There are millions of old, unwanted and forgotten bicycles, hidden in basements, sheds and garages.  Thousands pass the years, leaning against a fence or exterior wall, as the weeds climb and wither, year in and year out.  And just about any fool can find those old bicycles and drag them home.  The trick is, what to do with the bicycle once acquired.  Now, this is hardly an issue, if the question targets one bicycle.  But when there are a thousand bicycle to consider, the problem becomes considerable, to say the least.

If a thousand bicycles are salvaged, about eight hundred will be of appropriate design for Third World riding conditions.  Of those eight hundred appropriate bikes, about three hundred will be in such a poor state of repair, that refurbishment is impractical.  Such bicycles are stripped of all useful items, which are then included with shipments to Africa, to be used as a spare parts inventory.  The remaining scrap metal is sold off at to one of the local metal recyclers in the area.  That leaves roughly five hundred bicycles, that would prove to be useful steeds in Third World riding conditions.  How to get them there, however, presents a pretty serious problem, when dollars and cents are the issue.

In short, the five hundred appropriate bicycles and the components, tires, inner tubes and accessories stripped from damaged bikes are packed into a 40 foot long, by 8 foot wide and 9 foot high shipping container.  The container is then shipped from Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada to Namibia, Africa.  Why Namibia?

Namibia has a catch mechanism, already in place.  A catch mechanism is an organization set-up for, and prepared to accept, bicycle shipments.  To send a large shipping container, full of bicycles, anywhere, would be an act of pure stupidity, if there was no one there to accept, and take responsibility for the shipment.  With this in mind, and Namibia's catch organization firmly established, the bicycles begin their long voyage across the pond.

Of the five hundred bicycles sent, fifty or so are given free of charge to people in the Caring Industry - teachers, health care workers and the like receive free, well tuned and mechanically sound bicycles to facilitate transportation needs, while pursuing care giving activities.  The remaining bicycles are up for sale...

Up for sale?  Are you kidding?  People in Thunder Bay give up their bicycles, just so that others can make a profit by selling the donated bikes?  That, in itself, would prove to be unacceptable to most people.  However...

A few people, at the catch end, are taken under the BEN umbrella.  BEN stands for the Bicycle Empowerment Network and is soundly entrenched in Namibia.  BEN seeks out serious individuals who wish to set up a bicycle business.  The agency then trains these individuals in all necessary aspects of running a business, coupled with additional Bicycle Mechanical Repair classes.  The end result - a group of people who are trained bicycle mechanics and capable of putting their new skills to work, running a business of their own.  And a parable comes to mind that reflects positively on this endeavour.

What Bicycles for Humanity and BEN are doing is fulfilling the old saying of "Give a man a fish, feed him for a day.  Teach him how to fish, and feed him for the rest of his life."  There is just no better comparison that comes to mind.  And, it is working far better than expected.  As it turns out, Bicycles for Humanity - Thunder Bay is shipping large boxes full of hope.

But all bicycles do not go to far off Africa.  About 20% of the salvaged bikes are released domestically.  Help Organizations, such as The Salvation Army and The Shelter House receive refurbished bicycles from the B4H-TB Team.  The bikes are given, free of charge, and maintained as required.  If more bicycles are needed, supply is only a phone call away.

Some bicycles are sold off locally, exactly "as found".  Bikes like this old CCM Massey, a lovely and completely original fifties something work horse was sold to a collector for $250.00.  So too did a gorgeous old Clipper, in near mint condition, come and go through the B4H process.  The real antiques can often produce enough money to send a dozen, or more, appropriate bicycles to Africa.

Then there are the really old bicycles that are, perhaps, beyond the restorative stage.  Just rusted, busted pieces of Velo history that would be very costly to put back on the road.  The B4H Volunteers discovered that these old rides could be offered to the public as "Flower Pot Bikes".  Such bicycles are not road worthy but do look just great planted in a garden.  And the "Flower Pot Bikes" are sold for just that reason - garden ornaments.

The the B4H-TB team had to figure out what to do with all of the Ten Speeds and Roadsters that are found or donated.  Neither of these style of bicycles are useful to the people of Namibia.  But, the volunteers found out that the younger generation absolutely loves these older bicycles.  With that in mind, once a year, refurbished Ten Speeds, Roadsters, Full Suspension and Speciality bicycles are offered to Lakehead University Students.  And the bikes sell like hotcakes!  But there is more to this scenario...

At the end of the school year, many of the bicycles sold to the students at LU are returned to Bicycles for Humanity through the LUSU Bicycle Round-Up.  What a great system that produces no losers.

In addition to the annual Lakehead University Bicycle Yard Sale, B4H-TB offers used bicycles for sale each Spring.  That Yard Sale offers bicycles that are not suitable for African riding conditions and the bicycles are offered to the general public.  It takes little time to empty the B4H inventory of refurbished bicycles once they are put on display.  And demand for the B4H used bicycle is on the rise.

B4H-TB has a set policy on what gets sent to Africa.  If the bicycle is an appropriate mount, then it is sent to Africa - period.  However, there is one exception to this rule.  Any B4H-TB volunteer can ask for a donated bicycle.  For example, if I see a 1971 Masi Criterium donated, I ask for it and the request is granted through the B4H-TB Earn A Bike Program.  I have earned a few bicycles this way, as have many other B4H-TB volunteers.

And that about takes care of the sharing aspect of Bicycles for Humanity - Thunder Bay's programme.  At this moment, a couple of hundred old bikes have been released domestically.  Close to 2,500 bicycles and components have been sent to Africa in four separate instalments.  And the fifth shipment is in the process of being staged.  Five hundred and fifty bicycles, components from another three hundred and an assortment of refurbished eye glasses, garden tools and some sporting equipment will fill the shipping container as it makes its journey across the ocean.