Sunday, November 29, 2015

DIY Gifts from Bicycle Parts

Many of the Social Bike Business programs we work with are looking for new ways to increase their income. This time of year, as people are looking for creative gifts for the cyclists in their lives, offers inspiration through do-it-yourself, handmade bicycle gifts. Bike programs with a retail storefront have lots of opportunity for increasing the number of products they sell. What better way to do so than with products made from bicycle parts? Here are some fun examples to spark your creativity:




You might also find ideas from the links in my similar post from a few years ago including Bike Hacks and DIY bike projects.

Many of these gifts could become regular products to sell at your social bike shop. So try making some for your favorite bicyclists and see if you’d like to make and sell more. Have fun!


Monday, November 9, 2015

Divisive Article on Working-Class Cyclists Only Worsens Issue

When I first saw this article posted on Governing, a repost from The Kinder Institute for Urban Research in Houston, I hoped to read about an inspiring and intimate discovery. The headline, “Most Cyclists Are Working-Class Immigrants, Not Hipsters,” shows a clear lack of awareness, which I hoped meant that the author had made a personal breakthrough.

Through my work at One Street, especially our Social Bike Business program, I often meet people with narrow ideas of what a bicyclist is. Some have never seen an impoverished person riding a bike. Rather, they may have seen them, but never noticed them. Many have only noticed sports cyclists in bright colors riding space-age bikes. Others believe that cycling is only for poor people and have somehow missed all the flashy cyclists, families on bikes, kids riding with friends, commuter cyclists, self-employed people riding for fun, and those groovy hipsters. And I certainly wouldn’t expect any of these happy cyclists to care much about other sorts of cyclists as they are too busy having fun riding in their own way.

All of us humans have a residual tendency to judge and categorize other humans. This is left over from our primitive beginning when survival depended on quickly and correctly judging a friend or foe. We often don’t even notice those who offer no friendship or threat. Our survival no longer depends on these inappropriate quick judgments, yet they dominate our lives and articles like this.

This tendency is a major barrier to overcome for all of our Social Bike Business partners. In order to attract their own partners and media attention to grow their program, they must get past the very basic first step of convincing them that low-income people ride bikes. Then, not only do they ride bikes, many enjoy riding bikes. Then comes the concept that bicycles and careers with bikes can help them out of poverty. It can be a long road.

I had hoped to read in this article a story of the author’s inspirational discovery of working-class cyclists. Unfortunately, the direction the author chose was all but inspirational. He sought out anyone with a grudge about cyclists who were different from themselves. While he includes interesting data from Houston’s modal choices, the bulk of the article jumps from grudge to grudge, even finding space to bash all bicycle advocates in general. Here’s a list of the grudges I found:

  • Against building bikeways in low-income neighborhoods;
  • Against all European bikeway and bike advocacy models;
  • Against young, hip cyclists;
  • Against the cycle chic movement;
  • Against middle-class and wealthy cyclists;
  • Against competitive cyclists;
  • Even a hint of distain against child cyclists;
  • And the sweeping grudge against all bicycle advocates in general.
Quite a feat for one article.

I think the only inspiration to take from this misguided article is for all of us to never segregate any sort of cyclist in our messaging and promotions. Such segregation only encourages articles like this and the setting of one group against another. Even as we work toward revealing the high number of low-income and impoverished cyclists all over the world, we must present them simply as bicyclists who have the same right to respect, to quality bikeways, to learning from Europeans and others, to being hip and chic, and to laughing like a kid again as they pedal.

Give the article a read and let me know in the comments section if I’m being too harsh. Also, note any grudges I may have missed.


Thursday, October 22, 2015

Defying Poverty with Housing

I’ve been on a bit of a tangent lately, exploring various models of effective housing and the creation of interactive, human-scale communities. I suspect some selfish motivation since I’ve passed my fiftieth year and should be wondering where my feeble body is going to prop itself toward the latter part of my next fifty (being a slow learner, I figure I’ll need another fifty to make any sense of all of this).

The other, and far more prominent motivation has come from seeing my friends and acquaintances shut themselves away in isolated houses, alone after work or simply alone. The most ambitious of them schedule activities, which they leave their house to attend in other parts of town, but between those activities the seclusion presses in.

Defying Poverty with Bicycles, is all about providing the freedom and dignity of personal mobility to people in the greatest need. It also delves into career development and inspiring social entrepreneurs to start their own bicycle businesses. It covers transportation, education, income generation, even social interaction during the day, but it does not address the places where people go when all the action is finished for the day.

