World Bicycle Relief is changing lives with pedal power

Bicycles can provide access to healthcare, education and economic opportunity

What is a bicycle? For many of us, it's a tool for training and fitness, it's a leisure activity, or it's a mode of transport. For other people however, it can mean access to education, healthcare and a brighter future. World Bicycle Relief provide bicycles to people and communities around the world for this very reason. 

The average primary school child in the UK travels 1.5 miles to school. In the USA it's in the region of 3.6 miles. 

Children like Dianah and Angela who live in Kakamega, Kenya, travel on average 10 miles or more to school, usually by foot. In Angela's case this is after she's woken up at 4am to do her school work, then cleaned the house. Girls often arrive at school tired, which isn't conducive to good learning. 

Then, of course, there are the risks associated with a long, lone walk to school. Boys and young men on motorcycles will offer girls lifts, and girls have fallen victim to assault and rape. One in five girls have experienced violence in the past 12 months, according to the charity UNICEF. 

The experience of these girls in rural Africa is a far cry from the walk or ride to school that their counterparts in other countries have. It's also a situation that can be changed simply and cheaply with the provision of one thing: a bicycle. That is exactly the mission of World Bicycle Relief — to provide bicycles to individuals and communities that need them, improving lives and aiding positive change and development. 

Cycling to school improves attendance and academic performance
Cycling to school improves attendance and academic performance

What is World Bicycle Relief?

Set up in 2004 in response to the Indian Ocean Tsunami, World Bicycle Relief is a charity that seeks to change lives through the power of the bicycle. Initially providing bicycles to displaced survivors in Sri Lanka, bicycles allowed people easier access to education and healthcare, connected communities, and helped people regain their livelihoods. 

The charity builds and distributes Buffalo Bicycles, which are specially designed to be rugged, assembled at the destination and easy to maintain. Since its start, World Bicycle Relief has distributed 321,000 bicycles and has grown in reach and impact, branching out to provide support in areas across Africa, South America and South East Asia. 

One bicycle = a world of difference

Helping women and girls is one of the main aims of the charity. Girls often fall behind in school due to cultural obstacles and a greater share of domestic chores — up to 40% more time spent than boys —  in addition to the distances they must travel to attend school. Providing bicycles increases attendance by 28% percent and increases academic performance by 59%. Girls who complete secondary school are six times less likely to become child brides according UNICEF.

According to the United Nations Development Committee, "When women have equal access to education, and go on to participate fully in business and economic decision-making, they are a key driving force against poverty." They will often go on to earn more, participate more in their local economies and in turn create better conditions for their children.

The work of the charity goes even further by supplying bicycles to other members and groups in communities, too. Nurses that are given bicycles can visit more patients, teachers can reach more students, and the carrying capacity of a bicycle means that more goods can be taken to market in less time. 

Dianah and Angela are only two examples of the over 101,000 children helped by World Bicycle Relief. Dianah puts the importance of these bicycles and the impact they have perfectly: "The right to education is for all, even for a girl," she says. "People may wish for sons, but I’m glad I was born, born a girl child. Challenges may be more, but the blessings will be bigger. You educate a girl, you’ve educated a nation. It’s only education that equalizes a rich man’s daughter and a poor man’s daughter. As I cycle my Buffalo Bicycle to school every day I know, my future will be great."

The Buffalo Bicycle

The bikes in question are known as Buffalo Bikes; steel alloy framed bikes designed to be sturdy, durable and easy to maintain. The whole bike weighs 24kg and can carry 100kg on the rear carrier rack. 

Buffalo bikes are specifically designed to stay stable while carrying heavy loads over uneven ground. They have a centre stand so the bike can be propped upright for easier loading and a dropped top tube to make for a more comfortable, lower standover. 

World Bicycle Relief also trains local people as part of its Field Mechanic Training Program and now has over 1,000 mechanics on the ground who are able to repair and maintain the bicycles. 

If you would like to learn more about World Bicycle Relief, get involved or donate please visit the website

This Giving Tuesday - a global day of charitable giving in response to Black Friday and Cyber Monday - you can help World Bicycle Relief help more students in the developing world. World Bicycle Relief is hoping to raise enough money for 1,200 bicycles; just think of the lives those bicycles could change! 

Aoife Glass

Women's Cycling Editor
A mountain biker at heart, also drawn to the open road. Likes big long adventures in the mountains. Usually to be found in the Mendip Hills or the Somerset Levels in the UK. Passionate about women's cycling at all levels.
  • Discipline: Mountain, road
  • Preferred Terrain: Rocky, rough and a long way from anywhere.
  • Current Bikes: Liv Avail Advanced Pro 2015, Juliana Furtado 2013, Canyon Roadlite AL
  • Dream Bike: Juliana Roubion, Liv Avail Advanced SL
  • Beer of Choice: Red wine for the win!
  • Location: Weston Super Mare, Somerset, UK

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