By Adam Newman
The African continent’s first professional UCI Continental team is off to a fast start, but its success will do more than just sell bikes, it is providing them to rural Africans as a way to get to school, visit a doctor, get clean water, or start a business.
The MTN-Qhubeka team (“qhubeka” is a Nguni word meaning “to progress”) has progressed straight to the podium after receiving a wildcard entry to the nearly 300-mile Milan-San Remo race in Italy and then putting its sprinter Gerald Ciolek across the finish line first.
It was a day to be remembered not only for the win, but because Ciolek’s teammate Songezo Jim was the first black South African to start a WorldTour event and because the weather conditions were so severe the race organizers were forced to reroute the racers by bus around a snowed-in mountain pass.
But the real heroes are back in Africa, where rural South Africans received Buffalo Bicycles in exchange for planting 100 saplings for a reforestation project or for removing more than 2,500 lbs. of refuse from their village. The bicycle can increase the workload of a person more than five times, and they can travel 75 percent faster or further.
The Qhubeka project isn’t new, since 2004 this volunteer-based organization has partnered with World Bicycle Relief to donate more than 40,000 bikes. It is funded by bike sales, corporate donors, events, and consulting. Since the race team rides Trek bikes, each time a Trek customer chooses a bike with the Qhubeka paint scheme, Trek will donate $200 to the Qhubeka project. You can bet there will be a big increase in sales after Ciolek’s win.
The bikes in Africa, on the other hand, are specially designed to handle the rigors of rural life. They have heavy-guage steel frames; sturdy wheels and tires; a weatherproof coaster brake; and can carry more than 200 lbs. The parts are made in Asia, and the bikes are assembled in World Bicycle Relief facilities in Africa, by Africans.
Watch for more victories by Team MTN-Qhubeka and by the Qhubeka project in Africa.