Whether it’s a carbon machine honed for road racing, or a steel workhorse built for the African backcountry, there’s a pragmatic beauty in bicycles built for purpose.
World Bicycle Relief is an inspiring organisation that not only helps build such purposeful bikes, but also helps finance their ownership in markets that might otherwise struggle to do so.
The bike charity’s premise is simple but far reaching. A bicycle is a catalyst for sustainable transport, providing the means to multiply an individual’s efficiency. Carrying capacity is increased five times and the ability to cover distances by four. In turn, this not only saves times but also facilitates access to schools, clinics and markets, as well as providing broader economic opportunities.
The non-profit organization was set up after the Indian Pacific Tsunami in 2005, distributing some 24,000 bicycles in Sri Lanka to help provide access to education and healthcare. Since then it has gone on to help in relief programs across sub-Saharan Africa, ultimately designing its rugged Buffalo Bikes for the African market (also branded ‘Nyati’ in Swahili-speaking countries) with the hardships of the continent’s terrain in mind.
As such, durability is very much the name of the game. Buffalo Bikes boast the burliest of frames, a rear rack capable of a goliath 100kg, a weatherproof coaster brake, puncture resistant tyres, and wheels laced with heavy gauge spokes. Bikes are manufactured in Taiwan and assembled in country – such as Angola, Zambia and Zimbabwe – and distributed across the likes of Botswana, Malawi and South Sudan. Parts are compatible with what is available locally and a Field Mechanics Training program ensures there’s the necessary backup to keep the bikes well oiled and running smoothly. So far, WCR has trained 750 individuals in how to both assemble and repair bikes, and the basics in business and management skills.
Similarly, microfinances provide loans, spread over six to 18 months, to households and communities to buy the bikes themselves, paid back by the added productivity they afford. Schemes like ‘Work to Own’ and ‘Study to Own’ programs help too.
So far, 122,812 bikes are in circulation; World Bicycle Relief estimates this has directly impacted five times as many lives. You can donate through their website .
Learn more by watching the award winning documentary, With My Own Two Wheels. Amongst other stories, it follows a healthcare worker n in Zambia, using a bicycle to reach his patients.