Category Archives: whips

An Interview With Bikes Not Bombs


Bikes Not Bombs is a Boston-based bike shop that does a lot more than sell bikes. In fact, calling BNB a bike shop is a bit of a misnomer, since it functioned as an international outreach organization long before it started selling bikes locally. Founded in 1984 by Carl Kurtz, BNB started out sending used and recycled bikes to Nicaragua in protest of the US backing of the Contra War during the 1970′s and 80′s. Since then, the bicycle activism of BNB has only multiplied. In their own words:

Who We Are: Bikes Not Bombs promotes bicycle technology as a concrete alternative to war and environmental destruction. For 23 years, BNB has been a nexus of bike recycling and community empowerment both in lower income neighborhoods of Boston and in the nations of the Global South. BNB’s programs involve young people and adults in mutually respectful leadership development and environmental stewardship, while recycling thousands of bicycles.


Aside from international, local community and retail work that BNB does, they also offer bike mechanics training classes to the community at large. I recently signed up to take one of these classes in order to get a little more intimate with my bike, and decided it was about time BNB got recognized on green.mnp. The organization holds ideals near and dear to the heart of green.mnp and the shop staff is always more than helpful when it comes to any bike-related query. I caught up with Matt Coe, a manager of the Jamaica Plain bike shop (and my bike mechanics sensei), and Lee Archung, BNB Board member and Treasurer, after one of my mechanics classes and asked them a few questions about the work that BNB does locally and globally:

Can you tell me a little about the history of BNB and how it has maintained itself and grown over 23 years?
Lee Archung: Bikes Not Bombs started in 1984 during the Nicaraguan Contra War and that whole series of US interventions in Central America; the organization was founded on the logic essentially that, as a country, the United States is sending down all this armament and technical training used by the military causing all this death and destruction, why don’t we send something practical? I think the first shipment was a few hundred bikes that went into Nicaragua, and over the years they went into Nicaragua, El Salvador and as the momentum built, and as the organization got established as a 501c3 non-profit, that program expanded.
Matt Coe:
Bikes Not Bombs started in response to US policy in Nicaragua, during the Sandinista period, against the US government support of the [Contra] opposition. It was started around the same time as Food Not Bombs and other “not bombs.” It started off operating out of a bunch of other bike shops, actually, collecting parts and trying to get containers together to send over there. Carl, the founder, spent time over there. That went on for a while and then at one point they realized they had all this programming aimed at overseas, but almost none that had any impact on the surroundings in Boston. At that point there was a big change toward local youth programming, like Earn a Bike, Girls in Action, more social advocacy stuff. My involvement in the retail shop and training center came out of that, in that they started doing vocational training and then started the shop as a fundraising tool. Since I’ve been here, we’ve gone from being open 15 hours a week, to now we’re open up to 75 hours, so it’s been a huge change for the shop.
LA: Some time around 1987, 88, or maybe a little later, we said we’re doing all these things overseas, why don’t we do something domestic, and that’s how the concept for Earn-A-Bike got started, at least in Boston. The basic logic being that we can teach basic mechanics and ride safety to younger people, aged 15-18, get them interested in biking and working. We’ve got about 4 or 5 no-longer-young people who have gone through that process of Earn-A-Bike and vocational training who are now full-fledged mechanics. Two of them work here, and one of them is on our board, Max Lee. Max is now a shop owner, he has his own shop in Hyde Park. There’s a girls program, called Girls In Action; there’s a youth alumni program called YDIP, for Drop-In Time, so anybody who has taken any of the youth programs can come in once a week on Wednesday to hang out and work on their bikes, but we also try to integrate an academic component, so they bring their homework. And there is the Voc-Ed program, which is once a year. It is a 6-hour, very intensive, career-oriented program to get people who are interested in getting their first steps into the bicycle industry. So when they finish that program, they have enough skills to work in a shop, which is enough to make them dangerous.

