“I’ve seen some of the highest performance bicycles in the world, but I believe the most powerful bicycle is the one in the hands of a girl fighting for her education, or a mother striving to feed her family.”  – F.K. Day, Founder of World Bicycle Relief

It is hard to believe that something as simple as a bicycle can be a vehicle of dramatic change, enabling people to go to the market to sell their products and for children to go to school.  As a tool for development, a simple bicycle can mean not just transportation but employment—even access to education and healthcare.  Bicycles can change people’s lives and lift them out of poverty. Yet access to bicycles can prove daunting especially for people living in the developing world.

For many people in the developing world, walking is their primary mode of transportation. Add the challenge of distance and seemingly simple tasks of going to school, visiting the clinic, or delivering goods to market become difficult and sometimes impossible. With no choice but to walk, meeting everyday needs is a struggle against time and fatigue.

Mobilizing people through the power of the bicycle is the mantra behind the non-profit organization World Bicycle Relief who designs, manufactures and distributes high quality bicycles that withstand the challenging terrain and conditions in rural communities.  Entrepreneurs use the bikes to increase productivity and profits. Students with bikes attend class more regularly and academic performance dramatically improves. And, health care workers with bikes visit more patients, more often, providing better, more consistent care.

World Bicycle Relief also promotes local economies and long-term sustainability by assembling bicycles in Africa and training over 1,200 field mechanics. Since 2005, World Bicycle Relief has delivered over 300,000 bicycles and is making an enormous impact in people’s lives.

World Bicycle Relief Zambia

Ethel, a student in Zambia, begins her nine kilometer ride to school. Before receiving her Buffalo Bicycle from World Bicycle Relief, it took Ethel 2 hours to walk to school. After doing chores for several hours at home and then walking to school, she often arrived tired and had to take a nap during class. Now, she arrives on time and ready to learn. Ethel aspires to become a nurse and give back to her community.

All photos credited to World Bicycle Relief

World Bicycle Relief Zambia

Ethel lives with her aunt, uncle and cousins and often rides her cousin to school on the back of her bicycle. The rear rack on the Buffalo Bicycle is designed to carry 220 lbs and can accommodate more than one person. Ethel and her cousin are on a track to graduate from high school on time.  Photo credit: World Bicycle Relief

And now…

World Bicycle Relief Zambia

World Bicycle Relief’s 2012 Education Report highlighted a 28% increase in attendance and a 59% increase in academic performance for students with Buffalo Bicycles. Through BEEP (Bicycles for Educational Empowerment), World Bicycle Relief has delivered over 90,000 bicycles.

On July 11, 2016,  World Bicycle Relief presented the Trailblazer Award to Dr. Leszek Sibilski, former Olympic cyclist, global development thought leader and advocate for bicycles. The annual Trailblazer Award honors an individual who has challenged conventional thinking around the complex issues of poverty, social justice and access while illuminating a new path forward with innovative and bold ideas that have the power to transform millions of lives. Dr. Sibilski has done just that with his tireless work promoting the bicycle as a tool of great change for people around the world.

Dr. Leszek Sibilski received the Trailblazer Award presented by World Bicycle Relief. Dr. Sibilski is joined onstage by Dave Neiswander, President of World Bicycle Relief.

Dr. Leszek Sibilski received the Trailblazer Award presented by World Bicycle Relief. Dr. Sibilski is joined onstage by Dave Neiswander, President of World Bicycle Relief.

Dr. Leszek Sibilski addresses the audience at the Trailblazer Award ceremony on how the bicycle can be a powerful agent of change and lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and into shared prosperity.

Dr. Leszek Sibilski addresses the audience at the Trailblazer Award ceremony on how the bicycle can be a powerful agent of change and lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and into shared prosperity.

Here are some of the words that Dr. Sibilski shared with the audience while accepting the Trailblazer Award:

World Bicycle Relief is one of those very few organizations in the world, that is utilizing the bicycle to tackle the barriers of distance so many of the world’s most vulnerable families and children, especially girls, face to reach their full potential through access to education, healthcare and economic sustainability. This is a powerful and tangible solution that can help drive humanity from poverty and distress into prosperity and peace.

Many of us underestimate the uniqueness, longevity, and versatility of the bicycle. This simple two-wheeled device has been reliably serving humanity for two centuries, and it is a simple, reliable and clean green player in transportation, environmental stewardship, and health. There is also something very unique about bikes. The synergy between the bike and the user fosters creativity, social engagement, and gives the rider an immediate awareness of the local environment. As a tool for development, a simple bicycle can mean not just transportation but employment—even access to education and healthcare.