There’s something terribly wrong with the direction our communities are going in the developed world. Only a hundred years ago everyone expected to interact with their neighbors. Housing was clustered either in downtowns or in rural villages and mixed with businesses and community activities. I understand the long-gone motivation to move away from toxic downtowns into housing-only neighborhoods and suburbs. Unfortunately, that fix and the cleanup of downtowns led to segregated, single use zoning that not only keeps people from choosing to bicycle, it keeps people from other people who seem different from them.

So I started this new learning adventure by researching cohousing. I had been inspired by a cohousing community in Denmark highlighted in the fabulous movie Happy. This Danish cohousing community is a group of a dozen or so families living in houses clustered around a common building where they cook, meet, and play together. Unfortunately, cohousing seems to be something for the well-off.

So I looked into community development that includes the most disadvantage people and found an excellent book called Tent City Urbanism: From Self-Organized Camps to Tiny House Villages. With empathy and a good understanding of the struggles homeless people face, the book shows readers how to create places where homeless people are allowed to sleep. It goes into great depth on case studies of successful camps and even tiny-house enclaves that are sanctioned by cities in order to house “the homeless.”

My problem with this book, the case studies, and all the similar projects I’ve found is that they are following the exact pattern of the segregated zoning that has divided our towns and cities. Every project has a mission of serving “the homeless.” They all seek funding and charity donations because they are serving “the homeless.” There’s no recognition that “the homeless” are anything like the people leading or funding these projects. Even the projects that boast of leadership roles for their residents, still talk about serving “the homeless.”

I get that the best way to raise funds and donations, such as land and building materials, for such a project is to talk endlessly about “the homeless.” I’m afraid I can’t stomach it.

I faced a similar problem when developing One Street’s Social Bike Business program as well as capturing our recommendations in our book Defying Poverty with Bicycles. Leaders of organizations that are providing bicycles to impoverished people often see no harm in appeasing funders. If funders want to give charity to a segregated group of people who they believe are entirely different from them, what’s the harm? I say such one-way, charity thinking is at the very core of the problem and is in fact the most harmful thing we can possibly do. You’ll find in that book as well as Cures for Ailing Organizations a loud and clear message to avoid such charity mindsets.

I’m afraid that the tent city and tiny house movements are suffering from this same temptation. While I was thoroughly inspired by the details of the book such as allowing campers to develop their own camp site and inspiring them to help one another, I missed any mention of integrating such camps into a total community.

My hunt continues for model communities that are truly reinventing what we, in the developed world, lost over this past century – neighborhoods and villages that are designed specifically to welcome the most disadvantage people and thus welcome people, and their animals, from all income levels, abilities, and ages. Places where all-ages means that seniors and young people work and play together; where all-abilities means that even the most disabled people can contribute, perhaps overseeing a playground, running deliveries by electric wheelchair, or welcoming visitors. I’ve found this in developing countries and tribal communities, but these have existed since before records were kept. What I can’t find are models of such communities started from scratch.

I have this vision of a gated, cohousing community (don’t gag yet) that is gated only because dogs run free. Cars enter through the double gates that ensure the dogs cannot get out and park immediately in the single parking lot. From there the pathways lead to the mixed housing, businesses and workshops run by residents as well as the common areas and parks.

Yes, there is a tent area that ensures that the temporarily destitute have a place. There are also tiny houses – love these. But anyone can choose a tent or tiny house whether they have ever been homeless or not. The largest houses would be reasonable, perhaps 1,000 square feet max. A community garden would include gardening classes and result in a surplus sold at the community’s grocery store. The dog park would welcome nonresidents and mark dogs and other pets needing a home. The businesses, parks and ball courts would attract nonresidents to learn about the village and interact. The very design of the village and its homeowners’ association (HOA) charter would ensure that residents and visitors alike pitch in to help everything run smoothly and improve.

The biggest difference from this vision and the cohousing and tent city projects I’ve found so far is that it would follow conventional new development steps. It would be presented as a mixed-use development. Period. Home buyers would purchase their homes in various ways – most often through mortgage loans, sometime full cash, and others through a mix of labor and loan. Owners could rent their properties within the HOA guidelines. From the tents to the largest houses, every resident would be treated the same.

Why have I not found a project like this yet? Are there any out there that I have missed?

Bicycles remain my primary fixation for improving communities, but lately housing keeps creeping into my thoughts. I’d so appreciate any ideas and experience you can offer to help streamline my search. Please write them into the comments section. I’m looking forward to reaching that point in this learning adventure where integrated bicycle and housing programs converge. That will be cool!


