Tag Archives: boston

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%

Fringe: Staring into the Abyss of Bad Science, Writing & Acting

Complete Score: 16.5 / 42 = 39%

Fringe, the latest J.J. Abrams project, is inspired by the X-Files, Twilight Zone and other similar science fiction shows. Normally an Abrams production incites a cloud of hype and blogosphere activity, but I did not hear about Fringe until a few days before the premiere. Once I read that it’s a science fiction show about odd, weird, and generally on the fringe sciences (hence, the name), including but not limited to re-animation, mind control, genetic tampering and other freaky topics I became interested. As a big fan of quality science fiction drama (ergo, Battlestar Galactica is the greatest show ever) this one seemed to be unique enough to warrant a look.

a show that is not authentic, immersive, or otherwise good.

The show features Anna Torv as FBI Agent Oliva Dunham, John Noble as mad scientist Dr. Walter Bishop, Joshua Jackson as the good doctor’s rebellious son Peter Bishop, and Lance Reddick as Olivia’s boss, Homeland Security agent Phillip Broyles. The show was co-created by J.J. Abrams, Roberto Orci, and Alex Kurtzman. Fringe airs on Fox every Tuesday night at 9 PM.

Hey...it's the gahden...Celtics start up soon!
Hey...it's the Gahden...Celtics start up soon!

Value

Fringe airs on Fox and streams via hulu so it’s relatively free. The 2 hour premiere for Fringe apparently cost $10,000,000 to produce and though there were a few nifty special effects, it’s tough to say the $10,000,000 was well spent as the show itself was lackluster. The storyline is a cool idea but its execution is average. The acting and writing are simply just not very good. For $10,000,000 Abrams and crew would have been much better off hiring someone to direct the cast well. Even Lance Reddick, who was awesome in The Wire comes across flat and stale here, a boring over generalization of every other secret government agent we’ve seen in shows like the X-Files.

On the plus side, the show is part of a movement by Fox to keep viewers focused on the channel by lowering the commercial count for Fringe and Joss Whedon’s new show, Dollhouse. It makes sense for all parties involved to have fewer commercials for shows, as we as a populace have lowered attention spans and with the internet increasingly growing as an alternative to television, TV channels must adapt. By having fewer commercials, the experience and immersion in the show is increased for the viewer, while also increasing the chances the viewer will stick to the channel and watch the commercials, thus increasing value for advertisers.

Score: 2.5 / 5

Lance longs for the days of The Wire
Lance longs for the days of The Wire

Quality

Though immersion in this show might increase due to the lower rate of commercials, we’re immediately ripped out of that immersion by the writing, which at times beats us over the head with stupidity and then kicks us while we’re down too.

Though I’ve enjoyed Lost, most of the other J.J. Abrams productions struck me as entertaining though shallow. A week ago I caught a few minutes of a Lost episode and with the recent viewings of Fringe fresh in my mind even the writing on Lost was now apparently bad. I always knew the writing was not spectacular, but it was good enough to allow the viewer to buy into the story for long enough. Not so with Fringe, where you are constantly reminded that you’re watching a TV show, where logic and real science get tossed out.

As a Bostonian born and raised, anytime I see my city on the little or big screen I immediately like that show or film at least a little bit. Too bad for Fringe that they did not bother to make the show seem authentically Bostonian, rather the city in this show could be any city in the world. There’s numerous gaffes that immediately strike any Bostonian, for instance at one point agent Olivia Dunham calls from South Boston and states that she’s going south on Fenway. There is no road in South Boston called Fenway and the Fenway area in general is on the other side of the city.

Dammit people, we will find a way for me to get off this show...we'll stay all night if we must!
Dammit people, we will find a way for me to get off this show...we'll stay all night if we must!

At another point the FBI agents must go to Back Bay, MA, which to any Bostonian would imply they’re going downtown to the South End – Newbury Street area. Nope, they’re out in the boonies at some storage facility that simply is the exact opposite of the Back Bay. The producers took the time to realize there’s a section of Boston called Back Bay and then just turned it into some little town setting. These are relatively small errors but they are numerous and as they add up over time it turns real Bostonians away from the show. If you’re going to base a show or film in Boston, take the time to realize that locals are very, very proud of their city and will rip apart your setting unless it is near perfect. So far, there’s no need for this show to be based in Boston and it seems to be an afterthought. If you’re going to do such a poor job of portraying the city realistically just base the show somewhere else.

For a $10,000,000 million dollar pilot, the show entertained me but I wasn’t hooked in to the point of wanting to see the next episode already. Also, for that cost the show should at least be authentic to its settings. It is not. Though I’m not a scientist, much of the fringe science on the show seems to be completely made up and not based on any actual knowledge. Obviously this show has to take creative liberties due to the subject matter, but at least try and make it seem reasonable.

Having now watched the first fours episodes of Fringe, I can come to a fairly accurate conclusion. The acting and writing for this show is awful. It’s insulting how bad it is. For instance, in one scene in the third episode, the FBI agent and Pacey are sent to a home in Cambridge to extract a device hidden in one of its walls. Upon knocking on the door, no one answers. Pacey then makes the remark, “well the lights are off” to imply that no one is home. It would be a viable conclusion except its bright enough outside to be the middle of the day. Over and over errors pop up in the script that make it apparent that these scripts were written in one pass and never looked upon again until read and recorded. The acting, while obviously hampered by the terrible writing, is also awful. FBI agents are made to look dumb, completely avoiding the fact that they’d have to be reasonably aware of science to become an FBI agent.

In another scene, we’re shown an image that looks like either a duck or a rabbit depending on how you look at. The mad scientist explains that it’s all a matter of perception, which the FBI agents just don’t get. I really like the plot line but the execution fails in uber-epic fashion.

Score: 1 / 5

Hey, the lights are off in the middle of the day, ergo no one is home!
Hey, the lights are off in the middle of the day, ergo no one is home!

Innovation

Abrams lists the show’s inspirations as The X-Files, Twilight Zone, Altered States and Michael Crichton. No wonder then that the show has a heavy dose of deja vu. A scientist gets locked away for an deadly accident, his son abandons him, two FBI agents fall in love and have to hide their relationship, all while a crazy hidden group is slowly discovered behind odd world events. Derpity derpity doo Fringe, I know you. Seriously, have I seen this show before? When I watch it sparks of creativity flutter out but in the end I’m just left with a very strong gut feeling of deja vu.

The show does get one point for the opening scene, a new level of gruesome for prime time TV.

Score: 1 / 5

Social Benefit

Well, if the show leads to more children being inspired to pursue scientific endeavors it could be viewed as a positive for society but if it inspires even more terror and fear into an already tense American public, it might just be a wash. The one plus is fewer commercials, which in the marketing laden environment of the current USA can only be viewed as a good thing. Plus it’s on hulu which means you don’t need to get a television to watch the show.

Still though, it’s just a television show and not a very good one at that. It’s not educational or in any significant way beneficial to society. It’s not the worst thing for society either but it certainly does not move the human race forward by any means.

Score: 1 / 5

Freestyle!

It’s not terrible, the acting is OK but the believability of the show is just plain awful. There were multiple occasions where I was forced to laugh at the ludicrous plot points in the show. In the end, the premise of the show is cool but my brain hurts too much watching the show and blocking out the constant pattern of points that remind me it’s a show, a show that is not authentic, immersive, or otherwise good.

Score: 11 / 22

Complete Score: 16.5 / 42 = 39%