Recycle that cycle!

June 2016

Bicycles for Humanity gears up for new season

Think Globally, Act Locally. That’s the motto for the Thunder Bay Branch of Bicycles for Humanity (B4H), a non-profit organization that sends used bicycles to developing nations such as Namibia, Zambia and Rwanda. “It’s all about recycling used bicycles,” says Frank Burns, the Tuesday shop foreman for the local B4H chapter. “Not just about having fun!”

I’d heard about B4H through one of their volunteers and thought I’d do some digging into this valuable but often- overlooked organization. B4H has chapters in 8 countries and supplies bikes to over 400 communities around the world, but it has its roots in British Columbia. It started in 2005 with the efforts of Pat and Brenda Montani, Canadians with a love of bikes and a heart for people. In 2006, Thunder Bay became the very second chapter of this global organization, under the direction of Dr. Steve Klassen and Michael Yuan. Despite being a small city, Thunder Bay consistently distinguishes itself as one of the most productive branches in the entire organization.

“It’s because we have the shop,” says Burns. “Not every center has a repair shop like we do, and that’s important to getting each of these bikes on the road.” The repair shop is based in the old laundry facility of the LPH, which B4H shares with MEMO (Medical Equipment Modernization Opportunity) and it is literally filled to the ceiling with cycles and parts. Once a bike is donated, it is assessed, sorted, repaired and cleaned before getting them ready for shipment.

“We sort them according to frame style and quality,” says Burns. “A 10-speed wouldn’t last too long on the roads of Africa! We need the mountain bikes for that.” Twice a year, the B4H volunteer crew bands together to work in assembly-line fashion, loading as many as 500 bikes into the shipping container. In the ten years that B4H has been operating, Thunder Bay has donated over 7,000 bikes to developing countries.

“We have over 300 bikes in the shop right now,” says Burns. “Some of them will stay in Canada; most will go overseas. All will be used and that’s the
beauty of B4H – it’s not a hand out. It’s a hand up.” Parent organization Bicycle Empowerment Network (or BEN) takes participants in Namibia and trains them in business management as well as the repair and maintenance of all types of cycles. When the bikes arrive, the shipping container itself is retrofitted to become a bicycle-repair shop. Absolutely everything is recycled and the system is not only working, but thriving.

“What’s really cool,” says Burns. “Is that according to BEN, 1 out of every 3 new bike mechanics is a woman. The empowerment and employment of women is key for developing countries.” Not all donated bicycles have ‘the chops’ to go overseas, but Burns and his team make sure that no bicycle goes to waste. Bikes that might not be suitable for Namibia are reconditioned and given new leases on life here in Northwestern Ontario.

“Every year we take our bikes to LU,” says Burns. “This year we were invited to the College too. The students love it when we come. They know that they’re getting a good quality bike at a cheap price, and that money goes to help people at the same time. It’s win-win-win.” These bikes are not only sold to students. Some are
sent to Northern communities while others are ideal for seniors, where a rugged mountain-bike might be traded for a gentler touring version. Childrens and youth bikes are reconditioned and donated to Christmas Cheer campaigns, Roots to Harvest programs and the Underground Gym. Those that can’t be totally reclaimed are donated to local high schools for use in the shops, where students are taught the basics of bicycle mechanics and repair. Regardless of the ultimate destination, each bike finds a way to better the life of another person, and that is really the heart of this great organization.

“We need to keep bikes out of the landfills,” says Burns. “We’re making a difference, one bike at a time!” To get more information on how you can donate used bicycles, or to get involved in this great organization, call 807-620-4769 or check them out on Facebook!

Heather L. Dickson is a photoshop guru, zoologist and author of 6 novels.

Visit her website at

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