In a way, Freewheel is just rediscovering what the founders of UPS knew when they started the business in downtown Seattle back in 1907: Bikes are a fast, cheap and easy way to move goods around town.
UPS has long lost sight of the power of the humble bicycle, but after their drivers circle the block in their ubiquitous huge box trucks (and often illegally park) in order to make a delivery, Freewheel’s nimble blue cargo bike catches their eyes.
Seriously. I watched it happen. I was sitting in Caffe Vita speaking with Kohler when a Fed Ex delivery guy holding a package in his hand walked a full circle around the bike, ogling it (I know Fed Ex is not UPS, but you get the idea).
“That happens all the time,” said co-founder and delivery person Dan Kohler. “It’s so practical to make short deliveries on a bike that it sort of begs the question of, ‘Why isn’t more of this happening?’”
While people in Seattle have been delivering things by bike ever since bikes were invented, Freewheel stretches people’s imagination of what cargo by bike can really mean. While a messenger usually has items in a bag or simple bike rack and may not look much different from any other person on a bike, Freewheel’s box gives a very visual concept of what they can carry. And ever-improving electric assist technology has made it practical to haul a lot of weight even up Seattle’s hills (Kohler estimates their trike can haul 400 pounds).
If your center city deliveries could fit inside Freewheel’s cargo box, maybe it’s time to stop pulling out your hair searching for a loading zone or risking a parking ticket just to make your regular deliveries.
But the benefits of hauling stuff by bike reach beyond just the avoided frustration of delivery drivers. Reducing traffic congestion and pollution from delivery trucks and vans is good for everyone, as Bauhaus manager Grace Heinze told KOMO after receiving a delivery from Kohler:
“He doesn’t have to circle the block looking for parking. He’s happy and I don’t have to smell diesel fumes from a big truck. It’s great.”
That’s part of Kohler’s goal with Freewheel. He wants people to not only think about how the things they buy or use are made, but also how they get to you.
“How a product is made is equally important as how it got here,” he said. “It’s a value for the clients your delivering for, but there’s also value for the people receiving goods.”
He said he was inspired by cargo bike companies operating in many European cities (many using similar cargo trikes), but his first inspiration was Peace Coffee in his hometown of Minneapolis. Peace Coffee is a roaster that has been delivering by bike since the 90s. It’s an idea that stuck with him through his years working for environmental causes and led him to make the leap to launching the business.
Freewheel made it’s first delivery last week, and currently has a delivery area constrained to Capitol Hill and downtown. But the delivery area could “evolve over time,” Kohler said.
He also hopes Freewheel inspires other bike hauling efforts.
“I hope it can be one example among many of more and better options of how people get around and how goods get around, too,” he said.
For more information on Freewheel, you can email Dan at [email protected] or check out them out online. You can also read more at Capitol Hill Seattle or watch the KOMO report below (includes a great shot of Kohler using the Broadway Bikeway: Because bikes and high quality bike lanes mean business!).