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Defying Poverty with Bicycles – The Book

I’ve been receiving encouraging responses to our book, Defying Poverty with Bicycles, the inspiration for this blog. Readers are taking the trouble to contact me and describe how they have used the book to build their own social bike business program. Many of these readers were helping to lead small, volunteer-run programs before they got their copy. Now they are doing the work needed to create an infrastructure that can handle growth. This growth will allow them to serve many more disadvantaged people with bicycles than they did before.

This book is for anyone considering building a program and eventually a whole organization around the goal of helping people with bicycles. This excerpt from the preface will help you decide if it would be a useful tool for you:

“Because people who live in or even near poverty are so consumed by the daily stress of survival they cannot engage in society. This often means isolation from community activities and even well-meaning programs designed to serve them. Unfortunately, such charitable service programs neglect to actually engage the people they are meant to serve, the very people who understand the struggle and language of their neighbors.

The Social Bike Business program is designed to bridge all of these gaps by guiding struggling people toward their own entrepreneurial success. Advantaged people are well served by bike shops, collectives and co-ops. Now it’s time to create the places that invite our most disadvantaged neighbors to purchase their own bike—refurbished or manufactured locally through the program—and engage in a new career that will enable them to lift themselves out of poverty. Even obtaining a quality transportation bicycle can save a person several hours each day if they had been walking and save them thousands of hard-earned dollars each year. Bicycles shrink cities at no charge. But this program does far more than that. It establishes bicycle community centers where struggling people can learn from each other about transportation bicycling and careers in bicycle business and beyond.

In the following chapters, you will learn how to plan for and launch your own Social Bike Business program, adapted to the needs and specialties of your particular community to ensure you reach your most disadvantaged neighbors. Your program can be as small as needed to succeed or as immense and complex as you believe you and your team can achieve. Think of this book as a menu to pick from rather than a prepared meal. Start where it makes sense for you and your team and go as far as you need to go. You might already have a small shop that would suffice as the main center for your program, so keep this in mind as you read about large centers designed for larger programs than yours needs to be. You and your team might want to focus on job training and refurbished used bikes. Then skip the chapter on bicycle manufacturing. This book is yours to do with what you like. Pull out the pieces that sing to you and shut the volume off on all the rest.

As you read, you will learn how to place the most disadvantaged people first and how to help them purchase their own bike through micro credit and subsidy qualification so they will value their bike. You will learn how to spot talents in people and offer a variety of career paths all based on bicycles, but designed to help them find work in many different fields, from business management to customer service to mechanics to owning their own business. You will learn proven business practices that ensure all employees of your program are paid a market rate salary. You will find ways to overcome the relentless stress and fear of poverty. And from this insight, you will learn how to choose the most effective means of reaching and engaging your community’s most disadvantaged residents—their preferred way of communicating, the locations most inviting to them, what they need in order to attend a meeting or workshop including food and childcare, and many more vital details that are commonly forgotten in today’s bicycle businesses and programs.  

Be sure to study Chapter 1 because that is where you will have to be honest with yourself and your local leadership team. Are you envisioning a more casual and fun volunteer program that gives bikes away? A co-op or collective might be a better fit. Such programs can build the bike culture. You might also be a budding for-profit business owner. For-profit bike shops are necessary elements of every bicycling community and a very honorable path to take.

If you choose Social Bike Business, one important requirement is that you must live in the community and be prepared to help lead the organization that takes on the program. I have encountered several well-meaning people who are enthusiastic about the program but expect others to take it on without their assistance. They see its potential in another community or believe that an organization they do not lead should take it on. In fact, the only way for you to succeed with the program is to step into a leadership position and inspire others to join you in building this program so it serves the community where all of you live. No program can thrive if it is started or run by outsiders.

We understand that Social Bike Business is not for everyone and, in order to succeed, each local program must compliment rather than compete with existing for-profit bike shops and co-ops/collectives. Each Social Bike Business program must fill an unfilled niche. That niche is service to and full engagement of the most disadvantaged people in each community. By filling that niche, Social Bike Business is designed to enable people to find their own path out of poverty through bicycles. Eighty percent of the world’s population is living in poverty (World Bank 2008). The Social Bike Business program opens a world of opportunities to them through bicycling. For this, they will continue to ride and perhaps even take up sport cycling. This will grow the whole bicycle movement and boost the bike industry as these formerly-poor join the advantaged bicycle enthusiasts of their community.

Social Bike Business is not about profits or charity. It is about helping people stand up against and defy poverty. Social Bike Business is about giving impoverished people the tools they need to leave poverty behind forever.”

Does that sound intriguing? You can buy your copy at any book vendor – local book store or online – or buy it through our website at .

Do you already have a copy? Please leave a comment about how you have used the book to build your program.


