Wayne Thompson hopes Kind Bike will jolt the bicycle industry into rethinking its ways. His Kind Bike is a Madison-based bicycle company that builds social and environmental responsibility into its products.
"We're trying to show that you can be good, in an industry that has a notoriously bad labor record, and make a good product," says Thompson.
All of Kind's bikes are produced as sustainably as possible, using factories that pay a fair wage and strive to keep workers safe in the workplace. Thompson checked out more than 100 factories before he found one that met his criteria, Boan Factory in southern China.
Most commercial bikes are produced in Asia. While many Asian manufacturers take the fair treatment of their workers seriously, the governments of most Asian countries have yet to develop laws protecting workers' rights and environmental pollution, or to provide meaningful enforcement of these protections. So it is incumbent upon the factory manager to be a decent employer and upon bicycle companies to be informed of the labor and environmental practices involved in the making of its bikes.
Finding suppliers and factories with social welfare programs has been a challenge, but one Thompson took on gladly to throw open the door on an industry he believes is neither green nor fair. He also donates a portion of the proceeds from each bike toward bicycle advocacy organizations in the community where the bike was purchased.
The bikes are more than just sustainably produced, though. Thompson also sought to make the riding experience as easy as possible. Kind offers a narrow line of product models, mostly for urban riding, with names that correspond to function and descriptive categories that make it easy to match your desired activity with a bike. If you are looking for a bike to commute from home to work and back again, the "commuter" model may be just what you want. Other models include the "city," "neighborhood" and "single-speed/fixie."
Kind's bikes also have fewer moving parts in hopes of reducing or at least simplifying maintenance. The bikes have no derailleurs. They're either single-speed or utilize internal hub technology. Internal gear hubs are sealed, which are more trouble-free than derailleur shifters, although heavier and with a more limited gear range. The bikes also use disc brakes that can be adjusted without tools.
Kind's bikes should begin appearing in Madison bike stores, including Williamson Street Bikes and Machinery Row, this fall. Thompson is working to get his bikes into other bicycle-friendly communities around the country, including Portland, Seattle, Boston and Austin. Bikes can also be ordered online through the Kind Bike website (www.kindbike.com).