Nearly 50 people gathered at Goleta Beach this weekend for a group bike ride and fundraiser to benefit Project Rwanda.

The mission of Project Rwanda – which was founded in 2005 by Tom Ritchey of Ritchey Design, a bicycle component manufacturer – is to help the Rwandan people work towards a better quality of life through the introduction of bicycles. The proceeds of Saturday’s event went towards providing bicycles to embattled Rwandan coffee growers.

“To me, the bicycle is just a freedom tool to a bigger vision for Rwanda,” Ritchey said.

Ritchey was inspired to create Project Rwanda after his first trip to the country in 2005, where he used a bicycle as his sole means of transportation.

“A personal deconstruction process happened to me as soon as I got off the plane,” Ritchey said. “I basically got on my bike and rode. The bike was an interesting way to experience people.”

Since then he has been back six times, focusing his efforts on expediting the workload of the regional coffee farmers.

Ritchey found that the coffee growers used makeshift wooden scooters, weighing 50 pounds each, to push their heavy bags of coffee cherries – sometimes weighing up to 300 pounds – from the farms to processing plants.

Inspired by the resourcefulness of the farmers, Ritchey used his background in the bicycle industry to design the “Coffee Bike” – a mountain bike manufactured by Schwinn specifically for Rwandan coffee farmers.

“[The Coffee Bike concept] took off, the president of Rwanda was interested, the White House was interested,” Ritchey said.

The bike’s design includes an extended rear triangle with a two-foot-long level platform, providing a surface to tie down cargo and giving better stability to transport cargo. The bike is also geared to handle the country’s hilly terrain.

Another point of pride for Ritchey was the creation of the Rwandan Cycling Team. The idea for the team stemmed from Ritchey’s experiences riding around the country and immersing himself with the people. Recognizing the natural talent of some of the people they met, Project Rwanda selected five riders for Team Rwanda, which has climbed to the international racing circuit since its creation.

This weekend’s event provided the opportunity for participants to share stories of their experiences with the project, in addition to an hour-long bike ride.

Afterwards, a booth displaying Project Rwanda cycling jerseys, t-shirts and bags of Wooden Bike Coffee – a product from Rwanda – was set up, the proceeds of which went directly to providing more bikes for the Rwandan coffee growers.