Monday, September 14, 2015

Bicycle Industry Stagnation

Tomorrow I’ll go to Las Vegas to attend the annual Interbike trade show for the bicycle industry where One Street will have a booth once again. I’m looking forward to talking with attendees about our Bike Shift Levers and books. I may even be lucky enough to connect with unusual attendees who are interested in our Social Bike Business program and ways of serving disadvantaged people with bicycles.

This will be my 25th Interbike in 26 years. More than half of those visits were as a bike shop owner having founded and operated Ironclad Bicycles here in Prescott for 13 years. Now my husband Jim owns the shop. He’ll go with me tomorrow and on Wednesday accept an award for Ironclad as one of America’s Best Bike Shops. That’s mighty cool.

But I’ll be at the show for One Street and I’m already feeling the dull thud of disappointment. I know I’ll walk onto the showroom floor only to see the same high tech, high priced bicycles that litter the glitzy floor each year. Of course the booth personnel will tout them as new and improved, but from One Street’s perspective, all I will likely see will be more ways to entice money from the same, aging, hardcore bicycle enthusiasts the industry has been selling to for all those 26 years. If I’m lucky, I’ll come upon a far off corner, perhaps in the basement where few attendees go, where visionary bike builders of affordable basic bikes will be sequestered.

This is why the American bike industry has stagnated, even regressed, since my first Interbike in 1990. This year in America, about the same number of bikes were sold as in 1990, but our population has grown. The bicycle organizations we work with through our Social Bike Business program all work with used bikes because the bike industry no longer makes basic, durable, affordable bikes. Read more about this problem in my previous post, Planned Obsolescence in the Bike Industry.

In my dreams I’d enter the Interbike show floor to find booth after booth filled with basic bikes that come equipped with racks, fenders, baskets, and lights, all for retail prices under $300. Their frames and forks would be simple steel tubing, no shocks or space-age materials. None of them would have a model year and all their parts would be interchangeable and repairable. The booth personnel would show photos of the American factories where their bikes were welded and assembled. If they were from another country, their bikes would be made in their country. They’d tout the appeal of their bikes for the majority of people. They’d talk about their programs for training and hiring disadvantaged people. They’d boast about their bike-design focus groups comprised of people who ride daily for their living.

If I bothered to take the time in such a dream, I might allow for a far off corner, perhaps in the basement, for specialty, bouncy bikes that cater to aging bicycle enthusiasts who might like to buy another bike.

Instead, I am bracing myself for the same old *&^% because our bike industry seems happy to wallow in its stagnation, sell to the same customers, and watch sales numbers drop along with those customers.

I did come upon a flicker of hope recently when I read a staff editorial in Bicycle Retailer & Industry News called “The real problem is stagnation – no matter how suppliers sell bikes.” Unfortunately, they don’t post staff editorials online or I’d link to it. The author responds to a recent buzz about bicycle manufacturers selling directly online, but points out the stagnated number of sales I just mentioned.

They grabbed my attention with this line: “There appears to be a fundamental disconnect between the bicycle industry and 99 percent of Americans.” Then they captured my heart with this one: “Our general message to consumers is one of aggressive athleticism – a message that for most is a turnoff.” This was printed in our main bike industry publication!

The editorial wraps up by repeating that online sales in not the problem. It leaves the stagnation issue unresolved. But to read such self-incriminating statements in the main publication for the American bicycle industry was a welcome breath of fresh air I’ll take with me onto the fusty showroom floor tomorrow. 

Are you just as frustrated with our bicycle industry as I am? Please leave a comment.


Sunday, August 30, 2015

Transforming Kampala for Bicyclists and Pedestrians

This article from The Guardian does an excellent job capturing the current struggle to create safe travel corridors for cyclists and pedestrians in Kampala, Uganda. Thankfully, the projects have been approved and should be under construction soon. When they are finished, they will be some of the finest models of bicycle and pedestrian street redesign in the world. I can hardly wait to post before and after photos on our Street Design page.

To go from such a chaotic, dangerous situation to this modern, high-standard design will not only inspire cities throughout the developed world, but will show developing cities they no longer have any excuses. Thanks to Kampala’s courage, any city that remains dangerous to cyclists and pedestrians will know they are being left in the dust.

But as you will read in the article, even as the projects are moving forward, many voices are still shouting concern. I especially appreciate the defense of the projects that points to the 60% of Kampala’s travelers who do not drive.

One Street board member, Amanda Ngabirano is quoted several times. Here’s my favorite: They’ve deliberately picked the most “hostile” and “complicated” part of the city to start with: “where the people are, and where there is demand,” she explains. “Once we succeed there, we will be able to change other places very quickly.”

