Bicycle trailers and human-powered house moves
I want my next move to be by bicycle. Crazy?
Not at all. Thanks to impressive new bicycle trailer designs, such a move is now possible. So are other, similarly audacious feats of human-powered hauling, from freighting fish to delivering mattresses. (More on that in a moment.)
In 1981, when I left for college, (almost) everything I owned fit in a backpack, a trombone case, and an airline bike box. By 1993, all of my worldly possessions and those of my small family fit in a 15-foot Ryder truck towing a Honda Civic. By 1996, my family’s possessions had increased to a 24-foot truck and a Volvo station wagon. By 2000, I had a family of five and the largest dwelling I ever expect to own, and my possessions had proliferated further still. But in 2006, I reached the high point. I shed the car. The following year, my eldest son headed to college, taking a pickup-load of stuff with him. Then my family, uh, changed, and a bunch of the possessions in the house moved out.
Since, I’ve been trying to shed possessions more quickly than I accumulate them. My guiding principal is reduction: nothing comes into the house unless things of greater mass go out. The motive for this purging is part ecological (discussed in my 1992 book How Much Is Enough? The Consumer Society and the Future of the Earth) and part personal (a Thoreau-like taste for “simplicity, simplicity, simplicity”). But since I first learned about bike moves in 2007, the thought of trimming my worldly possessions to a mass that can be transported by human power has become a fascination for me: a concrete benchmark against which to measure my de-stuffing progress. Specifically, when I sell my house, probably in 2012 when my two younger children (knock wood) start college, I intend to move without a van. No oil. No pollution. No moving company or equipment rental. No diesel exhaust. I’ll still have more than I did when I went to college in 1981, but I expect to have less than a 15-foot-Ryder load. To move it, I won’t need anything but a flotilla of friends with cargo bikes and trailers, a rain-less day, and bungee cords. It will look like the scenes in the photos interspersed in this post, which are from bike moves in Portland, where muscle-powered changes of residence are commonplace. (In fact, Portland has an online organizing hub for bike moves.)
(Two other noteworthy sets of bike move photos are here and here. And here’s a well-produced video from Boulder, Colorado.)
The possibility of bike moves depends, first and foremost, on having only a modest pile of stuff—hence my purging. It also depends on the emergence of remarkable load-bearing options. Fortunately, bike trailers, like the walking carts, convertible cart-trailers, and cargo bikes that I’ve written about in recent weeks, have enjoyed technical advances in recent years. Consequently, would-be bike teamsters are now confronted with an embarrassment of choices, such as those catalogued by the Bike Trailer Blog. (Gear-head aside: I particularly like the Bikes at Work models, which can carry loads as heavy as 300 pounds and as long as a canoe. Sightline friend Patrick Barber has described his experience with these trailers. Like Oregon-made Burleys, which I described, BOB trailers are popular and reliable, and Oregon’s Blue Sky Cycle Carts are also intriguing.)
Not Just Bike Moves
Bike trailers are cropping up in other uses too. They’ve taken the place of pickup trucks for maintenance crews in Eugene’s Alton Baker Park. The Mattress Lot in Portland offers bike delivery of bedding on its custom trailer, as this video shows. Pedal People of Northampton, Massachusetts, has built itself a business in human-powered hauling. Community tree planters in Portland use trailers, along with cargo bikes, as pictured below.
Perhaps most impressive of all, Fisherman Rick Oltman, who owns the F/V Cape Cleare of Port Townsend, Washington, estimates that he and his partner have transported 85,000 pounds of Alaska-caught salmon and other fish to restaurants and farmers’ markets in the past year. And he’s delivered it all on two bike trailers. (Go here to see beautiful photos of Rick and his partner hauling about 300 pounds of seafood toward the Ballard Farmers’ Market in Seattle.)
What Does All This Mean?
Bike moves and bike hauling do not imply that bike trailers are a viable alternative to internal combustion for most uses and most people. They are not. In the grand scheme of urban transportation, oil demand, and carbon emissions, bike trailers and other human-powered freight haulers may remain side shows.
Still, they do save oil, and they seem especially appealing right now as our oil addiction poisons the Gulf of Mexico. Perhaps their appeal is more symbolic than practical. They are embodiments of the joyful, festive, and quixotic culture that we urgent
ly need if we are to transform our energy economy. Bike moves, like other human-powered freight hauling, exemplify a way of life in which community is strong, possessions few, and life rich. And examples are ever more important. Or so it seems to me.
What do you think, readers? Does something speak to you about bike moves? Will your next relocation be on two wheels? More selfishly, will you help me with mine?
Huge thanks to volunteer and urban planner Alyse Nelson for doing research that made this post possible.
- Couch move by bike: Flickr photographer Brad Reber, Creative Commons.
- Bike move gathering: Flickr photographer theoelliot, Creative Commons.
- Hauling a mattress and frame: BikePortland.org on Flickr, Creative Commons.
- Bike move with kiddo along for the ride: BikePortland.org on Flickr, Creattive Commons.
- Bike move procession: Flickr photographer Brad Reber, Creative Commons.
- Bike move across Broadway Bridge, Portland, OR: Flickr photographer theoelliot, Creative Commons.
- Cargo train with trees: Flickr photographer gregraisman, Creative Commons.
This post originally appeared at Sightline’s Daily Score blog.