Kelly and Robert “Rocket” Richards at their Fernie home with a donated bike. Kimberley Vlasic/The Free Press

To Cuba, with love

Fernie couple collects old mountain bikes for those in need in the Caribbean island nation.

Fernie and Cuba share few similarities in terms of their culture, geography and system of government. However, their people have one thing in common – a love of biking.

For many Cubans, bikes are their only mode of transport and they will do anything to keep the wheels turning, even stuffing tires with hay in lieu of bike tubes.

Good quality bikes and parts are in short supply in the Caribbean island nation, which is where Kelly and Robert “Rocket” Richards come in.

For the past 10 years, the couple has been transporting secondhand bikes and parts to Cuba to distribute them to those in need.

“The bikes to the people are a way of getting around, their transportation system is not good,” said Kelly.

“People need the bikes, that’s their transportation.”

Kelly and Rocket moved to Fernie from Whistler in January and are hoping to make local connections ahead of their next trip in November.

According to Kelly, a new bike in Cuba costs about 300 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC, roughly $390 CAD), while the average Cuban only makes 20-30 CUC a month.

“We need old style mountain bikes, nothing fancy,” said Kelly.

“They don’t need suspension, they just need basic components.

“Walmart and Canadian Tire bikes don’t work because you can’t change the components.”

Kelly and Rocket, who are both avid bikers themselves, tune and test ride each bike to ensure it will last in the coastal environment, where rust is the biggest problem.

They also collect parts, such as spare tires, tubes, cables and seats.

The couple travels to Cuba at least once a year and has taken about 30 bikes over the past decade.

Their friend connects them with people in need – generally those who live in rural areas such as Torriente and don’t work in the lucrative tourism industry – with the understanding that the bikes aren’t to be resold.

Kelly and Rocket both speak Spanish and can take photos of recipients and their new bikes to show donors.

“When a grown man – a 75-year-old man – starts to cry because he has a bike, it’s humbling and I guess that’s why we do it,” said Kelly.

“We know how lucky we are to travel and have our health, and want to help people.”

For more information or to donate, email kellyinwhistler@gmail.com.

 

Cuban farmer Manuel Otano with his donated bike. “He has a small plot of land that he farms near Torriente,” said Kelly Richards. “Many of the bikes we’ve taken are in Torriente. When we gave him the bike he was overwhelmed and cried.”

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