Bikes for Lesotho is a labor of love

In 2012, I was troubled when learning that the estimated number of orphans in the Kingdom of Lesotho had reached 100,000.  I was a Peace Corps volunteer there from 1989 to 1992 and returned a couple times since then, seeing the growth of HIV/AIDS to the extent that it now afflicts an estimated 30% of the adult population.  What I also saw was the incredible resilience of children in Lesotho, experiencing joy and enthusiasm in the midst of poverty and hardship.  I wanted to do something to help those orphaned kids to experience fun.  The answer came to me in the middle of the night–BIKES!

I realized that I’d never seen even one bike in Lesotho.  Being a lifelong cyclist, I’m embarrassed to admit that this took so long to strike me.  I searched online for “bikes” and “Lesotho,” discovering that the Mike’s Bikes Africa Foundation in California had just sent a few dozen bikes to an entrepreneur by the name of Mr. Tumi Taabe. He started a bike shop near the capital city of Maseru.  I contacted Mike’s Bikes and asked how I might help.

Sponsoring a shipment of 500 kids bikes out of San Francisco would cost $20,000.  (Our model of giving away small bikes to the poorest of kids is unusual since other charities only provide adult bikes for sale.)  I convinced my friend Jeff Teppema into helping to raise this amount, and Bikes for Lesotho was born!


To inspire contributions, we announced that we would ride our bikes around the southern half of the Kingdom, one to two miles in altitude through the mountains.  Our trip was successful, generating a lot of media attention both at home and in Lesotho. We were able to raise the $20,000.

Since Jeff and I started Bikes for Lesotho, Tumi has become our close friend.  He is frequently featured on television, radio, and in newspapers and his bike sales are going strong.  The bikes we provide also support a network of men and women that do incredible work mentoring kids, hosting races, and teaching mechanics.  Tumi has also recently been coordinating with two other start-up bike shops.

The biking culture is growing quickly in Lesotho.  Community races are held monthly, the Lesotho Sky cycling races are an international draw, and the Lesotho Sufferfest cycling team competes internationally. Furthermore, men and women are gaining income as bike mechanics. People are also saving money by forgoing a bus or taxi and want bikes for recreational use.

Fast-forwarding to now, Bikes for Lesotho now works with Working Bikes. We’ve sent six containers totaling 3,500 bikes.  Costs have come down greatly and the sponsorship amount of just $25 per bike covers all costs: shipping, repairs in Lesotho, and distribution to kids.  This has become a labor of love for all involved.  Jeff and I are volunteers (a music teacher and a civil engineer), and we have no overhead.  Sponsoring our bikes is among the most affordable, direct and simplest ways to immensely improve a child’s life.  In 2017, we anticipate two shipments totaling 1,000 bikes, as we did in 2016.

We are very fortunate to have the assistance of so many to make this wonderful project possible.

This post was written by Dave Gorman, an assistant director of public works for the village of Lombard, IL and co-founder of Bikes for Lesotho. For more information on Bikes for Lesotho, please visit their Facebook page.


Making a global impact with Working Bikes

We are members of our school’s Model United Nations, an international debate team, where we recently we won first place at the Naples Council on World Affairs for detailing a plan regarding the Syrian refugee crisis: purchasing and shipping bicycles to a refugee camp in Jordan currently housing over thirty thousand people. The plan would enable them to access school and provide an affordable and efficient method of transportation.

While born theoretical, the three of us–Daniela, Javier, and Stefania–decided to manifest this as close to reality as possible.

To launch our program, we are focused heavily on fundraising, such as organizing a walk/bike-a-thon in Cape Coral, Florida to collect donations to allocate towards a non-profit that would pay and ship bicycles to refugee camps. However, we ran into a problem.

While our original plan was dedicated towards Syrian refugees and their relief, we found that no organization was able to ship equipment to Middle Eastern nations. This was due to the fact that bike repair shops had to be built and the region was too insecure to send volunteers to fulfill positions as needed.

Currently, we are in partnership with Working Bikes, who is transforming our 20-page outline for a make-believe competition into a stroke of pure humanity in reality.

We are overwhelmingly passionate for the well-being and security of those experiencing barriers in their lives, particularly children who one day could grow-up to reconstruct their home country (an idea made possible with the transport access to education).

Hours upon hours have been devoted towards researching the lives, values, troubles, and weight carried on the global community. We have inspired forty committed International Baccalaureate (IB) students to collect donations for our cause.

The main event of the project is our Make a Difference Bike/Walk-a-thon scheduled for December 10th at Cape Coral High School. The date of our event will sit on one of the founders’ birthday, and as painfully cliche it is, she adores the fact that the celebration of her service project shares her turn into adulthood.

