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Local Business Has Goal Of Creating Bike in Africa for Every One Sold Here

A local start-up company has taken the kind of connectivity related to bikes to new levels.

Bikes of Reckless Optimism, started by Chelsea Koglmeier, has individuals on four different continents making her dream possible.

Chelsea's vision is not just about herself and her business profits, though. Bikes of Reckless Optimism is designed as a company with a double bottom line where every individual that purchases a bicycle here in the United States or abroad, another bike is built for a person in need inside a developing country.

“The idea was sprung about seven years ago when I was living in Kampala, Uganda,” Koglmeier said. “I was doing a mirco-finance program at the time that was unrelated to bicycles, but I was just very struck with how empowering and how enabling bicycles can be to people when they don't necessarily have access to transportation, access to mobility to be able to get to work or use the bicycle as work. Whether it's an entrepreneur carrying chickens to market or something like that, you can just carry more, you can carry farther, kids can get to school that's not that close by.”

While in Uganda, Koglmeier started wrapping her brain around the concept of social-conscious business and creating projects that have double bottom lines. Her idea emulated the business model of TOMS Shoes that donate a pair of shoes to countries in need every time a pair of TOMS Shoes are purchased. At the time, Koglmeier was in college and didn't have the time to start up a business like that, but about three months ago, she circled back to her idea and began to lay the groundwork for a serious endeavor.

“I realized that it still hasn't really been done,” she said of her idea. “I think it's an amazing opportunity. We have a bunch of socially-conscious consumers in the world and there is a spectrum of bike-riding needs.” We tend to see a lot of the extremes. We see the kids on their little tinker bikes and the big guys in spandex on sporty bikes, but in the entirety of the world, bikes are used in so many different ways from commuting to recreation, and I think for the people in developing countries it's kind of like their life blood.

“So I wanted to make that middle area of the spectrum more available to people in the US. Jump on your bike and go to the library or go to the market on the weekends or a family trip or go to work on your bike one day. Just stuff to connect our intentionality and health and wellness. Taking biking outside of studios, outside of fitness gyms and incorporating into the entirety of life while being able to give back to the world.”

The way it works is that for every bike purchased, a non-profit called World Bicycle Relief builds a custom designed bicycle that is designed for the “African Situation”, which means it's a very durable commuter bike that is built in the country in need and employs local people in the build out of the bicycle.

“For every bike purchased through O.R.O., we get a set of wheels on those bikes for people in need,” Koglmeier said.

This isn't a simple hand out of bicycles, however.

“For example, as a kid that is going to get a bike, they have to study. So, the bike is not just handed to the child, the child has to kind of work to get there which is actually incredibly important because it's a very high-value item. Some sort of effort to work a little bit has to be there in order to access that item and that is important, but the cool thing about the non-profit is that without the financing to create the bike in the first place to get it to that person, then there is not even that opportunity.”

There will not be a physical store for Bikes of Reckless Optimism but will be an e-commerce business that plans to partner with local fitness organizations to promote their business by having prototypes of the bikes at specific locations to educate consumers. Currently, Koglmeier is searching to partner with more Northern Kentucky businesses.

“I'm going to be working with different yoga studios and fitness chains in different areas and kind of run campaigns through their store to sell the bikes. I do have a partner in the area that is going to be working with me on the Kickstarter in September and we are partnering with Yoga Alive, which is a Kenwood-based yoga studio and they're going to have a bike at the shop for people to check out and hear more of the story and generating awareness for the campaign.”

A designer from Australia has partnered with O.R.O to design the bikes after hearing about the campaign and becoming interested in the project. That designer helped Koglmeier find a manufacturer of the bikes in China. Koglmeier said that 96% of bikes that are sold in the United States are manufactured in Asia and that initially she was concerned with the manufacturing environment of the plant.

“What I did was that I went over there to make sure that I thought that the facilities were run in a socially and ethically conscious way and I was so impressed, actually,” she said. “The manufacturing partner is great. I didn't know what I was expecting because I had never done anything like that but I was scared for what I was going to see and I ended up being happily surprised with state of the facilities.”

The next step for Bikes of Reckless Optimism is to roll out their Kickstarter campaign in September. Soon they will have the bicycle prototypes and have set a target of 100-300 bikes sold from the first batch. The bikes are listed at $750 each, but there will be some discounts for the first bikes during the Kickstarter campaign. Once the Kickstarter is complete, Bikes of Reckless Optimism hope to become more of a traditional e-commerce business model.

Prior to the September, Koglmeier has planned a trip to both the East and West Coast where she will promote her business and its cause.

“I want the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area to be the birth place of the idea and then this summer, I'm taking it up to the East Coast to kind of spread the word there. Then in the fall, I'm going to have a trip to the West Coast and ride my bike all the way down the Pacific Coast Highway to do something similar: a campaign driven trip where I'm meeting people and telling them about what I want to do and that we're launching in September,” she said.

Bicycles have found a trend in today's American society as especially younger generations embrace bikes as not only a form of recreation but as a way of life. New civic initiatives centered around bike commuting like additional bike lanes and the Red Bike movement cropping up in the region, it seems to be a particularly interesting time for bike businesses to crop up.

“I love all the community bike-share programs. There's also tons of connected city programming to create bike lanes and make biking around in ways that are not always accessible to people. I think bike-shares in themselves are like a teaser to get people into buying their own bike. You see people on them, they start riding them and then they realize that they really like them. They like the feeling they have when they do it, they realize how easy it is to get to places. Then the step beyond that is getting one for themselves.” 

Written by Bryan Burke, associate editor

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