Bicycles for Humanity Ottawa's Bike Drive is this May 22nd. No, don't worry, I'm not about to give up Mike... even though he might like the chance to see the world. But they are looking for adult-sized mountain bikes: wide tires, because there aren't that many paved roads in Malawi, which is the bikes' destination this year. No thoroughbred-like racing bikes; just the Morgans, Quarter Horses and Percherons, to use an equestrian metaphor.
I do have a few spare bike parts floating around - crank arms, reflectors, that kind of thing - and they take those too. And tools, inner tubes, spare tires, locks, backpacks, Canadian Tire money (really) and cash donations to help get the bikes to Malawi. Maybe I'll upgrade my lock to a chain, and donate my old combination cable. It's a good excuse to get that better bit of gear you might have been considering, and find a home for the old stuff. In fact, I think this is my excuse to get that spring tune-up I so desperately need, and see how many parts that are still in working order I can scavenge off Mike.
Why send bikes to Malawi? In Canada we think of bikes, for the most part, as recreation. And I said once before in this blog that for a lot of people I know, bikes are like cats: you don't often go to the store for one. They're passed on, found, picked up cheap at yardsales or from friends who are moving. There are always unused bikes. We throw bikes away: a friend of mine found my first bike after coming back to Ottawa in the garbage outside her apartment building (she picked it up, wheeled it, flat tire and all, to my office, and we took it to the Bike Dump to get it fixed up.)
So we sort of take them for granted - and there's still a sense out there that if you bike, you're doing it for your health, or as a hobby, or because you're some kind of virtuous environmentalist (all of which makes me uncomfortable: the last time someone in the elevator nodded at Mike and said something like, 'oh, you're very healthy' I felt that familiar twinge of wanting to say, 'that's not really the point.') But in many communities around the world, a bike is a valuable form of transportation, and something that's out of financial reach for many. Bikes are easy to repair on your own with a little education, they take no gas, electricity, or even extra food to operate, and you can haul more on a bike than you can on foot.
So a bike in Malawi might help a vendor get their products to market, or help someone haul water back to their village, or help someone get to a job. It might help a doctor get around to see patients, or help someone get to a doctor when they need one.
There are several drop off locations for the bikes: check their website for the details.