Our goal is to raise $2,000 to directly donate to Working Bikes. We have gained support from various local businesses and the Naples Council on World Affairs, which facilitated the original Model UN Syrian Refugee competition.

This project is an invaluable, incredible, and humbling opportunity to leave a small, but significant impact on those being delayed of their human rights. We await the success of empathy to come. We await another victory for kindness.

This post was written by Cape Coral High School students Daniela Barata, Javier Diaz, and Stefania Lugli.


What we learn: youth and Ujamaa

During one of Working Bikes’ volunteer sessions, I witnessed the collaborative work the young people of Englewood’s Ujamaa Community Land Trust completed with our ONE Summer Chicago youth. This gave me pause. The bicycles they worked on were discarded, and here they were being transformed with some lubricant, some education, and a lot of elbow grease.

Ujamaa, known as the fourth principle of Kwanzaa, speaks to Cooperative Economics. It is sometimes translated “I am because we are” and goes well with Ujima, which represents the third principle of Kwanzaa of Collective Work and Responsibilities.

On October 20th, Working Bikes brought our bicycle education to the BRAVE youth leaders of Saint Sabina in Auburn-Gresham. It was a follow up to our Cycle of Power event on Labor Day weekend and a great reason to bring our fix-a-flat workshop to the far South side of Chicago.

Currently, many of the teens and young people who come to our warehouse in the Heart of Chicago come from North and South Lawndale, Brighton Park, Gage Park, and Pilsen. Our hope is that by continuing to reach past the borders and boundaries which divide our city, we can continue to find the next generation of bicycle mechanics, organizers, peacemakers, and engineers.

It may sound a stretch to believe that a fix-a-flat can do all that, but I like to think we’re all teaching each other about more than bikes, but also about strength and sustainability.

Sometimes, we as cyclists on the South and West sides feel like the infrastructure arrives too slowly, or not in the way we would prefer. There is not equity in budgeting and development can feel less than transparent.

It is in passing our knowledge to the youth and in preparing them for opportunities that may arise in the future that we really work for substantial change. It is the youth who will repurpose the bicycles, and more, in the future.

This post was written by Paul Fitzgerald, general manager of Working Bikes.


Announcing The Good Container

The journey of a Working Bikes bike is a circuitous one. It moves from blissful joyrides with its first owner to years of basement cobwebs, from a bike drive on a sunny day to the back of a pick up truck blustering towards our shop, from a cramped container to years of happy riding with its new owner, halfway around the world from its first.

Our friend Flavio Pina wanted to find a new way to help people support these journeys, so he created the Good Container, an Instagram project that lets you “fill” a container by supporting it one piece at a time. Here’s how Flavio tells the story:
“I love bicycles. But I didn’t know how much I loved them until I read about Working Bikes. Working Bikes has helped more than 50,000 people get access to jobs, education, medical attention, and other resources in countries throughout Latin America and Africa. Thinking that was pretty awesome, I called them and offered to help. I didn’t know exactly how, but I wanted to collaborate with them and be a tiny part of what they were doing. I started thinking that probably more people would feel the same way and want to be part of such a great thing.

That’s the story behind The Good Container. Just like a bicycle, it’s a tool of empowerment. It allows people like you and me to make the world a little better, and the coolest part is we get to watch it happen.”

The Good Container is the first crowdfunding platform designed on Instagram. We think it’s pretty neat, and hope you do too!

Go to to watch a video and learn more. Follow @goodcontainer on Instagram to participate.


Bronzeville Bike Giveaway a Success!

This spring Working Bikes volunteers worked steadily to repair 500 kids bicycles in just a few months. Many of the bikes came from a stock pile of children’s bikes–Kiddy Bike Mountain, as it’s called–that usually grows on our dock all year, reaching the ceiling by the time we have our annual Holiday Kids Bike Sale in December. But this year Kiddy Bike Mountain was temporarily leveled, combed through by volunteers looking for bikes to repair for our largest local donation to date.

On Saturday, May 24, Working Bikes and the T.A.G. Foundation partnered to distribute these bicycles to youth in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood. The donation was the brainchild of Angela Ford and the T.A.G. Foundation, an organization that aims to revitalize Chicago communities by promoting healthy and sustainable lifestyles. Ford organized the giveaway in the hopes that the bikes will help to develop a culture of cycling in Bronzeville, encouraging youth to be active and to explore their city.

The giveaway was hosted by Wendell Phillips Academy High School, which lent use of its auditorium and classrooms for the day. Families began to line up at 7am, forming a queue that wrapped around the block. Once in the building, kids went to the auditorium for a presentation about T.A.G. and the value of bicycling, then moved to classrooms for a lesson on safe riding techniques, and then to another classroom to select their bike. In the hallway, Working Bikes volunteers adjusted seat heights and filled tires with air when needed. Kids picked up a helmet and lock before making their way outside to a lot where the Chicago Bike Ambassadors ran a brief safe riding lesson/obstacle course.

