All posts by bruceweinreb

Bikes and Butterballs

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Here at Worksman Cycle, Thanksgiving is a special time in the most traditional sense.

Our factory’s staff  is representative of the enormous cultural diversity of our home – Queens, NY.  Many are immigrants or first generation Americans who are building a better life here in America. It is story repeated time after time since our company was founded by a young Russian immigrant in 1898.

While we celebrate our ethnic, religious and cultural diversity throughout the year, on this day we bond together as Americans. Each employee, whether originally from Guyana, Puerto Rico, Central Africa, Jamaica, or Brooklyn or Queens, whether they are Christian, Hindu, Muslim or Jewish, will all leave here today with a Butterball turkey and all the trimmings.

This Thursday and Friday we take a pause from work to spend time with our families and give thanks for the bounty this country has bestowed upon us.

Enjoy the day.

One Horse & Five Bikes on a Humanitarian Mission

Austin Horse

To earn your living as a NYC bike messenger it helps to have nerves of steel, an acute awareness of the dangers around you, and a laser like focus on getting where you need to go quickly and in one piece. Those qualities, along with the ability to ride a bicycle at ridiculous speeds, has made Austin Horse (on the right in the photo above) a legend among NYC bike messengers.  A two-time North American Cycle Courier champion and member of the Red Bull Racing team, Austin simply stares down danger and pedals past. Then he repeats the process time and time again.

Austin is now delivering perhaps his most important parcel ever – -hope. This Veteran’s Day Austin picked up five bicycles here at Worksman Cycles (and two kid’s bikes from the great folks at Recycle-A-Bicycle) and headed off to deliver them to displaced refugees who have fled the devastating violence in Syria.  Austin will visit Jordan and then Lebanon. His plan is to establish a pipeline to bring hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of bikes to these displaced people who have not only lost their home, but their livelihood. He knows, as a person who has made a living on a bike, that mobility equals opportunity. A bike allows a person to get to work to help provide for a family. A bike can also be used to access supplies so a person can ply their trade. Bikes provide access, which in turn provides income,  which can then start (pardon the pun) a cycle of hope.

We are proud of many of the products we produce here at Worksman. Many have great stories. But some stick out. Likewise, we have sold bikes and trikes to many cool folks who have used our products in all sorts of ventures. But some stick out.

Good luck Austin as you to take the ride of your life. And thanks for letting us be part of it.

New Life for CitiBike (and the bikeshare industry)

The recent sale of Alta Planning to Bikeshare Holdings is a welcome development for not only the users of New York’s CitiBike, but for fans of bikeshare across the U.S.  In fact, this purchase may well save the U.S. bikeshare industry as we know it.

In addition to NYC’s CitiBike, the citizens of Boston, Washington D.C, Chattanooga and other cities where Alta bikeshare programs have been established can look forward to a vast improvement in the current systems as well as finally seeing long-promised expansion. All this improvement will come as a result of finally bringing two critical resources to these programs that every successful business needs – capital and effective management.

If this seems a harsh indictment of the previous owners of these bikeshare systems it is fully intended. Frankly put, Alta Planning never had the capital or the management to bring bikeshare to a position of financial viability. And the city administrations across the U.S. who continued to award contracts to them owe their citizens some answers.

But instead of dwelling on the litany of errors that plagued Alta managed programs, let’s instead applaud Bikeshare Holdings for believing that bikeshare is a viable industry with an important role to occupy in the transportation mix of our cities. With their professional management and deep pockets they will ensure that not only will the current systems continue to operate, but they will expand to serve a greater cross section of residents and will, hopefully, be joined by new systems in many cities.

The first publicly announced decision by the new owners is telling: the appointment of Jay Walder as CEO. If there’s anyone who can bring order to a complex transportation system it is Mr. Walder, the former head of New York’s MTA. It is also telling that Citibank, who had turned down Alta when they came asking for expansion money, has jumped right back in with a huge commitment to expansion. The message here is clear: the concept was sound, the execution was dreadful. Now with professional management, Citibank has given its ringing endorsement.

New Yorkers, who have enthusiastically supported the program, should be ecstatic at this development, as should the residents of the other cities with Alta systems. But perhaps none more than the citizens of bike crazy Portland, OR who saw their system hopelessly delayed by their hometown darlings, Alta Planning.