This underscores what a terrific street redesign model this will be, not only for the rest of Kampala, but the rest of the world.

Then there’s this quote from Amanda, referring to current cyclists: “When it’s not safe it’s for the person who has no other choice, and the person who has no other choice is poor, you cannot deny that relationship.”

And that is why this article and these projects are such a great fit for this blog. They are defying poverty with streets designed for all bicyclists, especially those who must ride. Enjoy!


Sunday, August 2, 2015

Defying Poverty with Bicycles PowerPoint

I’ve posted a few times about attending the Velo-city conference in Nantes, France this past June. While there, I had the opportunity to present on One Street’s Social Bike Business program. I was very pleased by the response from attendees, many of whom spoke with me afterward about their own, similar program or their dreams of launching one. Some asked for a copy of the presentation. I’ve also had this request since returning to Arizona.

So I just uploaded the PowerPoint presentation to our Social Bike Business web page (linked above) and am also posting it here for those of you interested in seeing it. You’ll find an overview of the program as well as some excellent model programs from around the world.

Enjoy and let me know if you’d like more information about any of it.


Sunday, July 26, 2015

DIY Cargo Bikes with Custom Sidecars

At One Street we’re always looking for easy projects that make bicycles even more efficient transportation machines. Our One Street Components program identifies particular parts that need to be redeveloped and simplified. But turning a regular bike into a cargo bike using common items can be a daunting project. This is because a wheel usually needs to be added to support the load. By adding it to the back, the drivetrain becomes terribly complex. By adding a wheel to the front, the steering becomes complex.

Fortunately, there’s s third option: sidecars. Motorcycles have used them for decades, but sidecars are rare on bicycles. I’m not sure why, because this sure seems like a simple solution for a cargo bike conversion.

Here are some great examples of DIY projects:

Whether you take on a sidecar project or just enjoy the designs, these examples show how looking beyond the usual bicycle world can offer great inspirations for transportation bicycle projects.

Enjoy! And if you know of similar DIY cargo bike projects, please post them in the comments section.


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Bike Works in London as Social Bike Model

I’m back from my big trip to Europe and the UK and now enjoying the inspiring memories. While in France and England I was able to visit with several bicycle organizations and bike shops.

One in particular stands out as particularly inspiring. Bike Works, a social bike business in London, presents a humble storefront and website, but even as I pushed open the door, I realized it was special. The bike shop at the front is clean and welcoming, offering both new and used bikes as well as a nice assortment of parts and accessories.

I spoke with one of their staff about their work with disadvantaged London residents, especially those who have been out of work for some time, which makes finding a job harder. They train them in bicycle mechanics so that even someone who never held a wrench will graduate knowing they can repair most bikes. Each receives a well-respected certificate and help from Bike Works finding a job. The staffer said with a laugh that they keep the best graduates to work at Bike Works. They also offer cycling skills courses for people of all abilities, even those with significant disabilities.

In the back, there’s a long building packed with bicycles, frames, and parts neatly sorted into easy-to-find sections. One half of this building is dedicated to a repair and rebuilding shop where their trainees rebuild donated bikes to sell and support their programs.

While all of this was very impressive to me, a small detail may be the piece that most stunned me – their displayed of used parts for sale. I can’t count the number of arguments I have had with well-intentioned leaders of volunteer-run bike programs who refuse to sell bikes and parts. They believe that by giving away everything their good intentions will be repaid by recipients helping to build the program. Instead, after some time, these leaders are usually left doing all the work and without bicycles or parts to fulfill their mission. I also go over this problem in great detail in our book, Defying Poverty with Bicycles.
But at Bike Works they not only sell used bikes and parts at market prices to sustain their programs, they do so in style. Their used parts are packaged with Bike Works branding and displayed professionally amidst their new parts. A small detail that shows that Bike Works is serious about serving the needs of disadvantaged people. Well done!

Do you know of other great models of social bike businesses? Please note them in the comments section.


Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Social Bike Models at Velo-city Conference

In just a few days I will be on my way to Nantes, France to take part in the Velo-city conference. I enjoy attending this international bicycle conference, not only for reconnecting with my bicycle friends from around the world, but for its concentration of knowledge on the latest improvements for bicycling. There will be lots of sessions on changing cities to encourage more bicycling as well as programs that inspire more people to ride.

On the last day of the conference, I will have the opportunity to present about Social Bike Business and Defying Poverty with Bicycles. I will be on a panel with three other organization leaders from Brazil and Mexico to discuss ways that bicycles can bring about social change in communities.

