Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Bike Works in London as Social Bike Model

I’m back from my big trip to Europe and the UK and now enjoying the inspiring memories. While in France and England I was able to visit with several bicycle organizations and bike shops.

One in particular stands out as particularly inspiring. Bike Works, a social bike business in London, presents a humble storefront and website, but even as I pushed open the door, I realized it was special. The bike shop at the front is clean and welcoming, offering both new and used bikes as well as a nice assortment of parts and accessories.

I spoke with one of their staff about their work with disadvantaged London residents, especially those who have been out of work for some time, which makes finding a job harder. They train them in bicycle mechanics so that even someone who never held a wrench will graduate knowing they can repair most bikes. Each receives a well-respected certificate and help from Bike Works finding a job. The staffer said with a laugh that they keep the best graduates to work at Bike Works. They also offer cycling skills courses for people of all abilities, even those with significant disabilities.

In the back, there’s a long building packed with bicycles, frames, and parts neatly sorted into easy-to-find sections. One half of this building is dedicated to a repair and rebuilding shop where their trainees rebuild donated bikes to sell and support their programs.

While all of this was very impressive to me, a small detail may be the piece that most stunned me – their displayed of used parts for sale. I can’t count the number of arguments I have had with well-intentioned leaders of volunteer-run bike programs who refuse to sell bikes and parts. They believe that by giving away everything their good intentions will be repaid by recipients helping to build the program. Instead, after some time, these leaders are usually left doing all the work and without bicycles or parts to fulfill their mission. I also go over this problem in great detail in our book, Defying Poverty with Bicycles.
But at Bike Works they not only sell used bikes and parts at market prices to sustain their programs, they do so in style. Their used parts are packaged with Bike Works branding and displayed professionally amidst their new parts. A small detail that shows that Bike Works is serious about serving the needs of disadvantaged people. Well done!

Do you know of other great models of social bike businesses? Please note them in the comments section.



  1. Sue, thanks for your work documenting and disseminating best practices regarding social bike businesses.

    The earliest such business was Bikes Not Bombs, co-founded in 1984 by Carl Kurz and Michael Replogle. BNB was the first project of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), shipping over 10,000 bikes to teachers and health workers in Nicaragua in the late 1980s and using bikes as seed capital to establish a bicycle assembly industry in that country. BNB was spun off from ITDP as a separate non-profit in 1991 and remains a thriving Boston-based group working in low income neighborhoods of Boston and shipping bikes to developing countries. An excellent video on BNB is at See also

    Bikes for the World was founded in 2005 in the Washington, DC, region by Keith Oberg, who was an early BNB activist and ITDP board member. This group has shipped over 100,000 bikes to countries across the world to support development.

    Pedals for Progress, a New Jersey based initiative, has also shipped over 100,000 bikes worldwide to support development.

  2. Thanks Jardiner. I absolutely agree that BNB is a nice example of a social bike business, but not because of the bikes it ships away. Rather, it is because of the work BNB does for residents of Massachusetts. One of the key elements of the social bike business models One Street points to is that the programs must focus on disadvantaged people in the very neighborhood where the program resides.

    Your examples of African programs highlight an important need in Africa, but to be a proper social bike business model, such programs would have to be run by Africans. I know that some of these organizations work through locally run organizations, but those local orgs are the web links we would expect to show as models - if they are doing a good job helping their disadvantaged neighbors.

    You can read more about our Social Bike Business program here:


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