Rivendell Bicycles Works is a small bicycle company based in Walnut Creek, California. Its founder, Grant Petersen, decided years ago to support multiple non-profit groups throughout the country, first during his Bridgestone Cycles USA days. Now he’s asking bicyclists to help him support a Haitian non-profit that’s working to end starvation.
BikeRadar spoke with Petersen to find out how a small bike company can afford to support an international non-profit, in light of the struggling world economy. He’s trying to raise US$10,000 in three weeks for Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods (S.O.I.L.).
BikeRadar: You (Grant) have always supported organizations through your work at Bridgestone Cycles USA, and now Rivendell, in the form of either donating catalog sales, donates a percentage of profits or through direct requests from customers/members. What prompted you to do that in the first place, and what motivates you to continue this practice?
Grant Petersen: I think everybody wants to help people, but when you’re struggling for your own existence, or a family member has a terminal illness, it’s harder to do that. When things are going well, it’s easy.
I think I make US$2,000 worth of bad decisions every year. Dumb things that cost us that much, and things nobody ever hears about. I got some brackets made that allow you to mount a Pletscher rack onto braze-ons; but the brackets need four holes, and I got them made with two. Plus, they’re too thick to bend, and I ordered them unbent to save money and make them more adaptable to more bikes. That’s $500 right there, and we end up with recyclable steel.
That $500 would have bought two transformative cleft palate surgeries for Smile Train. So, to make up for it, we cut them a check.
It’s a push-pull thing, with different forces pushing and pulling. It’s guilt, philanthropy, selfishness, selflessness, warm feeling, and genuine concern. It’s wanting to matter beyond bikes. That’s as much selfish as it is selfless, and maybe more.
Petersen (l) enjoying some bike camping near mt diablo in northern california.: Gary Boulanger
Petersen (L), bike camping near Mt Diablo in Northern California, where Rivendell is based and Petersen has lived his whole life
How does Rivendell select which organisations to support?
Most of the groups are groups that need the help badly. We don’t give to the American Red Cross because, it may be a great organisation, but who are we to them, and how many post-it note pads will our thousand or two or three dollars buy them?
So we generally do smaller organizations, and I try to limit them. It feels better to give $3,500 to one group, than fifty cents to 7,000 groups.
I always research the charities to make sure the donations go to the cause, not to high administrative costs. All of these groups have administrative costs, and without administrators they wouldn’t survive, so I’m not denying that. But I’m not interested in contributing to salaries.
I think the worst crimes and the saddest stories involve children. So we’re big on anti-sexual slavery, and cleft palate surgeries, and school supplies, and starvation-prevention.
How did you find out about S.O.I.L.?
The same way I found out about SOMALY MAM Foundation, the anti-sexual slavery group in Cambodia: by reading a Nicholas Kristoff column in the New York Times. I like him. He does good work, and he cares about people, a lot.
In your opinion, how can more cyclists make a difference in the world beyond their own neighborhoods?
Well, one’s own neighborhood is important, too. By that I mean what you mean—the immediate neighborhood, the town they live in.
When you consider the size of the universe and the size of our galaxy and how many billions of stars there are in our galaxy—the whole “cosmos” thing—then it’s easy, and quite realistic, to think of a child in Africa or Haiti or Tibet as a neighbor. If that child lived in the house next door to you and was in need, and you saw the need every day, it would be impossible not to help.
The children we don’t see are, from that perspective, also right next door to us—but they’re just harder to see, so they’re easier to ignore. I think the trick for anybody, cyclist or not, is to see the neighbor in everybody. We’re living on the same spec of dust, and all. It helps to have that view.
For more information on how to support S.O.I.L. through Rivendell, visit www.rivbike.com.