There’s cycling. There’s recycling. What about putting the two together? That’s what Dubai-based sister-run company Charicycles is doing. After moving to the UAE, Montreal-born Rania and Zaina Kanaan couldn’t find affordable and stylish bikes – so they built their own (by watching YouTube). Today, they build bikes (like the one used in our photo shoot) from parts found in landfills in Japan; they will also upcycle (ie, refurbish) your old bike. They give back by sending bikes to people in refugee camps across the region. Zaina tells us how they do it.

How do you source the old bicycles?

Over-consumption is a big problem in Japan. What is happening now is that the Japanese are exporting waste on cargo ships to countries such as Afghanistan and Iran. The ships stop here en route, and we pick up the bikes when they are here in the UAE.

What is more popular – new bikes or people upcycling their old ones?

At the moment it is definitely people buying bikes from us. Upcycling your bike is a new concept in the UAE. People often have a new bike that doesn’t need upcycling yet. But it is something we hope will get more popular in the next few years.

Are you seeing an increase in the popularity of cycling in the UAE?

We’ve definitely seen a big push in the last year or so. What’s interesting is that now the government is really backing it. I think that once the government is behind something, it’ll really be a success. They are investing in hundreds of kilometres of cycling lanes and I think if that is happening, there’s no excuse not to cycle more.

Tell us about sending bikes to the refugee camps. How does that work?

Every year we partner with a different organisation, usually a company that is working with refugee camps in the Middle East. For every five bikes we sell, we donate one bike to the camps. This can be for one child or as a sharing bike for a small community, as we are doing this year. Last year, we had a programme where children who attended school got the chance to receive a bike. Some of the camps we are working with have up to 40,000 people, so there is a real demand for this.

Is it difficult to be an environmentally friendly company in a country that is new to recycling?

I wouldn’t say it’s difficult, because like any city in the world, the people who like you will find you. It’s fortunate for us that our customers really buy into what we’re doing. I do think that recycling issues are being addressed more than they used to be. I think one of the main problems is people don’t know where their waste is going. So we try to teach people that if they can invest in something that lasts, it’s better quality for them and better for the environment.

What would you like to see as the future of cycling in the UAE?

In an ideal world I would love to see more bicycles than cars – I think we’re a long way off from that yet though!