Which brings me to my final point: the home team advantage. We at Worksman never gained any fans in the Bloomberg administration because we insisted that they open up and inspect all that baggage Alta schlepped with them into our city – New York City: their total lack of experience in operational P&L management and consumer marketing as well as their complete lack of capital. Not to mention their dependence on a Canadian company (Bixi) who had severe financial troubles (ultimately liquidated) and who was dogged with questions about “irregularities.” Call it “local knowledge” but, as a 116 year old corporate citizen of NYC, we know a few things about operating here and we never liked what we saw or heard from Alta.

But we have always believed in and supported bikeshare. So we are thrilled that NYC, and those other cities, will see their programs live on and flourish because they now have “adult supervision.” So we wish the best of luck to Bikeshare Holdings and Jay Walder. And we also offer our congratulations to the DiBlasio administration who inherited a mess and expertly played a critical role in this transaction which will ensure that CitiBike will fulfill its original promise.

Keeping the Bike in Bikeshare

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We’re big fans of bikeshare programs, but not of the bikes they generally use. Big, clunky beasts that  handle like  fully-laden dump trucks, theses bikes seem to be an afterthought when designing a bikeshare system. Still, they have some good design features like the low-step-over height and a geometry which allows riders of most sizes to use the bikes without having to raise/lower the handlebar. But there is much room for improvement, especially in two areas: 1) ride experience and 2) durability.

What you are looking at above is a brand new bike specifically designed for the bikeshare market. It’s a prototype (Shh!. You’re looking at sneak photos!) Here are some of it’s key features:

  • American made in Worksman’s solar-powered NYC factory
  • Steel frame for ultimate ride comfort
  • Extensive use of alloy throughout
  • Forged, one-piece cranks
  • Worksman proprietary alloy rolled clincher rims w/ 11 gauge spokes
  • Designed for one-speed rear coaster brake or 3-speed rear fully-enclosed hub brake
  • Front fully-enclosed hub brake w/dynamo
  • Integrated basket/handlebar unit or choice of handlebar/basket set-up
  • Will have fully-enclosed chaingaurd and wheel skirts (not shown)
  • Fat, hi-profile tires for stable handling and shock absorption
  • Can be used with any racking system (traditional or electronic) and any Smartbike Technology
  • Weight: +/- 44 lbs. depending on selected componentry

Now about those two areas we set out to improve:

  1. Ride experience: The bike’s steel frame soaks up the bumps, lumps and road shock of city streets (where bikeshare programs live.) Its short wheelbase make for extremely nimble handling and a nice tall riding position. One spin on this beauty and you’ll be wishing your bikeshare would retire their current fleet!
  2. Durability: Well, we have been the world leader in Industrial Cycles for over 100 years so we know a bit about making tough cycles. This new bike has inherited great genes (and components). Massive 1.5″ steel frame tubing, fully-lugged and hand-welded construction, our legendary rolled clincher (motorcycle-style) rims with 11 gauge spokes and solid, forged one-piece cranks are just the start. Simply put, this bike is the toughest kid on the block.

So here’s your part: what else would you like to see on a bikeshare bike?  We’d love to hear from you!Rear45LR

Yes Virginia, bicycles manufactured in America do exist

Workman Cycles Factory Ahead Of Durable Goods Report

“Dear Manufacturer: Some of my little friends say there are no more bikes made in America. Are they wrong?”

“Virginia, you’re little friends are wrong.”

My apologies to Francis Pharcellus Church, who penned the famous New York Sun editorial in response to little Virginia O’Hanlon’s query, “is there really a Santa Claus?” Mr. Church went on to write perhaps the most famous editorial ever to appear in print. His brilliant response addressed realities that exist in the spiritual world as opposed to those which merely exist in physical manifestations.

But today I will confine my remarks to those which exist in our physical world. In particular, bicycles.  More specifically, American made bicycles. While Church pointed out the failings of those who only accept as real that which they can see, touch and feel, I take issue with those who can see, touch and feel and yet deny reality. In short, those folks that know there are bicycles being manufactured in the United States but spread the untruth that there are not.

Some background.  We were recently contacted by a manager from a mid-western city who asked us whether our bikes are manufactured in the United States. We replied “yes.” Then she asked, “are you sure?” It was an odd follow-up which made us chuckle.” “Yes we are sure, we are sitting in the factory. You can come visit and see for yourself,” we assured her.  Upon further discussion, she told us that a high-profile company in the bikeshare “space” had told her, in response to her question whether there are bikes built in the U.S., that there “were none.”

