or money to Bikes for Humanity Victoria contact b4hvictoria@gmail.com or visit b4hvictoria.blogspot.ca.