WE RIDE TOGETHER
Worldbike & Xtracycle: Joined at Birth
Worldbike is Xtracycle's twin-sister organization, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit born out of an idealistic engineering student’s desire to help eradicate poverty—two wheels at a time. BY ROSS EVANS
Worldbike arose out of my belief that bicycle technology has not been optimized for the resource-poor. My first trip to Nicaragua—in 1995, as a volunteer with Bikes Not Bombs—taught me that, with the right skill set, tool set, and mind-set, it would be possible to make the bicycle work for everyone. So that’s what I set out to do.
First, we wanted to address the problem of a utilitarian cargo-bike design, in the form of a “bicycle pickup truck” for rural farmers. That project led to the founding of Worldbike and, a few years later, the launch of Xtracycle with our category-creating long-tail conversion kit, the FreeRadical. (Our FreeRadical Leap is the newest iteration.) Over the 20-plus years since, our work has impacted lives not only through our projects but also by inspiring numerous other transportation development projects aiding the rural poor worldwide.
“DON’T YOU OWN A CAR?”
The guys I worked with in Nicaragua asked me that as we worked on the first Worldbike prototypes. They couldn’t understand my interest in the bicycle. If I had a car, why would I want a bike? Popular culture and government subsidization of the fossil-fuel industry had for their entire lives been telling them that a personal automobile was the only way to roll.
As I explained then, I believe the bicycle is the only globally scalable personal-transportation solution. And it doesn’t need gas to get you from Point A to Point B.
It was my first taste of what has become our most challenging task: shifting how utility bikes are perceived. Rather than seeing them as a path to personal freedom and good health for ourselves and our planet (not to mention an integral part of the smart, sustainable transportation networks of the future), most people see them as old tech, a child’s toy, or worse.
But we know that the cargo bike is a revolutionary tool for life transformation—and its true potential has not even begun to be tapped.
Over the years, Worldbike has published articles on bike design for development, helped establish bike-manufacturing and repair shops in developing countries (such as Cuba, Mexico, Rwanda, Senegal, and Thailand), and, most important, met and worked with a lot of amazing people and organizations using bicycles for development. Much of our work would have been impossible without them.
Courtesy Jock Boyer, Rwanda Cycling Federation
The foundation is especially proud of the fact that two of the first Worldbike cargo bikes are featured in the Smithsonian National Design Museum exhibition “Design for the Other 90%.”
Led by innovative bike designer Craig Calfee, a board member, we’ve backed some pioneering projects in the Congo and Cuba.
We haven’t begun to have the scale of impact that we’ve always envisioned. But we continue to persevere, driven by our vision of deeply transformative, lasting change. Very few technologies merit recognition as developmental super-tools. The condom, the bed net, and microfinancing all inspire us to press on in our search for scalable ways to adapt and apply bicycle technology to the task of global service.
We look forward to inventing a brighter future for all, with you.