Cranking the International Bike Wrench

By Beacon Staff

Sometime this week, a 20-foot container of bicycles should arrive in Beira, Mozambique. It’s crammed with 140 bikes, tools, and parts. “It might also have a few mice,” added Ron Brunk, owner of Glacier Cyclery in Whitefish.

Loaded on the Charlotte Maersk, the container has been at sea since September 13 when it left Tacoma, Wash. Its bicycles, all donated from Flathead Valley residents, are bound for the Children’s Center in Dondo. Once there, Brunk will turn the container into a bike shop to teach 14 older boys how to assemble and repair the bikes.

The project began two years ago when Brunk and his wife Jan first started collecting bikes and donations to buy the container, ship the bikes, and pay the import fees. Bicycles are assets in African nations where walking is common transportation and the average income $2.00 US a day. New bikes—of low quality and poorly assembled–cost about $70 US.

Delays from the Mozambique government put the project on hold. Waiting for the go ahead, the bicycles sat for 19 months in barn of Lee Stanley, a Glacier Cyclery mechanic. “A troubling aspect of the long delay in getting the bikes on their way was feeling such a responsibility to those who generously donated money and bicycles, over two years ago, to a project that hadn’t gone anywhere,” said Brunk.

When approval came this past July for importing the bicycles into Mozambique, the Brunks organized what they thought would be short work to get them shipped. They scoured from valley bicycle shops for bike boxes and spent a couple days packing them into the container. “It was a lot like working a giant jigsaw puzzle,” said Brunk. With the container jammed full, they filled out documentation and shipped it on a semi to Tacoma. Snafus in Tacoma resulted in a bit of panic, but with a new serial number assigned to the container to solve the dilemma, the bikes were loaded aboard ship.

This week, the Brunks, who have been in Mozambique since mid-October, plan to meet the container in Beira to escort it through the customs hurdle. Then they move the container to Dondo, where the real work begins—teaching valuable mechanic skills to young men.