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Portland embraces cargo bike’s ability to deliver the goods

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Articles - December 2010
Wednesday, November 17, 2010


A Metrofiets cargo bike commissioned by Perpetua Wood Floors in Portland. // Photo courtesy of Metrofiets

Joel Grover worked at the Bike Gallery in Portland for more than 20 years before he decided to set up Splendid Cycles on his own in May, selling nothing but cargo bikes.

Limiting your shop to extra-long bicycles built to haul hundreds of pounds of groceries, tools and/or kids may seem like a strange niche, given the amount of work required. But it’s an area of opportunity in Portland, which has gone from a handful of cargo bikes to hundreds in a few years.

Grover says between young families going car-free, out-of-state orders (especially from California) and small companies rushing to brand themselves local and sustainable, business has been strong; he lost money in the first month but has made money in every month since. He’s using his earnings to buy top-of-the-line merchandise from around the globe, including bikes built locally by Ahearne Cycles and Metrofiets.

Metrofiets founders Phillip Ross and Jamie Nichols work out of a small garage on NE Alberta Street crammed full of ancient tools and vintage bicycles. Ross, a 40-year-old former research librarian, and Nichols, a 29-year-old self-described “iron monger,” specialize in cargo bikes designed to last 100 years, with aircraft-grade steel from Dillsburg Steel in Pennsylvania and headsets built in Portland by Chris King Components. At 68 pounds, their bike is 30 pounds lighter than the Dutch bikes that first caught on in Portland in 2008.

Ross and Nichols earned local fame for designing a party bike that hauls a beer keg for Hopworks Urban Brewery and a café-on-wheels that Trailhead Coffee Roasters owner Charlie Wicker pedaled for all 425-plus miles of Cycle Oregon. But they aren’t just selling locally. One Metrofiets bike is soon to be shipped to Australia, and Ross is traveling to Colorado to custom-design another. They plan to add staff in 2011 to crank out standard models.

“We’re growing exponentially,” says Nichols.

“It’s crazy to keep up with,” adds Ross.

It’s a similar situation at B-Line sustainable urban delivery on SE Alder Street. Founder Franklin Jones, a former California schoolteacher, launched the company in 2009 after traveling extensively in the dense cities of Europe and Asia.

Demand for bike deliveries picked up substantially in January 2010, and Jones was able to hire his friend and business adviser, Randy Koch, a freight logistics consultant and former president of GE’s CommerceGuard division.

Koch says he likes the cargo bike business model because it works. For businesses shipping small amounts to multiple points in the urban core, “We’re simply cheaper and quicker.”

Jones and Koch have grown the company to 10 employees and 15 Portland clients including Whole Foods, Eco Dry Cleaner and Organically Grown. They also have launched a program to pick up soon-to-expire produce from local food stores and bring it to nonprofits that feed the hungry.

Next year they plan to add two new vehicles to the fleet and pick up new clients. They are also looking into expanding into new cities such as Eugene, Seattle and San Francisco.


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