Our first shipping party of the year was sent to CESTA in El Salvador today!
For those who don’t know, The Salvadoran Center for Appropriate Technology (CESTA) was founded in 1980 by a group of academics to protect this Central American nation’s increasingly fragile environment. Their mission is to promote environmentally sustainable and socially equitable transportation operating a bicycle import, repair, and sales workshop. Working Bikes has a long-standing relationship with CESTA.
For the January shipment, we managed to fit 253 kids bikes and 256 adult bikes into the shipping container with the help of our awesome volunteers.
Working Bikes is always excited to help other local and global organizations that have a similar mission to ours.
We expect more large bike donations to arrive in February, so be on the lookout for our next Shipping Party!
On November 12th, Working Bikes mechanic, Patrick Tivnan boarded a series of planes to travel to Bwindi, Uganda to assist in the training of the staff of a new bicycle project in a village bordering the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Patrick brought with him two bags of bike-specific tools, clothes, and a budding mustache. Working Bikes had already sent a total of 849 bikes within two containers, but Patrick would be the first to open them, with the exception of Ugandan customs agents.
Over the course of the next 8 weeks, Patrick w1uld train nearly two dozen women in elements of bicycle mechanics before the five staff members of the new Bwindi Women’s Bicycle Enterprise would be made final. Patrick worked with the women, and the staff of the BCH Bwindi Community Hospital and Guesthouse and Inn as well as those of the Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp (of A&K Philanthropy) to create a bicycle work stand, and begin inventorying and repairing the bicycles. As Patrick prepared to leave, sales began with hospital staff. The excitement of available bicycles spread through the community and Patrick returned to Chicago knowing that the future of the remaining bicycles were in the capable and thoughtful hands of Scovia, Proscovia, Penlope, Bridgette, and Beth.
Starting 2018 off right with our annual inventory day where we count all the bikes in supplies in the shop. This year we counted a total of 5,257! The purpose of holding inventory day is to help our gracious bike donors save some extra cash on their taxes. Thanks to Paul from Desmond and Ahern accounting for keeping us on our toes again this year. Learn more about our events and other happenings at on our events calendar or visit our facebook page for updates.
We wanted to take a moment to shout out Maja, who was recognized as being one of “50 on Fire” innovators in Chicago for her work on WTF night. In the last year, WTF night has hosted a screening of the “Ovarian Psychos” documentary, collaborated with West Town Women’s + Trans night for a ride against sexual violence, and led a group from Women Bike Chicago in basic bicycle maintenance.
Dozens of volunteers have been introduced to the Working Bikes mission + space through WTF! night and we are glad Chicago Inno chose to recognize Maja, we are proud to do the same.
When the orupaanga touches the bretch pad on the buryo side, we can tighten the enuti empajye on the bumosho side with the spanner empajye, and that should pull the orupaanga back to the bumosho side. This operation can only be done a certain number of times until we run out of ehuzi ye’mpajye. In that way, each omupiira can only live for so long.
The dominant tribe in this area, and most of south west Uganda are the Bakiga, their language is Rukiga. The Bakiga are one of many tribes speaking one of hundreds of Bantu languages. I vaguely remember something about the Bantu expansion from an undergraduate anthropology course. The internet reminds me that they undertook a massive migration and population increase from an area in modern Cameroon, in a broad south east direction starting perhaps in 1000 BC and continuing to AD 500. Descendants of the Bantu expansion make up the largest ethno-linguistic group in Sub-Saharan Africa. Their migration brought them into contact with indigenous groups like the Batwa, here in Bwindi, and the Khoisan in South Africa. The Batwa, commonly known as Pygmies, have a troubled and seemingly enigmatic history in the area and will be a topic of a subsequent report. All the Mutwa (a Batwa individual) that I’ve met speak Rukiga, and varying levels of English comparable to the Mukiga.
So far I’ve only encountered two locals with whom I can speak in a rapid fire American
dialect. The accent of Ugandan English is heavy and requires patience between both interlocutors. I’ve noticed that two children of American medical volunteers often address the Africans in what sounds to me like a heavy South African accent. The Africans told me that the children lubricate their words and they hear them quite clearly. I’ve yet to muster the audacity or drink enough waragi (banana moonshine) to affect a similar accent but I am considering it. If my wifi connection is strong enough unlikely I’ll re-watch Niel Blomkamp’s 2009 sci-fi film District 9 and maybe give it a try. Meanwhile, one of the most helpful things I’ve done in the bicycle mechanic training, is try and use Rukiga nouns for the bicycle parts. It is much better than using English terms that no one is familiar with, or saying “this one” every five words. Sometimes pronunciation is all that matters, brake becomes bretch, and circle becomes sarcle. A cone nut might not look like an actual cone until someone tells you that is does. If you can’t understand what that someone is saying or don’t know what a ‘cone’ is, how many ‘this ones’ will you be able to file in your mind? Thankfully, everyone seems to understand that an enuti omubirikira kind of looks like an omubirikira.
