Bicycles for Humanity (B4H) salvages and shares bicycles with the hope of reducing pollution and poverty, domestically and around the globe.  To date, the Thunder Bay Chapter of B4H has salvaged over four thousand bicycles and shipped roughly 2,800 of those to Namibia, in Africa.  The question is, in a city of 120,00 people, how can so many bicycles be found annually, without running out of old bicycles to salvage and share?

Without meaning to brag, my bicycle finding skills are pretty darn good, when compared to most other people.  In fact, it was my bike hunting efforts that first brought my activities to the attention of the B4H organization.

I find bicycles in a number of different ways, or a number of different ways combined.  The roughly ten procedures for finding vintage road bicycles work.  Some good and some not so good.  But they all work and, because I am so successful at finding bikes, the organizers of B4H approached me, asking that I volunteer my time and energy to assist with the cause.  I decided to give it a try.

All of a sudden, I was part of a new ball game.  I met with the organizers, came to an understanding of how I could help, and offered my services.  We discussed problems, associated with the organization's bicycle salvage program, only to learn that roughly 20% of all bikes salvaged were inappropriate for use in Third World conditions.  Ten Speeds were utterly inappropriate.  Older roadsters, and the like, were also not well prepared to meet Third World riding demands.  Full Suspension Wal-Mart wonders were deemed to be unacceptable to send, simply because the bikes were so poorly made that they would wear out very soon.  And kids bikes?  Now there was a real problem, since so many are donated every year.  What to do?

When I first got involved with B4H, finding the bicycles to be salvaged was, pretty much, an unorganized word of mouth plea to anyone who would listen.  And the bicycles began to flow, but not in great quantities.  To that, add that the flow was unpredictable, difficult to manage and all but impossible to implement, in an optimal fashion.  But the bicycles did flow and, everything that came the B4H way, was packed and shipped.  This included appropriate bikes, as well as those that were inappropriate for use at their intended destination.  But the organization did learn that such bikes were not appreciated at the receiving end.  As we prepared for a second shipment, those bikes deemed to be unacceptable began to pile up.  Suddenly a couple of hundred old Ten Speeds, Roadsters and Flower Pot bikes were sitting in storage, with no apparent use for them.  What to do?

Then I came along and organized the flow of bikes into the B4H inventory.  We set up a Landfill watch and began scavenging bicycles from The Dump (we had permission from the Landfill Site manager to do so).  The Landfill Site employees even helped by setting bicycles aside, for B4H, in a protected area.  In a single week, B4H volunteers have plucked over 100 decent bicycles from the waste metal pile at The Dump.

The word of mouth thing was supplemented with organized Bicycle Donation Drives and the results were spectacular.  Hundreds of bicycles would pour through the door of out storage/workshop facility and in the space of a few hours.  In fact, it was difficult to keep up with the steady flow.  In addition to encouraging bicycle donation Drop-Offs, B4H volunteers started a Bicycle Pick-Up program.  In the Spring and Fall, two traditional clean up times in Thunder Bay, the organization will be invited to pick up a couple of hundred bicycles each season.  And doing so is a great deal of fun for the right people.

B4H-TB would organize events, that helped to earn money needed fund the costs of sending bicycles to Africa.  People attending such events, Pancake Breakfasts, Group Rides, Shags, Vintage Bicycle Displays and the like, were invited to bring and donate bicycles the day of the event.  Or, if they could not deliver, the Pick -Up team would go and get the bikes.  And the bikes flowed.

Today, without a huge amount of effort, B4H-TB can collect over 1000 unwanted bicycles per year and there is no indication that the supply is diminishing.  Of those thousand bikes, five hundred will be sent to Africa, three hundred will be stripped for spare parts and two hundred will be reused domestically.  Some bicycles, are no longer capable of being repaired in a cost effective manner.  Those bikes are stripped, components salvaged and the remaining scrap metal sold to scrap yards.  The money, what little is generated through this vehicle, is put towards shop supplies and the like.

The bikes flowed better and more appropriately, when we wanted them to flow.  That is not to say that bicycles do not flow all year round, but they flow heavily when we encourage them to do so.  Really heavily with close to five hundred being dropped off in an 18 hour span of time.  Five hundred bikes in less that a day!  Now that is bicycle salvage.

Why so many bikes and in such a short period of time?  Because Bicycles for Humanity - Thunder Bay hosted its first annual B4H Open House and Bicycle Donation Drive.  The group advertised in local news papers, on radio stations and through television Media - without spending a cent.  It seems that almost anyone can relate to the idea of giving away their unwanted bicycles, if the bicycles will be used in a positive fashion.  And the bikes flowed.

Since those early days of collecting bicycles, the B4H-TB group has implemented other similar programs to collect and salvage bicycles.  A young woman, a student at Thunder Bay's Lakehead University (LU), suggested a great idea...

Each year, departing LU students have a tendency to abandon their bicycles, purchased the previous Fall at the beginning of the School Year.  These abandoned bicycles proved, over the years, to be a nuisance to Lakehead University custodial and security staff.  With that in mind, Neva, the young woman mentioned earlier, suggested a Lakehead University Student Union (LUSU) Bicycle Round-Up.  The round up, funded by LUSU, would include a BBQ, prizes, games and music.  Students and staff were invited to partake in the festivities and drop off any unwanted bicycles at the event.  Total bicycle take for the kick-off event - twelve bikes.

LUSU, once again with the blessing of LU, hosted the second annual LUSU Bicycle Round-Up.  That was less than a month ago, at the time of this writing and so far, LU students and staff super supported the event, contributing close to one hundred old bicycles (and some not so old), to the B4H endeavour.  And, once again, B4H has been invited back for Bicycle Round-Up III, to be held next Spring.

The Bicycle Round-Up, word of mouth from B4H volunteers manages to contribute a good fifty or so bicycles each year.  In addition, other media publicized events tend to remind the Thunder Bay and surrounding area public of the bicycle salvage efforts, and a new flow of bicycle begins with each announcement.

Yard sales, on-line advertising and other similar vehicles are all used to let people know that we are there to accept their unwanted bicycles.  Bicycle flow is limited during the long and cold Canadian winter, but with the onset of Spring and the sunny days that accompany the change of season, the bicycles begin to pour out of their secret hiding places.  It is not at all uncommon for a dozen bikes to be dropped off by complete strangers each day during the Spring Clean-Up times.

Of all the things that Bicycles for Humanity - Thunder Bay does, salvaging bicycles is the easiest.  Sharing what was salvaged - now that is a trick!