PLANO, Texas — The Tour de France is one of the world’s premier races and a true test of endurance for professional cyclists. At just more than 2,100 miles long with intense stretches through the mountainous Alps, it’s a grueling race. That didn’t stop Australian professional cyclist Lachlan Morton from adding a little more than an additional 1,300 miles to the ride, with more than 75,000 feet of climbing, in an effort to raise money for the global nonprofit, World Bicycle Relief.
What is World Bicycle Relief?
World Bicycle Relief is a nonprofit dedicated to fighting poverty through biking. By providing bicycles to those in need and creating a sustainable ecosystem to support them in local communities, World Bicycle Relief has found a way to combat a number of pressing issues in developing regions of the world.
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the nonprofit is working in Columbia and rural Africa to provide bicycles to frontline healthcare workers. By providing bicycles to these workers, the nonprofit has seen an 88% increase in patient visits and a 39% decrease in travel time to visit clients for the healthcare workers in those areas.
Additionally, the nonprofit has worked to provide bicycles to schoolchildren, primarily young girls in developing areas, to great effect. According to survey data reported in the organization’s 2019 Impact Report, girls that were given bikes reported a 28% drop in absenteeism and more than an additional hour of travel time saved each day.
The organization has partnered with other major nonprofits and organizations like UNICEF and the Campaign for Female Education in the nonprofit’s efforts to provide bikes to children in need, according to the 2020 Impact Report. Through the Campaign for Female Education program in Zimbabwe alone, the organization delivered more than 2,400 bicycles to girls in need and trained 35 young women to become field mechanics.
World Bicycle Relief’s Innovative Model
Field mechanic training is an important component of World Bicycle Relief’s model. The nonprofit also owns a for-profit bicycle company based on the success of the durable bikes they produce called Buffalo Bicycles. The organization sells these bicycles to other nonprofits as well as local governments and businesses to help fund World Bicycle Relief’s efforts.
These sales, as well as the establishment of selling centers and training of local field mechanics and assembly teams, also ensure that the bicycles receive adequate maintenance in local communities in need in order for them to continue to be valuable tools for relief. In addition, the Bicycle Supervisory Committees established in these communities for training and educational purposes allow World Bicycle Relief to better understand local needs and areas for support.
Morton’s Tremendous Effort to Help World Bicycle Relief
World Bicycle Relief’s work is what Lachlan Morton said made his suffering worthwhile. But suffering might be an understatement for Morton’s experience. The professional cyclist rode all of the miles along the 2021 Tour de France route on his bike, including the transitory sections that the Tour’s riders were able to skip. He also lacked any support from a professional team or the accommodations that came with participating in the real Tour. That meant carrying camping equipment to find a place in the wilderness to sleep at night as well as food and equipment to prepare his own meals. Morton, who’s something of an ultra-endurance enthusiast, also experienced blisters from his riding shoes which eventually forced him to switch to riding in sandals during his personal Tour. He even had to travel significant stretches without any food or water as well.
His monumental efforts have not been without benefit though, as Morton has been able to raise enough money for World Bicycle Relief to donate nearly 3,270 bikes, raising over $600,000 for the nonprofit during his alternative Tour de France.
“I know I ride for a reason and people’s support and their donations have proved it,” Morton told Cyclingnews. “Bikes have changed my life, so to be able to share that and help other people change their lives via cycling is the tiniest thing I can do in life.”
The Continued Importance of Bicycles in the Fight Against Poverty
The life-changing capabilities of bicycles are something that global leaders have not ignored. During 2020 World Bicycle Day, the President of the United Nations General Assembly at the time, Tijani Muhammed Bande, explained that bikes have a “significant impact” on families as they are capable of helping pull them out of poverty by providing them with greater access to education and job opportunities. He also praised bicycles as a valuable alternative to automotive transportation during the COVID-19 pandemic.
That praise echoes the sentiments expressed in the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals referenced in the Regional Information Centre for Western Europe which explains how bicycles can be used to lower transportation costs and times for those experiencing poverty and also provide increased access for small, rural farmers which ultimately helps in the ongoing fight against hunger.
These benefits help illustrate the importance of organizations like World Bicycle Relief and underline the value that a single cyclist has been able to provide to global communities thanks to his extraordinary efforts.
– Brett Grega