Guest Article: Bikes to Rwanda

Photo: Bikes To Rwanda

Occasionally, we find ourselves removing our proverbial tongue from cheek and getting a little bit serious. Try as we might, a good cause just can’t always be avoided, and here we have Steampunk returning for his second Guest Article to discuss his latest project. Enjoy the read, and if you feel so inclined, jump over to his blog Velonista for more information.

Yours in Cycling,


Friends: what follows may seem out of character for me on these pages, but I like to think the more serious content below is just as much a part of my real self as the more raucous participation on this great site. When I’m not Steampunk, my name is Michael Egan. I teach history at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. Over the past year, I’ve really enjoyed the irreverent and informative posts, comments, and rants on these pages. That I should even care whether I’m rule compliant is strong indication that Frank, Brett, Marko, and company are onto something special here. And without getting all misty-eyed about it, the friends I’ve made on these pages have been a big part of my cycling enjoyment over the past year. In this context, I’m loath to mess with a good thing and come asking for help with a project I have underway, but Marko seemed to think that cycling, coffee, and changing the world (his words) seemed like a pretty good combination and worth sharing with folks here. So I hope you will forgive the intrusion. Perhaps, indeed, rather than donating yourselves, I can ask you to forward this widely (or even adopt a similar kind of plan yourself). I’d be grateful for the assistance.

With the new pro cycling season swinging into gear and the first hints that winter might be exiting stage left at home, I’m looking forward to getting back on the bike. The guns are locked and loaded; the kit is shining and clean; and the bike is calling to me from the back of the garage (to where it got shunted when my brother-in-law came to visit a couple of weeks ago””why he should get priority in the guest room instead of the garage is still beyond me). On these pages, I don’t have to explain the wonders of cycling and why I’m hooked. On the flat, the pedaling rhythm is fluid, smooth, automatic. Going up, heart, lungs, and legs vie for your inner mind’s attention, begging you to stop. In short, cycling hurts. And I think that’s the point. As an academic, who lives a pretty comfortable life, I’ve decided that the lure of cycling stems from some primitive need to suffer. So in rain, sleet, snow, wind, and throbbing heat, I click my cleats into my pedals and ride. The bike is a tool. And it’s on the bike that I set myself challenges. How far, how hard, how long can I ride? Today, this week, month, or year? I don’t know if it necessarily makes me a better person, but I’m more relaxed if I have been riding more and I like the physical and mental challenge.

But the bicycle’s utility extends well beyond the bike boutiques and “cycling is the new golf” mentality that has permeated much the developed world. The bike is a tool and an important mode of transportation for millions of people the world over. While I ride for pleasure, it’s important to keep in mind that I have the privilege to ride a quality racing bike on paved and””let’s be frank (though not, I pray, Fränk)””safe roads: with traffic controls, lights and crossings, and free of land mines. The worst I have to worry about on the road is the odd pothole or dog. Luxury.

Conscious of this privilege and thinking about cycling goals for 2011, I want to try to put the two together. So, naturally, I started a blog. Recently, I came across Bikes to Rwanda, which builds practical, cargo bikes for cooperative coffee farmers in Rwanda. From their site: “The goal is to improve quality of life in these communities through a bike distribution, workshop construction and maintenance training program that provides transportation resources for basic needs and enhances production of quality coffee.” For an overview of the larger project, see here. I like coffee, too, and am a pretty frequent visitor to Domestique Café Cyclo Sportif. Bikes and coffee: I’ll write more on this, but this is a great fit for me.

So here’s the premise for my blog and fundraising: I’m looking for sponsors who will commit to donating a penny for every kilometer I ride on my road bike in 2011 (races, training, etc.””but not commuting or riding with the kids). Feel free to sponsor more, but I’ll even take half-pennies. Sponsors can contact me at [email protected] with their full name, e-mail address, and sponsored amount. How far will I likely ride? In 2010, amid injuries and travel, I rode somewhere between 3000 and 4000 kilometers; my goal for 2011 is 5000 kilometers (under the Ontario snow, I’ve only managed 100km so far in 2011), and I hope to roust up 100 sponsors. At a penny a kilometer, that would mean $5000. On January 1, 2012, I will post the final tally and come collecting (I hope to have a PayPal account up and running by then). The proceeds will be sent to the Bikes to Rwanda program.

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42 Replies to “Guest Article: Bikes to Rwanda”

  1. Nice work steamboat. To give u some inspiration to get out on the treddly, take a look at (dunno how to post a link using iPhone) – two of my nephews and two mates just finished riding 7800 kms across, you guessed it, west Africa to raise $$ to fight child slavery.

    Good on you – but how about u Rule #5 it and get some real ks done?