As part of my presentation, I will offer overviews of noteworthy social bike businesses on five continents. So, I thought I might just share these model programs with you:

Neighborhood Bike Works - USA:
  • For urban youth in underserved neighborhoods of Philadelphia
  • Two locations open regular hours
  • Adult bike repair classes taught by the youth
  • Earn-a-Bike program
  • Summer camps and rides

Utica Bike Rescue - USA:
  • For refugees and at-risk youth in Utica, New York
  • Bikes for disadvantaged people through partner groups
  • “A hand up, not a handout”
  • Open weekdays
  • Bicycle mechanic classes
  • Earn-a-Bike program
  • Summer bike camps

Bike Works - UK:
  • For people with disadvantaged backgrounds in London
  • Registered as a social enterprise
  • All profits toward mission
  • Jobs for disadvantaged
  • Bicycles for disabled
  • Mechanic courses
  • Mobile bike repair

Recicleta - Chile:
  • Seeks out abandoned bikes in Santiago
  • Offers mechanic training to fix the bikes
  • Matches bikes with people in need
  • Workshop space
  • Community programs

Rickshaw Bank - India:
  • Social business for rickshaw drivers in Assam India
  • Improved rickshaw design, built by disadvantaged
  • Loans to drivers to buy their own rickshaw as they use it
  • Careers in business
  • Insurance and health care
  • Family support
  • Replicating in other cities
Google and YouTube

Bicycling Empowerment Network Namibia:
  • Ready-made bike shops delivered as shipping containers with 350 bikes, tools, and shop equipment; container to shop
  • Business and mechanic training for local bike shop owners
  • 33 bike shops in Namibia
  • Bicycle ambulances and bikes for healthcare workers
  • Expanding the program to other African countries

Do you know of other model social bike businesses that serve disadvantaged people, pay employees, and are open regular hours? Please note them in the comments section.

I hope to see some of you in Nantes!


Sunday, May 17, 2015

Bicycle Manufacturing Video from 1950s

As the manufacturing of bicycles continues to shift away from the countries where they will be ridden, I still find solace in this old video of manufacturing bikes here in America, for Americans.

From the commentary, I can guess it was made in about 1952 as the pride for American manufacturing was peaking. You'll need to look close through the poor quality film to see the machines and workers creating every part from frame, to fork, to chainring, to wheels. 

Not long after this video was made, pride in local manufacturing began to erode with the lust for higher profits offered through overseas manufacturing. Bicycle companies all over the world were lured into this rush and many of those who didn't follow, such as the company featured in this video, perished.

One Street's Social Bike Business program is pushing back against this trend by offering nonprofit bike programs a means for manufacturing their own bicycles. It seems like pebbles thrown into a torrent, but if we gather enough pebbles, the flow could shift back to bicycle factories like the one featured in this film. Such a shift would bring back not only jobs to those countries that make the shift, but the pride in manufacturing our own bicycles for our neighbors.

Do you know of other bicycle manufacturing videos from this time period that show this sort of local pride? Please post the link in the comments section.


Thursday, April 30, 2015

Social Bike Business at Velo-city

The Velo-city conference is fast approaching in early June so I’ve been busy arranging meetups and preparing my offerings. I’ll be presenting on One Street’s Social Bike Business program during the Friday parallel sessions. A nice surprise is that I am not the only presenter on bicycles and social issues. That Friday morning, One Street board member Amanda Ngabirano will speak during the plenary session on bicycles in sustainable development. During the Friday session that follows, I’ll be joined by another One Street board member, Michael Linke, as well as other leaders of social bike programs in our session called Pedaling Towards Social Change.

You can see the conference schedule here. At least on Friday, I look forward to connecting with many like-minded bike program leaders. On other days, I also see several speakers from developing countries. This gives me hope that this Velo-city will have more emphasis on serving the bicycling needs of disadvantaged people than I have seen at previous Velo-city conferences.

One unexpected and fun encounter at the conference, which I have already enjoyed, is that my Airbnb host in Nantes is Mirella at Chronovelo, a local cargo bike delivery service. That’s her in the photo. She and her company are working at the conference to haul around conference necessities. Pretty cool, eh?

One month and I’ll be on my way to Nantes! Oui, Oui!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Training Bicycle Welders

Perhaps the most popular topic in our book Defying Poverty with Bicycles is setting up a welding shop for manufacturing new bikes. Nearly every leader of a social bike business program who I have spoken with asks about the steps needed for them to set up their own welding shop. Our recommendation to use tungsten inert gas (TIG) welding, the most precise and most expensive welding system, does not bother them. They understand the benefits of using only quality steel. Writing up a budget for welding machines, jigs, and other tools seems easy enough and donors love to contribute to hard costs like this. But for some reason, the concept of a rolling training program sounds too complicated to tackle.