World Bicycle Relief Zambia

Farmers in rural developing areas deliver milk over rough terrain where there are few paved roads. World Bicycle Relief’s Buffalo Bicycle has been specially designed to withstand these difficult conditions. The rugged, 50 lb bicycles which can carry 220 lbs on the rear rack have been name Buffalo in a nod to the strength of this icon African animal. The Palabana Dairy Cooperative Research Study highlighted that farmers with Buffalo Bicules increased production and profits by 23% and reduced travel time by 45%.

Despite its old age of 200 years, it is still reliably moving humanity forward. The bicycling industry not only provides economic benefits, but shifting trips from cars to bicycles helps reduce congestion, air pollution and CO2 emissions as well as improve riders’ health. Research shows that not only could cycling cut a tenth of transport emissions of carbon dioxide, but more people cycling would save cities across the world $25 trillion from 2015 to 2050 by reducing the need for expensive roads and public transport.

World Bicycle Relief (WBR) is a nonprofit organization whose motto is, “Mobilizing People through the Power of Bicycles.” is a brilliant example of how bicycles can be used to move humanity forward.  Since 2005, WBR has distributed more than 300,000 specially designed, locally assembled bicycles to students, healthcare workers, and entrepreneurs across Africa, South America, and Southeast Asia. They also have trained more than 1,200 local candidates as field mechanics to ensure that bicycle owners have access to qualified maintenance.

World Bicycle Relief Zambia

At a school bicycle distribution, entire communities join in the celebration. A locally-run Bicycle Supervisory Committee oversees the distribution of bicycles to students and teachers. And students sign a two year study-to-own contract.




According to the WBR, compared to walking, children and adults with bicycles are able to reduce their commute times by up to 75 percent. As a result, they have more time to study, are more productive, and experience less fatigue. With a bicycle, entrepreneurs can now travel four times further, carry more goods (load capacity is increased five-fold), and increase profits up to 50 percent. In schools where students were given bikes, attendance rates rose by an average of 27 percent and academic performance improved by up to 59 percent. Healthcare workers on bikes have also been able to visit more than twice the number of patients per day.

In South Africa, where there are 16 million schoolchildren, 12 million walk to school. Of these, 500,000 walk more than one hour each way, spending two or more hours getting to and from school each day. Undeniably, giving these children bicycles would have a positive impact.


Bicycles for all? Certainly it is an idea worth considering. According to Tim Blumenthal of People for Bikes: “When people cycle, great things happen.”  Wouldn’t you agree?

The above excerpts were taken from Dr. Leszek Sibilski’s speech at the Trailblazer awards ceremony and from his blog post shared on the World Bank. To learn more about World Bicycle Relief, click here


  1. How fantastic is this Nicole? Oh my goodness and here i sit with two bikes of my own in my garage taking such a luxury totally forgranted. It’s so simple isn’t it really? What a difference this mobility can make in people’s lives!

    1. I love this organization Sue! I think it is so amazing especially for girls who often are the ones that don’t get to go to school. It is so simple and relatively cheap solution!

  2. I love this and I totally agree that when people cycle, great things happen! I just got back from a beautiful ride but I think all these kids should have a bike. I will check out their website. Thanks for sharing this! I might blog about that, too. More people need to know about that!

    1. Thanks so much! Yes I am sure they would be thrilled to have you blog about them!!! Let me know if you want me to send you my contact there at World Bicycle Relief. I’ve done a few posts on them over the years. They are super inspiring!!!

  3. Very true Nicole. Agree that a bicycle has benefits for health and environment, both very important for every human. No wonder, how the developed nations are urging the use of bicycle to reduce co2 emission. I have plans too. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks so much for your comment Raastha! Even here in Minneapolis where our winters are very cold and snowy we have a big biking commuter community. It is amazing the impact a
      Bicycle can make on so many levels!

      1. I have been thinking about your post Nicole, and remembering the smile of the school girls. Not only are the bikes vital transport but isn’t riding a bike so much fun – the wind in your face, whizzing down the track…those bikes are bringing joy, too. Louise

  4. I remember when you did an interview with Ruth-Anne from WBR (whom I knew from another non-profit). This is such a great organization; I think what I love most is how many spheres there are that feel its impact – education, business, health, etc. It reminds us that solutions to some world problems can be simple and right in front of our eyes!

    1. Yes that’s right! I love what WBR does. It is so true that sometimes things that are relatively simple and inexpensive can have an enormous impact on people’s lives.

  5. I love, love, love this post, Nicole. I especially like the sustainable viewpoint, such as training the locals in bicycle repair. Perfect. Thanks for sharing this. One thing I wonder. Do they provide bells for the bicycles? I wanted to start a campaign in Nicaragua to put sturdy warning bells on bicycles. I can’t tell you the number of times I have almost been hit by bicycles whizzing by me.

    1. Thanks Debbie! That is a very good question. I actually don’t see a bell in the bike but maybe it isn’t as big of an issue since they are in such rural areas where there is hardly anyone I the gravel roads.

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