Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Today I went downtown with my friend Bryan to try and exchange the cargo bike we built. Our plan was to trade it for pretty much any decent, intact bike in order to build another cargo bike. We built it thinking that we had in fact just converted a nearly useless Walmart BMX bike into a fully functional cargo-carrying monster capable of hauling sacks of rice, coolers full of cold sodas to sell or delivering school children to school. Our idea was to build just a few before the idea spread quickly as people copied our simple design. Within a few years, the cities and countryside would lose the hovering cloud of exhaust because Haitians would be moving primarily on bicycles. NGOs would quickly pull out and take their diesel blowing SUVs with them because the quality of life in Haiti would be improving at such a rapid pace. Haitian government officials on bicycles would be thinking clearer and corruption and issues of bad governance would vanish. The cargo bikes would be an integral part of rebuilding Haiti's agricultural production as people would use them to collect organic matter for composting and to carry their harvests to the local market. The economy would be so boosted that nobody would take jobs in the clothing factories that are about to be built thanks to an extension of the HOPE Act. Everybody would scrap their Chinese motorcycles - the metal would go back to China and be used to build more bicycles. All the children in Haiti would be carried to their local clinics on cargo bikes for their vaccinations and regular checkups. The US would be so impressed by Haiti's bike scene that they would stop dumping food and promoting oppressive trade policies in Haiti and...
We arrived at the bicycle market area downtown where about 20 guys sell bicycles and parts. The bikes are mostly second hand Walmart bikes. Today an old Cannondale touring bike and a Specialized Stumpjumper full suspension brightened the market area.
I had poached the front wheel off our cargo bike for another bike project but expected the bike vendors to immediately realize this bike's full potential. Five guys rushed us before I could even dismount from where I was half pinned, awkwardly trying to hold the cargo bike on the back of my friend's motorcycle (the cargo bike had hit two vehicles on our way downtown - one truck had bumped the bike and we hit the other one) and wanted to know if we needed the bike repaired or if we needed to buy a front wheel. I declined and declared our mission to exchange the bike for a complete BMX bike (this isn't asking much - it doesn't cover the materials or weekend we spent converting it). A few people were interested for a few minutes. One guy suggested we trade our cargo bike and some money to get a different bike. Another guy offered me 250 gourdes or $6.25 US. The same guy asked me for 300 gourdes or $7.50 US a few minutes later when I tried to buy a pair of old caliper brakes. After buying a pair of new crappy brakes made in China, we lingered around hoping somebody would approach us to make a trade. After a while I climbed on the back of my friend's motorcycle, lifted the one-wheeled-reject-cargo-bike onto my lap, somebody asked me to give them the bicycle as a gift, and we left.
We have money available to set up a bike project to convert bicycles into cargo bikes, but it doesn't make sense to set up one more development project to give junk away (as valuable as we might think that junk is) and further develop the free junk mentality. My next little bit of research may be to try and sell a tire garden for cheap and then I might scratch that project as well. I sure hope my waste-oil-heater-fruit-dryer idea sticks, though.