Bicyclists use trailers to replace diesel-spewing trucks

by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Loaded with furniture, Bill Stites rides his Truck Trike, a bike that he designed and built, five miles across town during a recent move-by-bike event. What weighs less than 30 pounds and can carry a 500-pound load?

A bamboo bike trailer, with a strong and determined biker at the wheel, of course.

But can it truly replace a U-Haul and cut the number of diesel-spewing trucks on the road? A group of Portland bikers in the growing “move-

by-bike” community are determined to try.

Adam George, a carless Portlander, makes his living building bamboo trailers, bamboo bikes and custom cargo bikes for other bicycle enthusiasts in the metro area.

His customers include those with big loads to carry, including roommate Matheas Michaels, who uses a trailer to haul around his sound system by bike. George also sells to people in the move-by-bike community, and folks looking for ever bigger challenges, such as those joining environmentally friendly home removal projects known as “deconstruction by bike.”

Ted Beuhler has always loved hauling big things on his bike, so much so that he bought a Bound Bikes trailer. One day he was asked by the Rebuilding Center, a North Portland nonprofit that sells reusable building supplies, if he thought they could take apart a house and move it by bike. Beuhler got a bunch of people together, and over the course of two weekends, nearly 50 people showed up with bikes and trailers to help haul away the remains of a house.

“Some people like to get exercise by putting on spandex and riding to Scappoose and back,” Beuhler says. “But some people like to get exercise by hauling heavy stuff around ... and this way they’re also helping out the community.”

Beuhler has been involved with move-by-bike events — including his own — which use fleets of bicyclists and trailers to help people and their belongings relocate to new abodes. He figured the deconstruction by bike project presented new opportunities for bike movers to be challenged.

While some move-by-bike gatherings could end with an enthusiastic hauler only moving a box or two, with deconstruction by bike there were more than enough 500-pound loads to go around.

Curbing carbon

George started building his bicycle trailers with a goal of displacing truck traffic.

“Just like bikes are supposed to replace cars, bike trailers could replace trucks,” he says.

In the United States, traffic congestion wastes nearly 3.9 billion gallons of gas a year, and for every mile pedaled rather than driven, nearly 1 pound of carbon dioxide emissions is avoided, according to the Bikes Belong Coalition. The Portland area accounts for an estimated 36 percent of the state’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

“You can haul all sorts of stuff without having a pickup truck,” Beuhler says. “It takes less gas, less room on the road and it’s more fun.”

And replace trucks they do. George’s small trailers have been known to move pianos, stoves, heavy wooden beams and even a more than 400-pound load of wine cases and ice.

“There are so many things you can’t move with a car that can be moved with these trailers,” George says.

“I’m most impressed with moving pianos,” says Michaels, who has used George’s trailers to move two of them. “It’s like a psychological barrier to move a piano, but it’s not that bad.”

George has helped move a half dozen pianos.

Shifting into gear

Move-by-bike events often are advertised by the community group Shift, which promotes fun bike events via its website, Shift advertises the moves as big social events and makes it clear that they are not a moving service for hire, and that bikers help movees “for friendship and good times, not for money.”

Shift also suggests that budding movees help out at a moving event prior to holding their own event, in order to learn how they work and build up their karma.

Shift also has a checklist on how to organize a move-by-bike event for those outside the Portland area.

Moving by bike is beginning to attract more attention in alternative media outlets.

Steph Routh, a move-by-bike enthusiast, is working on a Move by Bike zine as a final project for the Portland-based Independent Publishing Resource Center’s Fiction/Creative Nonfiction Certificate program. Routh is soliciting submissions with this online pitch: “Oh ye haulers of trailers and schleppers of stuff! Your reminiscences and quips of bike moves past desired here.”

Last month, Mike Mercer and his girlfriend, Laura Vincent, organized a bike move when they relocated. Although Mercer had never been involved in a bike move, he is a bike commuter. So when neighbor Scott Lewellyn suggested they haul their belongings by bike, despite the fact that he thought it was insane, he said, “Let’s try to make it happen.”

Mercer has a Burley trailer that he uses to transport groceries, but he knew that folks would show up with many different kinds of trailers.

“People get pretty creative about putting wheels on things,” he says.

The event was complete with Hot Lips pizza as payment, delivered by bike.

Michaels also finds trailers are useful for accessing places a car can’t, like a favorite party spot on the beach along Willamette Cove, just north of the rail bridge and the University of Portland.

“There are so many places you can’t access by car, so you just take a trailer,” Michaels says.

Sometimes George’s trailers are used for more than just transportation of household items. A crepe food cart in Hillsboro operates off of one of his trailers.

George’s favorite thing to build is tandems. His Janus tandem — built 10 years ago and named for the two-headed Roman god — is often popular at biking events.

Recently at a public event, George was approached by a man who exclaimed that the bike was crazy. After George asked if he wanted to go for a ride, the man turned to his wife and said, “I’ll be right back.”

He built his tandem to seat two people, a captain in the front and a stoker in the back, and haul 150 pounds of cargo in the middle. Only afterwards did George realize that meant he could sometimes carry a third person.

There’s a new niche for Portland’s creative bike-building scene — a bicycle built for three.

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