Stephen Drake Influencers Interview

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World Bicycle Relief

Why am I Riding for World Bicycle Relief?

This is a deeply personal story but if I’m going to personally ask you for a donation, you deserve to know exactly why.

I’m not going to repeat any details of World Bicycle Relief’s activities and impact. They’re very well documented on its website.

Instead, I’m going to give my own perspective and history of involvement with this wonderful organisation. Once you read my story, I hope you’ll agree this is such a worthwhile cause to support.

One final caveat before diving in – unfortunately I don’t have diaries or even a good photo archive system, so my dates and details are best recollections and may not be precisely accurate.

As you can read in more detail on the World Bicycle Relief site, this charity was started by F.K. Day and his wife, Leah Missbach Day, after they saw the devastation of the 2004 tsunami that flooded millions of homes in south east Asia.

FK Day with newly trained bicycle mechanics
World Bicycle Relief doesn’t just donate bikes and run. They train at least one local field mechanic for each 50 bikes distributed, giving them mechanical training, a tool kit and training in how to run their own micro-business repairing bicycles for a small fee. This is a win-win solution of growing local employment and ensuring the bikes are maintained for longer service. WBR founder FK Day is pictured with new graduate mechanics.

Fortunately, they had contacts and means to do something about this because 17 years earlier, F.K. and his brother Stan founded SRAM, which by the mid-2000s was already a substantial bicycle component manufacturing company.

Meanwhile, back in the tiny South Australian town of Wangary, I’d founded a media business called Lake Wangary Publishing Company and in 1989 began publishing our first title, Bicycling Australia magazine.

I first met Stan Day around 1991. It was a brief visit to their ‘Grip Shift’ stand, as SRAM was then mainly known, at the then highly important Interbike show in Anaheim, California.

SRAM was a dynamic young company that became very active in bicycle advocacy, something I’ve been passionate about for over 40 years.

World Bicycle Relief
Even when a bicycle can’t be ridden, it’s still an invaluable tool for carrying heavy loads over rough dirt roads.

They consequently remained on my radar and I always kept an eye on what they were doing at international trade shows, while accepting media invitations to attend their product launches or factory tours.

World Bicycle Relief still slipped under my radar for its first couple of years, until I attended an ‘A-Team’ meeting (a networking group of leading Taiwan-based manufacturers at the 2007 Taipei Cycle Show. The global CEO of Giant Bicycles, Tony Lo, commended the charity and the work Stan and F.K. were doing and I sought out F.K. at the SRAM booth to find out more.

F.K. is an inspirational person, without trying to be, simply through his potent combination of humility and sincerity, backed by a high level of ability and hard work ethic.

He invited me to visit Zambia, a landlocked country where World Bicycle Relief has been active since its early days.

They later created organised tours to Africa for current and potential supporters, but this was an informal working visit of about 10 days with Leah, F.K., their young son and a family friend.

We did this trip in April 2008. It was still relatively early days in the World Bicycle Relief journey. For memory there had been about 70,000 bicycles distributed in total so far, compared to about 600,000 in total today.

FK Day Bike distribution ceremony
Distribution ceremonies like this are not required or organised by World Bicycle Relief, but by the recipient communities who want to celebrate with singing, dancing and smiles all round. Receiving a hundred brand new, high quality bicycles is a rare, life-expanding opportunity.
WBR founder FK day is standing with the microphone in the background. Local dignitaries are sheltering in the tent – the sun was hot!

We mainly stayed in the Zambian capital, Lusaka, but made several trips to other parts of the country. They included a bicycle distribution celebration at a large Salvation Army-run school / hospital / township, a visit to a rural community school and to a dairy cooperative.

This long article would be far longer if I recounted just some of the things I saw and emotions I felt. It was my first visit to Africa and, suffice to say, I was impacted by this trip.

That included the things I learnt from Dave Neiswander, who was living in Lusaka at that time and managing World Bicycle Relief’s African operations. Dave is now the global CEO based in the US.

I am reminded of the experience by the 10 large, framed photos that still hang on my office walls, showing some of the sights and moments in Zambia. I’ve included a few of those with this article.

Indian bicycle parts at the local market
If you’re wondering why the locals don’t just go out and buy better quality bikes and parts – they’re simply not available. This was a bike shop that we visited at a rural market town. Most of the parts were from India and of the cheapest quality and durability.

Upon return, it was only natural we would use our media resources to promote World Bicycle Relief and give direct support.

Fast forward about six years and F.K. wanted to set up a World Bicycle Relief fundraising subsidiary in Australia, one of their largest donor countries where they didn’t have a local entity ‘on the ground’. They’d already set up successful offices in Germany and the UK.

I’d recently sold Bicycling Australia and related business interests after 25 years, so it was a time to try something new. F.K. suggested I could become the full-time Development Director for Australia. My wife was highly surprised when I knocked back what seemed like my dream job, offered at a perfect time.

But I wanted to keep the relationship on a purely charitable level, so instead I offered to set up World Bicycle Relief Australia and be a founding director.

Fortunately, I was able to persuade the recently retired CEO of Giant Bicycles Australia, Graeme West, to become my fellow founding director. Graeme is an accountant by profession and had far better skills and patience than me when it came to the bureaucratic minefields of setting up a new Australian charity and earning elusive Deductible Gift Recipient status.

We hired the first Australian Development Director to do the heavy lifting on a day-to-day basis and after a few years we handed directorship to the current outstanding trio of directors.

Fast forward again, this time to March 2022 and I’ll be turning 60 years of age. To mark the occasion, I’ll be riding from Melbourne to Sydney – via a very circuitous route of 1,106 kilometres that takes in the Australian Alps via Thredbo and part of the NSW south coast.

Let me share some confessions … I don’t ride much these days. This certainly won’t be the fastest ride anyone has done, or the longest days, or any other record-breaking athletic feat. But it will be hard for me! As I write this with a few aches from yesterday’s training ride, I can tell you the fundraising element of this ride is a core motivation that makes me determined to continue and finish well.

Having supported World Bicycle Relief for about 14 years, I can assure you from first-hand experience that this is a wonderful charity that gives an amazing return of lives empowered for each dollar invested.

Now you can play your part by helping me to raise at least $10,000 for World Bicycle Relief through this ride.

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