So, I thought it might be time to post this excerpt from the book that describes how to start trainees slowly, allow for some to move on, and focus on your star trainees to become your eventual master welders of your bikes:

“Your clients who sign up for your manufacturing training module are going to be a unique bunch. These are the craftsmen and craftswomen who already love to make things. Some will be easy to spot with handcrafted add-ons to their bikes or you might hear them talk with pride about a clever way they repaired a friend’s refrigerator by fabricating a new part out of junk. These may be your future manufacturing specialists. Don’t let them leave your center without telling them about your next social bike manufacturing course.

As I mentioned in Chapter 8, this course must be hands on. You will include some classroom time to discuss social bike design concepts, the principles of your program, welding concepts and safety, metal preparation prior to welding, and metallurgy, but the training will not begin until they actually strike a spark with a welding torch.

All novice welders have to run a lot of welds before their hand, eye and foot coordination settles into a groove. Find a source for new, inexpensive flat steel, cut it into small sections and have your students run weld after weld until they can consistently create perfect welds. If you are not a master welder, you’ll have to hire one in the beginning at least for weld inspections. As your training course progresses, your master frame welders can fill this role.

As you can imagine, handling a class of five or ten manufacturing students in this section of the course will be tough. You will need multiple welding machines and stations, or will have to stagger their practice sessions so only a few practice at once. If this is possible, great. Keep them at your center so you or your trainers can supervise their training. Another option is to partner with a local vocational school or community college that offers a welding course. Even if this school does not offer TIG welding or requires students to start with oxyacetylene or stick welding, this practice will transfer to TIG. But they should skip MIG. MIG welding is all about setting up the machine and does not require the skill and coordination of TIG.

Once your students can run perfect welds with TIG on flat steel, have them begin practicing on pipe steel. If your local vocational school offers a pipe welding course, definitely include it in your partnership. Bicycle frame welding is pipe welding and pipe welding requires additional skill to keep the proper torch and filler metal angles that result in perfect welds around the entire pipe.

Once your students have mastered pipe welding, they are ready to start melting some steel for your program. Have them start by welding the racks for your social bikes. Many of the social bikes designed by our local partners include integrated front and rear racks. These racks must first be fabricated out of small tube steel before they are welded to the bikes. You can also design some of these racks to be sold separately for customer bikes or added to bikes you refurbish. You can purchase this rack steel in long sections at a bulk cost so if a student makes a mistake, there will be minimal loss. The sales of these student-built racks will help cover the costs of the training.

Some students won’t get this far in the course. Others will graduate and get hired at your center, but won’t move past the apprentice welder level of welding your racks before they move on to something else. Only the most passionate and talented students you hire will be fit for promotion to the next, master welding level where they actually weld your social bike frames and forks.”

By envisioning such a rolling training program, it’s much easier to see how you will find your master welders. The other trainees who don’t make it that far will also benefit and may even find a lower-lever welding job outside of your program because of your training.

Have you struggled finding or training welders for your program? Are you eager to start manufacturing bicycles, but intimidated by having to set up such a training program? Please offer your experiences in the comments section.


Sunday, March 8, 2015

Havana Bikes

Imagine a place with a thriving bike culture that has no access to new bikes or parts. Now imagine you are a bicycle mechanic in such a place. How would you fix the most simple brake problem without parts? How would you repair a worn out chain? This is how bicycle mechanics must work in Havana, Cuba.

In this video from last year you will see the innovative spirit of Havana’s bicycle mechanics as they struggle to keep the finite number of bicycles in their city rolling. Look closely at their clever methods and keep an eye out for some lovely old tools; especially a cast-iron truing stand.

I could watch this video over and over again imagining what these mechanics would do if they could connect with us and create their own Social Bike Business program complete with enough profits to buy new parts and even manufacture their own bikes to sell out of real storefronts. Their programs could build around the courageous beauty of the skills they’ve developed in these isolated times. Maybe this will be possible soon as restrictions are slowly lifted.

If anyone knows a bicycle mechanic living in Havana, or even one of the city’s lucky few who own a bike, please find a way to get them a copy of Defying Poverty with Bicycles. At least with that book, they could begin building on their skills to help many more people ride bikes in their city.


Saturday, February 28, 2015

Achieving Mobility and Dignity for Bicyclists

When Enrique Penalosa was mayor of Bogota, Columbia, he transformed his city into a place that prioritized mobility for bicyclists and pedestrians. By spending transportation funding first on buses, sidewalks, and bikeways, he proudly proclaims Bogota made a person on a $30 bicycle equal to a person in a $30,000 car. They brought dignity to people who have no choice but to ride a bicycle.

