From the Junkyard to the Kitchen

Ever wonder what happens to bikes when they die? By Karla Zimmerman

A rusted Huffy pokes out of the junk heap, its color unrecognizable and its frame so twisted, one shudders wondering how it got that way. Yet its new owner touches it tenderly and smiles.

“We love broken bikes,” says Lee Ravenscroft, founder of Chicago-based Working Bikes Cooperative (WBC). He tosses the bashed two-wheeler in the back of his truck and takes it to headquarters, where his colleagues—all volunteers—will fix it and others like it (or at least salvage the parts). The WBC store sells about 40 percent of these bicycles and then uses the proceeds to ship the remaining bikes and parts to developing countries, where they become assets for communities in need. WBC now recycles 10,000 bikes annually; about half come from donation drives, and the rest come from the trash.

In Africa, the Caribbean, and Central and South America, WBC’s local partners are developing bike-powered water pumps and other machinery in electricity-poor communities, such as Guatemala (see below), and providing AIDS orphans with vocational training to fix bikes and modify them into cash-generating cargo carriers, as in Tanzania.

Ravenscroft isn’t the only one to realize recycled bicycles are powerful tools for change. Several other U.S. organizations—like Massachusetts-based Bikes Not Bombs, New Jersey–based Pedals for Progress, and Virginia-based Bikes for the World—also ship old bikes overseas. And many other nonprofits fix and sell used bikes domestically for youth-oriented Earn-a-Bike programs. The International Bicycle Fund ( keeps a list of such groups, including those that collect secondhand bikes.

There is certainly no shortage of raw material for these groups, thanks to the glut of cheap, throwaway bicycles on the U.S. market these days—mainly Asian imports and models from big-box retailers. Ecophiles may argue that the most sustainable solution is to reduce the number of bikes made in the first place; whether or not that happens, recyclers will have the means to turn the developing world on to bike-powered technologies for many years to come.


Puedo leer bien el ingl?s pero tengo dificultad para escribirlo. Vivo en Quetzaltenango, la segunda ciudad importante de mi pa??s, Guatemala. Me preocupa que cada d??a hay m?s y m?s autom??viles y las consecuentes dificualtades que esto acarrea y desear??a hacer una propuesta para que las personas utilizaran m?s la bicicleta como medio de transporte. Mi inquietud es: podr??an Uds. sugerirme algunas acciones o propuestas para motivar a las autoridades y a la poblaci??n por la opci??n de utilizar m?s la bici, como medio de transporte?