How Bicycles Help

Is giving bicycles to Africans just a ‘feel good’ conscience easer for rich Westerners? Or do they really make a difference? Phil Latz recently spent a week in Zambia to find out.

Let’s start with an admission. Through publishing Bicycling Australia, I’ve travelled overseas fairly regularly for the past two decades, but until now I’d never visited a true ‘Third World’ country. The closest I’d come is some parts of China and Mexico, where bad experiences with street hawkers and others looking to extract money had left me a little apprehensive about my first visit to Africa. Now I was about to spend a week in a country where many people earn less than a dollar a day. Continue Reading »


What use is a bicycle to a farmer? Don’t they need tractors? Phil Latz discovered the value of bicycles at a dairy farmers’ cooperative.

During April/May 2008 I spent a week in Zambia, studying the operations of World Bicycle Relief. In case you are not familiar with it, World Bicycle Relief provides bicycles to people in need in disaster relief and poverty assistance situations in order to increase access to healthcare, education and economic development opportunities.

It was founded by Frederick ‘F.K.’ Day and his wife Leah Missbach Day in 2005. F.K. is one of the co-founders and owners of SRAM, the bicycle component company, and has now left his role as head of product development to work full time on World Bicycle Relief.

After distributing more than 24,000 bicycles to Tsunami victims in Sri Lanka, World Bicycle Relief turned its attention to Zambia, a landlocked country in southern Africa. Their program there includes distributing 23,000 bicycles to volunteer, community-based HIV/AIDS healthcare volunteers, disease prevention educators and vulnerable households. Continue Reading »

If you’re a regular reader of Bicycling Australia, you may have noticed previous stories about the work of World Bicycle Relief.

During April/May 2008 I spent a week in Zambia, studying the operations of World Bicycle Relief.

My first field trip during that visit was to see a Community School in the Chongwe District, about an hour’s drive east of the capital, Lusaka.

Our hosts were Catherine and Peter from the Zambian Ministry of Education. This government department runs hundreds of schools across Zambia. Although the schools may look basic by developed nation standards, they generally have good sized classrooms and trained, paid teachers.

Unfortunately, this level of government funding does not extend into the poorer rural areas. This is where 482 Community Schools across the nation step into the breach.

As the name suggests, these schools are started and funded by the local community members—but when those communities consist of subsistence farmers earning less than one dollar per day, the meaning of ‘funding’ is different from our concept of the word. Continue Reading »

Bush Bikes!

You’ve probably seen a lot of bikes before, but how about these?

In April 2008 I visited Zambia to see World Bicycle Relief in action. Before I left I’d already seen pictures of the bicycle that World Bicycle Relief has developed to survive the harshest conditions.

Quite frankly, it looked a little ‘clunky’ to my eyes, which are more used to seeing a parade of expensive carbon fibre bikes coming through our office for test riding.

But nothing could have prepared me for seeing the local alternatives. Many bikes in Africa come from India. Indian bikes can’t compete in wealthy countries because their quality is too low and their technology is too outdated.

The all steel, ‘bullet proof’ World Bicycle Relief bike is also made in India. It’s actually more expensive than a low end aluminium framed bicycle from China, but in the African bush, there is virtually no chance of an aluminium framed bicycle being repaired when it breaks. They just don’t have the appropriate welding equipment. Continue Reading »

You probably have a favourite bike shop, where you like to hang out and admire all the shiny new gear.

During April 2008, I visited Zambia, a landlocked country in southern Africa, to observe the operations of World Bicycle Relief. While I was there, I had the chance to visit a few of the local bicycle shops. I’m fairly certain these shops were like nothing you’ve seen, so here’s a look at one of them.

World Bicycle Relief is not in Africa because there are no bicycles available. There are small shops like this one in towns and cities throughout Zambia. But the quality of what is sold is so low, that the bicycles and components have little chance of surviving the hard African dirt tracks.

Many of the people who need bicycles most cannot afford to buy them, and do not have access to these bicycle shops, as they live on small farms a long way from the major towns.

But for those with some cash, this is what awaits them when they come to town. Kaleya is a small market town on the main highway that runs between the capital, Lusaka and Livingstone, which is on the Zambian side of the world famous Victoria Falls.

At Kaleya there were perhaps 25 shops, plus another 30 or so market stalls. These stalls consisted of rough wooden posts, holding up a basic roof made from timber, iron, old sacks or traditional grass thatching. They had no walls and the floor was dirt. Continue Reading »