Even within much of utility cycling, the bicycle is mostly considered a tool for lightweight and personal tasks such as bicycle commuting or general bicycle transportation. However, we have also tried to highlight the ways in which the bicycle can also be an incredibly efficient tool for tasks with more gravity such as mail or parcel delivery, mobile bike businesses, emergency and patrol services, and much more. Another area where bicycles can play an important role is in factory work, as industrial settings often call for the maneuverability and efficiency that only a bicycle can provide. Not to mention, bicycles are cheaper to maintain and emissions-free, unlike golf carts or fork lifts, but they are still quite capable of accomplishing most of the same tasks as their motorized cousins. Bicycles are also great for worker health and business image, as well. Header image credit: Red Kit Prayer.
Image Credit: Worksman Cycles
A Brief History of Factory Bicycles
In order to understand the history of bicycle use in factories and other industrial settings, at least in the United States, it is perhaps best to begin by looking at the history of Worksman Cycles (not to be confused with the Dutch WorkCycles). Worksman Cycles is the oldest bicycle manufacturer in the U.S. that is still in business today. Worksman Cycles was founded in 1898 in a neighborhood in Queens, NY, by Morris Worksman, a Russian immigrant to the U.S. The company specializes in industrial tricycles, from the super heavy-duty that can handle hundreds of pounds, to the more nimble delivery trikes, as well as regular bicycles for industrial and recreational use. Initially, Worksman (Morris) sold bikes out of his shop for a few years, until 1930, when he was approached by an ice cream company called Good Humor Ice Cream, which wanted to set up a bunch of ice cream delivery trikes. From there, Worksman quickly began to specialized in heavy-duty bicycles that could be used for food vending, factory use, and anything else that required some major moving power. Today, Worksman makes bikes for a wide range of purposes and businesses around the world. Check out Bicycle Times and NPR for some longer features on the history and current state of Worksman Cycles.
Wayne Sosin – President of Worksman. Image Credit: Peter Breslow/NPR
Beyond Worksman, I wasn’t able to find too much other information about the historic use of bicycles for use in factories and other industrial settings. However, as with much other bicycle-related history, it seems the bicycle went the way of being a novelty or a child’s item, as the combustion engine took over for modern transportation, although freight bicycles seem to have long been used in factories. Nonetheless, there are a number of more modern uses of bicycles in factories, to which we can now turn our attention. If you have any other historical information on the use of bicycles in factories, I’d love to hear from you!
Bicycle Use in Factories
The bicycle has long been utilized as an efficient tool in factories. There are three main types of bicycle use in factories, which include the transport of goods in the manufacturing process, mobile repair and support, and general transportation through large facilities. Bicycles can be used to transport parts and components from one part of a large factory to another quickly and efficiently. