Different worlds, different bikes, one cause

South Carolina's Team Global Bike hits Speedweek trying not only for wins but also to raise awareness for Global Bike, a volunteer organization that provides bikes to developing countries.

Kelly Lowry described how healthcare workers in Africa used a donated bike as an ambulance to transport a patient 15km to the nearest clinic. With one person pedaling slowly and another running along side to balance the patient, they were able to get their patient to a clinic, whereas, without the bicycle treatment would have been unlikely.

Lowry is the vice president and founding board member of Global Bike, a volunteer group based out of Spartanburg, South Carolina, that works with local bike manufacturers to provide bikes to people in developing countries for a variety of causes.

Team Global Bike rider Alder Martz found his way into the break at the Sunny King Crit where he finished 12th.
Team Global Bike rider Alder Martz found his way into the break at the Sunny King Crit where he finished 12th.

While Global Bike seeks to use the power of the bicycle for good, as World Bike Relief does, Lowry said the organization’s mission is a bit more directed than simply dropping a large number of bikes into a developing country and walking away.

In Rwanda, a group called Rwandan Partners needed bikes so that “reconciliation ambassadors” could travel from village to village to mediate discussions between Tutsi and Hutu people in order to help quell the tension between the two groups that preceded and followed the 1994 genocide.

In Bolivia, where a large portion of economy depends on the backs of llamas, Global Bike provided bikes for veterinary workers so that they can reach more farms and keep more llamas healthy.

At a clinic in Zambia healthcare workers were able to increase their patient load six-fold by the addition of two bikes for transportation. Before the acquisition of two bikes donated by Global Bike, the medical workers served 200 on foot. Now with bikes, they are able to reach 1200.

“That is fascinating,” Lowry said. “The fact that it’s so simple is why it’s so beautiful.”

Global bike works with regional manufacturers to supply bike instead of getting bikes donated from Chinese manufacturers or a truckload of old Raleighs and Huffys. In this way the organization tries to boost the local economies. “We’re sourcing them where we’re doing the work,” Lowry said.

Lowry said he is aware of the irony of Team Global Bike riders racing on $7,000 bikes and being worried about crashing them. He said the success of the project is knowing that people are using bikes, while relying on the same mechanical properties as sweet racing rig, to save and improve lives in developing countries.

It’s also hard to ignore the success of Team Global Bike riders. At the Sunny King Criterium, Global Bike’s Alder Martz was part of the winning break that lapped the field. As the sole team entrant, Martz finished 12th against an elite lead group that saw Fly V Australia’s Ben Kersten win.

“It’s definitely something special,” said Martz.

When people ask about the team and Martz tells them the name, they might ask “like Global Gym?” He then gets to explain the goal and the cause behind the team.

“It’s a lot more special than supporting your local vacuum company,” he said. “You feel like you’re part of something bigger than just you and your bike.” He said that the using his bike to help people in Africa get medical treatment is something that is hard to describe; It’s something really special.”

“Why just pedal your bike when you could do something much bigger,” said Jennifer Helms, manager of events and fundraising for Team Type 1. Since both teams are based in the Greenville, South Carolina, area Helms and Lowry have spoken about what it would require to take Team Global Bike above a powerful regional team.

Global Bike got a boost with the 2009 award of “Best project by a professional sports team” by the Beyond Sport Foundation. Lowry said they submitted an application “on a whim” and “didn’t have much faith that we’d do well.” However, committee members that included Desmond Tutu and Sir Richard Branson thought otherwise.

Helms said one of the best parts of Team Global Bike is “just an attitude thing. It’s a focus.” While Global Bike focuses on the athletes to support them and their success Helms said, “every part of what they’re doing is outward focused.”

Helms pointed out that in the current economic climate donors are more cautious about the groups to which they contribute. But, giving to Team Global Bike, or Team Type 1, gives their donation a larger purpose.

“They feel so much better about giving money to a group that uses their gifts to benefit others,” Helms said.

With a spate of wins, places and shows in a bunch of regional races so far in the 2010 season, Global Bike was invited to the Nature Valley Grand Prix. The team will be at National Racing Calendar events such as Joe Martin stage race and the Fitchburg Lonsjo Classic. The team will also contest the USA Crits Speedweek series, which features their hometown race, the Spartanburg Downtown Criterium on April 30th.