As the spring rains wash away the last of the gritty city snowpack, signs of life that remind us of good weather but have been forgotten for months stick their way out from underneath winter’s white blanket. I’m talking, of course, about abandoned bicycles. You’ve seen them around campus, I’m sure – rusting, mangled carcasses, heaped at the ends of bike racks or U-locked to parking meters, left behind as the owner invariably bought a T pass and never looked back once the temperature dropped below freezing.
Well, as we gear up and grease up for bike-riding season, there’s a place those old weather-beaten bodies can go. Bikes Not Bombs, a charity organization/bike shop in Jamaica Plain, will take the old frames, strip them down, fix them back up and ship them over to war-torn countries like Guatemala, Ghana, Tanzania and South Africa, so that destitute people whose societies have been torn apart by violence can have free sources of transportation.
BNB also sends tools and technicians along with the bike shipments, so local organizers can establish bike shops and the communities can sustain the whole operation themselves. They even send cargo shipping containers that get converted into tin-walled shops with holes cut out for windows. And it’s not just bicycles that are built, but other related technologies, like bike-powered washing machines, bike-powered water pumps for wells, bike-powered grain mashers and even bike-powered blenders. Just take out the motor power and insert your pedal power. Voila, do-it-yourself life.
‘Lasting peace and social justice require equitable and sustainable use of resources.’ These are the opening words of the mission statement of Bikes Not Bombs. For 25 years, they’ve been creating concrete alternatives to war and environmental destruction by combating overconsumption and inequality. Each year, they rebuild about 6,000 bikes and ship about 4,800 overseas. Along with recycling and donating, they make their money by selling and fixing bikes to urban riders, but it’s all to support their foundation. They have a big shop right next to the Samuel Adams Brewery, just so you know.
BNB also provides classes on bike maintenance for youth programs in the lower-income neighborhoods of Boston. Volunteers work with local teenagers to build the bikes, and the kids in turn learn a valuable vocation. It’s nice to see a group working to make a difference globally while also providing a service for the local community.’
In the end, this organization is working toward finding solutions to worldwide problems. The current models of transportation, sustainability and overconsumption are all obstacles to civilization and have to be surmounted. Bikes Not Bombs is a smart, effective alternative for all three issues. The key to its success though is not just that the technologies are donated and resources shared globally, but also that successive generations are being educated. This idea is transmissible and can spread through a single cargo boxcar being placed in the right location with the right minds behind it.