|Village Bicycle Project has three program areas to improve access to
bikes in Africa, working specifically in Ghana*:
1- Sending donated bikes
2- Teaching bike maintenance
3- Providing improved tools for bike repairers
These three components work together to nurture sustainability of the
bicycle as serious transport in the region.
The centerpiece is our one-day maintenance and repair workshops.
*[Note: we still havent re-written this page to reflect the fact we
started programs in Sierra Leone in January 2009. All that news is on
the home page.]
George Aidoo lectures and demonstrates at Liati Agbonyra, 2003. photo by
The twenty students all get practical experience making adjustments and
repairs (Elmina 2004). Photo by Lizandra Vidal.
A school teacher at Elmina learns about oiling the chain, 2004. (L.V.)
At the end of the class, everyone is eligible to buy a bicycle for half
the normal price. As of August 2009, more than 6000 people have
participated in workshops and received discounted bikes. At right,
class of Volivo, 2001.
These 5000+ people have all gained improved mobility and skills to
maintain their bikes. Improved mobility means reduced poverty, as
people have better access to their farms, jobs, markets, schools, and
health care. At left, class of Liati Wote, 2003.
|one-day workshop curriculum
Peace Corps volunteers have been a wonderful connection and
collaberator. They often host our programs, more than 200 workshops to
date, in 60 different communities throughout Ghana, from Piina in the
northwest corner, to Garu in the northeast, to Ankasa in the southwest,
to Xavi in the southeast.
Now, we couldn’t go into the villages, teach about using tools, and not
leave a set of tools in the village. Tools are so scarce that I once
met a boy bicycling to a neighboring village with his bike seat on his
head. Needless to say, he stood the entire distance of several miles.
He was traveling to borrow pliers to reinstall the seat, because there
were no pliers in his village.
So, we give a set of tools to be kept in the care of someone who will
make them available to all who participated in the workshop. Tools list
|Sending Donated Bikes
Our first container of used bikes was shipped from Seattle in 2000 with
partner Bike Works, Since then,
we’ve teamed up with other groups that collect and ship bikes to VBP,
and as of August 2008, have recieved 75 shipments totaling over 34,000
Bikes Not Bombs, Boston 19 containers
Bike Works, Seattle 15
Re-Cycle, Colchester, England 15
Bikes for the World, Virginia 11
Working Bikes Cooperative, Chicago 4
Wheatley School, Old Westbury, NY 3.5
Village Bicycle Project, Moscow,Idaho 2
ARAS Foundation, Sammamish, WA 1
Recycle a Bicycle, New York 1
Rotary Clubs, Wenatchee, Wash. 1
Community Cycle Center, Portland, OR 1
Spokes for Folks, Boulder 1
Australia Goodwill Bicycles Abroad,Sydney 1
In 1999, Ghana already had a fledgling market in used bicycles from
northern countries. We didn’t want to send bikes that no one had seen
before, importing scarcity and technical mystery. There was lots of
interest, especially in mountain bikes. Apparently, the bikes
available from traditional sources (Asia) were archaic or shiny trash
“mountain” bikes, (far worse than Roadmaster and Huffy).
Loading the last few bikes with Bike
Works, in Seattle, 2002.
It turns out that collecting bikes isn’t that hard, because a staggering
amount get thrown away here in the US. They are thrown away because we
cannot afford the labor costs to have them repaired. Its easier to buy a
new bike. In contrast, in Africa we’ve worked on bikes so twisted,
bent and beat up they would have been tossed out immediately in the USA.
In Ghana, we grease, clean and adjust as best we can so the bike's new
owners get another five years use from them.
While the project accepts just about any kind of bike, we try not to
send trash to Africa. Clunky and junky bikes get stripped for parts,
frozen rust buckets go straight to the scrap metal pile, along with worn
out and broken parts. (What Ghana
Unloading in Accra, Ghana, in 2004.
George is on the right. photo by
When the bikes reach Ghana, our partners George Aidoo and Samson Ayine
clear the container and about one-third of the bikes are set aside for
our repair workshops. George and Sampson sell the rest wholesale from
their storefront in the capital, Accra. This income from the bike sales
pays the shipping cost of the containers.
Before joining VBP, they were both small time bike mechanics and sellers
in the teeming Accra bike market.
On my first trip to Ghana, I took about a hundred tools that I thought
would be of interest to bike repairers. They included chain breakers,
freewheel removers, crank pullers, and the 4,5,6 allen y-wrench.
