Nova Scotia

How spare bike parts can make a difference in Uganda

David Parks is asking for donations of spare bike parts to help out a Ugandan group that promotes youth cycling.

Halifax man inspired to donate bike parts by Ugandan social enterprise

Parks says Kampala doesn't have a tradition of cycling so youth don't have many opportunities to learn how to ride a bike. (Submitted by David Parks/Go Free Uganda)

A Halifax cycling enthusiast wants Nova Scotians to donate bike parts to support cycling for youth halfway around the world.

David Parks says cycling in Kampala, Uganda's capital city, is challenging for many reasons, including steep hills, dirt roads, the high elevation and "a motorcycle taxi community that [isn't] so respectful of pedestrians or cyclists."

Despite the obstacles, a social enterprise called Go Free Uganda wants to get more kids into cycling. The organization offers bike rentals and tours in a city where, according to Parks, it's hard to find good bicycles.

He first went to Kampala as a project co-ordinator with Dalhousie University's faculty of agriculture.

Rental bikes hard to find

On his first visit to a new place, Parks said he likes to bike around to learn about the city and deal with jet lag. But in Kampala, he struggled to find a rental bike.

Eventually he came into contact with Go Free Uganda, who invited him to join a weekly bike ride for children from different Kampala neighbourhoods.

Parks told CBC's Information Morning in Nova Scotia that the invitation to join the youth cyclists was "very eye-opening and very inspiring."

Parks says the first thing he does when he visits a new place is rent a bike. This is a photo he took at Lake Victoria during his trip to Uganda. (David Parks)

He said youth ages 7-15 come out weekly for a four-hour bike ride through different neighbourhoods in Kampala.   

"The goal of that exercise is actually to familiarize them with cycling but also with each others' communities," said Parks. "So they develop relationships that help create peace and reduce conflicts when they're adults because they're exposed to and become friends with each other when they are young."

Once they've finished the ride, the youth and their families get together for a shared meal.

Parks said the people involved in running Go Free Uganda are mostly between age 15 and 25, and many are good bike mechanics, which is an important skill in a city with many second-hand bikes.

'Not a large cycling tradition'

"Because Kampala's so difficult to cycle, there's not a large cycling tradition," said Parks. "And if there are no new bikes, then even finding second-hand bikes is a challenge."

He said many bikes in Kampala actually come from other countries in the region. Some of the bikes are old and difficult to repair.

"It's not like most cities in the world where you can buy a $50 bike."

Parks wears a T-shirt from Go Free Uganda, a social enterprise that helps youth learn to cycle while also trying to reduce violence. (Portia Clark/CBC)

In fact, decent bikes are in such short supply "some of them are just welded together pieces of steel … from scrap materials."

Parks said when he saw the state of some of those bikes he knew that he should try to help out Go Free Uganda.

"That's where I realized I have 10 bikes at home in varying states of disrepair."

Parts from those bikes will be in his suitcase when he returns to Uganda later this month.

He hopes other Halifax cyclists will also help out. He's asked them for their spare bike parts through the Facebook group Halifax Cycle Chat.

He said pedals, chains, inner tubes, cables, handlebars, seats and helmets are all needed.

About the Author

Samantha Schwientek is an Ontario transplant to Nova Scotia. She spends most her time working on CBC's Information Morning Nova Scotia. Contact her with story ideas at samantha.schwientek@cbc.ca

With files from Information Morning Nova Scotia