As many of you know through the blog, we in the Coffee Bike Program are in the middle of building our first batch of 500 coffee bicycles. The past week and a half working alongside these 23 Rwandan mechanics has been an amazing time for Chris, Joe and I. The friendships we are developing, the equal exchange of ideas and skills and their ability to amaze us by their dedication and improvement in building these bicycles will not be forgotten. They are excited about bringing these bicycles to the masses just like we are.
As we move along in the program there are challenges that we have to adjust for and address. Many of these adjustments we can handle inside Rwanda, without the help from outside. But there are aspects that need outside help to ensure the longevity of these bicycles and the program. Chris and Joe coming over here to assist building the first 500 is a perfect example. Their skills working on bicycles similar to these coffee bikes was essential in maintaining a quality level of built bicycles to sell to farmers, and their skills of these bicycles were spread over the 23 mechanics whom will be the future maintainers of the bicycles.
Currently we are confronting a new imminent issue that has to be solved with the help from outside. The issue is the reality that there are far less tools and pumps than are needed to maintain these bicycles in these cooperatives. You may ask, why are there not enough tools and pumps? And why didn’t Jay prepare for this obvious upcoming need? Well I could shoot off a list of excuses and blame them on other people, and those people could equally divert the blame onto other people, aspects or me. Let’s just say it is complicated working in a project here in Rwanda, having to coordinate with Texas A&M university and Project Rwanda in the U.S. and it all fall into place by sourcing and shipping it from China and Taiwan. It was a learning experience and the mistakes are noted and we will try to prepare of it better next time. But regardless of how it happened the fact is that we still have the need. This is where the help from outside comes in.
The tools needed to repair these bicycles are not available in this country, even Allen wrenches are difficult to find and when they are they are extremely expensive ($3 for a “L” shaped 5mm). And Rwanda is a landlocked country, without railroad and 45 days sea freight from China. It is a challenge to get anything here. In the long run I think that it would be a good idea of raise funds in the U.S. through groups that are excited and wanting to be involved in the program to sponsor a coffee bike shop in Rwanda or farmers. They would donate a certain amount for a set of tools for a bike shop or a multi-tool and pump for a farmer and then have them shipped from Asia when the shipment is large enough to justify the shipping of a ’20 or ‘40 container. But at the moment we cannot wait this long. So what I am proposing is that with the help of you in the U.S. to assemble sets of tools that you either collect yourselves or have donated from local bike shops, wholesalers (QBP) or manufacturers (Park in Minneapolis). And with these tools find someone who is coming to Rwanda in the near future to carry them, like those from Bull Run roasters, or Bikes To Rwanda, those from Saddleback, Jacob from Berkley and his father and friends.
So what do you all think? Could you help with this?
Now, thinking more long term…
In about a month and a half or two months there are 1,000 more coffee bicycles coming to Rwanda. With this shipment there are spare parts and tools accounting for 2,000 bicycles. These spare parts and tools, however, are limited and will diminish with time and it will be in the best interest of the program to keep this inventory replenished.
I am looking in Asia currently to find good quality multi-tools that would be ideal for sponsoring a farmer or a group of farmers. They will cost about $1.00, without shipping. We can find pumps for about $3.00. I think this might be a good program for the years ahead.
I am also working on a sponsorship program for spare parts where groups can sponsor a “bike shop package” that includes spare parts that will last for a year or so. After this coffee season and the use of the coffee bikes we can better understand the amounts and proportions of these spare parts that we will need for a certain number of coffee bikes.
These more long terms ideas that I just described are open for comments and suggestions, they are just ideas that I am working on, that some of you might run with and find ways of achieving them.
Please write me and give me any suggestions that you may have.
From Chris and Joe:
Thank you QBP and Park Tool for your tool donation. Your donations have been absolutely vital to us getting these 500 bikes on the ground.
Affordable shipping is a huge challenge here. Quality Bicycle Products, are you able to offer a lower price in shipping tools and pumps to Rwanda than DHL or other airfreight companies who charge about $700/lb. Also would you be willing to ask for tool donations with the shops and connections you have?
To our friends at shops in Minneapolis, this is a great way to do what you do best and to get behind a great cause to get people on bicycles. Shaun, Gene, Hurl, Scallywags, Greasepit, we are talking to you.
-Chris & Joe