A little over 10 years ago Boneshaker’s co-founder, James Lucas, went on a bike ride to Norway with his pal Colin Fan. James was working with asylum seekers and refugees in Bristol at the time. He was probably also wearing pink longjohns. He likes those. As they rode, he and Colin talked about ways they could help these people better.
One of the key challenges newly-arriving migrants faced in the city was being physically and socially marginalised. They were often housed on the outskirts, and had to walk for hours to attend appointments or see friends. By getting abandoned and donated bikes, fixing them up and passing them on, Colin and James were able to provide these people with affordable transport. Soon James’ flat was overflowing with bikes. He had to climb over a huge pile of them to get into bed each night.
They needed space.
Also, they realised they could do more if they went beyond just giving the bikes away. So they found a workshop and, with the help of volunteers, began working with people to help them fix up their own bikes. ‘Earning’ them by learning. This built a sense of connection and ownership between bike and rider. The workshop – now known as the Bristol Bike Project – provided a warm, welcoming place where people could make friends, learn new stuff, perhaps improve their language skills – and gain affordable transport into the bargain.
Ever since then, the BBP has gained momentum, grown and evolved. It’s saved thousands of unwanted bikes from landfill. It’s got people moving. Got them talking. Given them a safe space to move forward in lots of ways.
The positivity that flowed through the space was hugely inspiring to James. Its story, and the stories of dozens of other places like it, needed to be told. The more people James spoke to, the more of these stories he discovered. Bikes bringing people together, connecting communities, improving cities.
It was the simple aim of sharing stories like these that sparked Boneshaker into being. Celebrating the great things that happen when people and bikes come together. Our story has run in parallel to that of the Bike Project since then. We’ve linked arms across continents, making friends and sharing stories from Bratislava to Bogota, Siberia to Singapore, New York to New Zealand. Stocked in 26 countries, read in many more than that, we hope the pages of Boneshaker have managed to inspire more people to get riding and to advocate for a brighter, more bike-friendly world.
Celebrating its 10th birthday this year, the Bristol Bike Project – Boneshaker’s spiritual home – is now also home to a community of over 170 volunteers and members, working with over 60 organisations across Boneshaker’s home city, including Bristol Refugee Rights, Bristol Drugs Project and Second Step, to support some of the city’s most marginalised communities.
The BBP’s a lovely place to go and hang out, chat bikes, drink tea from an oily mug. It’s a diverse and dynamic community hub, welcoming hundreds of people from all walks of life through their doors each week to ‘earn’ a bike, volunteer, learn mechanics, or buy a decent secondhand ride for a bargain price.
In these dark and worryingly moronic times – Trump, UKIP, Brexit, the rise of the right – places like the Bristol Bike Project are vitally important, keeping the light of humanity, of inclusivity, understanding, internationalism and kindness shining bright.
The BBP featured in Boneshaker issue 1. One of its walls was our cover star, the photo taken by a BBP volunteer, Adam Faraday, who used the skills he gained to set up his own bike workshop. Colin Fan featured in that issue too, naturally. We’ve had issue launch parties at the BBP with bike films in a bike-powered cinema, boozes and flaming barrel-bike barbecues. We’ve met there on freezing mornings and moonlit evenings for bike rides, fixed up our bikes there – even fallen asleep from time to time on the battered sofas behind the counter.
Boneshaker’s regular writer Pi Manson – erstwhile BBP spanner wrangler – has gone on to build bikes from scratch as Clandestine CC. Boneshaker’s creative director, Chris Woodward, is now a director of the Bike Project, too. And way beyond Boneshaker’s own little world, thousands of lives have been enriched. On and on the stories go, unravelling from the glow of the Bike Project and out into the world.