As Bikes Not Bombs has gotten to be a lot more locally oriented, do you still do all the global outreach work?
Yeah, Bikes Not Bombs has grown in a couple different directions. I don’t have a great grasp on how things were 15 years ago, or 8 years ago, but I think there’s a much greater presence in the community as far as getting people on bikes, getting people riding bikes – and in an affordable manner. But we sill do have a large overseas presence. I think we shipped more bikes overseas last year than we ever have before. It seems to me that recently we’ve had a lot more staff and volunteers overseas assisting in development programs. So, I don’t think we’ve lost our international focus at all, we’ve just diversified with all the local stuff.


How many countries do you supply bikes to?
MC: I think right now there’s 5 or so main recipients. There’s Village Bikes in Ghana, there’s a bike project in South Africa, there’s Maya Pedal in Guatemala, there’s an Earn A Bike program on Nevis Island in the Caribbean. It’s always changing, there are 25 to 40 different groups through the history of BNB. Pine Ridge Reservation 15 to 20 years ago, lots of places, New Orleans right after Katrina.

Is Boston the main hub for Bikes Not Bombs in the US, or are there other locations?
MC: Carl had done a lot of work mostly overseas and had been successful at it, and then he decided to try and get other people involved and at that point there were 10 or 15 Bikes Not Bombs throughout the US. There’s still a small inactive one in New Hampshire and another small inactive one in Austin, Texas. Which is why we have a sign at the Hub that says “Bikes Not Bombs: World Headquarters,” which is kind of silly now. So there were a lot of other ones in the US, and then most of them sort of died out or turned into other projects. There are, however, a lot of other good groups doing pretty similar work to what we do, like Working Bikes Cooperative in Chicago, for example.

In terms of US bike culture, what do you think about the US, compared to other countries, in terms of using bikes as a means of transportation?
MC: There’s places where bikes aren’t used at all for transportation, and there’s places where bikes are used really effectively, like Amsterdam. I love riding my bike – it’s fun, get to be outside, there’s a lot of reasons – it’s not soul-killing and boring, like a lot of other transportation options. But, it’s also difficult because to really make change a lot more people would have to ride bikes, but because of conditions, how streets are set up, and all these other things, it’s not at all reality like it is in other countries. In Europe for example, where you see old folks riding bikes, people riding bikes in high heels.

Yeah, it seems like there are cities where they’ve done a lot of infrastructure changes to make it friendlier for bicyclists
MC: Yeah, Chicago is a good example where the mayor sort of made a statement that he wanted this to happen – and now Chicago is a very bike-able city, there’s bike highways going through it, there’s lots of places that are easy to navigate, lots of bike paths. There’s lots of places in California like that too. And then there’s places that aren’t at all like that.

What do you think about Mayor Menino’s Bike Summit?
MC: Yeah, I don’t know. Bikes Not Bombs got a late invitation to get involved…I went to a bike shop owners’ meeting talking about our involvement in it, but it wasn’t especially interesting. Some of the other meetings other BNB staff went to they found fruitful and useful and had a lot of good energy. I don’t know the history of this in Boston, but I don’t know if there’s been a time before when the mayor has put funding into anything, like bike lanes or attention for traffic issues; there’s no place to park your bike in Back Bay, or half of Boston. There seems to be a lot of good energy – it will be interesting to see what comes out of it, and how much changes.

You guys have these programs overseas and support biking overseas; do you think that if the US did more to make bicycling friendly it would influence other countries, especially developing countries?
MC: Western culture in general is very car-oriented. It seems like the US has a lot more to learn from some other first world countries who we would try to emulate or catch up to. We definitely have a lot to learn from developing countries, as well.

How long have you been riding bikes?

MC: Since I was a little kid. It’s funny, the kids who work here, who are in high school, ride bikes over and talk about bikes all the time, and it’s a part of their lifestyle. Definitely in my high school, kids didn’t ride bikes. I had a friend who rode a BMX bike, but you didn’t ride your bike to school. It wasn’t until about ten years ago, around when I went to college and moved away from home, that I started taking it seriously again. Then I went on a long bike trip and started gaining some confidence in mechanics.

