Minneapolis-based bike shop brings coffee bikes to Rwanda

While Scallywags Bike Shop, located in the Seward neighborhood, appears to be closed, its employees have actually been up to much more. Scallywags, which closed this September, started out as a tall bicycle club in a garage in South Minneapolis in 2001. From the group was born a 13-member theater troupe that jumped bikes through fire and toured the southwestern states. But more recently the shop has operated as a nonprofit, raising money to send mechanics to Rwanda and bringing coffee bikes to rural farmers. âÄúThe idea of the shop is that it is a business that supports the mechanics to go to Rwanda,âÄù Tyler Sevlie , a mechanic at Scallywags, said. The coffee-bike project began after Tom Ritchey, one of the founding fathers of mountain biking, visited Rwanda in 2005, Sevlie said. Ritchey realized that the bicycle can be used as an important tool in rebuilding a country, so he created the coffee-bike project, through Project Rwanda, to bring this tool to Rwandans, Sevlie said. The first team of Scallywags mechanics went to Rwanda in May 2007. Sevlie said the coffee bikes are sent to Rwanda completely unassembled. ThatâÄôs where Scallywags come in. The mechanics from the shop assemble the bikes while training local Rwandan mechanics to maintain them. âÄúA lot of these farmers are used to biking technology that is really obsolete,âÄù Sevlie said. âÄúItâÄôs like they have been running around in work boots and then we give them sprinting shoes.âÄù According to the Project Rwanda website, the Rwandan coffee sector has huge potential to create a prosperous rural economy through the United StatesâÄô and EuropeâÄôs demand for high-quality, specialty coffee. The countryâÄôs one billion coffee trees have the potential to generate $150 million in annual foreign exchange earnings. Transportation of coffee cherries, however, is a huge issue in Rwanda. According to the website, trucks pick up coffee cherries at collection points, where they are then taken to washing stations, but getting to the collection points is difficult. Animals canâÄôt be used because of over population and lack of biomass to feed them, so many Rwandans walk the coffee cherries to collection points. The method usually takes six to 12 hours to get coffee cherries to washing stations after they have been picked. During this time, the quality and value of the coffee seriously degrades. If the transportation time to a washing station was reduced to two to four hours, the farmers would get a $0.15 or higher premium per pound of coffee sold, according to the website. âÄúItâÄôs all about timing,âÄù Ben Ransom, director of the coffee-bike project, said. âÄúThe bicycle becomes a tool to getting the plant to market and making the most profit.âÄù Ron Aminzade, a University sociology professor, said the coffee bikes could be an important dimension of development, adding that high cost and the poor state of public transportation is a problem in countries like Rwanda. Josh Cook, a volunteer mechanic at Scallywags, traveled to Rwanda in the fall 2007 to participate in the coffee bike program. âÄúIt is a good implementation of appropriate technology,âÄù Cook said. âÄúYou are taking something that people already know how to operate, that is not capital intensive, but can make a big difference.âÄù The bikes cost about $150, Cook said, but they are given to the Rwandans through a microloan. Grant money from organizations supplements the cost of the bike so it is less expensive to the buyer. Then, the buyer gets a microloan and pays the bike back at an affordable rate, Ransom said. According to the CIA Factbook, the 1994 genocide in Rwanda decimated the countryâÄôs fragile economic base, and eroded their ability to attract private and external investment. Cook said he hopes their work in Rwanda will help reshape the countryâÄôs image in the worldâÄôs eyes. âÄúWe want to get the word out about the kindness and generosity of the Rwandan people,âÄù he said. The Scallywags Bike Shop will reopen in the spring in an unknown location, Cook said. The shop will go from a nonprofit to for-profit so the shop can raise more money to send bikes and mechanics to Rwanda. The Scallywags Bike Shop is associated with Scallywags Inc., a Christian Organization. Cook said he hopes the future shop will carry full lines of bikes, while continuing to educate those who visit about Rwanda. âÄúWe didnâÄôt do very much when the genocide happened,âÄù he said. âÄúWe have it in our power to help now as much as we can, and we can come along side Rwandans now to help them build their country up.âÄù