A phrase favored by my father’s fifth grade math teacher places the burden on the listener: “when they were handing out brains, you though they said trains, and buddy you missed it.” Here in Bwindi, the burden is on me, the speaker. If I say cone, and they think I said phone, then no one is going to answer it.
On the long flight to Uganda I reread King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild. The book documents the tragic history of the Congo Free State, the personal colony of Leopold II King of the Belgians from 1885 – 1908. King Leopold made an incredible personal fortune, initially through the Ivory trade, later and more substantially through the harvest of wild rubber. He was able to profit during a short window between the industrial worlds realization of rubber’s value, and the maturation of cultivated rubber trees. In between, an extensive and murderous regime of forced labor was used to harvest wild rubber vines.
A few individuals in the history were of pertinence to Working Bikes. John Boyd Dunlap invented the first pneumatic rubber tire for his son’s tricycle in Ireland in 1887. William Henry Sheppard, an African American minister from Virginia, and early critic of Leopold’s regime, claimed to have been the first person to ride a bicycle in central Africa.
Two containers of bikes are sitting in a small valley. In one direction, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park rises over the adjacent hillside. On the last leg of my arrival, in a 12 passenger Cessna with one propeller, I was able to take it a spectacular view of the forest interspersed with passing through three rain showers. From above, it resembled mountains made of broccoli blossoms. I marveled at the national park before wondering if in decades and centuries past, perhaps this entire region was as lush. This protected patch of 128 square miles are home to half of the worlds remaining population of mountain Gorillas. Over a hill in the other direction lies the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Work on the bicycle program has not quite begun. I am still gathering supplies and being introduced to interested community members. Yesterday I sourced a tub of grease and two bottles of lite lubricating oil from the local hardware store, which was less than half the size of Working Bike’s stock room. We have secured access to a large storage room and shaded veranda in a building a few yards from the containers. I was able to bring two of each common bicycle specific tool in my baggage. An employee from Bwindi Community Hospital is in Kampala, the capitol city, purchasing non-bicycle specific tools today. They should arrive by bus on Friday. This afternoon I’ll continue my introductions, saw a few sheets of working bikes particle board to place over tables that are being temporarily loaned, and begin to get a few bikes in proper order. It is my understanding that our trainees likely do not know how to ride a bike. Learning to ride will be their first introduction to the project.
I’ve been met with both optimism and skepticism about how the project will work and if it can be sustainable. Factors I had not considered include a cultural reluctance for women to ride bicycles. The few flying pigeon style roadsters I’ve seen have been piloted by man. All of the women in the area are seen wearing skirts, so step thru frames may be of a particular advantage. During the mechanic training, our participants will not be paid, and may not be rewarded for some time, until the bikes can be sold. I’ve learned that during the training, lunch will have to be provided and arrangements are being made for a pot of beans to slow cook over embers each day. I’ve been told that Ugandans are entrepreneurial but that it is a society which prioritizes relationships. I’ve yet to meet the trainee mechanics but am beginning to understand that offering 28 days of technical instruction may not be well received unless the trainees are comfortable working together, with me, and understand that their investment in time and learning may not bear fruit for some weeks or longer.
Working Bikes is sending one of our staff mechanics train Ugandan women in bicycle mechanics. This is the first time we’ve sent something other than bikes overseas!
This is also a chance for us to get a better understanding of what happens to the bikes once we’ve sent them. We were given this opportunity from one of our amazing international partners, A&K Philanthropy (AKP).
A small group of Working Bikes compatriots attended Bike!Bike! 2017 in Winnipeg, Canada August 24th through 27th. The fourteen-hour drive did not deter the enthusiasm to explore the city and connect with like-minded bike enthusiasts and leaders.
The annual conference brings together bicycle advocates, particularly involved in community bike shops, to exchange ideas to improve their respective organizations and communities. Workshops are requested and led by conference attendees.