How many high school students get involved in the programs here at BNB?

MC: There are a lot of kids who are in high school who work here and at the Hub, maybe 15 or 20.
LA: Elijah is our success story. He spoke at [a cycling] conference yesterday. He started in Earn-A-Bike, completed two Earn-A-Bikes, volunteered and worked in the shop and now he’s the second Earn-A-Bike instructor.


How can people volunteer or get involved in the different programs?
MC: The way to get involved is at the Hub, every Wednesday night from 7-10 is volunteer night. Bikes get sorted and prepped for shipment overseas. There’s also fairly regular container loadings. Then from there volunteers who are interested in more responsibilities get recruited into doing more.


Chicago School Buses Burning Biodiesel


CHICAGO – The nation’s largest independent school bus company, the Cook Illinois Corporation in Chicago, is switching its entire fleet of school buses to burn bio diesel fuel.

Research shows that biodiesel reduces hydrocarbons in exhaust fumes by more than 30 percent. Studies reveal that children riding school buses are exposed to higher level of emission toxins than other children. Exhaust emissions inhaled on a consistent basis, particularly exhaust from diesel engines, have been linked as a cause of asthma and other respiratory conditions.

The company, Cook Illinois Corporation, last year reduced nearly 1,000 tons of toxic emissions in Chicago by switching to a biodiesel fuel in many of its buses. Chicago School Transit is owned and operated by Cook-Illinois Corporation, Oak Forest, IL. Cook Illinois Corporation was the first bus service company in the Chicago area and one of the first in the nation to use bio diesel fuel.

The new Clean Air Club website, is available for all school children who care about the environment. Kids who log on to the website can play games and win prizes.

[environmental news network]

World Solar Challenge


Tomorrow (Sunday) marks the beginning of the 2007 Panasonic World Solar Challenge.

The Challenge: Design and build a car capable of crossing the vast and imposing continent of Australia using only sunlight as fuel and to prove it, in the spirit of friendly competition against others with the same goal.

Inspired by adventure and fuelled by the spirit of friendly competition, the event attracts teams from corporations, research and educational institutions around the world.

2007 will be the 20th anniversary since the first World Solar Challenge was staged.



[world solar challenge]

No More Fearing for Your Life (On Your Bike in the Bean)

After nearly getting sideswiped by a school bus the other day on my ride home from work, this is very exciting news:


(AP) BOSTON Bicyclists often rank Boston as one of the toughest, unfriendliest places to ride.

Now, Mayor Tom Menino wants to make the city a cycling mecca.

Menino told The Boston Globe that during the next several years he plans to create a new network of bike lanes, put 250 new bike racks in place and post an online map system.

He’s also going to hire a “bike czar,” former Olympic cyclist Nicole Freedman.

Freedman says Boston could be one of the best bike cities in the country because it’s compact, flat, and has a young population and lots of tourists.

Menino’s bike push comes with his own recent conversion to biking enthusiast.

No money has been budgeted for the improvements so far, but officials will hold a summit of bike experts and enthusiasts next month to get ideas.

We’ll see if Menino makes good on his word. Here he is on his ‘daily predawn bike ride’ in Hyde Park (right near my hood). He is endearingly goofy:


(thanks biz!)


Aston Martin Electric & Bio

There’s obviously a distinction between green and electric.  For the layman, that means that there’s always the question on how the power is derived.  If it’s electric, it’s usually coal.  That being said, we can now bring you this semi-exciting news in good will.  (So many people gloss over the distinction as obvious, but it’s important to remind)

An Aston Martin car modified to run on biofuel became the first of its type to win a race in the British GT.


The car is basically a standard ProDrive built DBRS9 that has been re-calibrated to run on the biofuel. The Barwell Motorsport run Aston Martin has been running on ethanol all season and previously earned two pole positions and now leads the championship standings.

