New Moon Rising: More than a way to tour the country, the bike may be Rwanda’s ticket to a brighter future.

New Moon Rising: More than a way to tour the country, the bike may be Rwanda’s ticket to a brighter future.

Rebuilding Rwanda with the power of the pedal

When I told friends I was going to Rwanda, the first thing they asked was, “Is it safe?” usually followed by “Why?” Knowing little more about the country than the genocide of 1994, when Hutus took up arms against Tutsis and nearly 1 million people perished, most people don’t think of Rwanda as a vacation destination. They think of a distant, war-torn country, ravaged by the horror that pitted neighbor against neighbor. They certainly don’t think of cycling.

And yet, when I visited Rwanda in July, the miles I logged on a mountain bike, exploring the hills and villages, were some of the most exciting and eye-opening of my life. Rwanda is a country of few cars, many hills, scenic countryside and lots of warm, smiling faces. The combination makes for some great riding.

One of my favorite memories was climbing a steep hill that looked quiet and empty, only to be surprised by kids jumping out of the bushes squealing “Muzungu!” (the Kinyarwanda word for “white person”), running alongside us,  reaching out for our hands and laughing.

Muzungu on the Move: You and your bike are sure to attract a crowd on the road in Rwanda.

Muzungu on the Move: You and your bike are sure to attract a crowd on the road in Rwanda.

The bike has become a symbol of hope here, thanks to the work of Project Rwanda. Founded in 2005 by cycling legend Tom Ritchey, Project Rwanda works to further the economic development of the African nation through bike-based initiatives. The goal is to use the bicycle to help boost the Rwandan economy as well as re-brand the country as a beautiful and safe place to visit.

Take the Coffee Bike program. Through microloans, Project Rwanda outfits farmers with specially designed cargo bikes, which allow them to move crops to market faster. The difference a bike makes in a farmer’s ability to be successful helps build a more stable economy and thus a better political climate.

Looking for the perfect Christmas gift? My mountain biking team and I funded a bike for the project. The $200 cost is less than what most of us spend on bike parts alone in a year, and yet it can be the difference between a life of poverty and a life of prosperity for a Rwandan farmer. Contact projectrwanda.org

—Marika Holmgren