Tag Archives: non-profit

Blog Action Day 2008: Fight Poverty with Bicycles

We here at OTIBR recognize Blog Action Day as a great way for the blogosphere to impact the world positively. Consider our review of Bikes not Bombs as our unofficial contribution for Blog Action Day 2008. We look at Bikes not Bombs as an ideal model for organizations to follow and as such have awarded Bikes not Bombs our highest score yet, a 93% with a perfect social benefit score. Bicycles are an ideal machine for fighting poverty, as they can be used for cheap transport and to generate renewable power.

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%