It was a very fun day, and a great start to this year’s local donation efforts. Over the past few years, Working Bikes has begun to increase our local donations here in Chicago. We hope that programs like this will help us to reach our goal of donating more bikes to those in need in Chicago, while maintaining our commitment to donating 5,000-6,000 bicycles internationally.

Click here to see video coverage of the project on WGN Channel 9 News.

IMG_3771 IMG_3773 IMG_3772 IMG_3769IMG_3712

Photos courtesy of Marie Akerman.


Phil Kaplan Named Working Bikes Board President

We are pleased to announce that the Working Bikes Board of Directors has named Phil Kaplan as its new President. Phil was selected at the March 13 meeting of the Board, after Working Bikes’ founder and former Board President Lee Ravenscroft stepped down.

Phil, formerly the Board’s Vice President, has volunteered at Working Bikes for five years and has been on the Board for two years. Prior to Working Bikes, Phil worked at the Environmental Protection Agency for thirty-plus years. He became involved with Working Bikes, as many volunteers have, after helping out at “shipping party.” Phil soon became a regular face at our volunteer bike repair sessions and at Working Bikes events. Today he is particularly active coordinating bike drives and donations in Chicago’s northern suburbs.

Lee has been President of the Board since its creation, several years after he and wife Amy Little began collecting bikes for donation out of their garage. Lee will continue to be active as President Emeritus, Board Member, head of our Shipping Committee, in-house bike machine engineer, and de facto Building Super. We hope that this change will allow him a bit more time for rest, relaxation, and trips to the Indiana dunes.

We are immeasurably thankful for the time and energy that Lee and Phil have devoted to Working Bikes over the years. They are both passionate and dedicated leaders, and we’re excited to see what the future holds.

Phil KaplanPhil, above, helping out at a bike drive in spring 2013.

IMG_9443Lee, above, helping to load bikes for CESTA in April 2014.




Shipping to El Salvador with The Bike Project of Urbana-Champaign

We had a shipping party last week! Newsletter subscribers, confused because you didn’t get an email? This party was on the road, in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois.

Working Bikes founder Lee Ravenscroft and board member Trevor Clarke made the two and a half hour trek from Chicago to Champaign to help The Bike Project of Urbana-Champaign load a shipping container on Wednesday, April 16. The container is now en route to CESTA in El Salvador.


***Bikes await packing at The Bike Project’s storage space, the University of Illinois Agriculture warehouse.***


In past years Working Bikes has transported a couple hundred bikes annually from The Bike Project to our warehouse, where they were shipped with other bikes collected locally. But this year The Bike Project collected so many bikes that moving them would have been impractical and inefficient.

In the weeks and months before the shipment, volunteers from The Bike Project prepped hundreds of bikes by removing pedals and turning handlebars. The prep-work made for a very smooth loading day. Lee, Trevor, The Bike Project shop manager James Roedl, University staff member Tina, and several Bike Project volunteers loaded the truck in just four hours, from 10am to 2pm.


***A dedicated donor delivers bikes to Urbana-Champaign. This photo courtesy of Bryce Davis of The Bike Project.***


***Without a shipping dock, the team used industrial spools for some improvised leverage while lifting.***


The crew fit 413 adult bikes on the container, including a small load of 19 bikes that Lee brought down from Chicago. A big thanks to The Bike Project for their longstanding partnership and for letting us be part of their first onsite shipment. Thank you also to Jeff Yockey, president of Champaign County Bikes, who, just one day after serving as the host and organizer of the fantastic 3rd annual Illinois Bike Summit, got up early to get us the wood we needed to form two levels in the container!


***Working Bikes board member Trevor Clarke loads a blue cruiser.***


***Day is done!***


***Lee loads a pick up with kiddie bikes (which weren’t shipped to CESTA) for the return trip to Chicago.***
Photos courtesy of Trevor Clarke and, where indicated, Bryce Davis.

Brandon’s Bike Shop Opening

On Saturday, August 31 we opened a new volunteer workspace on the first floor of the warehouse. Construction of the space was made possible by a generous donation from the Brandon Bernier memorial fund and the Peter J. McGlaughlin and Jane Kitchel McGlaughlin Family Fund. Brandon’s friends, family, and Working Bikes comrades were on hand to remember the dedicated volunteer and to hang the last few tools on our new workbenches. We hope that the space, named Brandon’s Bike Shop, will be a joyful place of learning–and a fitting testament to Brandon’s life.

Brandon's family and friends tour the warehouse
Brandon's family and friends tour the warehouse
Volunteers hang the Brandon's Bike Shop sign.
Volunteers hang the Brandon's Bike Shop sign.