Hans Rey is quite possibly the most pictured and filmed mountain biker of all time. He is a man whose pioneering and unique approach to the art of two-wheeled excellence combined with a sound business sense and approachable hard working nature have kept him at the top of his game and on magazine covers for more than 25 years now.
There is however a whole other side to Hans – and one he’s deeply passionate about – his Wheels 4 Life charity, which he set up in 2005 in a quest to in some way help those less fortunate people in the world benefit from having the use of a bicycle.
The bicycle has been kind to Hans, and in return he’s using his clout and efforts to provide bicycles to impoverished people in many corners of the world – and so far Wheels 4 Life have provided almost 6,500 bikes to those in need, and they have made life changing differences to many people.
Hans talks with us about the charity.
ST; Can you tell me a little bit about the charity?
HR: It’s something I came up with around 2005 and we supply bicycles to people in need in third world countries.
The idea came about as I travel to these countries, where I’ve seen how the bike means something very different to people than it does to us.
To us it’s more or a toy, and yes people do use it for transport in the west. But it’s not necessarily always truly life changing to them. I also felt that the sport has been very good to me, and I wanted to give something back.
It’s a non-profit organisation, where basically my wife and me that do everything, and I even pay my own travel expenses when I go to visit these projects.
We have a lot of people who support us; fund-raisers, industry people, volunteers. We have a board of directors, and we’re very proud to be efficient as a charity. It’s very pure – we have hardly any overheads, and there have been years where we’ve had only 2-3% in overheads.
ST; Who are the beneficiaries of the charity?
HR; We have three main target groups; school children, who need the bikes to get education, as they often have to walk 5-10km to get to and from school. Educators and health care workers, and also farmers or regular people who need bikes to be able to get their produce to markets or to get to a nearby town to get employment. To date these are our main target groups.
ST; How extensive has your reach been so far?
HR: We’ve given away around 6,500 bikes in 26 countries. We usually buy the bikes in the places where we give them away as we don’t have the infrastructure to deal with used bikes.
ST; How do you managed the project on the ground?
HR; In every place we give bikes away we have local project leaders who are also volunteers. They decide who really needs the bikes and distribute them and manage things. They then have a file on each bike so that we know exactly where it is and what benefit it has, and these are for our backers.
ST; What tangible results have you seen, and which have been most poignant to you?
HR; It really is amazing to see the changes in peoples lives – especially as we work almost one to one, and our projects are often quite small. They can be as small as 10, 20, or 30 bikes. If they work we can follow up with more.
Because we have a paper on each bike we can follow things closely, we have a little bio on them and the users. We’ve done a few films where we visited first, and you would not believe these stories at times.
Lets say for example that we give a bike to a student and he gets his education and makes it to university, and he also used that bike to take firewood to market 3-4 times a week to make some money, it’s huge.
There was one kid like this who wanted to become a doctor, but there are no jobs and money to help, so he got a job on a construction site and carried buckets of water to the site on his bike all day long. He made enough money and can now go to finish his doctor studies at university.
Often the whole family also uses the bike. Even the smallest chores like visiting to the nearest water hole each day can be 3-4km each way – it makes a huge difference to peoples lives being able to do these things easier and faster
Many of the stories are directly life changing, but we like to focus on overall education and also women, as in Africa women are often the driving forces. If they get educated they can make a lot of changes to peoples lives.
ST; In which areas have you had the biggest impact?
HR: About half of the 26 countries are in Africa, and the biggest impact is probably in East Africa, from Uganda to Kenya and Tanzania. They could even amount to almost half of the bikes we’ve given away.
In Uganda alone we’ve already sponsored over 100 individual projects, so there’s a lot going on/
You can find out more about the charity at www.wheels4life.org