Category Archives: Bicycle

All bicycle related reviews.

Revolution Bicycle Repair

Complete Score: 34 / 42 = 81%

During this past summer my Shogun single speed bicycle from Bikes Not Bombs suffered a broken spoke that wasn’t discovered for a few days. As a result of riding around for a couple of days with a snapped spoke, my rear rim twisted way out of true and required near-immediate attention. Figuring the rim could either be fixed or tossed, I rode my bike to Revolution Bicycle Repair on Atlantic Avenue in Boston, as it was the closest shop to my house in Edward Everett Square.

The shop itself is tucked away into the beginning of Atlantic across the bus terminals at South Station, which is a wicked convenient location. Having read a little bit about the shop online and checked out their website, I knew I was in for a unique experience, and after having dealt with a couple of pretentious bike shop employees at other shops I was ready to meet some down to earth people working on bikes because it’s what they love, not because it’s the cool thing to do or to make fun of people who can’t afford multi-thousand dollar carbon fall-apart-if-you-sneeze-at-it bikes.

I set off on a dark and cloud filled afternoon for the 15 minute ride down Dorchester Avenue. As I pedaled, a very light drizzle began to fall but it was no big deal and I arrived at the shop right around 1:30 or so, only to find the shop closed! Oh well, at least there was a sign that said the shop would re-open in 15 minutes.

Revolution Bicycle

So I waited it out by reading a few feeds on my iPhone and doing a bit of people watching (some odd characters certainly step out of the bus terminal at South Station) and before I knew it, a scruffy looking guy pulled up on a scruffy looking bicycle with a milk crate basket on the front handlebars holding a scruffy but strong looking dog. As I made my way into the shop, the dog gave out a few barks but was basically harmless. The dog (sorry buddy I forgot your name!) was active and really gave the shop some character and uniqueness.

James the shop owner was trying to eat his lunch when I strolled in but he put aside his food (even though I told him to finish) to take a look at my bike. After checking it out he realized it was going to take a bit of work to disassemble the rear wheel enough to get a new spoke on there and then reassemble it and true it so he told me to come back in an hour.

Here the shop’s great location right at the edge of Downtown Boston plays a huge factor into the positive experience I had there. The shop is ridiculously easy to access via train (get off at South Station on the red line or commuter rail) or highway, (93 South practically runs underneath the shop) or by bike. Plus, unlike some shops buried in the boonies, I could easily distract myself for an hour by walking around town or grabbing a bite to eat.

An hour later, I returned to find the scrappy dog at attention guarding the shop. The dog’s bark and step were so lively that I didn’t even realize he was getting around on only three legs! Make do with what you’ve got seems to be the shop’s motto and the shop really treats your bike with respect, knowing it might be that person’s only ride and thus that much more important.

For $15 my bike was fully spoke-ified, trued, and ready to roll. As I pedaled back to my house, the bike controlled perfectly and got me home quickly. Though the shop had some bike items and even a few bikes for sale, the small nature of the shop lends itself to more of a repair shop than a full fledged bicycle shop, but the shop owner does not try to hide that fact, going so far as to include the word repair in the title of the shop. Parts and labor are very reasonably priced, especially considering the solid quality of both.

Value

Score: 4.5 / 5

Revolution Bicycle Repair does not specialize in the latest, lightest and most expensive bicycles; instead they focus on what they know best. Sturdy fixed gears take up most of the shelf space and are marked at relatively affordable prices. Still, the competitive advantage of this shop is cheap but quality repair service and on that note they absolutely hit the spot.

Quality

I went in for a relatively simple repair but it was still very well-done and on schedule. Plus, James tightened up my brakes, oiled my chain, and made sure everything was tight and fit and ready for pedaling action. The repair held up very well, and having gone to other shops for similar repairs with unsatisfactory results, I now know that Revolution Bicycle Repair excels at those nitty gritty repairs that keep your bike rolling along.

Score: 4 / 5

Innovation

James, the shop owner, and his dog are a big part of this shop’s appeal. His personality is literally injected into every inch of the small shop, with punk music blasting your ears as you walk through the heavy black doors. It’s an aesthetic that might not please everyone but it isn’t intended to. In our over sanitized society, it’s nice to see people being able to do what they love and do it how they want to. Revolution Bicycle Repair is a shop that grew out of the local messenger community and it remains authentic to its roots. Perhaps their style might offend some people but I loved their ambiance.

