Frequently Asked Questions
Bikes Not Bombs History and Mission
Our founders started Bikes Not Bombs in 1984 as a response to United States military backing of the Contra attacks on Nicaragua. At the time, the name was literal- we brought bikes to a place the US military brought bombs. People often ask us why we still keep the name Bikes Not Bombs even though we do so many different types of work. On some level, the bombs we disarm through our work are symbolic. Our constituents in Boston and overseas face daily challenges such as: limited access to public transportation, toxic environmental conditions, street violence, and roadblocks to education and employment– so we use the bicycle to help transform their lives. But another reason why we keep the name Bikes Not Bombs is because sometimes we have the opportunity to work with a community that has been undermined by war, violence, and fear, and we can give them the tools and skills to change their own lives with bikes.
Learn more by reading our Bikes Not Bombs at 30 article.
Learn more by reading our Bikes Not Bombs at 30 article.
Bikes Not Bombs is a member of a number of coalitions working to end the militarism of today’s world. Our vision of a perfect world is one in which there are no wars. Through our specific programs, we work in post-conflict areas, to help address the devastation created by war and violent regimes.
Not anymore. In the 80's and early 90's Bikes Not Bombs did have chapters across the country that collected bikes for our programs in Nicaragua. However the administrative challenges required to ship large sea freight containers around the globe eventually led us to centralize all our efforts in Boston, where we now operate as one consolidated organization. Currently, we have three separate locations in Boston: The Hub (our main office and youth programs space), The Shop (to sell and service bikes for the public), and our warehouse (for bikes awaiting their journey overseas). Many of our international partners have partnerships with other bicycle organizations too, such as Working Bikes in Chicago and Re-Cycle in the UK. So far, we’ve been able to meet our need with the bikes we get donated from communities in Eastern Massachusetts, and have seen many other organizations that collect bikes from their neighborhoods with which to run local youth programs or support international projects. We provide advice and manuals to other programs to help them start or develop. To see these resources, and look for programs in other places, see our Resources page.
Social change means a shift in the way our world works, and at Bikes Not Bombs we think that the bicycle can help us do this in a number of ways. From the way we get around, to what we have access to, to which people and which neighborhoods have which resources, the bicycle is so much more than the sum of its parts. One of our guiding principles is to challenge the forces and effects of systemic oppression. We try to do this by training people to become bicycle mechanics as a viable career path, giving communities with limited transportation access to bikes, and working to make our city and world a better and safer place to ride.
Check our our Staff & Board lists to see up to date information.
The 5,000 to 6,000 we get donated each year go to one of three program areas. Between 800 and 1,000 go to our Bike Shop, where they are refurbished and sold, with the proceeds supporting our other work. Roughly 1,000 are set aside for our Youth Programs, and around 3,500 are shipped to our International Programs. We currently have partners in Nevis/St. Kitts, Ghana, Uganda, Sierra Leone, El Salvador, and Guatemala.
We ship bikes to international partners that we carefully select based on their alignment with our values and mission, as well as their capacity and potential to use the bikes to effect larger-scale social change. This means that the bikes increase the social justice impacts of our partners, and provide significant social and economic development opportunities to the bike users. Each of our partners distribute the bikes in different ways. Some of our partners are social enterprise bike shops that sell the bikes at affordable prices in the local market, other partners are health organizations that distribute the bikes to village health workers and yet other partners are youth programs in which young people earn the bikes by learning how to fix them. It is our goal that each bicycle contributes toward the empowerment of its user, and provides increased access to social and economic opportunity. We are able to achieve this goal through the work of our international partners and their dedication to use the bicycle as a vehicle for social change in their communities.
Generally speaking, we can give you a guess as to which program area a donated bike may go. Road bikes will usually go to the shop to be refurbished and sold, with some being earned by Youth Programs graduates, along with BMX bikes. Mountain bikes generally get shipped to our international partners. We can’t track each donated bike, but you never know if you might happen to see it on a BNB video or in a photo, which we regularly post on our Facebook page.
We have a great relationship with the City’s Boston Bikes program, and with area coops such as Commonwheels and Community Spoke. We share resources, promote each others’ events, and provide support. We often direct people to the City’s Roll It Forward program, which we were previously a part of, in the capacity of safety instruction. And we see places like the Community Spoke as filling gaps in our ability to open our space as often as we’d like.
We do not. The only thing we can give you in exchange for a donated bike is a tax receipt and our gratitude.
We see bicycles as a valuable resource, and we aim to share them with those who need them, and who can make the most change with them. That's why we use about 1,000 each year in our local youth programs, and send about 3,500 to communities in the Global South. It's a multi-faceted approach that we're really proud of.
Though there are other organizations that ship new bicycles directly from the manufacturers to countries in the Global South, shipping used bikes is consistent with our goal of equitable and sustainable use of resources; using bikes that would otherwise end up as trash, and giving them new life. Sending used bikes also allows us to use them to teach our partners bicycle mechanics, so they can keep the bikes in working condition.
Shipping a container of bikes begins with relationship building between us and a potential partner abroad. This can involve months of program development, planning, and fundraising. Other resources such as staff and volunteer time to collect, store, and load donated bikes are critical to the process. BNB also invests in a fieldworker for all new projects to join the partner when the bikes arrive, to teach basic mechanics skills. On average it costs about $5,000 in shipping costs to ship a 40' container of 500 bicycles and about $3,000 in customs importation fees, and BNB recovers roughly 80% of these costs from program partners. Once the container arrives, BNB's International Programs staff invests innumerable hours in the continued development and improvement of a project.
Before we take any young people on a ride in the city, we teach them the rules of the road, hand signals, and ways to avoid incidents with cars and pedestrians. The reality is that biking in any major city comes with safety risks, but we believe that the more people that ride on the road, the safer they become. We are also partnered with a number of other organizations in Boston to help increase bike infrastructure and safety.
Developing an adult Earn-A-Bike program is among our strategic goals, but we currently do not have the capacity to launch it. Adults can earn volunteer credit at our weekly Thursday Volunteer Night, which can be redeemed for used parts. For $35, individuals can also become members of Bikes Not Bombs which gives them access to Tool Time, a monthly open shop for those with existing bike mechanics skills. News about any new programs will be posted on our website.
Our mechanics spend between six and eight hours refurbishing each used bike that we sell. They strip off and replace any components that are no longer in working condition. They also overhaul all the rotational systems and replace all cables and housing. The extra time spent on the bikes, and the cost of the new components ends up providing customers with a higher quality product, one that won’t require them to continually spend money over time replacing parts or getting tune ups. Further, a small portion of each bike sold at the Shop is used to provide bikes to people in developing countries and youth in Boston through our programs.
Though our overall budget is $1.4 million, that number is actually split into two budgets just over $750,000. In 2012, the bike shop made a profit of $68,169, which went directly to support our programs – that’s about 9% of our program budget. It is a great earned-income model that provides a sustainable source of income for our programs. In addition to being a full-service Bike Shop we provide free clinics and workshops, open mechanics space (with support) for members, and hire youth programs alumni as often as possible. The Shop also runs our Vocational Training program where future bike mechanics learn the skills they will need to succeed.
Check out our most recent Annual Report for an up to date revenue and expenses chart.
Bikes Not Bombs relies on an unbelievable base of supporters and donors. Each and every contribution is essential to meeting our budget and enabling our programs to run. To get a slice of how critically BNB depends on its supporters, in 2013 donations from individuals made up 39% of our program budget and came from over 5,750 amazing and committed individuals like you. A donation to BNB could help us ship a bike internationally, provide employment for a young person, or pay the program fee for a low-income youth in Earn-A-Bike.