  2. @Steampunk
    Wow! This is fantastic. It is amazing how far a person can leap economically when he/she has a bike instead of having to walk. I like this a lot.

    So. I have no money. (Have I told you the story about my new Look?) But I’ve got an idea. I’ll retire my V-meter and replace it with my Cateye. I’ll keep track of my kilometers and donate them to you. Nobody needs to know I’m tacking on k’s to yours. (VELOMINATI, ssshhhhhh. It’s a secret.)

    What do you think? I could easily give you 3000km to spare (barring injury, death, or phenomenal success in my new writing career). Marcus could probably get you 3000km in six weeks, but I think he’s rich, so he should stick to giving you money.

    Or… I could pledge $0.01 per km and just Rule #5 on the budget. I’ll let you decide.

    Again, this is a great thing you’re doing. Chapeau.

  3. Hey SP, thanks for sharing this and your thoughts particularly as they apply to relative privilege.
    My career has taken me to live and work in several places in Africa (and elsewhere) over the last 10 years, including Uganda, Nigeria, DRC, Zimbabwe, and Burundi, Rwanda’s neighbor.
    I can confirm that bicycles in these parts are personal transport, taxis, and beasts of burden. One of the more remarkable exhibits of bike-related V was seeing Burundians ferry lake water in jerry cans strapped to their bicycles, pushing their 100kg loads in the blazing sun up the steep hills, hinted at in your link’s Rwanda photos, from lake to home.
    Bikes carrying 3 passengers, maybe a tied-up goat, and a huge bunch of bananas makes your cargo bikes spot on. A bunch of weight weenies, no?

    I have worked there, in part, because the privilege of my life allows me to do so. As it allows me to ride my bike for pure pleasure (and pain).
    So count me in.

  4. @Steampunk
    Wow, this is really beautifully written and beautifully articulated. Thanks a lot, mate. It’s really nice to read this and be reminded to take a step back and remember how easy we have it. Hopefully you’ll get some sponsors together here who are willing to help out.

    My VMH does a lot of work in communities like the one you’re trying to help here, and I can tell you they need it, and the empowerment that comes with not just a bicycle but of working in a successful local business such as coffee farming can’t be overestimated.

    Really spectacular project; I hope you find great success.

  5. @xyxax
    I haven’t been to Africa, but I’ve spent time in India and to say a bicycle is used as a beast of burden as you suggest is absolutely the case. These photos might seem funny to us, but this is real-life, and the way the bike is use to solve complicated problems elsewhere in the world. Really makes you stop and think.

  6. Great involvement with worthy things. We all need something outside of ourselves to give perspective on life and the world. In Senegal, I saw this young boy riding a very adult sized bike. His leg went though the triangle. The bicycle presence was minimal in a country that needed it as best form of transportation.

    On a different note. It has been a while since I’ve visited “the Velominati” and wonder specifically if Frank, you are still planning a group ride in Seattle for the Saturday and watch the Sunday Tour of Flanders race in April? It was mentioned weeks ago and I’m interested if the plan came to fruition?

  7. Nicely articulated Steampunk and a very worthy cause. I’ll put the details on my FaceSpace so you may end up with a few more hopefully.
    Best of luck with the fund raising mate, Merckx bless.

    I think the bottom photo is Vietnam isn’t it frank? Having spent a lot of time over there, that type of thing is a familiar sight. Bikes loaded to capacity, with Merckx knows what hanging off the sides. One really does appreciate how fortunate one is when this type of image trundles past.

  8. Nice work. I too was reminded of experiences of seeing heavily laden cargo bikes in the developing world. Also, the small boy leg-thru-main-triangle look. Classic.

    Also having made a previous attempt to introduce the umlaut, I applaud recent efforts on this page and others on that topic.

  9. Great photos, everyone.
    I’ll add a couple:

    bike taxis in northern Uganda:

    Banana boat in Burundi:

    Velo de caca, Nigeria

  10. A very worthwhile cause indeed. I’ll be sure to throw down some money when the donation page is put online.

  11. @all
    So, I guess I’m pretty bad at math. I thought this was $5,000 per person, but then I figured out it was $500 per person. A little more number crunching (and an email from @Steampunk) and I realized that the requested amount is $50, which is not so bad. I’m in.

    In any rate, I wanted to offer up that if that still feels a bit steep for people, but if they want to still contribute, I’d be happy to organize a Velominati pool where members can join up together to get to the $50 and spread the cost around.


  12. Mate, great work. Will spread the word. I’ll donate in Aussie Dollars. That means I donate AUS$50 and you get extra with the Exchange rate.

    Come on all of you, $50 is less than a new set of nicks. We’d spend that in a week of eating lunch out instead of making it at home and taking it to work.

