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California retailers partner to send bikes to Africa

Published May 23, 2014
Mike Simmons with donated bikes bound for Africa.

NOVATO, Calif. (BRAIN) — The Mike's Bikes Foundation, a non-profit founded by retailer Ken Martin, has teamed up with San Diego specialty retail chain Bicycle Warehouse to send more than 400 donated bikes to Africa. The bikes, along with helmets and bike parts, have been shipped to Botswana and will be distributed to a network of Mike's Bikes' sister shops and given to children, students, AIDS charity workers, commuters and aspiring bike racers.

The Mike's Bikes Foundation is dedicated to promoting bicycling as sustainable transportation in sub-Saharan Africa, and since 2007, it has shipped more than 11,000 bikes — many of which were donated by Mike's Bikes customers. Some of the retailer's vendors and suppliers have also sent overstock bikes to Africa to support the cause.

But over the years, the program's success and subsequent demand for bikes has stripped the Northern California used bike market, so Martin reached out to his fellow retailers to host bike drives in other regions.

"The bicycle is the most efficient transportation device ever created, and it's the absolute perfect solution for Africa," said Martin. "But as this idea caught on, our project became a victim of its own success, and we just couldn't supply bikes fast enough. I challenged Mike and Debbe (of Bicycle Warehouse) to run their own bike drive and they jumped in right away. This model of collaboration between shops is just awesome and I want to replicate it in other markets."

Bicycle Warehouse owners Debbe and Mike Simmons decided to get involved with the project, and began collecting donated bikes at all six of their stores. When they ran out of room to store the bikes, the Simmons built a storage unit to house them. Debbe Simmons said the Bicycle Warehouse staff and customers have rallied behind the ongoing project. "This will be an ongoing venture for us because it has been so well received by the community," said Simmons. "Many times our guests decide to buy a new bike instead of repairing an old one. We now have a perfect way to give their older bikes new purpose while improving lives."

Bicycle Warehouse has collected enough bikes to fill one container with donated bikes and the Simmons plan to continue collecting to fill at least one more. The first container left San Diego on May 8 and is expected to arrive in Botswana's capital of Gaborone on July 17.

All 11 Mike's Bikes Bay Area stores are also continuing to collect bikes, but the Mike's Bikes Foundation is working to partner with more retailers to expand the project's reach. To learn more about the foundation, visit mikesbikesafrica.com.

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