In this TED talk, Mr. Penalosa demonstrates that by prioritizing vulnerable travelers, cities become better places for everyone, even car drivers. 

Social bike business programs cannot exist in a vacuum. Even if you can lay claim to all the best practices outlined in Defying Poverty with Bicycles, you are still dependent on your surroundings. You may have an extraordinary team leading your nonprofit. You might have lots of eager donors providing bicycles, funding, even a building. But if the people who come to your program for a bike or a career cannot walk or bicycle to and from your place, you’re facing a serious obstacle to the long-term success of your bicycle program.

I know it’s a lot easier to focus on the daily urgencies that come to your program. Find a seat post that fits this bike. Fix this flat tire. Show this new trainee how to remove a rear derailleur.

Still, by carving out just a few days each month to sit down with your city officials or coordinate your efforts with your local bicycle advocacy organization, you will be investing in the future success of your programs. City officials must hear from experts like you who understand the need to provide for people who ride bikes or walk to their destinations. They likely won’t be excited about pushing bicycle improvements, as Mr. Penalosa notes in the video. He was threatened with impeachment for making bicycle and pedestrian improvements! So you and your team of advocates will have to show your decision makers that you will be there for them throughout the effort.

Your investment of time in improving your city will pay off over time. Start with a reasonable request that will not only improve access for bicyclists, but will be a likely winner with your officials. Read more about planning a successful campaign on our Campaign Planning page.

The most important step, though, is to start now. Find out who is already working for better bicycling in your city and join them in their efforts. If no one else is doing this important work, find at least a few days each month to keep the topic front and center at your city hall.

Let me know if you need help with any bicycle program or campaign efforts. That’s what One Street is here for!


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

After Ferguson: Who Owns the Streets?

The killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in November stirred up many hot topics about how we live together on this planet. This sudden, horrific event on a small street in middle America raised questions about our civilization and humanity, how little we have advanced as a species.

One of these questions hits directly on One Street’s purpose by questioning why the encounter even happened. The police officer believed that Michael and his friends should not be walking in the middle of the road. For a police officer to assume that such a basic human right as walking in the public right-of-way is illegal strikes at an injustice that affects all of us. Those of us not driving an expensive motor vehicle have been shoved aside. Our public rights-of-way have been taken from us.

If this bothers you, you will enjoy this article.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Why to Avoid a Triple Bottom Line for Bike Programs

I’m fairly well fed up with the concept of the triple bottom line. The idea goes that a company or social enterprise can do a good job of ensuring all three of these at once: profits, environmental stewardship, and social good. Bull. As long as profits are in that bottom line, someone will always fudge the other two.

Here’s an excerpt from Defying Poverty with Bicycles that explains a bit why we do not recommend using this concept for Social Bike Business programs:

“As the terms social enterprise and social business have gained popularity, so has the abuse of these terms. Major corporations have been under greater scrutiny lately and often attempt to hide behind these terms to present an altruistic image. Just as many corporations have employed “green washing” to create an illusion of environmental stewardship as they continue to devour natural resources, some are learning to use “social washing” to combat claims against the social harm they are causing worldwide. So, as you do further research on these concepts, keep a wary eye out for false models. As long as a company or corporation prioritizes a monetary bottom line, social needs will always fall by the wayside.

This explains why One Street does not use the term “triple bottom line” i.e., monetary-environmental-social. We have found that many companies and corporations that tout a triple bottom line fall short of carrying it through. The monetary bottom line often overrides the other two as companies under pressure to make the most profit seek out the most desperate, impoverished people to make their products, force them to work long hours and pay them the very least they will accept, thus heightening their poverty. The pressure to meet the monetary bottom line also tempts outsourcing to new, more desperate countries leaving a wake of laid-off employees behind. On the environmental side, practices that truly protect the environment, such as replanting trees and reclaiming waste are always more expensive than environmentally destructive practices. With a monetary bottom line included, many companies can only give lip service to the other two.

Instead, One Street’s Social Bike Business model focuses on the social bottom line: the number of disadvantaged people served by the program. By following proven and successful businesses practices to increase the number of disadvantaged people served, the monetary and environmental bottom lines become unavoidable. In order to serve as many disadvantaged people as possible, the business must have strong and reliable profits. And because harming the environment harms people, this would subtract from the number of disadvantaged people served, so environmental stewardship becomes mandatory to achieve the bottom line.”

Could you envision running a bicycle program with a single, social bottom line?