Riders For Health: Using motorcycles to save lives

By Bruce Scholten

Mahali Hlasa, chair of Riders International, and moto aid worker. (Image: Bruce Scholten)

WHAT’S AS CHALLENGING as 200 mph MotoGP, World SuperBike, or MotoAmerica racing? One answer is Riders International’s life-saving health outreach via motorcycles, sidecars and pickups in seven African countries.

Imagine transporting blood samples via dirtbike on rough roads from villages to laboratories during the Ebola crisis in Liberia in 2015 – and the thrill when Riders’ quick turnaround kept outbreaks from becoming pandemics.

Three decades ago, Kenny Roberts Sr., Randy Mamola, Barry Coleman and Andrea Coleman organized benefits in the UK to fund two-wheel solutions to African transport problems. Today, more than 20 million people in Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, and the Gambia have benefited from Riders’ pre-natal, vaccine, HIV-AIDS, and TB testing.

Medicine does no good in a warehouse, and two wheels are often the best way to take it the last mile to save lives. That is why Riders for Health International continues as the official charity of Dorna’s MotoGP and WorldSBK series, with support from Ducati, Triumph, the Japanese Big 4, Ford, Panasonic, Global Health, Skoll and Gates foundations, and more.

The chairwoman of Riders International is Mahali Hlasa (see top photo, right), who was a Riders health worker and motorcycle trainer in Lesotho, when we met her at Day of Champions UK in 1994. After lecturing on public health in a South African university, she returned to Riders International.

When U.S. media panicked over fears of a global Ebola pandemic in 2015, Riders’ Ngwarati Mashonga (second photo, right) got busy. A business graduate from Zimbabwe who began as a Riders mechanic in 1996, he calls himself a ‘practical goal driven and focused person’ on LinkedIn.  Previously he supervised medical Sample Transport in several countries.

Steve Baker, Barry Coleman, Ngwarati Mashonga (taking selfie) and Ajay Kayode. (Image: Bruce Scholten)

Now executive director of Riders for Health International, Mashonga says: “I led Riders’ Ebola response in Liberia from February 2015, and now the post-Ebola health systems [are] strengthening. This was the first time Riders was involved in an emergency.”

Planning, setup and implementation of Sample Transport using bikes took under two months, replicating a successful transport program for Gambia, begun in 2009. Mashonga implemented fleet management and crucial maintenance of 534 vehicles to cover Liberia, run and managed by 404 Liberian men and women. Upgrading literacy and safety levels improved performance. Riders Liberia also built (and equipped with Snap-On Tools) six maintenance hubs, using TOTAL and other reputable fuel stations.

Riders Liberia’s Sample Transport project had 88 staff in partnership with Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Before Riders, 75 percent of samples took more than 24 hours to reach laboratories. Riders innovated a relay system which relays 78 percent of samples to laboratories within 24 hours over large distances.

Just like time is the line between victory and defeat in motorcycle racing, time is the line between life and death in epidemics. These are real adventure bikes!

In the Seattle, WA, area, Jim Boltz, Dealer principal, and English teacher-turned-author Dave Preston (Mourning Ride, 2011), have supported Riders with benefits ranging from a Kenny Roberts Jr. helmet raffle in 2000, and a Trip for Two to the British GP in 2001, to EuroMoto Shows featuring Riders in recent years — not to mention scavenger hunts around Puget Sound by Riders Seattle volunteers.

Image: Bruce Scholten

This network proved its worth when Kenny Roberts Sr. turned artist and offered a painting of himself racing Barry Sheene, for auction at Day of Champions at the 2016 British MotoGP (see photo, left). West Coast volunteers relayed the huge artwork to Silverstone Circuit where it earned $4,000 for African health outreach. America’s first world roadracing champion Steve Baker (Formula 750 in 1977) took it the last mile from his shop in Bellingham, WA, to Silverstone.

What will grace the stage on Day of Champions, before the British MotoGP on Aug. 24? Visit and see!

“Riders is such a great charity – possibly the only one on the planet dedicated to using motorcycles to save lives,” Boltz said. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all Dealers could embrace it?  I was always very impressed with the dedication and expense control of Riders, and that the very large percentage of funds collected went to Africa to support their work. Awesome!’

To support Riders International in Africa, please contact Riders for Health II, c/o Brendan Donohoe, Frank Hirth PLC, 100 Wall St., Suite 802, New York, NY 10005, www.ridersintl.org; or email co-founder Andrea andrea.coleman@twowheelsforlife.org.uk, or Mahali Hlasa at mhlasa@ridersforhealth.org.ls