Remember your first bicycle ride? Mine was at age six. It was Christmas day and I had discovered the ultimate gift under the tree—a shiny purple Schwinn. The adults snapped pictures and then left the room. What was I to do? Of course I wheeled it out to our steep driveway and let her rip. My choice to steer into the think bush instead of the street was my first venture into braking. The adults appeared as I neared the top of the driveway for my second try.
I’ve since become even more infatuated with bicycles, but no longer just for their beauty or speed. What I’ve discovered over these forty years since is that bicycles are a magical key to unlocking many of the world’s problems. Consider the obesity epidemic and that a 180-pound cyclist burns 540 calories while pedaling 14 miles in an hour. Now consider that car travel is a major contributor to climate change and that a four mile round trip by bicycle keeps 15 pounds of pollutants out of the air (Worldwatch Institute).
All very impressive, but what’s this about bicycles battling poverty? To demonstrate, switch out that six-year-old me with a father who has just lost his job. His wife must stay home with their three young children, the only job he can find is too far away to walk, and there is no public transportation. Because bicycling is four times faster than walking, even at an easy pace, a bicycle, just a simple bicycle, would bring that job within his reach. What I’ve found in my current position as the executive director of an international bicycle advocacy organization called One Street, is that the joy experienced by struggling people when they receive a bike outshines the joy of my first bike by a long shot.
But tackling poverty with bicycles is not as simple as handing out bikes. What we have discovered at One Street is that the lack of access to bicycles for the world’s poor is a far more pervasive problem. These are some of the most significant elements of this problem:
· A lack of affordable, quality, transportation bicycles (currently, we find only two of any of these three necessary criteria for bikes that work for disadvantage people);
· A lack of bike shops that serve disadvantaged neighborhoods;
· The trend by the bicycle industry to move all production into Asian factories that engage in environmentally harmful practices and often misuse their workers through low pay, long hours and hazardous working conditions, thus escalating social problems;
· That very few of the factories making bicycles actually serve disadvantaged people near the factories;
· That disadvantaged people are the people who can benefit most from affordable, quality, transportation bicycles.
One Street’s Social Bike Business program is attacking this problem head on. Because our specialty is serving local leaders who are working to increase bicycling, this program relies on the expertise and street smarts of local leaders. Once we have brought together a strong leadership team for their city, we work with this team to develop the appropriate early steps that will eventually lead them to establish their bicycle community center in a distressed neighborhood.
Following One Street’s replicable program elements, each local team implements job training courses, bicycle events and eventually bicycle manufacturing at their own bicycle community center. As the program expands, these locally designed and manufactured bikes are not only distributed to disadvantaged people at the center, but through social bike shops owned by locals trained at the center and established in other distressed neighborhoods in their city. No shipping, no slave labor; all locally designed and locally built with neighborhood pride for their neighbors.
Our international Social Bike Business program is already underway in Los Angeles, Prague and Budapest with new local programs soon to start in the Southwestern U.S., thanks to a grant from the New Belgium Brewing Company. Our website provides plenty of ways to expand it to your favorite city.
Sue Knaup is founder and Executive Director of One Street. She has been involved in the fields of animal rights, environment, special populations and bicycle advocacy since 1977, having served as Executive Director at the local level for Prescott Alternative Transportation (PAT) for five years and at the national level as Executive Director of the Thunderhead Alliance for five and a half years. On the for-profit side, she owned and operated Ironclad Bicycles, a local bike shop in Prescott, Arizona, for 13 years. Her international experience comes from extensive world travels and her cherished experiences working with bicycle advocacy leaders in the U.S., Canada, Latin America, Australia and Europe.
By Sue Knaup