Have you ever thought about what happens to a bike after you’re done with it? The grim reality is that most of the bikes we ride eventually end up as garbage. It’s estimated that at least 15 million bikes go to landfill every year, destined for a slow death in a dump heap.
Bike waste is a significant global problem. Which is why we have incredible respect for those who are not just saving bikes from landfill, but also fixing them up and finding them new homes.
Bikes Without Borders in Toronto was founded by Mike Brcic and his wife Tanya Smith in 2008, on the belief that “bicycles can change the world”.
The original goal was to refurbish bikes and bring them to people in need in developing countries. But transporting bikes internationally, to sometimes very remote and inaccessible areas, proved to be extremely expensive.
“We realized on a super-slim budget, it was more effective to work at the local level,” says Tanya, Executive Director of Bikes Without Borders. “At the same time, there was a huge influx of newcomers to Canada due to the Syrian refugee crisis.”
Soon Bike Without Borders changed its focus and started outfitting newly arrived refugees and low-income families with refurbished bikes.
Bikes Without Borders get all their bikes through donation, and everyone involved in fixing them up volunteers their time. Currently, they are running The 1000 Bikes Campaign. Their goal is to put 1000 refurbished bikes into the hands of Toronto-area newcomers in 2022.
As a non-profit cycling organization, Bikechain on the University of Toronto St. George campus has been connecting people and bikes since 2005. In addition to selling good quality used bikes and parts, its core mission is to teach people how to repair their own bikes with the assistance of experienced bike mechanics. They also offer free bike rentals to students and monthly workshops on bicycle safety and maintenance.
I love what Bikes Without Borders and Bikechain are doing, as well as what many other organizations are accomplishing across the country. Groups like 46ForGeorge in Toronto, The Bike Kitchen in Vancouver, Bike Root in Calgary, and The Bike Dump in Winnipeg, all working to keep bikes out of landfill, and connect people in need with bike parts and refurbished rides.
Bikes can be a powerful tool for change. And it’s that purpose that keeps most of these organizations going. Remember, most of these groups aren’t benefitting from big corporate donations. They don’t have a fleet of employees on staff. The fact is they’re mostly run by a dedicated, core group of volunteers on a shoe-string budget.
Tanya from Bikes Without Borders has a hand in everything, from fundraising to public relations to securing donations and even finding places to store them. With a graduate degree in Theatre Arts and three young children at home, before she met her husband she never would have predicted she’d be running an organization like this. But seeing the impact their bikes have on the community, inspires her every day.
“There is a guy named Raj, he had newly arrived in Canada and came to us through the Salvation Army. I remember he called us from a pay phone! Now he’s a bike courier and I see him all the time, biking around my neighbourhood. It is so heart-warming, he used to be sleeping on a cot and the Salvation Army, but now he has a job, and a place to live. I’ve seen the amazing impact bikes can have.”