Score: 4 / 5

Social Benefit

Revolution Bicycle Repair delivers some much needed diversity to the Boston bike scene while also delivering cheap but reliable repair service. Revolution might not charitably impact the local and international community as much as a Bikes Not Bombs, but they’re not intended to. Revolution is focused on keeping bicycles running and they do a damn good job of it. They fill a niche while also delivering a service that any biker can appreciate. Plus, it’s a bike shop, which at the end of the day does way more good than harm.

Score: 3.5 / 5

Freestyle!

Frankly, Revolution kicks ass and I love them for doing so. They’re not your typical bike shop but don’t let their punk facade fool you; Revolution will treat you and your bike with respect. At the end of the day, that’s the single most important trait for a bike repair shop.

Score: 18 / 22

Since writing this review, Revolution Bicycle Repair has closed up their Atlantic Avenue location but is still open for business at 383 Centre Street in Jamaica Plain, MA. The shop is open from 10AM to 6PM Monday through Friday and from noon to 5 PM on Saturday. Give them a call at 617 524 RIDE.

Complete Score: 34 / 42 = 81%

Bikes Not Bombs: The Bombest Bike Shop in Boston

Complete Score: 39 / 42 = 93%

While crawling home one day over the Neponset Bridge, my eyes caught a glimpse of something fast flying up the on-ramp to my right. My car was completely stopped by now so my head turned to my right to get a better look and saw a pack of Lycra clad cyclists zooming up the on-ramp and merging into and passing traffic. Before I’d moved a few feet they were already down and off the bridge. I laughed out loud and looked around to see the other drivers still in their regular zombified states. It was then I knew I’d soon escape two boxes, the corporate cubicle and the car.

Bikes not Bombs is simply awesome

A month or two later, I quit my job, tore up my driver’s license (figuratively) and ditched public transportation. Knowing that my cash flow was going to drop severely for the next few months, there was only one mode of transportation suitable for a frugal money man like myself, the time test used bicycle. After walking around town visiting a few bike shops in the search for used bikes, a shop in Cambridge recommended I check out Bikes not Bombs in Jamaica Plain. It was there that my love affair with my single speed Shogun began.

Don't let the modest building fool you, Bikes not Bombs rocks!
Don't let the modest building fool you, Bikes not Bombs rocks!

Value

The used bike shop is located very conveniently across from the Green Street stop on the MBTA’s orange line. The shop is part of the Bikes Not Bombs non-profit organization which trains youth and adults in proper riding techniques and mechanical skills while also collecting used bikes, fixing them up and either selling them via their shop or sending them abroad to encourage the use of the bicycle for transportation.

As a non-profit organization, you expect paying a small price premium for accessories, bicycles and service at the shop but honestly the prices are quite competitive. Sure, you can find slightly cheaper bicycles at several other stores, for instance Shawsheen Vintage Bicycles in Cambridge often has bicycles for under $200 or craigslist where sub-$100 bikes are frequent, but the bicycles at Bikes not Bombs are in near pristine condition and are refurbished with modern day parts. Honestly, it’s worth paying an extra $50-$100 to get a bike that is up to date with top quality parts. Shawsheen is really geared more towards collectors and tinkerers as it is at its core an antique shop and craigslists is really for amateur bike mechanics and above. If you want a used bicycle to ride immediately with confidence that it’s in top working condition, hit up Bikes not Bombs. I purchased my single speed Shogun at Bikes not Bombs in April of this year for $350 and have so far been extremely pleased. I’ve easily saved $350 in insurance premiums, gas, and public transportation fees over the past seven months, not to mention being a lot fitter without spending a dime on a gym. Add in the independence of going anywhere, anytime without paying for fuel (aside from food) and value of a properly maintained used bicycle is immense.

Score: 4 / 5

Quality

The shop is a bit small but is well stocked with various bicycles. The staff there is super-friendly and very knowledgeable. When I went the guy who helped me out showed me a few bicycles, ensured the bike fit me well and basically did everything he could to tell the truth and guarantee (as much as possible) that I walked out of the shop with a bicycle that was right for me (or no bike at all). The vibe inside the shop is very casual yet informative. There are no pretentious attitudes in the shop and if you have questions they’ll try to answer them and if they don’t know they’ll simply tell you so.

In one of my former lives, I sold Cutco knives via the semi-shady Vector Marketing company, so I’m well aware of shady sales tactics and ways to push a sale onto a customer. At Bikes not Bombs, there is no sales push, it’s all about connecting the right bike with the right person, all the while using profits to help even more people find the right bike. In a city littered with bicycle shops (and I have a feeling we’re only going to see even more pop up over the coming years), Bikes not Bombs truly stands out as a role model for bicycle shops, bicyclists, citizens, local communities and really, the whole city.