    Steampunk is sacrificing KM’s, lets ALL give something back to cycling, and make a difference.

    I’m in, and will post something on the Club website.

  13. Yup, I’m up for a p a k. Great initiative, Steampunk. (I trust you will forgive me if I continue to refer to you as Steampunk. (“CanaryMike” or similar, should you repeate last year’s success, just doesn’t seem funny enough.))

    In the mid-90’s I spent a bit of time in East Africa trying to assist the World Bank with some agricultural sector rationalisation (back when it was thought that a bit of legislative streamlining plus some corporatisation and privatisation was all you needed to make the world a better place). It was professionally unrewarding – as is often the case when one is faced with entrenched self-interest, rank incompetence and (at best) political indifference. But, while I was there, I met a group of retired American engineers whose retirement hobby was setting up bicycle factories in Africa, in order to provide people with greater abiity to travel for work. There was more demand than they could posibly hope to keep up with. And I left thinking that they were doing a lot more for people than I had done. So thanks, BenefactorPunk, for this opportunity to contribute a little more.

  14. Thanks, guys, for all the support. I really admire those of you who have engaged with these kinds of projects on the ground in Africa. In comparison, this is pretty lightweight. And I’m very grateful for all the pledges””please send me a quick e-mail (ve[email protected]) so I can keep a record of where I’m at.

    The pics above really suggest the universality of the bicycle!

  15. Also, a fabulous stroke of luck! I just received this:

    Greeting to you.,

    May i crave your indulgence as i solicite your assistance on a mutually rewarding project.
    My name is Saif al-Islam Muammar al-Gaddafi the second eldest son of Colonel Moammar Gadafi the ruler of Libya.

    The protest in the Arab world has taken a heavy toll on our country Libya and most
    of my father’s loyal commanders in the Libyan Armed forces has defected with many looting
    the Central Bank of Libya taking away the country’s hard currency in US Dollars.check the URLS below:…/britain-seizing-gaddafi-assets-libya_n_828006.html…libyan…moammar-gadhafi/0301012213/ – United States…libyan…moammar-gadhafi/0301012213/ – United States

    Our money to the tune of US$ 100 Billion in the United states,Britain and Germany has been frozen
    with Full air and sea bloackade imposed to stem the movement of money out of the country.This is aimed at
    limiting my father’s counter attack powers, so that the rebels can take over.Recently the British government blocked the movement
    of a huge sum of money by my father to the UK and this was kept in our private vault in Libya.

    Fortunately,with the help of my UK Armed forces friends that came to evacuate British workers in Libya,
    i was able to move the sum of US$28,8 Million to a safe deposit box in London UK and i have long confirmed that
    the entire sum is safe.

    I cannot leave Libya because the rebels has caged us inside Tripoli and the US and NATO forces are enforcing a
    “NO FLY ZONE” with the Brisitish and US carriers, blocking ships from leaving and entering Libya.I therefore need
    your assistance to keep this money for me till i am able to come out from Libya.I am willing to give you 30% of this
    amount .

    I will like you to send me your full details viz: 1.Full Names & Address,2.Direct Telephone Mobile and fax lines and a copy of your
    ID so that i can prepare the needed papers for you to have access to the money and keep it safe for me.I expect your immediate reply to
    my direct email address:

    [email protected]

    Insha Allah,we will accomplish this task within the next 7 days while i make arrnagment to move out more money from the vault.

    Awaiting your reply.


    Saif al-Islam Muammar al-Gaddafi
    Preidential Palace.

    That’ll buy a lot of bicycles!!

  16. @Steampunk “That’ll buy a lot of bicycles!!” Well, at a penny a kilometre it will require you to cycle 10 trillion kilometres this year. That’s almost as much as JENS!, so would be quite a good effort.

  17. @Steampunk
    Do you mind if I send all of my personal details instead? I promise that I will give you 50% of my 30%.
    Just send me your bank account details, along with your PIN and I’ll transfer your share as soon as my money comes through…..promise

  18. G’phant :
    Hours of entertainment.

    Fucking brilliant! Didn’t know this site existed. Quick look at some of those photo’s they were able to get the perp’s to pose for. “I’m oiled up….” Halfway through eating an apple and splattered the screen with the remains.
    Thanks G’phant

  19. @G’phant
    Well, I hadn’t thought of it that way. He seemed quite anxious and quite genuine, so I thought I could “pay the kilometers back over time.”

    @il ciclista medio
    Now, wait just a minute! I saw it first. In other news, thanks to all sponsors; if I could trouble each of you for your bank details, etc., we’ll be able to get this turkey off the ground.

