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11.05.08

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Bikes for All

By Gabe Meline


A bicycle shop stocked by Bay Area donations appears to be thriving in Botswana, says Mike's Bikes co-owner Ken Martin. Jonmol Bicycle Services opened in July of this year in the Botswanan city of Gabarone and has since provided hundreds of affordable bicycles to the residents of the city, where private car ownership is rare and public transportation is unreliable and expensive. Mike's Bikes worked with owner Jon 'Bones' Moletsane to open the shop in Botswana after seeing the dire need for bicycles in the country.

"This was a pretty unique way for us to put our money where our mouth is," Martin says. "We spend a lot of time talking here at home about how great bikes are, how they're great for the environment, great for your health. And we saw in sub-Saharan Africa a place where those benefits could have a hundred times the impact on peoples' lives than they have here."

Earlier this year, Martin and Mike's Bikes co-owner Matt Adams collected 406 bikes in a large donation drive and sent them to Botswana. They traveled to meet and unload the large shipping container and to assist Moletsane in starting his shop. Moletsane was "exactly the kind of guy we wanted," says Martin. "He was an aspiring African entrepreneur, he loved bikes, he loved the idea of bikes helping his own hometown community and he was willing to open a shop with our help."

Botswana is unique, Martin says, in that there are bicycle suppliers in the region but no maintenance shops; a bicycle might be discarded for problems as simple as a flat tire or a bent rim. Jonmol Bicycle Services not only repairs and maintains bikes, but sells used bikes to residents at an affordable price, only 300–600 pula, or about $40–$80. Community support in Gabarone has been overwhelmingly positive.

"We hear from Bones every day," Martin says. "He's got a big target audience, and people love the idea of bikes. I think they're something that people would have been on years ago had they had a place to source them. He's got a big market, a lot of customers."

Mike's Bikes is currently looking to open another shop next year in Winhoak, the capital of nearby Namibia, for which Martin predicts another bike donation drive most likely in the spring. "We enjoy the heck out of it," he enthuses. "It's very rewarding to leave the country with something operational and self-sustaining like this."


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