3 minutes reading time (670 words)

IRL Mechanics

Mechanics from Rockville, USA to Accra, Africa. Online IRL means In Real Life, but this was more like IRT- In Real Time. Last month Executive Director Taylor Jones traveled to Ghana and Sierra Leone to visit our partners, both Village Bicycle Project. While he checked in on the programs, the mechanics, and the beneficiaries he was posting IRT to our social media sites. Meanwhile back in Rockville, the warehouse stayed busy with Todd and Yvette (and volunteers David and Greg) working with our student mechanics. It was incredibly exciting to share with our volunteers the photos Taylor was posting of the mechanics on the other end who would be receiving all the parts our volunteers were removing from our marginal bikes. 

Over the past three years Bikes for the World has worked really hard at improving the experience our volunteers have while in our warehouse. That includes what they are doing, how they are doing it, and WHY it is important. We think we've been doing a pretty good job, but we aren't just saying that, we are letting the fact that these school groups are growing and returning at an incredible rate be the proof. So far this year we've hosted a dozen school sessions and even some adult group events as well. In April alone we have 15 groups lined up. In March our volunteers logged 874 hours!

Most of our student groups are always working in the shop. They might be stripping the spokes out of bent wheels or pulling bottom brackets out of bikes that no longer roll. It's pretty obvious to them that the bike or wheel they are working on is no longer usable, but they don't always realize the parts involved MAY still be good. And that's what we look to harvest. Or rather what THEY work to save. And while it's fun to learn new tools like a crank puller or spoke wrench it's often hard work to move some of those rusty parts and bolts.

But what Taylor told us, while still in Ghana, is that the mechanics value these parts sometimes more than the bikes themselves. He said the parts are like gold over there. We've heard this from Africa before in relation to the quality of rubber they receive even in new tubes and tires...it just doesn't hold up to the quality we have in the States, even used. The same goes for parts and tools. The metal used in these products is softer than what we have in the US so they don't last nearly as long or work as well.

Giving our volunteers this feedback as they were working in the shop gave them a boost to tug on that wrench a little more. Getting that feedback from Taylor also helped the staff and mentors working with the volunteers. For example, we spent more time going over the parts and how to remove them and more importantly how to store and pack them based on what the mechanics were telling Taylor IRL in Ghana. Our student mechanics were learning how important that brake 'noodle' is and why it needs to end up in the bag with the V brakes they remove. When it's removed from the bike it sometimes travels with the wrong part or falls off the cable entirely. That piece is what makes most mountain brakes function and without it the brakes won't stop the bike. 

Keep checking back over the next few months for more stories from Taylor's trip. He said he came back with a year's worth of information and he's excited to sit down and write it all up to share with you. Meanwhile we are already taking what he learned to increase the value in our shipments and convey to our volunteers how important their work is to our beneficiaries. While they are here earning service hours for school, they are also indirectly creating jobs and opportunities around the world!

Featured Volunteer: Greg Pearson
Featured Volunteer: J Long