Circles in the Sand- Delivering Bikes to Those in Need

The simple pleasure of riding a bicycle is one that everyone on this Earth should enjoy.  From the young to the old, a bicycle has no prejudices or preconceived notions of who you should be.  Whether you are cruising neighborhood streets at twilight, or rolling along sun-kissed ridges high in the mountains, there is a certain euphoria that overwhelms and enlightens the rider.  The quiet act of circles turning circles produces a feeling of unparalleled freedom and independence as you spin your way through a new world.  Most of us remember how it felt to be let free from our parents arms as we went careening down the sidewalk, sans training wheels, and broke into the exciting realm of cycling.  However, for a great deal of children around the globe, that magical feeling is extremely difficult to obtain.  Fortunately, a warm-hearted collaboration of individuals is working to change the dreams of so many kids into reality.  Enter DesignBuildBluff and 88 Bikes.

Beginning in the year 2000, an eager professor at the University of Utah’s College of Architecture and Planning created what is now called DesignBuildBluff.  His name is Hank Louis and his mission is simple, provide an immersive educational experience teaching the realities of the art, craft and construction of design. [And to] do so by designing and building impactful community based projects, and housing for deserving families.  From their original project of creating bandstands for concerts in Park City, to designing and building homes for the families on the Navajo Indian Reservation near Bluff, Utah, DesignBuildBluff has shaped the lives of many young students and natives.

“Prior to 2010, we built one home per year.  In the year 2011, we will have built four homes,” said Ginger Tolman, Executive Director of DesignBuildBluff.  “The synergy between art and architecture, and the spirit of compassion coupled with slightly controlled chaos is what drew me to this organization,” added Tolman.  Through a partnership with the University of Utah, and as of 2010, the University of Colorado-Denver, DesignBuildBluff is able to give students the opportunity to become fully immersed in the build process while living in a rural community.  Based in Bluff, Utah, the organization spends each semester committed to building a home for a deserving Navajo family.  “The conditions are quite striking and a bit like a third-world country, it’s a world nobody really knows,” said Cindy Bithell, Intern/Architect at DesignBuildBluff.  She further notes how interesting the environment of living and working together really fortifies the ability of the graduate students to grasp the entire architectural process from conception to completion.

For DesignBuildBluff’s latest project, they have partnered with Seattle/Brooklyn based 88 Bikes.  Born out of a life-changing experience during a trip to Cambodia, co-founder Dan Austin decided there needed to be a way to get bicycles into the hands of the underprivileged.  “We couldn’t believe the exuberance and wonder the children of that Cambodian orphanage exhibited when we gave them their bikes over five years ago.  We knew we had to make that our mission,” said Austin.  So began the legacy of 88 bikes, an organization dedicated to providing bicycles to impoverished young people for a sponsor donation of only $88 per bike.  Since 2006, they have visited over twelve countries and delivered hundreds of bikes to those who deserve them.

Through a serendipitous meeting of members from both sides, DesignBuildBluff and 88 Bikes decided to embark on a community based project for the children of Whitehorse High School in Montezuma Creek, Utah.  The majority of students at Whitehorse lives on the Navajo Reservation and has virtually no access to healthy activities like riding a bicycle.  With the help of these non-profits, those kids will be awarded the right to ride, a right many of us take for granted.

Currently, DesignBuildBluff and 88 Bikes have constructed a portable bike shop that will assist in the development of a program that will give 50 bicycles to students at Whitehorse High.  The shop itself is based off an 18-foot platform trailer from the late 1970’s.  Retrofitted with a fold-down workspace and interior mechanic shop, the trailer is clad in an armor of vintage car hoods.  “It is kind of neat.  We are saying that we don’t need cars to get around; instead we can ride bikes. We just use their old parts for our shop,” said Bithell.  The idea of the shop was spurred from the idea that transportation should be sustainable, and included in the shop are workbenches made from old tailgates, as well as custom-welded carrying hooks salvaged from discarded materials.  “The goal of the shop is to facilitate seminars and bike clinics for the kids while giving them a platform for building,” said Austin.  Since the shop is portable, it can be taken to festivals around the country to promote the idea of community bike projects and foster additional interest in both organizations.  It has already made it to a First Nations Pow-Wow in Portland for a fund-raiser and will be utilized during the building of the donated bikes this fall.

During the first week of September, DesignBuildBluff and 88 Bikes will arrive at Whitehorse High to deliver the bikes for what Austin calls “the moment of happy.”  He also states, “this is the climatic moment of endowment that ushers in new freedom and economy, a moment which empowers them to live a happy and healthy life.”  A unique aspect of this donation is that each student is required to take a multi-day mechanic course.  “During the course each student will have to build their bike and then learn the fundamentals of bike maintenance and safety,” said Bithell.  The curriculum for the course was co-developed by a teacher at the school and the 88 Bikes crew. After careful deliberation and input from the kids, it was also decided that they needed a mountain bike with some characteristics of a cruiser.  As the team looked for options, Kona Bicycles stepped up and offered to deeply-discount 50 of their World Bikes, which is a steel-framed, three-speed, fat-tired bike.  “It’ll be perfect for getting around the rugged terrain, and ultimately the whole process should give the kids a sense of ownership for the bikes,” said Austin.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about this whole project is that a majority of the funding comes from outside donations and sponsorships.  “Only about a third of DesignBuildBluff’s annual operating costs comes from the universities, the remainder is obtained through constant fund-raising,” said Tolman.  Thanks to the generous donations by Keen and Kona, as well as countless man-hours, this community project will change the lives of many deserving children right here in Utah.

To learn more about the project and its respective organizations, check out DesignBuildBluff.org and 88bikes.org.

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