How can bicycles impact the lives of Non-riders?
Reflections from a Colombian ‘non-rider’.
This guest post is by Diana Vallejo. Diana works at Griffith University as a Client Services Officer. She is originally from Colombia, but she and her husband have been in Australia for a number of years now. I met Diana through work and adore her Latino spunkiness, honesty and vibrant approach to life. I asked Diana to write a blog post about her experience with bicycles after she had described herself very resolutely as ‘NOT a bike rider at all’. I was intrigued. In what way are bicycles represented in the life of a non-rider? Are there ‘invisible’ bicycle connections that non-riders are just not as conscious of, and how far/deep do you have to go before these links are excavated and made ‘visible’. I am always keen to explore a variety of voices and experiences regarding how different people relate to bicycles –and not just bike riders. So I asked her to contribute her thoughts considering her identity ‘as a non-rider’ and challenged her to see how, if at all, bicycles had impacted her life. Following is an excerpt of what she found. – Nina.
Bicycles? I haven’t really thought about them that much…
For me, bicycles are so mundane, so common and simple.
I was not able to see what the great deal is about a mundane bicycle. Until one day I was talking to Nina about how much she loves bicycles and then I found myself very excited just talking about it from some different perspectives. I would not necessarily have recognised my own connections to bikes (out of sight, out of mind), but during our conversation I was presented with questions like: ‘Well, even though you don’t ride a bike now, you must have some experience with bikes in the past or growing up – what is/was it and how do you feel about them now? How do you remember bikes featuring in your life? How are they being used in your home country?’ I was surprised to be excited about how much I actually had in common with bicycles, despite the fact that I am not at all a ‘cyclist’.
So, to my surprise, I was able to very quickly make three very immediate and reaffirming associations with how bicycles have been linked to me personally, or through my identity – a revelation which surprised me.
My first bike.
Even though I am not crazy about bikes, I can tell you everything about my first bicycle. Funny that! Was it a present from Santa Claus…(or in my case, because of where I come from – a staunchly Catholic community) – was it a Baby Jesus present? Don’t even try to make me explain to you how new born babies bring all the Christmas presents to all those homes! But nonetheless, there was my present – and I remember it vividly.
It is unbelievable how I can still remember every detail of that first bike. I can remember it better that my first doll or my first kiss! It had a green frame and white wheels. It was so beautiful – and fast! I spent some many afternoons on it. I made many friends riding it, and that bike holds for me some of my best memories from my childhood. My first, personal and immediate connection with bicycles.
One bike, one dream, more than one life changed.
But for some other people, this may only be a wish, or even a dream. The second association I can make is through my national identity. I am from Colombia and we have one of the best cyclists in the world, Nairo Quintana. He was raised in a family with economic difficulties where a bicycle was a luxury. He lived in a small village 16 kilometres from the nearest school. His father saved $30 USD to buy him a used mountain bike. He said once “I treasured it and every time I rode it, I pictured myself racing and winning” – and he did! His best career results are winning the 2014 Giro d’Italia, 2016 Vuelta a España, and 2nd place overall in the Tour de France of 2013 and in 2015. Nairo changed his world thanks to a bicycle. His story and fame gives hope to Colombians and some any others. As an individual he is a national hero, and internationally, he is known and respected. We are proud that cyclists and non-cyclists alike know of his achievements on the humble bicycle.
Rough tracks and new beginnings with bicycles for Colombia students
On a national level, bicycles are well known in Colombia as being an instrument of social transformation. Another beautiful way Colombians utilise bicycles is through a very well-known bicycle donation program that gets more rural poor children to go to school. This program is via a partnership with Postobon (#1 Soft drink company in Columbia) and World Bicycle Relief – called Mi Bici. I have heard the CEO of Postobon saying that “bicycles are an engine for social transformation, impacting in a positive way”.
This program gives kids bicycles designed especially for the rough Colombian terrain. In some parts of rural Colombia, kids can spend between 45 minutes and two hours travelling to and from school. Sometimes the students cannot afford buses, and the walk can be dangerous and exhausting. Bicycles can reduce most of these trips to about 20 to 30 minutes. But for many of these kids, it is more than just time that is improved by having these bicycles.
More about WBR’s Mi Bici Bike
Why do I believe this is a great program? This is a great program because it is a sustainable program and it allows the kids to have time to rest, exercise, study. This will increase their possibility for a better future. But most importantly for me, this program allows recipients to have more free time to be kids and play!
The Mi Bici Project was WBR’s first foray into Latin America. Just like WBR’s African Buffalo Bicycles, the Latin American bicycles also have a high resistance to environmental forces and tough terrain and a capacity to carry 100 kgs. Also, the seats are ergonomic, frames are reinforced, the wheels are protected, and the breaks are resistant to the weather. This makes the bikes very durable and they are easy to change.
The program also generated jobs for local small businesses and mechanics who are trained to service the bicycles. This has opened up a new employment stream in areas where bikes are distributed, where there is a need for maintenance services and repairs. All this has also been possible thanks to World Bicycle Relief (WBR). WBR were invited to be part of this program because of their experience with similar programs in Africa through their Bicycles for Educational Empowerment Programs (BEEP).
So yes there is no doubt in my mind that bicycles can change the world! Or at least they are for these kids that are receiving them!
This video introduces a girls who has received a Mi Bici Project bike.