Employees at Mike’s Bikes in San Rafael load a container bound for Africa with more than 450 bicycles donated by customers.
Employees at Mike's Bikes in San Rafael load a container bound for Africa with more than 450 bicycles donated by customers. (IJ photo/Robert Tong)
More than a dozen employees of Mike's Bikes, the largest independent bicycle retailer on the West Coast, loaded a shipping container Monday with more than 450 bicycles bound for Africa as part of an ongoing campaign to bring a permanent sustainable transportation solution to the troubled continent.

This is the third time the San Rafael-based company, which has eight shops in the Bay Area including downtown San Rafael and Sausalito, has collected used bicycles from its customers to send overseas to Ghana, Botswana and Namibia.

The effort is more than a donation - the company also provides a financial investment to get local entrepreneurs up and running, sends parts such as tubes, tires, cables and locks and teaches repair skills and good business practices to help the sister shops stay in business.

Ken Martin, co-owner of Mike’s Bikes in San Rafael, with his employees, loads a cargo container bound for Africa with more than 450 bicycles donated
Ken Martin, co-owner of Mike's Bikes in San Rafael, with his employees, loads a cargo container bound for Africa with more than 450 bicycles donated by customers on Monday. (IJ photo/Robert Tong)

"The beauty of the program is the bikes become the inventory," said co-owner Ken Martin of Novato, who explained that donated bicycles often end up discarded in areas where there is no shop to service them.

"Bikes end up on the side of the road," he said. "It's well intentioned but it's not sustainable. They need bike shops."

Monday's load is expected to leave the Port of Oakland bound for Gaborone, Botswana on Friday. The container is due to arrive in about a month, and will be met by Mike's Bikes employees, who will make the journey from the Bay Area to receive the shipment. From there, they will unload the container, and then train the locals on how to run a bicycle business.


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In a part of the world where cars aren't available and public transportation is unreliable, owning a bicycle opens the door to health care, education and employment, shop employees said.

"We know the impact having a bike can have on people's day-to-day lives," said Jon Gomez, operations director. "To be able to cover more ground in a day means you can do more. Plus it's fun."

"I'm glad I can be part of a company that is so supportive of causes," said employee Melissa Meadows, who said the success of the program had a lot to do with the generosity of the company's customers. "It's really inspiring that people want to help people in need."

Mike's Bikes is collecting used bicycles to send to Africa. To make a donation, bring bicycles to any Mike's Bikes location. There are two stores in Marin, at 836 Fourth St. in San Rafael and 1 Gate 6 Road in Sausalito.


Read more San Rafael stories at the IJ's San Rafael section.

Contact Jennifer Upshaw Swartz via e-mail at jupshaw@marinij.com