    @il ciclista medio
    They need a “click here to win” button at the bottom of their site.

  20. @Jeff in PetroMetro
    Thanks for the offer. I’m sure I’d be grateful for the extra kilometers. What I would encourage you to do, however, is to try something similar. I’ve been surprised by the growing interest in this project. Not just on here but among a variety of local networks. Also, Mrs. Steampunk has been incredibly supportive, which could translate into more rides without raising angst levels at home. Win-win-win.

  21. Try again for Frank?
    “On a different note. It has been a while since I’ve visited “the Velominati” and wonder specifically if Frank, you are still planning a group ride in Seattle for the Saturday and watch the Sunday Tour of Flanders race in April? It was mentioned weeks ago and I’m interested if the plan came to fruition?”
    Seems like a great idea so let it not go to waste.

  22. @nvvelominati
    Absolutely still planning this ride; I haven’t made official announcements yet as I’m working on the route etc; it will be no where near as long or hard as the real Ronde, but it will be the Ronde van Seattle, probably to start out from the Speedy Reedy parking lot in Fremont, around 9am or so.

    Not sure yet either if Brouers will be airing the coverage, been meaning to get over there to discuss it with them. Cheers.

  23. Steampunk,

    As a follow Canadian, with a soft spot for projects that reach out in places where my brothbers and sisters (or myself) have been, I support you whole heartedly. My “business” blog and FB page are at your disposal (even though only 3 people follow them, including my mom!) And later today I will make my posts, link to here, and kick in my 50 bones.

    On a related note, in A’stan, the bicycle is a vehile for the family and busineSs, but a few years ago Bicycling magazine did a story on the Kabul Cycling Club and a young man running a repair business out of an old sea can. There we a lot of Edmonton club jerseys donated to the Kabul club, and it was a bit surreal to see them worn on the desert roads!

  24. @G’phant
    Thanks for the link, which @xyxax also passed my way (did come across it, too).

    Kilometers started to pile on””~250km this week””though I’ve been hampered with a sore hip for the past few months. In early June, I could barely get my leg over the top tube unless the bike was lying down. Made doing more than 50km at a stretch difficult going. But the inflammation seems to be subsiding (I got me some of those five-fingered shoes, and they’ve worked wonders), and managed to get two longer rides in this week (today’s was just a 45km spin). It’s all starting to come together (sabbatical also kicked in on July 1″”I can do a year’s worth of research in January and ride full time until then, right?). So long as the hip holds on, I should be on track for 5000km by the end of the year.

    Thanks again for all the friendly notes posted on the blog and to my e-mail. A lot of good folks made encouraging sounds about pledging, but I’ve only committed those who contacted me at [email protected]. Always looking for more sponsors (a penny for every kilometer). All funds going to Bikes to Rwanda.

  25. @all:
    Yesterday, I crossed the 5000km mark””my target for the Bikes to Rwanda funding. Through the support of friends here and elsewhere, the total of pledges exceeds $1000. I’ve been in touch with a number of people who contacted me directly, but wanted to send out a final thank you here just in case there might be some folks who wanted to pledge (Bikes to Rwanda would be grateful for any amount you might be good enough to submit). There are two ways to submit your pledge:

    1. Go to the Bikes to Rwanda page a contribute directly. They should be able to issue tax receipts from there. The link is: Click on “Donate Now” under the “Contribute” link in the top bar. That will take you to a secure page.

    2. If online stuff is not your bag, they’re not well-equipped to receive cheques, especially in non-US currencies. While hardly optimal, it might be best to send me a cheque made out to “Michael Egan.” I’ll make out a money order in US dollars for Bikes to Rwanda and send it to Brian Gilmore at Bikes to Rwanda. Contact me at [email protected] for mailing address.

    Finally, thanks to the Keepers for allowing me to draw on the fantastic community on this site for support. As is the case with all of you, I just love riding my bike, but it’s been a special treat to take pleasure in my riding while also being able to lend support to a good and exciting cause. I hope to revisit this again in 2012″”in the meantime, there’s plenty of riding to get in before the snow comes…

  26. @sgt and all:
    Final tally: 5817km.

    Started my account for 2012, although I’m not sure how I’ll go. Last year’s riding plan was simply to ride and work on body and fitness. My goals for 2012 are loftier, but I suspect the training will consist of quality over quantity.

    Thanks again to all and sundry for their support.

  27. Not exactly related to Rwanda, but I couldn’t think of a better place to post this. Great, great message about hope in these two videos.

    and this one really cracked me up:

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    We’d be looking to place a guest post on your homepage. Would you be interested in this?

    Do not hesitate to ask me any questions by emailing me :)

    Kind Regards
    Michael Adamson

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