Working with bikes

January 31, 2019

Boulder, Colorado. Source: Vessel Works


On Thursday mornings, Jeff Yegian can be found sorting, loading and hauling food via bike from Alfalfa’s Market a few blocks down the road to Meals on Wheels in Boulder, Colorado. His shift only takes about 20 minutes, but saves thousands of pounds of food each year. Yegian has been a volunteer at Boulder Food Rescue for over six years, and has seen an evolution in how the organization works. These days all information is in an app, which makes scheduling and reporting what was transported fast and easy. On an especially cold day in January, Yegian hauls about 100 pounds of produce and dairy up the street with a small trailer made by Bikes at Work. Yegian says his biggest haul was around 400 pounds, which wasn’t easy, but possible. Although most rescues come from grocery stores, Boulder Food Rescue picks up donations from a few restaurants and bakeries as well.

The idea is that there’s a lot of perfectly good food in groceries and restaurants that’s overstocked or about to expire. And there are a lot of people in need of food at all times. According to the BFR website, in research conducted at the University of Colorado by two of BFR’s five founding members, they discovered that enough food is thrown away or otherwise wasted each day to feed everyone who goes hungry in Boulder and Broomfield Counties. In an effort to eliminate any further strain on the environment, the founders decided to transport food with bicycles. Volunteers simply take the food to the places where people in need can have free access to it. Day shelters, food pantries, and community centers use the donated food within 24–48 hours.  


Boulder Food Rescue.


Attorney Danny Kramer donates his time to BFR on the governance side of things, and says what he really loves about the organization is, “It’s pure idealism made purely practical. Bicycles become efficient tools for social justice and conservation, all while connecting people who live in the same community but might not otherwise meet.” The system, which involves bikes and trailers locked at different locations, makes the process seamless. A volunteer unlocks the bike and trailer at the grocery, loads it with food set aside by grocery employees, pedals it a short distance to unload, then returns the bike and trailer to the designated area at the grocery. Because the distances traveled are relatively short, volunteers agree that going by bike is much easier than by car.


Tools of the trade

Jim Gregory, owner of Bikes at Work, started his company in Ames, Iowa, as a grocery delivery service, so it makes sense that his trailers are still being used for that purpose. He branched out to provide curbside recycling pickup, and now makes bicycle trailers for all kinds of jobs. The Bikes at Work trailers are used by furniture movers, urban farmers, carpenters, and numerous transport and delivery services throughout the world.

“Back when I started the delivery service in 1993, Ames had a fairly significant system of off-street bicycle paths. Still, there were several major thoroughfares that lacked any kind of bicycle facility and/or that had significant gaps.” Gregory says that bike infrastructure has improved significantly since then. These days snow removal on bikeways is the biggest factor, but even that has gotten much better in the last few years. Cities are realizing that just because the weather isn’t perfect, doesn’t mean people aren’t riding bikes. 


GObike Buffalo. Source: Rebecca Reilly.


Bikes working for bikes

Another organization that’s implementing bikes as useful tools in their work is GObike Buffalo. Rebecca Reilly, the group’s tactical transportation and volunteer coordinator, uses a Bikes at Work trailer to maintain street markings and bike infrastructure. It’s easier to do these jobs by bike because bikes take up less space than cars and trucks, allowing Reilly and her volunteers to move around easier. 

Reilly has experience as a bike messenger, so her thinking is always on making a job quicker and easier by using a bike. She was brought on in 2017 by Gobike Buffalo to do temporary tactical pop-ups, which means looking at a heat-map of where crashes occur involving pedestrians and cyclists, then targeting those areas with complete streets elements. In her first year on the job, Reilly used a car to go out and paint crosswalks and sharrows, but the whole time she was thinking about ways to use a bike. When she presented the idea of implementing bike infrastructure using a bike, she found great support. Some of Reilly’s bike messenger friends let her borrow a Bikes at Work trailer, and it was a perfect fit: loading and unloading equipment was much faster, and Reilly is able to avoid disrupting traffic almost completely. 

During the summer of 2018, the GObike Buffalo’s Tactical Refresh program completed 63 crosswalks, 4 bump-outs, 159 bikons (bike lane icons), 62 sharrows, and 4 major corridors. Reilly is looking to grow the number of projects she can take on, with more volunteers using bikes and trailers, which will in turn grow the awareness of how bikes can be used for work.



Environmental mission

Part of the mission at BFR, and one that most businesses who use the Bikes at Work trailers share, is to reduce the carbon footprint and help improve the environment. Because bikes are both efficient and easy on the environment, they are the tool of choice for many businesses and organizations interested in being green.

Vessel Works is a Boulder-based nonprofit focused on innovating a solution to the problem of disposable coffee cup waste. They combine a stainless-steel cup and library-style service with sophisticated tracking technology to eliminate the need for paper and plastic to-go cups. Vessel also provides quantified information to consumers regarding the impact of their everyday choices. People can sign up for free, and “check out” a cup at participating coffee shops and cafes, then return their cup at one of many kiosks around town. All Vessels, dirty and clean, are transported via a custom e-bike trike that the team at Main Street Pedi Cab created. Traveling by bike aligns with Vessel’s mission to reduce waste and inspire behavioral change to enable a more rapid transition to sustainable lifestyles. Vessel has a team working to bring this concept to New York City, too.

Dedication to sustainability inspired Taiwan-based Tern Bicycles to create a line of folding, electric, cargo and hauling-specific bikes. The company’s YouTube channel features numerous videos that highlight new ways to think about what’s possible on a bike — including beer deliveries, bakery orders, dropping the kids off at school, and doing a week’s worth of grocery shopping. The bike design also prioritizes sustainability: Bikes are engineered to be easily fixed, rather than replaced, and the company is constantly searching for ways to reduce packaging and the use of harmful chemicals.  

All of these jobs and tasks that are improving lives and the environment can increase in number and become even safer with the right kind of infrastructure. As we see big companies opting for bikes as tools in business, it’s clear that nothing beats the efficiency, the impact on the environment, and the compact nature of the bike.



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