I’ve recommended the shop to more than a few of my friends and have yet to hear one complaint. Aside from the shop being a tad pricy (bikes start at around $250-$300), there is little wrong to pick at here. Honestly, if the shop were to charge less, they’d most likely have to switch to a for-profit model and many of the excellent qualities of the shop would likely get lost in the conversion. I’ll gladly pay a few extra dollars for the re-assurance that my bicycle was handled with care, crafted with quality components, and sold to me because it’s the right bike for me, not because it’s the highest commission generator.

I’ve also brought my single speed Shogun into Bikes not Bombs several times for some repairs and have been very, very impressed by the quality of their work and their speed. They’ve always had my bike ready to go within a day, and often have it all fixed up that same day. As I mentioned in the value section, their prices are not rock, rock bottom, but they’re not expensive either. They charge a very fair price and give discounts for frequent and new customers, as well as providing credit for volunteering. All in all I’ve spent a good amount of money at Bikes not Bombs for my bicycle, parts, and repairs and so far feel they’ve been worth every cent.

Score: 4.5 / 5

My super swift single speed Shogun
My super swift single speed Shogun

Innovation

Bikes not Bombs has been running since 1984, so they’re certainly not new to the bike scene here in Boston nor abroad. Still, it is unique and innovative to set up a storefront as a non-profit in the hopes of helping customers and others. They’ve been successful so far and according to their web-site ship about 3,500 bicycles worldwide to “…economic development projects (micro-enterprise bike businesses, sustainable technology projects, and youth training programs) in South Africa, Ghana, and Guatemala…”. They also use the shipping containers that transport the bicycles as storefronts which is wicked creative!

Bikes not Bombs also works with other non-profit and government organizations abroad to create pedal powered machines. Basically, they utilize old bikes and parts to create machines that a human can power by cycling in place. Think of the bicycles you see in gyms but hooked up to a generator, well, soap blender or other machine. The only reason Bikes not Bombs does not get a 5/5 here is because deep down they are using centuries old technology in the form of the bicycle! It is innovative that they’re using bicycles in so many ways but the bicycle was invented in the 19th century so let’s keep a proper perspective. Still, considering they’re using technology created in the 1800’s in our modern times, Bikes not Bombs is an innovator.

Score: 4.5 / 5

Social Benefit

Wow, where to start. First, Bikes not Bombs takes used bicycles and gives them a new life, whether here in Boston or abroad. They also teach younger people mechanical skills, both here in Boston and abroad and allow them to earn a bicycle and wage with their mechanical skills. Bikes not Bombs is run as a non-profit, so they do not over charge nor do they do a hard sell. They’ll tell you the truth always, even if it leads to them not getting a sale.

Bikes not Bombs is a perfect example of why we here at OTIBR recognize the value of social impact in our review process. Not only are they an awesome bike shop, which in and of itself is beneficial to the local community and our environment via reduced emissions and healthier citizens, but they’re also a non-profit that teaches and helps others. They also have sessions where you can bring your bike in and work on it yourself, thus teaching yourself valuable skills while saving money on service and equipment.

Bikes not Bombs also leads classes of cyclists around the city of Boston teaching them how to pedal in traffic correctly and safely and encourages our youth to use bicycles to get around the city, thus setting them up for a life of healthy, self-supported transport. To be fair, bicycles are not 100% earth friendly vehicles. The factories that craft these machines spew out pollution just like most factories. Plus, bicycles utilize oil and rubber and other finite resources in their creation and use. However, Bikes not Bombs counters some of those negative impacts by giving used bicycles new life. Even relying on a bicycle as your sole mode of transportation is not 100% “green”, but all of the positive effects on your health, environment, community and wallet far, far outweigh the negatives. Bikes not Bombs is literally a shining beacon of how companies can positively impact the world while still earning a good income.

Score: 5 / 5

Freestyle!

I’ll keep this freestyle section short, as the rest of this review has covered quite well why Bikes not Bombs is the bombest bike shop in Boston. There’s simply not much they could do to improve themselves. Sure, they could carry a few more new bicycles, but they carry enough and doing so would go against their true purposes of recycling used bicycles. Plus, it’s the opinion of this reviewer (and many other cyclists) that bicycles from 15-20+ years ago are actually better made than newer bikes. Lately, the focus of many manufacturers has been on crafting light weight carbon cycles for racers, thus lessening the focus on durable commuter cycles. In either case, my single speed Shogun is light, fast, and durable, even though it’s over 20 years old!

