Pack Up and Pedal Off
Rain, shine, or snow, Ruthy Woodring, cofounder of Pedal People, hauls away trash and recyclables for clients in Northampton, Massachusetts. | Photo by Webb Chappell Photography
Julien Myette and Ruthy Woodring don't know each other--they live in different countries--but both had the same wacky idea: to start a business hauling very heavy things by bicycle, even in frigid weather. They've proved that it's not only possible but sometimes also more practical than using a huge gas-guzzling truck.
Myette got the idea for his bike-and-trailer moving company, Demenagement Myette (demenagementmyette.ca), while working as a truck driver for a traditional moving company in Montreal. Many of the apartment dwellers he helped relocate didn't own much furniture, and his truck bed was often half empty.
He started Demenagement Myette in 2008, taking only small deliveries at first, without drawing attention to his means of transport. "I would just show up to jobs with my bike and trailer," he says. Skeptical customers were soon won over, and business grew by word of mouth. Now Demenagement Myette serves about 500 customers per year. He employs 15 people during peak season and uses up to four trailers per move.
Each of the company's 12 specially designed trailers has two pairs of wheels and holds more than 600 pounds. Beds, washing machines, enormous armoires--Myette and his crew will transport almost any household item except pianos (the problem is getting them up stairs, not strapping one to a bike trailer). Montreal is urban and dense, so the average move spans less than 2 miles, though he has gone as far as 12. It helps that the city is pretty flat.
Myette insists that his job is no harder than that of any other mover. In fact, he says, sometimes it's easier: "When I was driving a truck, I would easily lose half an hour just trying to find a spot to park." Not having to fuel and maintain a fleet of trucks reduces overhead. And publicity is free: "People on the streets see us--that's our advertising. We're like a parade. Sometimes it's hard to concentrate on the job because everyone's asking questions, encouraging us."
Ruthy Woodring knows that feeling. In 2002, she and Alex Jarret started Pedal People (pedalpeople.coop), a trash and hauling service in Northampton, Massachusetts. She had just moved to the area and was surprised to learn that the city provides no municipal trash service for its more than 28,000 citizens. Residents and businesses either hire private contractors to pick up their refuse or take it to the local transfer station themselves.
Woodring had always gotten around by bike and had no problem pulling heavy loads, so she figured people would pay her to take their stuff away. She and Jarret launched their service in winter to test whether their business could survive New England's frigidness. Their first season rolled along without a hitch.
Pedal People has since grown into a cooperative of 16 workers who collect trash and recyclables by bike for up to 600 customers. The longest distance between a customer and a transfer center is a mostly hill-free 3 miles, but a typical route requires three runs and averages 15 to 20 miles. Each trailer carries up to 300 pounds.
In 2007, Woodring and Jarret landed their biggest client: the city itself. Now Pedal People has custody of some 80 trash and recycling bins downtown. "It's just more efficient to do that route by bike," Woodring says. "It's a lot of stops and starts, all within half a mile. We can do it any time of day."
Like Demenagement Myette, Pedal People attracts a lot of attention. "Sometimes it feels like we're the sports team of Northampton," Woodring says. "I think about all the people around the world who do hard physical labor. How many of them get cheered on like I do? I wish everyone had that."