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Year's End Threatens to Be End of the Trail for Bike Charity

By Jacqueline L. Salmon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 4, 2004; Page B01

What do you do with 900 bicycles?

That is the question haunting Keith Oberg. The Arlington cycling enthusiast runs the local branch of Pedals for Power, a nonprofit organization that collects thousands of bicycles and ships them to charities overseas, which then refurbish them and sell them at reduced prices to farmers, health workers, teachers and students.

But Oberg is facing a looming deadline: He has been storing his bicycles in 40-foot-long trailers in a corner of a parking lot leased by Giant Food in Springfield. Now, Giant is giving up its lease on the parking lot, and Oberg has to move.


Keith Oberg, of the local Pedals for Progress, in Springfield lot where bikes are kept in trailers. (Kevin Clark -- The Washington Post)

"We have until the end of the year," Oberg said. If he can't find a new place to store his bicycles by Dec. 31, he said, he might have to shut down.

At Pedals for Progress's storage site this week -- basically an expanse of crumbling asphalt at the rear of the parking lot -- Oberg climbed up a rickety pile of wooden pallets that serves as a loading dock for the group's five donated trailers.

Rolling up their doors, he revealed hundreds of bicycles nestled wheel to wheel, along with a few child bike seats, boxes of pumps and cartons of donated water bottles. In all, the trailers can hold about 900 bikes.

He pointed to a sleek turquoise bicycle with slender tires.

"This is a high-quality road bike," he said, that would go to an urban messenger or maybe to a group that encourages children to bike race. Tapping a squat adult-size three-wheeler with a hefty metal basket on the back, he noted that farm women like to use them to carry their goods to the market.

"We've also got a tandem back there," he added, pointing past bikes with brand names such as Fuji, Peugeot, Raleigh and Schwinn toward a bike in the rear that could serve as a taxi in a large city.

This batch was set to be shipped to Panama this weekend. But the trailers would fill up again quickly, he said. Last year, the group shipped almost 5,000 bikes overseas from the Washington area that had been collected by 75 groups such as the Boy Scouts, the Jaycees and church organizations.

Overseas, "these bikes aren't toys and recreation," said Oberg, 53. The charities that receive them train laborers to refurbish them, and they are then sold for $10 or $15 to low-income workers and students who use them to travel to and from their jobs or school.

"In effect, we're targeting people who are going to use this asset productively," Oberg said.

Oberg's group is the local branch of Pedals for Progress, which was begun in New Jersey in 1991 by a former Peace Corps volunteer who saw the need for cheap transportation in developing countries.

Since then, the group has shipped 85,000 donated used bicycles to such countries as Colombia, Barbados, Kenya, Sri Lanka and Moldova.


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