We spoke with Dave Schweidenback of Pedals for Progress about his model of collecting good used bikes to send to regions that could use them. In the Pedals for Progress bike-donation model folks who want to donate a bike must also make a cash donation to cover the cost of shipping the bikes.
That way two things happen 1) folks don’t donate junk bikes just to avoid a trip to the scrap yard, and 2) the best bikes are also sent overseas rather than being auctioned off at home to help cover shipping costs of the worst bikes. There are a lot of different models out there for collecting and sending bikes from the USA to different regions of the world, each holding to varying standards of ethics and accountability. The concept itself of sending used bikes, good ones or not, treads on “aid” territory dangerously close to what has been termed SWEDOW (Shit WE DOn’t Want).
This is a term that has been used to describe the tendency for donors to think of others as having lower standards than themselves and thus thoughtlessly sending used crap to other people with an expectation that those poor folks elsewhere ought to be grateful for anything, whether that be our used tea bags or our used bikes. This is an important thing for those sending bikes overseas to think long and hard about, and is equally important to consider in disaster response efforts. A key way to avoid sending SWEDOW is to listen to communities and follow their lead, working as their allies, rather than arrogantly assuming that our ideas are best and therefore worth implementing.
So as we talk about how to get bikes to folks in the aftermath of a disaster, lets start with the caveat that sending bikes is only appropriate if communities have identified this as a need and a valuable recovery resource in their own context. If survivor communities are not asking for bikes then it is probably not appropriate to be pushing bikes on folks and potentially sending them our junk. If survivors are asking for bikes, then sending good bikes in a timely way is something we need to figure out how to do.