Now, I am the type that tends to give people the benefit of the doubt. We are not a large company that spends a lot on advertising. Most people do not, in fact, know us or the fact we still manufacture bikes in the U.S. But the fellow that told this manager that “no bike manufacturers exist in the U.S.” knows us – and knows us well. We have worked together. Perhaps he just forgot. Yeah right.

This is not the first time I have run into this. Several years ago at a college sustainability conference where we were displaying our products, a company in an allied industry took to telling people that our bikes were manufactured overseas and were merely assembled in the U.S. The problem was that we knew each other and had even discussed doing joint projects together because, in his words “it would be great for two American manufacturers to team up.”  Sadly, this was not the last time. It happens again and again.

We are grown-ups here.  We are all seeking a competitive edge over our competitors. We are all locked in the eternal  battle for each sale. Sometimes that means things get rough. But as in any competitive arena, there is a line over which we should not cross. For me, that line is lying. Plain and simple. Perhaps I am old-school, but I was taught, and believe, that you should never “trash” the competition. It’s just a poor way to sell. While I have no problem pointing the differences between our products and our competitor’s, I confine my remarks to demonstrable facts. And yes, I even give praise when due. But engaging in flat out falsehoods, or spreading erroneous information, will come back to bite you. That mid-western city is reconsidering their order with the vendor who gave them blatantly false information.

Why does this bother me so much? The cynic will tell me that “it’s only business, it’s not personal.” I flatly reject that I always will. It is personal. Because people work here. People who build bikes to support their families. I know each one by name. The guys who bend tubes and those who weld them. The fellows who paint and  assemble and pack and ship. And the group of women who lace each wheel. Not personal?  Tell them that.

So let me return to paraphrasing the immortal F.P. Church : Yes Virginia, there are bicycles Made in America. They exist as certainly as hard work and devotion and commitment exist, and you know that they abound and bring to your life a joyful and safe ride.

I Remain Bullish on Bikeshare

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Relax – – the bikeshare industry in the U.S will be fine. It will not collapse with the implosion of PBSC (Bixi) and will actually emerge stronger.

As with all new industries, the bikeshare industry is transforming. We are shifting from Bikeshare 1.0 to Bikeshare 2.0 if you will. And like other industries, this is a good thing.

First generation technologies always seem (and are) crude, cumbersome, clunky and costly in comparison to future generations. Bikeshare may well be the new poster child of this natural progression. The expansive and expensive racks and kiosks are already on their way out. SmartBike technology, although having considerable room for improvement, is clearly a better solution.

In addition to technology advances, the bikeshare industry will also benefit from new business models and management arrangements. The consultant turned supplier turned manufacturer model is taking on water. Cities are realizing that it’s usually not such a great idea to have the same folks that sell “feasibility studies” be the same as those selling management services and (gasp!) equipment.  In fact, often laws exist that explicitly ban such arrangements. For instance, here in New York it is illegal to be both an environmental testing company and an environmental abatement company. The logic here is obvious.

As we move to Bikeshare 2.0, we will enjoy increasing competition among technology providers, equipment manufacturers and management companies. Concentrating on their specific areas of expertise will yield superior products and greater efficiencies. The ultimate result will be the industry’s advancement towards the grand quest – financial viability.

Of course, there is another partner in all this – the cities who field bikeshare systems.  We need the cities that already have programs – and those considering them – to have some patience and a whole lot of commitment. Bikeshare will only succeed when it is seen as an integral part of the public transportation system and not just a nice amenity. This will take time. Taking Americans out of their cars is a daunting task. Honestly, bikeshare has not even scratched the surface. Its “mode share” is a largely a cannibalization of other public transportation systems and walking. But this will change – slowly. Already we are seeing statistics showing that “millenials” are moving away from cars in huge numbers. Research shows that car ownership among young, urbanites is not very desirable. Bikeshare, along with car sharing services such as ZipCar are making car ownership largely unnecessary for city dwellers. The only people who seemingly do not see this “sea-change” occurring are big city governments who stubbornly continue to support – and indirectly subsidize – car drivers. The best example: the toll-free bridges that span New York’s East River which allow drivers, many of whom live outside the city limits, to travel into Manhattan for free. New York City bears the cost of maintaining the bridges, receives no revenue from these drivers, and disincentivizes them from using mass transit. A better approach is taken in Hangzhou, China where the world’s largest bikeshare program exists. To discourage people from driving into the city, Hangzhou makes their bikeshare free to those using mass transit to enter the city.

