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The Gift of Bikes

88BikeCambodian children enjoy their new bikes. Courtesy of 88Bikes.

Is there any greater pleasure for a kid than receiving a bike for Christmas?

I still remember racing down the stairs on Christmas day so many years ago to find a big red bow swaddling my first ride, a black-and-antifreeze-green Huffy Thunder Road complete with Velco-fastened foam pads around the tubes and a pleated, black banana seat. It made no difference that the bike was a complete tank, nor that I was receiving it only because my older brother had gotten too big. That bike was mine, and I spent the next few years cruising the neighborhoods on it with friends, launching off wooden jumps that we erected in the streets and trying (futiley on such a heavy machine) to learn to wheelie.

For Christmas this year, my brother and I are buying our two-year-old nephew his first bike, a Kazam balance bike. I'm buzzing just thinking about how much fun he'll have. As I was wrapping it up the other day, though, I contemplated all the kids (and adults) who may never experience that joy because they don't have the access or the means to get their own bikes. A surprising number of charities out there are working to fill that gap, and for those of us who love the bike they are a great way to give back for the holidays. Here are a few of our favorites. Know of others? Tell us about them.

88 Bikes Operating since 2006, when it made its first endowment of bikes to 88 kids at the Palm Tree Orphanage in Phnomh Penh, Cambodia, 88Bikes uses donations to purchase bicycles from vendors in the regions where they work and donate them to children who would probably never get a bicycle otherwise. The company's latest project, Asha 2012, is striving to bring bikes to thousands of girls from Eastern Europe to Southeast Asia who have transcended slavery and abuse.

World Bicycle Relief Founded by the SRAM corporation in 2005 to bring bikes to Sri Lankan survivors of the Indian Ocean Tsunami, World Bicycle Relief has since donated almost 100,000 bicycles and trained over 700 mechanics across eastern and southern Africa. In 2012, the organization plans to open a bicycle assembly plant (its fourth) in South Africa. It takes just $134 to purchase a bike through WBR. More about the company from our December 2011 article, "The Year of Giving Adventurously."

Wheels For Life GT-sponsored rider Hans Rey began this not-for-profit to bring bicycles to those in need from Bolivia to the Philippines. The idea is that, for those living in remote regions, a bicycle can provide access to work, schools, and health care and thus help end the cycle of poverty. We love the homepage bike counter that constantly tabulates the number of bikes donated (2746 currently).

Bikes To Rwanda During a coffee-buying trip to Rwanda in 2006, Duane Sorensen of Portland, Oregon's Stumptown Coffee Roasters enquired of local coffee growers what they needed to help grow their businesses. The resounding answer: bicycles to facilitate transporting their crops. Bikes To Rwanda was subsequently formed and now provides cargo bikes to coffee cooperatives in Rwanda, where the coffee industry is still recovering from the ethnic strife that tore the country apart in the 1990s. 

Pedals For Progress P4P's benefits are twofold: Not only do they bring bikes to those in need around the world, they do it by recycling unwanted used bikes that would otherwise likely end up in landfills. In the last 21 years, they have redistributed 133,504 bicycles, as well as 2,020 sewing machines. The organization also trains mechanics on the ground and sets up bike shops, thus extending their reach beyond just bicycle donations.

Bikes For The World Built on a similar model to Pedals For Progress, Bikes For The World collects and recycles used bicycles in the U.S. and uses them to set up self-sustaining bike repair operations. These businesses in turn will generate enough income to pay the shipping costs of subsequent containers of donated bikes. The organization currently has projects in Barbados, Costa Rica, Ghana, Namibia, Panama, and Uganda.



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