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World Bicycle Relief: The Power of Bicycles

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World Bicycle ReliefReading Time: 3 minutes

As most of you know I think a lot about the developing world. Most of that thinking to date has centered around microfinance. Being a finance guy by background microfinance appealed to me from day one. It is a very innovative way to empower people in developing countries to start businesses that will ultimately help them rise above the poverty line.

Teaching a man to fish. What could be better than that in terms of long term sustainability?

Recently I found my thoughts turning to the bicycle. I do think about bikes a lot in that I use one to commute to work and I also have begun to seriously train in order to race bikes. Cycling is truly a passion of mine.

So, I guess I shouldn’t say that I recently have started to think about bikes. What I meant was I have begun to think about how bikes could (and do) make a difference in two areas I am concerned about: third world development and the environment.

The environmental piece is easier to pick up on in that bikes are emission free vehicles. That said I should address the fact that it does takes energy to make bikes but the amount of energy is actually pretty low. In fact, the amount of energy it takes to produce one bike is about 1/20th of what it takes to produce a car. On top of that bikes last much longer than cars due to the lack of a problematic internal combustion engine. In fact, my commuting bike is an early 80s Fuji and it is still going strong. (Also, because bikes are powered by humans, the humans that power the bikes are also in better physical shape (goodbye obesity problem!).)

If we all started to ride bikes more there is no doubt we’d see environmental benefits (and health and happiness benefits as well) but what I really want to discuss in this piece is the impact bikes have on developing nations.

Bicycles are a much more efficient form of transportation than walking which, in most rural developing areas, is the only way people can get around. Therefore, if people in developing nations were given access to bicycles their standard of living would be improved in a number of ways due to their increased capacity.

Since pictures really are worth 1000 words (and because I love info graphics) I will use the images below to illustrate my point (info graphics courtesy of World Bicycle Relief).


During a commuting day of 10 miles traveled, a bicycle saves 3 hours.

  • Walking – 2.5 miles per hour
  • Bicycling – 10 miles per hour

Riding a bicycle increases one’s capacity by 5 times.

As time increases, effort to travel increases. Riding a bicycle requires less effort, allowing one to travel farther in less time.

Over equal units of time, one can ride a bicycle 4 times the distance as one walking.


After seeing those stats it is clear that more bicycles would help developing nations (and even help people get the most out of their microfinance loans). Let me guess, you want to help out right? Well, I was hoping you would.

It is very easy for the average person to help get bikes to developing nations should they feel compelled to do so. Anyone can donate to World Bicycle Relief who’s mission it is to get bikes into the hands of those that need them most.

World Bicycle Relief has worked with both SRAM and Trek Bicycles to create a bike specifically for use in Africa, the first area World Bicycle Relief is working to help (although WBR has jumped into places like Sri-Lanka in times of crisis to provide aid in the form of bikes).

Each of these bikes only costs $109 which is very inexpensive. You can either donate in $109 increments to buy bikes for folks in Africa or you can donate at any dollar amount simply to help the cause.

In the future programs like World Bicycle Relief are poised to help us all remember that the bicycle is the most elegant and useful form of transportation ever created. I know I for one am looking forward to a more widespread acceptance of the bicycle especially in the U.S..

In fact, I have been thinking a lot about what an organization would look like that would get bikes to people in major cities (and large suburbs) who need them and then organize commuting groups to encourage people to commute (and do errands) by bike (safety and confidence in numbers, etc.). However, that’s a whole other post.

Written by Eric Olson

January 28th, 2008 at 6:17 pm

Posted in Social Ventures

2 Responses to 'World Bicycle Relief: The Power of Bicycles'

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  1. [...] World Bicycle Relief: The Power of Bicycles [via Zemanta] [...]

  2. Thought you might be interested in what a small group of us in England are doing with bike power.


    7 Apr 08 at 2:13 pm

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