Have unused bicycles? Bikes Not Bombs aims to send them to those in need around the world

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WILLIAMSTOWN — An empty tractor-trailer will pull into the Colonial Plaza parking lot on Saturday morning and roll up its cargo door. By the time it pulls out a few hours later, organizers of the nonprofit group Bikes Not Bombs hope the truck will be packed with used bikes bound for Africa.

People are encouraged to go through the garage or basement and pull those old, unused bikes outside and donate them to rural areas across the globe where cars and roads are rare and bikes serve as the primary mode of transportation.

The donation drive will run from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. outside The Spoke, the bicycle shop at the western end of the shopping center.

The Massachusetts chapter of Bikes Not Bombs ships out about 7,000 to 8,000 bikes every year, according to Eric Mearns, former operations director of the organization who now lives in North Adams and is organizing this event as a volunteer.

The bicycles are shipped to one of about seven partner organizations that rehabilitate and distribute the bikes — while training young people in the skills of repairing bicycles, giving them a path to employment. They are shipped to help people in countries such as Uganda, Guatemala, El Salvador, Kenya, Ghana and Sierra Leone.

Donations of accessories, parts and tools are welcome. Monetary donations also help to defray the cost of overseas shipping. There is a suggested donation of $10 per donated bike, but it is not required.

Bikes that are rusty won't work, nor will kick scooters, tricycles, exercise equipment and anything with a motor.

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The "prime" bicycle that is most popular for these uses are mountain bikes with 26-inch wheels, which are best for areas without paved roads and destinations at the end of a path or trail.

"In this country, bicycles are used primarily for recreation," Mearns noted. "In most parts of the developing world, paved roads and gasoline are difficult resources to find, and so the bicycle is a used as a super-efficient, primary form of transportation by students, teachers, doctors, and merchants. The unused bicycle in your garage or basement could potentially be ... used as a vital transportation resource for years to come. Your old bike may not have much value in this country, but it could be a life-changing tool for someone in another part of the world."

The bikes donated at Saturday's event will be driven to a warehouse in Dorchester and loaded into a shipping container, which in turn will wind up on a cargo ship Monday bound for Rwanda, Mearns said.

Once at their destination, the bikes will be refurbished and distributed to those in need.

Paul Rinehart, owner of The Spoke, said he hosted a Bikes Not Bombs event in the 1990s, and gathered more than 100 donated bikes.

So when Mearns approached him with the idea, he was all in.

"I already have about 30 bikes in the shop ready to go," Rinehart said. "Everybody should just go out into their garage and grab that old bike gathering dust and bring it down, 'cause we can sure put it to good use."

Scott Stafford can be reached at sstafford@berkshireeagle.com or 413-629-4517.


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