Junk Pedalers


Pedal People is an 11-person cooperative bicycle business in Northampton, Mass., that hauls furniture, yard waste, and garbage — all year round. In June 2007, Pedal People signed a contract with the City of Northampton to pick up its 70 trash barrels in downtown, one of the only bicycle-powered businesses in the United States picking up municipal trash.

I spoke with Pedal People’s founders, Alex Jarrett and Ruthy Woodring, from their home in Florence.

Peter Smith: When did you start hauling with bikes?

Ruthy Woodring: I started in Chicago when I was living in a Catholic Worker house. One of the things we did was an open dinner, like a soup kitchen. To get food, we would do some dumpster diving and we also had a food pickup run to get donations. One day the truck broke down and so I thought, “Well, I’ll just tie the garden cart to the back of my bicycle.”

I started doing that until a friend came by and said, “You know what, Ruthy? I got something better for you.” And he donated a trailer to the house.

PS: Now you’re doing more. What’s an average day?

Alex Jarrett: Typically a day with Pedal People involves getting the trailer ready, making sure you have everything you need: bungee cords, spare trash bags, gloves, and our trailers, which we stack with eight recycling totes with lids.

RW: Our trailers can take four tubs on the bottom and four on the top. So by the time the trailer’s full, it’s about as high as my head. The weight limit on the trailers is between 200 and 300 pounds.

PS: Tell me about the bike trailers you build.

AJ: If you can find your own wheels and plywood, it costs about $30. Labor’s about five to ten hours — if you get good at it. You need some basic tools and brazing equipment.

Go to the hardware store for a few lengths of conduit. You can use them to make a few other optional things like handles. For the dropouts, you need 6″ angle iron. I only have a hacksaw to cut out the dropouts, where the wheels will go.

And then the hitch is made out of ¼” flat stock and a rod you bend to go around the chain stay. You have to buy a little $6 universal joint for the hitch so the trailer can tilt as you’re riding around.

PS: Do you think more people will be doing this? Is this an easy way to transport things?

RW: It’s a pretty unique situation in Northampton, where the city does not provide municipal trash pickup service and does provide a transfer center within biking distance of most households. Those two factors let Pedal People work.

For other people in other towns, hauling things on bicycles is pretty easy. There’s very low overhead. The bike trailers are relatively inexpensive. The capital is your human labor. Compared to a truck, you don’t have to pay for gas.

» Pedal People: pedalpeople.com

» Build a bike trailer: bikecart.pedalpeople.com

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Peter Smith

Peter Smith, a freelance writer based in Portland, Maine, snacks on wild crabapples and dumpstered baguettes. His work is viewable at peterandreysmith.com.

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