Jefferson Awards: Bay Area Bike Shop Owners Get Developing Countries Rolling

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Jefferson Award winners Ken Martin and Matt Adams (CBS)

Jefferson Award winners Ken Martin and Matt Adams (CBS)

SAN RAFAEL (CBS 5) – Two North Bay business owners are so passionate about bicycles, they’re helping thousands of people in Africa take the ride of their lives.

Ken Martin and Matt Adams have received 15 to 20 used bicycles as donations each day.  These bicycles are kept piled high in their San Rafael warehouse before being delivered to the other side of the globe.

Their warehouse belongs to the nine-store popular Bay Area chain called Mike’s Bikes that Martin and Adams own.

“When I first came to work for a bike shop, I had no idea I’d be going to Africa every year,” Adams said.

But since 2007, Adams and Martin have used their passion for bicycles to create Mike’s Bikes Foundation, a program of donating bikes for free to developing countries.  At least once a year they have traveled to Ghana, Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe, bringing used bicycles to people who need an affordable way to get around.

Martin said it’s a rewarding ride: “When you see kids on bikes for the first time you can see they thought that maybe they’d never have a bike and all of a sudden they’re riding off in the sand.”

Free bike donation programs have proven to be inefficient and cause problems in the past.

“When the bikes are given for free, there’s no support there to keep the bikes running,” Martin said.  So the first time the bike gets that flat tire, it literally gets thrown onto the side of the road, so the project basically goes back to ground zero.”

So Martin and Adams devised a solution, building bike shops in Africa and shipping used bicycles valued at up to a thousand dollars apiece that businesses sell at a fraction of their worth.  In addition, they train store owners in accounting, marketing and repair to keep the operation well greased.  Despite the shops sometimes being as simple as a hut in some cases, the program is a success!

“As much as we’re spreading bicycles, we’re building businesses and teaching people how to support themselves,” Adams said.

Ten percent of Mike’s Bikes profits go to its foundation and covers the transportation cost.  In all, Mike’s Bikes Foundation has sent eight 40-foot shipping containers to Africa, delivering five thousand bikes.  Mike’s Bikes’ owners never imagined that the power of two wheels would link their Bay Area chain to the world.

“The bicycle is such a great tool to change communities and change people’s lives.  If we can make it better one bicycle at a time, that’s fine with us,” Martin said.

(© 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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