Slow Roll Chicago, an organization we have partnered with this summer, presented a workshop entitled “Organizing Community Bicycle Rides as Vehicles for Social Justice & Equity.” Slow Roll Chicago’s co-founder Olatunji Oboi Reed led the discussion that brought up bikes as a means to transform communities and improve lives, which correlate to addressing bicycle equity and social justice. Uniting community members and raising awareness of these issues can be done by organizing neighborhood rides.
Slow Roll Chicago’s co-founder Olatunji Oboi Reed presented a workshop entitled “Organizing Community Bicycle Rides as Vehicles for Social Justice & Equity.” The discussion brings up bikes as a means to transform communities and improve lives, which correlate to addressing bicycle equity and social justice. Uniting community members and raising awareness of these issues can be done by organizing neighborhood rides.
One such ride in Winnipeg is Meet Me at the Bell Tower. Bike!Bike! attendees were invited to join the weekly ride, leaving many transformed and humbled. Co-founded by Michael Redhead Champagne, Meet Me at the Bell Tower is intended to bring the largely indigenous neighborhood of North End together, despite hardships of suicide and drug use that are all too common in this community.
The ride began with Michael speaking to the crowd, megaphone in hand, while a community member passed a tray of smoking sage to cleanse participants. A banner spelling “HOPE” is hung on the bell tower and bikes rolled out to the street. The group snaked through the neighborhood, ringing bells and waving at the curious onlookers sitting on their porches and peeking through their windows. We circled back to the bell tower and were invited to break bread in the community center across the street. Meet Me at the Bell Tower was an experience we will forever cherish.
Bike!Bike! 2017 proved to be a great event that brought together familiar faces, colleagues, and new friends. The workshops, rides, and connections that Working Bikes were exposed to over the weekend was an invaluable experience and we cannot wait for Bike!Bike! 2018 in Los Angeles. Our very own Brian Vargas and Chicago bike ally Robert Grossman have plans for hosting B!B! in Chicago within the next few years.
Volunteer Coordinator Andrew Bermudez instructed our first After School Matters program during the summer. With the pilot program’s success Working Bikes intends to apply for the fall term. Andrew writes and shares his experience in ASM.
Working Bikes received funding by After School Matters to recruit 14 teenagers for a six-week paid apprenticeship. Our program’s objectives were to generate excitement about bicycles by learning how to salvage, repair, and navigate our city with them. Students helped unload and efficiently organize secondhand bikes. They received demonstrations on how to use tools and lubricants to restore bikes for donation to local charities. The students removed functioning equipment from damaged frames for shipment to international relief organizations. Finally, they studied urban cycling rules and applied this knowledge during group rides.
ASM participants work together to fix a bike. Photo courtesy of Andrew Bermudez
The checklist used by volunteers to repair bikes was expanded into a curriculum. Before lessons the students were divided into pairs. They observed while I demonstrated the steps required to restore a bicycle. The students had two days to practice each step before I introduced new information. While the students worked, I circulated around the shop to answer questions and help. The lessons were supplemented by handouts that displayed the names of tools and bike anatomy. The participants were expected to keep orderly work benches and to clean up after themselves.
One challenge is that the condition of the bicycles we repair varies. Some are damaged, clean, dirty, or missing parts. This made instructing difficult, because the students all encounter slightly different problems. Therefore the amount of time I spend with each student was inconsistent.
In preparation for riding as a group, each student was assigned a page from the Safe Cycling in Chicago guidebook. They delivered short presentations covering Illinois Bike Laws, types of lanes, and locking technique. The participants were provided helmets which they learned how to properly fit and adjust. On our quiet side-street, they practiced weaving through cones to simulate debris in the road and learned to signal turns with their arms. Together we road to the Eleanor Boathouse in Bridgeport, iconic murals in Pilsen, the Garfield Park Conservatory, and Northerly Island. Mikela Pinkney co-lead these trips.
Posing for a quick picture during a ride. Photo courtesy of Andrew Bermudez
A highlight was watching a student quickly change a flat tire during a group bicycle ride. Our group had visited the Garfield Park Conservatory and was riding back to Working Bikes. After turning from Lake Street onto California Avenue the students began yelling to stop. Tyreese had a flat tire. This could have been caused by glass or other sharp debris. The group pulled over on the sidewalk. Several of Tyreese’s peers offered to help. They steadied the bike and helped him remember the mechanical steps. In twenty minutes we were back on the road! It was fulfilling to watch Tyreese apply what he learned at the shop and receive support.