Surprisingly enough, most mechanics I met had never seen them before. I
sold them at about 15% of my cost, in part because I wanted to get
some kind of baseline value, and my tight budget. I knew that if I
simply gave tools away there’d be no way to measure of what value they
were, and I’d miss an important step towards determining the
sustainability of supplying them.
In 2004 we made a $5000 order direct from manufacturers in Taiwan,
wholesaling at about 80% of cost, including some for experimental
marketing. I have made extra efforts to expand the reach of the tools,
taking them to neighboring countries. In the summer 2005, it seems we
nearly saturated the introduction market around Accra and need to find
the next step towards sustainable supply. volunteer
Dao, a mechanic in Hohoe, prepares to
remove a crank arm the old way.
2004 Tools order
The tools may be the single greatest thing the project is doing for
bikes in Africa, the biggest bang for our donated buck. Before VBP
introduced them, mechanics were using hammer and chisel on freewheels
and cranks, hammer and nail on chains. Few would risk removing a
freewheel to replace a broken spoke or grease the bearings, so the bikes
would be ridden until they completely broke down. Then the entire wheel
was junk. Same with cranks, they would not be serviced, so they’d be
ridden looser and looser till the cups and axles were ruined. more on 'traditional' bike repair
These tools give mechanics confidence to make repairs, so bikes are now
circulating in better condition. Parts aren’t getting destroyed. A
critical shortage of rear wheels, freewheels and cranks has now eased in
Accra, in large part I believe, to the introduction of tools.
The entire humble bike mechanic trade has gotten a boost in prestige,
with these tools that make their work so much better, easier, and
Link to Tools stories
Village, the first word in our name, is where we really wanted to focus
from the beginning, but supplying the central market seemed to be the
easy part. The survival of the rural way of life is key to viability
of indigenous culture. Many external pressures today are destroying the
rural economies, including inadequate transportation. If bikes were
available to rural people, to get to their farms and the marketplace,
then the rural way of life might have a fighting chance for survival.
In 1999 and 2000 we experimented with several forms of outreach to rural
areas, finally refining a one-day long workshop on maintenance and
repair, in which participants are eligible to buy a bike for half price.
Samson (left) and George lead a one-day
basic maintenance workshop at Abura, in
2002. Host Peace Corps volunteers are in
Then in 2001, George showed an interest, so I got him to teach a
workshop. Since then, George and Samson have led workshops and more
than 5,000 people have gotten bikes for one-half Accra retail price.
VBP teamed up with Peace Corps volunteers, who make excellent
village-based organizers and hosts. Village bike mechanics also
participate, making contact with George and Samson, i.e. network
building with bike and parts supplies in the capital, two guys who will
almost always take time to share a little advice about bikes.
Stories of people and their bikes
Then in 2003, volunteer Emily Lin came to spend a year starting an
Earn-a-Bike program in Ghana. Two of the three schools she worked in
were already working with us. She trained teachers in each school, who
then taught students an extensive six-week course in bike repair. Upon
graduation, the students get free bikes. In the first year we graduated
98 students in 8 courses, and we plan to do similarly in 2005. More info at
Samson helps a student during the practice
time, an integral part of the workshops.
I’ve long considered the one-day workshop to be simply an awakening to
bike repair, and have pondered what could be easily done to take it the
next step. In late 2004 we came up with an advanced class. The first
one was in Golokuati, where we’d already supplied over 200 bikes in ten
workshops and Earn-a-Bike. All the bike owners were invited to an
advanced class. Tools would be available for half-price to all who
People brought their bikes, we worked together on their problems,
answered their questions and it was a huge success. I’m delighted to
think that people are learning to use the tools, and they value them
enough to spend their meager available cash to have them, and use them.
As of late August 2005 we've held about five advanced classes, selling
more than $100 Ghana value in tools each time. Pumps, patches, and
chain oil appear to be the most popular items. (tools and sales Link)
Emily Lin teaching about gears during the first
Earn-a-Bike teachers’ training at Kopeyia.
Dave leading the first Advanced class, 2004, in Golokuati. (photo-
|Without major funding we don’t plan on growing. The project budget for
2009 is $25,000. There is so much we could do with more money. For
$500 we can fund a workshop or Earn-a-Bike. For $8000 we can start in a
Major donors include Working Bikes Co-op in Chicago and the Wheatley
School of Old Westbury, NY, who donate shipping costs along with bikes.
These two groups have enabled us to bring bikes and training to about
The best way to donate is to send a check to:
Village Bicycle Project
1518 NW 79th Circle
Vancouver, WA 98665
(this page written by David Peckham, VBP Director)
or donate on-line How to Help