Thursday, January 18, 2007

Revisit to Mr. Rexford.

We ended our little Kaneshie Market outing with a side trip into the neighborhood just across the road, Abose Okai, to pay a visit to someone that appeared in this blog back in September - Mr. Rexford and his mountain of bikes.

Rexford remembered me from four months earlier. Understandably so, this part of town is not on the tourist route, so any foreigner really sticks out . It does take a bit of patience and desire to get to his work shop. The road is narrow, filthy and clogged with taxis and pedestrians.

Rexford was surprised to see me return, and seemed amazed that I brought SJD with me. I mostly wanted to snoop for random odd parts, but also intended to learn a bit more about the bicycle business here in West Africa - one of a few odd jobs that seems prevalent. We got an earful.

Rexford's bikes number in the thousands. He admits that he has no idea exactly how many bikes are piled on his property. Where he gets them from is still somewhat of a mystery to us. Some bikes are purchased at Makola Market;others must arrive by dump truck. Everything is used, battered and covered in dust.

Ghana has some odd tariffs on bikes. New complete bikes are taxed. Used complete bikes are not taxed. Import of bike parts, pieces and accessories ARE taxed though. Odd, I say, because Ghana does not produce a single raw material or finished product for bikes that would explain the mix of tariffs imposed on imported goods from around the globe. Everything is imported.

So, lots of old donated junker bikes from the US end up in Ghana through various channels. Many Ghanaians have set up a nice little businesses of buying, refurbishing and reselling bikes. Small scale bike vendors with 20 or so bikes are like Starbucks in the US - everywhere. A used, but functioning ten-speed or mountainbike seems to cost between $30-$45 without much haggling - a pretty large sum of money to most Ghanaians. It is good to see.

It goes beyond resale though. Bikes that arrive in Ghana, but are considered to be beyond repair, are stripped for parts. Not just seat, wheels, and forks. Try bearings, cables, grips, tires, spokes, chain links down to the random nuts and bolts. This enables them to avoid paying the import duty on parts. I think they take the disassembly a bit too far at times. In any case, parts then become available on the local market at a much more reasonable price. Smart eh?

So, what happens to the frame? Well, Burkina Faso has import taxes on frames, but not on parts. Just the opposite, more or less. So, anyone from BF willing to purchase and transport frames up north can buy from Ghana. Anything left over in Ghana is simply sold to the scrap metal smelters once the heap reaches certain proportions or value according to Mr. Rexford. Beats a landfill I guess.

In fact, looking around Rexford's shop, it does seem a bit different. Rexford seems to be in the business of redistribution of bikes. Young boys provide the bulk of labor, grabbing a bike from the heap and proceeding with disassembly. Tools and methods are rather crude. Most disassembly is done with a hammer and screw driver. Proper tools and a bit of education on proper use would go a long way in extending the usefulness of the some of the bikes and parts. The much smaller scale repair/resale kiosks appear to have proper tools. I left the compound thinking to myself, "well, good for them...but I really hope I never need to leave my bike in their hands for repair."

For sharing his time and insite, we bought a large and solid stainless steel rear rack for a future bike project.

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