Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Scratch that


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.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

What if you give a few away and people see those being used? Would that stimulate interest in the idea?

I'm disappointed for you...

It's such an awesome idea.

Love, MED

nerkert said...

Ascha, Ben. Your discouragement comes through. (The bright side is what a good writer you've become.) Maybe the guys at the bike place are too focused on selling bike parts, and you just need to expose the bike to a different audience?

mateovan said...

Hey Ben

How about putting a big USA flag sticker on it?

I wonder if targeting andeyo might make more sense?

The bike rocks by the way.

Matt

Fred and Jean said...

We love you, Benjamin, and are much impressed with your entrepreneurial, mechanical, creative, and editorial gifts and pray that you do not give up on those great projects! Remember the cargo tricycle in Chiang Mai? A terrific way to travel for all the reasons you mentioned, may our Lord prosper the work of your hands! love you lots!

Ben said...

Building cargo bikes has been great for my own self development. I might still do something to promote cargo bikes but I'm not going forward with the project I had in mind because there are lots of people here in Haiti who come with good ideas (or bad ideas) and set up projects and empires without ever coming up with positive results to back up their projects. I'm trying not to be that person. I'm pretty sure a bicycle project would be really easy to find funding for if anybody else wants to do it, and you could probably find enough money to pay a decent directors salary and to buy a few SUVs (I like Land Rovers).

Ben said...

I've always loved Hans Rey, he had entertaining bike videos and is one of the fathers of bike trials.
As an example of good people having good ideas, Hans Rey's non-profit in 2006 was sending 10 shaft driven bicycles to rural Haiti.
"Incline bicycles feature the Direct Glide Shaft Drive system, which includes a chromolly shaft sealed in an aluminum case with a Shimano Nexus 7-speed or Sturmey Archer 3-speed internal hub." "since there are no suitable bikes available for purchase in Haiti." On his website you are invited to donate $150 to pay for a bike. I've bought several decent bikes here and never paid more than $35 and who knows how to work on a shaft drive bike?

coffeeontwowheels said...

Ben, I'll give you $37 for the cargo bike. That's exactly what I need to carry stuff around my yard since the wheel-barrel was "borrowed" by some unknown neighbor. Instead of paying outrageous shipping fees, you and Lexi should bring it up in person.

Also, part of the $37 may come in the form of microwave pizzas, tallboys, and loose change. Looking forward!

Anonymous said...

don't be discouraged! the folks at the bike place aren't your "target audience" as another poster said, their focus is on selling bikes/parts. i understand and appreciate your humility and caution around not wanting to dive in with yet another "solution" for haiti, but there's no doubt in my mind that these bikes will be useful to some people... time and patience and the right people to buy/build/promote/support will come out of the woodwork...

Fred and Jean said...

Hey Ben:

really like the look of your latest creation...sorry about the current outcome...think about how many light bulbs Edison made before one worked...your writeup was excellent...even with a little pathos...how about partnering with an entrepreneurial Haitian younger guy and letting him be mister outside, informally stirring up interest and awareness among his buds? might be worth a try...a little ownership can do wonders...

Blessings, Dad

ansel said...

Where'd y'all go to find bikes/parts? Was it that little clearing near the water downtown, near the Venezuelan embassy? Last time I went there they asked for $60-70 for one of their best mountain bikes. That Cannondale you mentioned sounds really nice... I should go down there again.

I used to pedicab in the US, and couldn't stop thinking about how cool a pedicab business operating downtown (where it's flat) might be, but I really don't know... it's too bad more folks don't ride bikes in PaP.

Ben said...

Ansel the Cannondale has canti brakes, touring tires and shifters on the downtube. I didn't look too closely but it had a medium or large frame and looked decent. Yeah it's the open area near the La Saline market, and right next to the customs office. And you should totally start a pedi-cab business downtown. I'll weld one together if you'll be the pedi-cab driver.

ansel said...

Bought the cannondale and rode it home to delmas 33 today. It's nice... attracted a lot of attention as I went though. Hmm.

You weld the pedicab, I'll drive it for sure, see if it catches on! Here's a friend's DIY-version (approved by Austin's Dep. of Transportation): http://www.dirtnail.com/dirtcab/build.html. My number's 3607 3401...

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