This news is a bit more exciting (especially for you richer ninjas):

Gizmag/BusinessWeek reports that Aston Martin has some really interesting electric cars in production.

“Taking its design cues from quintessential British sports cars like the Aston Martin or TVR, the Lightning Electric Car promises to deliver performance rivalling anything currently on the market. The Lightning GT will boast 700+bhp and should completely erode any doubts about the performance capabilities of electric cars. Three versions of the GT are currently planned for a 2008 release,—a luxury model, a lightweight sports model capable of reaching 0-60mph in less than four seconds and an extended range model designed to travel up to 250 miles on a single 10 minute charge.”


Tesla’s got some competition

Of course, the Tesla isn’t the only high-performance EV out there, nor was it the first (see Venturi Fetish, Wrightspeed X1), but it certainly was the first to capture the attention of the mainstream media.  Undoubtedly, it has changed many people’s perceptions of what an electric car can be.

Lucky for Tesla, the car pictured above, the Lightning GT, will be staying on the other side of the Atlantic.  Made by the Lightning Car Company, and using Altairnano NanoSafe batteries, the 700bhp coupe is now available for pre-order, with the first deliveries arriving in 2008. The coupe will also be available with a range extender (think the Chevy Volt).  The chassis is made of a carbon fiber/aluminum honeycomb composite monocoque, but its actual weight has not yet been disclosed.
The Lightning GT uses four 120kW wheel motors made by PML Flightlink.  These Hi-Pa Drive motors were also used in the 640hp EV Mini Cooper featured on green.mnp a few months back.  Lightning writes on its website that “all of the power is generated at the wheel, the point at which it is required, which eliminates mechanical complexity and power losses experienced in standard sports cars.  These lightweight and ultra powerful motors do not add significant extra unsprung weight and are therefore ideal in that position.”  A few days after the Lightning started making its rounds on the internet, the Director of Public Relations at Tesla addressed such hub-mounted motors on the company’s blog:

Without digressing too much, I’d like to tackle a reoccurring question because it dovetails perfectly with a discussion of driving dynamics. “Would four hub-mounted motors have made for a better Tesla Roadster?” In a word: no. Four hub-mounted motors would work great in an electric off road vehicle or rally car – power to each wheel could be controlled for mud, ice, and gravel along with the hill control feature used in off-roading. In a sports car, the added weight and complexity would have compromised the driving enjoyment that makes a sports car a driver’s delight.

The weight that engineers most worry about is rotating mass. In other words, anything that goes round and round as the car moves. This includes components like the wheels, tires, brake rotors, and even the lug nuts. Besides the gyroscopic forces that a spinning wheel assembly represents as a car turns, this is mass that needs to be spun up to speed for acceleration and slowed back down again for braking. More mass here means relatively slower acceleration and braking.

So who’s right?  We’ll have to wait for each car to reach production.  In all likelihood, each is probably right to some extent – almost every car company out there has a different philosophy in terms of engines (i.e. displacement vs. forced induction; inline 6′s vs V-6′s, and let’s not forget about horizontally-opposed boxer engines either), and engine placement and weight distribution (front-engine rear wheel drive vs. mid-engine rear wheel drive vs. rear-engine, rear wheel drive vs front-engine all-wheel drive…)  The real issue is how the individual manufacturer executes their philosophical belief in the specific model.

The other thing to consider; price.  The Tesla is going to retail for a little shy of $100,000, whereas the Lightning GT will cost almost three times that (£150,000).  We already know Tesla has big plans for EV’s, and is trying to bring them to mass-market, with plans for a dealer network and a sports-sedan.  Perhaps Lightning is set on becoming and remaining a boutique EV manufacturer…

More at the Lightning Car Company

Biodiesel: No War Required

With gas over $3.50 a gallon here in California, many station owners must be relieved to have pumps with credit card readers. Better to cut out all interaction with the sullen customers.