The one avenue I’d like to see Bikes not Bombs expand into is introducing the concept of cycle machines to the Boston community. I can see the idea of using a bicycle to produce electricity or otherwise use human pedal power to power a machine being huge, especially as the current economic situation deteriorates and especially as more and more people begin looking at how they acquire and utilize resources. As is, Bikes not Bombs is the best overall bike shop in the Boston area. From their atmosphere to their service to their mission, Bikes not Bombs is simply awesome.

Score: 21 / 22

Check out some of the refurbished bicycles in stock at Bikes not Bombs via their blog or their flickr page. The Bikes not Bombs bike shop is located at 18 Bartlett Square, Jamaica Plain, MA 02130 and is open from 11:00AM to 7:00 PM Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday and from 11:00AM to 9:00PM on Wednesday and 12:00 PM to 5:00 PM on Sundays. They can be reached via phone at 617-522-0222 or via e-mail at mail@bikesnotbombs.org.

Complete Score: 39 / 42 = 93%

Planet Bike Beamer 1 Headlight & Blinky 3 Rear Light Set

Complete Score: 33 / 42 = 78.6%

When I bought my single speed Shogun from Bikes not Bombs, I also picked up a few accessories and related gear items. Immediately, a helmet, headlight and rear light were added to the cart. Both the Planet Bike Beamer 1 headlight and Blinky 3 rear light use LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes) as their light source, ensuring an efficient brightness to energy used ratio.

Value

The rear light and headlight are part of a set and can be found at Amazon.com for $20 (Note, Amazon.com is our affiliate). I bought the Planet Bike light set in April and rode nearly every day and many nights with these lights and they kept going and going and going up until late August, when the front light finally died. For those keeping track, that’s about five months strong on one set of batteries!

A few days later the rear light followed its partner and begged for a battery exchange. Considering the set is only $20, five months of near nightly use is a fairly good deal.

The Beamer 1
The Beamer 1

Neither the Beamer 1 nor the Blinky 3 are super-bright. The Beamer 1 headlight will illuminate a little bit of the road if you’re stuck in a dark area but more importantly it will alert drivers to your presence. It’s tough to knock this light for not being extremely powerful, since it would then not be as energy efficient. Still, it’d be nice if this light was just a little bit brighter to help see when on unlit roads. The rear light seems bright enough for most other vehicles to see easily and features two settings, flashing and constant, just like the front light.

Score: 3.5 / 5

Quality

The lights have been through several rain storms and have been knocked around a bit and so far they’ve held up quite admirably. My only issue is the bracket which the headlight attaches to is not a snug fit on my bicycle’s handlebars. When going over big bumps the light has a tendency to flip around, thus requiring a spare hand to flip it forward again.

Score: 3.5 / 5

Innovation

A light is a light unless it’s an LED light! LED lights have come a long way and as the long lasting power of the Beamer 1 headlight and Blinky 3 rear light show, LEDs are a great option for bicyclists and other users who need a reliable and durable light, rather than sheer strength. Pedaling about the city of Boston, there are not many roads without ample street lighting, thus my main need for these lights is to act to make my presence known to other vehicles. It does it’s job well enough.

Score: 4 / 5

The Blinky 3
The Blinky 3

Social Benefit

LEDs save batteries, which in turn cuts down on all sorts of pollution and trash, plus these lights help alert drivers to bicyclists and allow cyclist to see a little bit better in the dark. Plus, Planet Bike donates 25% of their profits to bicycle advocacy! Overall, I’d say the world is a better place for having fairly priced good bike headlights.

The headlight is rated for 100 hours on a set of AA batteries while the rear light is supposed to get 200 hours on a pair of AAA batteries. In actual use, I’ve found the usage times of both lights are closer together than the specifications state. Though it should be noted I leave the rear light in a blinking state while the headlight stays on a constant beam setting. The blinking light taxes the battery and circuits more than just the constant light, but also makes me more visible to motorists and distinguishes my light from a tail light or stop light.

Score: 4 / 5

Freestyle!

Overall, it’s very tough to find faults with the Beamer 1 headlight Blinky 3 rear light. They’re cheap, efficient, and get the job done. The light could have a small solar panel to extend battery life, the beam could be a little bit brighter, and bracket could be a bit more stable, but these are all nitpicking points and in the $20 range, you won’t find a better set of bicycle lights.

Score: 18 / 22

Beamer 1 & Blinky 3 Set
Beamer 1 & Blinky 3 Set

The Planet Bike Beamer 1 and Blinky 3 LED Bicycle Light Set is available from Amazon.com. (Note, Amazon.com is our affiliate).

Note, all images are via Planet Bike’s web-site.

Complete Score: 33 / 42 = 78.6%