Give Your Old Bike to a Good Cause

Arlington-based Bikes for the World ships donated bikes to the places in the world where they are needed most.

KEITH OBERG LIVES in Lyon Village, but he also holds the keys to a 20,000-square-foot warehouse on South Eads Street in Pentagon City. Inside it, roughly 3,000 bikes—road bikes, mountain bikes and kids’ bikes—are waiting for new homes.

They are soon to be shipped overseas by Bikes for the World, the nonprofit Oberg founded in January 2005, which provides affordable bikes and bicycle parts to people in developing nations. He says the idea came while he was working for an international economic development start-up and traveling to places where many were carless.

In those countries, he noticed kids dropping out of school and families without access to basic health care due to a lack of transportation. He also observed that people with bicycles tended to have higher incomes, often because they were able to commute to jobs farther afield or run businesses catering to a wider radius of customers. Arlington, meanwhile, had a surplus of bikes, many of which sat in garages, unused or outgrown.

Now entering its 10th year, Bikes for the World holds bike collection drives not just in Arlington, but across the country, through churches and other places of worship, police departments and apartment complexes. It also operates bike trade-in programs in partnership with retailers like REI, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Phoenix Bikes and Revolution Cycles. On Nov. 15, the nonprofit donated its 100,000th bicycle.

Volunteers help to manage the logistics of the operation, which mostly ships to communities in Africa, Asia and Central America. Inside warehouses like the one on South Eads Street, community members help dismantle bikes and prepare them for overseas distribution. Some volunteers are Scouts or students earning service learning credits; others are teens participating in local “earn-a-bike” programs.

The impact abroad is significant. In Panama, a bike repair workshop run by Goodwill fixes and sells bikes that have been donated by Bikes for the World, providing skills training, jobs and affordable transportation to low-income workers. In Namibia, health-care workers use the bikes to travel between villages and provide AIDS education.

In the Philippines, donated bikes have reduced the drop-out rate among kids who have to travel long distances to school. “Bikes enable students to get there faster and safer,” Oberg says, “with less energy expended so they can also do chores and errands, and enjoy some recreation with the extra time.”

Later this year, the warehouse on South Eads Street will be torn down to make way for new development. But Oberg and his army of volunteers are optimistic that Bikes for the World will find a new place in Arlington to house its export operation.

“Bikes for the World is special,” says Liv Gwynn, a high school student volunteer. “You get to see the progress you’re making from the beginning to the end of the day. And even if you don’t get to meet the people, you still feel like you’re helping.”

Categories: Community