But Jennifer Radtke has just one ancient pump, prices a few pennies above her competition, and lines that occasionally stretch over an hour long in this quiet corner of Berkeley. Yet customers clearly love the place, doubling the business each year and making possible a major expansion this summer.

How? She offers biodiesel, an alternative fuel that soothes so many environmental and political bugaboos it may some day edge out lattes as the Left Coast’s favorite liquid.

“Everything about [biodiesel] is really incredible. It’s nontoxic, nonflammable, it’s made from vegetable oil,” enthuses Ms. Radtke, who jointly owns and runs BioFuel Oasis with five other women. For her, biodiesel is about a feeling of independence more than politics. Oh, and it “smells great.”

For Oasis customers, one of the biggest selling points is that the fuel comes from a potato chip factory in southern California, not the Middle East.

“Pretty much every time I went to buy gas, I thought about what was going on in Iraq, and I was feeling awful,” says Aimee Wells, as she fuels up her VW Gulf, a diesel car she bought last year so she could switch to veggie power. A bumper sticker on it reads, “Biodiesel: no war required.”


A123Systems to Market PHEV Conversion Packs in 2008

Want to make your hybrid a plug-in?  We’ve got some good news:

The PHEV conversion modules will be available in 2008 – here’s the info:

It will be certified to meet all applicable new car test standards and will be installed by trained mechanics in less than 2 hours, without any changes to the underlying electronics, mechanics or materially useable space of the production hybrid other than the installation of the plug in the rear bumper.

The applicable market in the US for standard production hybrids will be approaching 1 million through the course of this year. With almost two dozen hybrid models expected by the end of 2008, there will be 5 million standard hybrids on the road by 2010. At an initial 40 mile module installed price of $10,000 supported with a $3,500 tax credit, the payback period for a fleet owner with $3.00/gallon gas is 2.5 years, against an expected life of 10 or more years. The payback period for the average commuter driving 11,000 miles per year would be 5.5 years. These calculations place no value on the net reduction of approximately 100 tons of carbon dioxide and other emissions over the life of the vehicle and take no account of the cost reductions which could accrue from additional materials research and increasing production volumes.


Chrysler Announces Hybrid Version of New Aspen Full-Size SUV

Since Americans want to have their cake and eat it too (although why anyone prefers to drive a tank-like behemoth is still beyond me)…

The new Aspen full-size SUV will join the Dodge Durango as Chrysler’s first volume production hybrids next year. Both vehicles will use a 5.7-liter HEMI engine coupled with the advanced two-mode hybrid technology being co-developed by GM, DaimlerChrysler and BMW.

The HEMI engine will continue to feature Chrysler Group’s Multi-displacement System (MDS), which allows the engine to alternate between four-cylinder mode when less power is needed and V-8 mode when more power is in demand.

The new 5.7-liter HEMI Hybrid is expected to deliver an overall fuel economy improvement of more than 25%, including an improvement of nearly 40% in the city. The current 2007 Aspen (2WD) carries an EPA rating of 15 mpg city, 20 mpg highway, 17 mpg combined.

Sounds about as fuel efficient as the Escalade hybrid


The NYTimes talks Hydrogen

On the Road, Hope for a Zero Pollution Car

So the three hydrogen-fueled vehicles that gathered at the Hindenburg crash site are harbingers of the future, proof that all of hydrogen’s potential in transportation did not go up in flames 70 years ago.

The spot where the Hindenburg met its end is now a historic landmark. A heavy yellow anchor chain surrounds a concrete pad replicating the size, shape, and final resting place of the Hindenburg’s control car. Rick Zitarosa, historian of the Navy Lakehurst Historical Society, said the Navy intended to preserve the site in its current form.

The vehicles here, and three other experimental cars driven elsewhere, cover a broad spectrum of hydrogen possibilities. Here are highlights…

A Universe of Promise (and a Tankful of Caveats) 

At the moment, hydrogen seems to be the most practical way to power vehicles that do not emit carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse gas. But despite considerable research, many hurdles remain. Here are some questions and answers….