Every now and then Oregon sprouts a business that prompts a double-take.
An example: B-Line.
A husband and wife team are biking freight — yes, that's right, heavy freight — around downtown Portland, in an effort to replace trucks.
Kristian Foden-Vencil caught up with the couple at a neighborhood grocery store.
Kathryn Racine-Jones: “We have like 450 pounds in here this morning to the Little Green Grocers in the Pearl.”
Franklin Racine-Jones: “We’ve got apples, yams, greens. All sorts of things.”
Dressed in spandex and helmets, Franklin and Kathryn Racine-Jones unload organic vegetables out of big insulated boxes on the backs of their tricycles.
It sounds pretty unremarkable really — until you see the size of those trike boxes. They’re big enough to fit say … two-thirds of an upright piano. And each bike costs about $10,000.
Franklin Racine-Jones: “It has both front and rear brakes. The rear brakes are two disc brakes and the front is an hydraulic brake. We have a great bell here that not only let’s people know we're coming, but it’s fun and produces big smiles.”
Kristian: “And you have a big battery here to help you up the hills.”
Franklin Racine-Jones: “Right. It’s a deep cycle marine battery. It weighs about 80 lbs, but it also has a tremendous amount of torque power.”
So they don’t transport all that weight just by muscle power alone.
B-Line’s business plan is to work with delivery companies that don’t like using big trucks to deliver small loads.
Kathryn Racine-Jones: “This morning a huge semi came to our warehouse and dropped off say 1000 pounds of produce and then we ferry that out using our electric assist trikes into the urban core so they don’t have to go down there and people walking around downtown don’t have to deal with big trucks in the urban core. So we do that in a sustainable way.”
After dealing with inquisitive bystanders and a pushy journalist, the couple schleps their produce into the Little Green Grocer store.
Owner Scott LaKovish says it’s nice to have things arrive via pedal power rather than a belch of diesel.
Scott LaKovish: “The trucks. The fact that it takes up 4 parking spaces is definitely a congestion factor. It’s nice that that is now gone, all the diesel and the noise.”
So Kathryn and Franklin are up at about 5:30 in the morning. Today they serviced Higgins Restaurant, Bijou Café and the Little Grocery Store — all places where it’s not easy or efficient for a truck to travel. And their trikes carry everything that’s needed — up to about 600 pounds — or the weight of three pretty big people.
David Lively is with the ‘Organically Grown Company.’ He hired B-Line to freight his produce the last few miles.
David Lively: “We see it as a real experiment. We’re not sure how the finances are going to work on it. At the front end it would appear to probably be more costly to do it this way. But we’re aware that there’s a whole lot of other dynamics at play here in terms of how long are our trucks in the downtown area. It may very well, over time as we develop a larger account base, prove to be financially favorable as well.”
In the next couple of months, he’s planning to break down the cost of trucking into fuel; liability insurance; parking tickets; accidents and everything else — then compare it to the cost of using bikes.
B-Line is currently giving him a promotional price — less than the regular trucking price of about $3 a case.
Meanwhile, Franklin says, it’s just fun to be outside.
Franklin Racine-Jones: “People say bravo. They clap. They cheer. They stop. They stare. All sorts of reactions.”
If you’re wondering about speed? The trikes make about 11 miles per hour, which is competitive with a truck — especially if you include the time it takes to park one of those suckers downtown.