World Bicycle Relief (WBR) mobilizes people through “The Power of Bicycles.” They envision a world where distance is no longer a barrier to independence and livelihood. WBR was launched to provide bicycles to those in need as a way to provide access to education, healthcare and livelihoods, while reconnecting entire communities. While considering their approach, they asked themselves many questions, including, “Why do many bicycle programs in Africa fail?”  The answer is largely because the bicycles are not sturdy, do not have proper replacement parts, nor technicians to fix them with standard tools. After all, what use is a bicycle if it is broken and abandoned on the side of a road?

WBR set out to create the Buffalo Bicycle, a bicycle that can withstand the conditions in which they are used. All parts have a vital purpose and each bicycle has fewer parts than a normal bicycle. Why? Simple: fewer parts mean fewer things to break. Even with fewer parts to break, things still will, which leaves the problem of who has the ability to fix a broken bicycle. WBR has considered that as well and trains mechanics to fix the bicycles in the all locations in which they are distributed.

Versions of WBR’s Buffalo prototype have been tested in the field and been in use for 10 years. Along with their Mechanics program, they also offer their bicycles for sale to large multi-national NGOs and distribute bicycles in their own philanthropic program.

The first ten years of their organization were spent making sure the systems (including the bicycle, the contracts, and the program participation) work as they should. WBR has just finished their “Adolescent Strategic Plan” to scale up their programs.

Kristoff, Nicholas, “A Boy and a Bicycle(s)” New York Times, September 15, 2010

Video from Chicago Tonight, January 4, 2011, WTTW