All this means the future of the bikeshare industry is bright if it can get past the need/desire of cities to make the bikeshare programs financially self-sustaining “from the git-go.”  Bikeshare can absolutely result in positive revenue if viewed as part the greater overall city financial picture. Imagine, if you will, that New York City slapped a hefty toll on those East River bridges. Drivers just might take another look at mass transit. They will pay for a monthly commutation ticket resulting in higher revenues for the MTA (Metropolitan Transit Authority) and help defray the cost of a massive transit system in which the majority of expenses are fixed costs anyway. Maintenance costs for those bridges will decline if fewer cars use them. Perhaps NYC will even need fewer parking enforcement officers (although at the price of NYC parking tickets the city is probably making out pretty well here!) City streets will be less snarled making buses move faster which may make New Yorkers do the unimaginable – actually like them!  Taken from this perspective, bikeshare may be a great way for cities to actually create new revenues. At the relatively modest cost of establishing a bikeshare program vis-à-vis other major city projects, it may actually be a bargain.

But it takes some vision. Luckily, there is no shortage of that in the bikeshare industry. I have met so many really smart people in this space, particularly young people with brilliant ideas.  I also see a new breed of urban planners taking the reins in city halls across America bringing with them a new vision of the modern city freed from the mayhem of automobiles. One day they will crowd out those who cling to automobile commutation as an “inalienable right” while failing to see the inter-related cost structure of the entire urban transportation mix.  Like I said, it will take some vision. But like I said in the title, I remain bullish on bikeshare.

Enabling a Big Loser

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We are guilty as charged. We have been a major enabler of a really big loser. But before I delve into that, a little back story.

The tricycle you are looking at above is our Model PAV, a semi-recumbent adult tricycle. PAV stands for Personal Activity Vehicle but, for all you Worksman Cycles trivia fans, there is another reason for the “AV” part of the designation. This trike was designed by long-time employee Al Venditti, our “man who does everything.” So in tribute to Al, we weaved his initials into the product name.

We don’t think about that little factoid whenever we sell a PAV and I don’t think Al does either. But it’s a nice story about a really great guy. Al deserves a lot more credit than simply having his initials on a trike. Yet, whenever somebody at the factory brings this up, it allows us to do something very special, and very important: focus on people not products.

So allow me to focus on another person. His name is Joe Lowry. Joe is a big guy standing 6’7″ tall and weighing in at 375 pounds. But Joe is not nearly as big as he once was. In June 2010 when Joe ordered his PAV, he weighed 590 pounds. Joe was driven to return to good health and decided to ride his way there on a Worksman PAV. Joe is not alone. Each and every day we get calls from people who would like to use a bike or trike to get back into shape but who were unable to find a vehicle that could support their weight. That is, until they discover Worksman.

Worksman Cycles are built to withstand the rigors of constant use in industrial and commercial settings. Our cycles are hard at work enabling the largest companies in the world to increase efficiency and profitability. But those same product attributes enable our plus size customers to decrease their weight and live a healthy life.

Our corporate customers thank us by ordering more Worksman Cycles. Our plus size customers thank us in a more personal way: with a heartfelt note or phone call thanking us for producing cycles that helped save their lives.

We live for those notes and phone calls. Or for when we receive thanks from the loved ones of a rider with special needs that has discovered the joy of riding because of a Worksman adult tricycle. It allows us to step back from the rigors of our daily work lives to focus on some of the special people we have helped. People like Joe Lowry – truly a big loser.

Way to go Joe! We look forward to hearing from you again as you work your way down the scale. As your weight plummets, our spirits here at Worksman soar.

If you would like to follow Joe along his journey here’s a link to his FaceBook page.

 https://www.facebook.com/pages/Fans-of-Joe-and-the-Tricycle-Bike-GO-JOE-GO/125821850791082

Bikes as basic transportation – even in winter.

bikein snow

It’s been a brutal winter here in New York, as it has been in so many parts of the country. Sustained periods of weather only a polar bear could love. Still, many people rely on their bikes as their primary means of transportation. Some of these are so-called “diehards” who are committed to using their bikes as opposed to other forms of transportation. But for many others, it is their only choice. Sometimes this is dictated because of geographics, other times by economics, but usually a combination of both. It is these people – those who depend on their bike everyday – who we at Worksman keep in mind when designing bikes.

