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04 Aug, 2015

Building bikes for the community

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Nick Krul started Build-a-Bike four years ago, and has already given away 60 bicycles.

If you could save a third of your salary every month, or if you had an idea that would save a third of someone else’s salary, what would you do? If you were Nick Krul, you’d make that idea work. We spoke to Nick to find out how his idea works.

Nick loves working on bikes.

And strangely enough it was the “aesthetics of a clean, simple-looking single speed mountain bike” hanging in a Sandton bike shop window which lit his path back into the sport.

“At that time, I wasn’t really riding at all,” he explained, “apart from an occasional fun ride every six months or so.”

So when he got home, he Googled “single speed”, dusted off his old 26 inch Diamond Back and “ripped” it apart. After ordering the necessary parts online, he converted this old bike into a single speed and the cycling bug bit him.

But it wasn’t only the riding that perked his interest. It was also his experience of converting his bike into a single speed that “kind of sparkled a joy of working on bikes”, so he would spend most of his time re-assembling his Diamond Back, perhaps adding “that necessary piece of kit” or adjusting the gearing or something.

“I had to learn how to do some of the stuff so, you know, Google and YouTube became my friend,” he quipped.

This became a weekly event for the next year or so, and Nick became so good at general bike maintenance that he vowed to never take a bike into a bike shop again.

“Once you learn how to do something properly, it becomes difficult to trust anyone else,” he said, “especially when it is your pride and joy.”

During 2011, and after he rebuilt his own bike for the umpteenth time, a plan to avoid this and make a difference in our society was born.

“I thought ‘how can I keep doing this without having to rip apart my own bike every two weeks?’ so I sprouted the idea that people can send me their old, unused parts and I would build bikes to give away to people who need them,” he explained.

So Nick put out an appeal on social media asking for old parts and outlining his plan of building bikes and giving them to someone who can use them, thus making people’s lives better.

“People then started arriving at my door with bakkie-loads worth of parts. A guy called Bradley Smith came with a flatbed trailer loaded with old stuff,” he explained.

So much stuff arrived at Nick’s door that he had to organise extra storage space, and quickly.

“I bought a Wendy House and I also needed to buy the right tools,” he said, “So with a friend and my father-in-law, we registered a non-profit organisation.”

And so Build-a-Bike SA was born.

Although it has a similar mission to Qhubeka, in that it aims to get people on bikes, Build-a-Bike is perhaps more personal.

“At the moment, there are no corporate sponsorship or massive money involved. People give me their old stuff, I give my time to get the bike together and then someone gets to ride a bike. Selfishly I get to work on bikes which I love, and I get to ‘play’ with the parts and the tools which is the ‘kick’ I get,” he explained.

In essence, Build-a-Bike is a win-win-win situation.

Bikes are given to needy people and this works on a nomination basis.

“Either someone hears about our initiative and comes and asks me if we could supply them with a bike, or somebody would nominate a worthy person. Sometimes organisations like Reach for a Dream will approach us, but other times it is people in the local community like gardeners or security guards,” he explained.

Many of these people have to walk for more than two hours to get to work, and then spend another two hours, sometimes in the cold and wet, going home. So by giving that person a bike, Build-a-Bike saves them three hours travel time per day.

“Or up to R700 per month on public transport costs, which is sometimes a third of that person’s monthly income,” Nick added, “we can wax lyrical about South Africa and everyone’s negativity of positivity about the country. Now I think if you not doing something to make a difference, then you have no right to complain about anything, so that is kind of how I feel about it. You know, do something even if it is something small. We are not a CEO sleep-out raising millions of Rands, but we can save somebody a few hundred Rand a month or save him a couple of hours a day extra sleep and that is something.”

In the four years Build-a-Bike has been going, it has assembled and given away 60 bicycles.

“I’ve found the more I do it, the quicker I get. I tend to accumulate parts and accessories for two or three weeks, and then I’ll suddenly have everything I need to put together two or three bikes. A weekend’s worth of work later, those bikes will be rideable,” he said.

But if something needs Nick’s attention on the bike, and the new owner of the bike doesn’t mind waiting, he will also help with repairs

“I try and encourage the guys to wear helmets and I give away helmets with every bike that I give away too. So every bike goes out with a high visibility vest, a water bottle cage, a saddle bag with some tools and a spare tube if I have, so I try and get them as self-sufficient as possible.

So those bikes add up to around 18 bikes a year. And that isn’t bad for a one-man-show operating out of a Wendy House in the garden of a Paulshof townhouse in the north of Johannesburg.

Ideally, of course, Nick would like to move the whole Build-a-Bike initiative.

“At the moment, we rent a storage unit for R1000 per month as the 1.8 by 1.8 metre Wendy House isn’t ideal. And you know, with my two sons running around, when the toolbox is open they don’t just grab the spanners but the sharp screwdrivers and cable-cutters, it will really make everyone safer if we do move,” he said.

Build-a-Bike has been given the opportunity to put down a shipping container at PWC Bike Park and move the whole operation there.

“With a properly set up and organised workshop, we are able to get out more than one bike per month,” he explained.

However, the shipping container itself will cost “anywhere between” R10 000 and R20 000, and then it’ll probably cost a few thousand Rand to move it to the site. And this is why Build-a-Bike is currently trying to raise the necessary funds to get this up and running.

The idea behind Build-a-Bike is pretty simple, and Nick has challenged others to get out there and do the same.

“I’ve had people contacting me from all over the country saying they like what I do and can they do something similar where they live,” he said, “my message to them is ‘do it!’. I didn’t struggle to get this up and running. I simply put it out there that I wanted old parts. And I talk to people so I end up getting parts, and when I have a bike ready, I either already have someone to give it to or if I don’t, I advertise on social media. So I don’t really mind whether they call it Build-a-Bike or not, as long as it is happening.”

If you would like to help Nick make a difference in somebody’s life, whether you have old parts or bicycles lying around that you can donate or whether you would like to help with funds for the new workshop facility, contact Nick via www.buildabikesa.com or the BuildaBike FaceBook Page.

Raymond Travers

Raymond Travers

Modern Cyclist Editor |

Editor