Christmas came early to the Somalia Park informal settlement in Vosloorus, South Africa, when the newly minted Professional Continental Team MTN-Qhubeka arrived with 170 Qhubeka bicycles, earned by residents as part of a program which trades the sturdy World Bicycle Relief-designed machines for work.
All 21 of the riders on the squad, including Giro d'Italia stage winner Ignatas Konovalovas, Germans Martin Reimer, Gerald Ciolek and Andreas Stauff, Spaniard Sergio Pardilla and Italian Kristian Sbaragli were on hand for the delivery. The team was joined by Olympic BMX racer Sifiso Nhlapo.
Qhubeka founder Anthony Fitzhenry partnered with World Bicycle Relief to bring the program to South Africa, and since 2004 it has delivered almost 40,000 bikes, with an aim at an overall total of 1 million.
The 20kg steel bikes include racks that can hold up to 100kg, so they're not only a means of transportation to get to school, shops or work, they can help empower people to start small businesses. One 11-year-old girl, Katleho, has earned six Qhubeka bikes by planting tree seedlings, which she rents out for 20 Rand for two hours, earning extra cash for her household. The trees are then delivered to the Wildlands Conservation Trust, which helps to reforest areas with native species.
Others earn bicycles by collecting recyclables in the communities which have no basic city services such as garbage collection.
The bikes save children many hours per week getting to school and back, a trip which by foot can take an hour or more but with two wheels takes only 15 minutes. This leaves more time for study and play. Other bikes are used to deliver goods such as bread or produce to sell, or bring in materials for housing.
Team MTN-Qhubeka will be supporting the program throughout its 2013 season, donating proceeds from sales of its team kit and a portion of its prize money, as will sponsors MTN and Samsung.
Laura Weislo has been with Cyclingnews since 2006 after making a switch from a career in science. As Deputy Editor, she coordinates coverage for North American events and global news. A swimmer in her younger days, Laura made the change to cycling later in life, but was immediately swept up by a huge passion for the sport. Riding for fitness quickly gave way to the competitive urge, and a decade of racing later she can look back on a number of high profile races and say with confidence, "I started". While her racing days are over for the most part, she continues to dabble in cyclo-cross and competing against fellow pathletes on the greenways of Raleigh, North Carolina.
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