Consumer bikes make up a small percentage of our sales. Perhaps it’s a function of limited distribution. Perhaps our inability (and refusal) to compete on price vs. low-end imports sold through mass merchants. And perhaps it is because of our limited product range. We don’t make road bikes or mountain bikes. We don’t offer kid’s bikes. Just classic cruisers and roadsters (and tandems!) that we build out of steel. We stubbornly stick to traditional and costly construction methods such as hand brazing our fully lugged frames and using   wet paint instead of powdercoat. That’s just how we do it. And we do it well, creating rock-solid bikes that customers – either commercial or personal – can rely on everyday. Like those folks who ride their bikes in the snow to get to work or to school. Not because they want to ride their bike, but they need to get to where they are going.

While bikeshare programs, carbon fiber road bikes and the latest $3,000 dutch-inspired cargo bikes seem to garner all the press, we stay focused on bikes that are used for their original purpose – inexpensive, dependable transportation.

We salute all those who have ridden their bike this winter, including the 20+ employees here at Worksman who do so everyday.

 

 

Old school meets modern design.

bendingmachineThis is one of my favorite pieces of equipment here in the Worksman factory. It is a sheet metal folding and bending machine. It’s really old, completely manual with absolutely no electronics and weighs about as much as a city bus. We use it for all sorts of bending and folding of the stainless steel sheets we use in fabricating food vending carts, trailers and trucks, but one use is really neat.

Have you ever admired the diamond pattern “quilting” on the backsplash of the luncheonette or coffee shop you love or the exterior cladding of  your favorite food vending truck or cart? Well this is the piece of equipment you need to produce that. Once upon a time, stainless steel foundries made these patterned sheets available, but alas no more. So we do it ourselves. It makes the stainless steel sheets stronger and more attractive. Which brings me to my next point: very attractive stainless steel backsplashes.

Over the years we have had the good fortune of working with several interior and furniture designers to bring their designs and visions to life in stainless steel. It’s a departure from our normal work which makes it fun and challenging. Recently two very talented designers from Austria contacted us to produce samples for a design expo here in New York City. Working with Jack Beller, our V.P. of the vending division, they  designed, engineered and produced some striking samples of custom folded backsplashes (see below.)

So while we were producing bicycles and tricycles upstairs, we were creating some unique, architectural stainless steel backsplashes downstairs. Then we went back to producing ice cream and hot dog carts. All in a day’s work.

Bruce

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The Ultimate Rolling Kitchen

avion trailerWe get to do a lot of cool things here at Worksman, particularly in our Mobile Food Vending Division. We make all sorts of custom units ranging from ice cream tricycles, to mobile corn roasters, to the bar carts on Metro North and of course, lots of food trucks. Some of the trucks we have made are seen everyday on the streets of New York and other cities. Cupcake Stop, Taim Falafel, Itsy Ice Cream just to name a few. Each truck starts as a “blank canvas” (or a step-van if you will) and then our designers and craftspeople create a rolling kitchen specifically suited to the operator’s needs.

So why then, do you ask, is there a photo of a very cool retro stainless steel travel trailer on top of this post? Because we have that bad boy in our yard (actually one that looks just like it.) How it ended up there is a tale, but the bottom line is it is available for conversion. And here’s the best part: WE ARE GIVING IT AWAY FOR FREE. Yeah, that’s right – free (as defined in Webster’s as “not costing any moolah, dinero, simoleans, scratch or bank.) So what’s the catch? Simple. We will give it to anybody that will let us do a full kitchen conversion. In other words, we are not used trailer salesmen. We are new mobile kitchen manufacturers. So we want to to do what we know how to do.

Let me define a full kitchen conversion. It simply means that we want to install everything you need to make it a legal vending kitchen. It may be hot or cold food, with refrigeration, freezers, fry-o-lators, grills, steam tables, stoves or whatever you need. It will probably have hot and cold running water. It could be a giant ice cream truck, or perhaps a taco shack. It can be a rolling smoothie and espresso bar or a pit BBQ where hunters will drop off the wild boar they snagged that morning and want to eat for dinner later that day. Your call.

Some specifics. The unit is 35′ long. It needs to be towed by a hefty pickup or SUV. It has doors and windows, but we can add more. It has sunshades on either side that can be replaced with custom units. And if you want to be outrageous, the entire unit can be vinyl wrapped.

So if you are a foodie with vision, this will be a glint to your eye. Call me at 718-322-2000.

Bruce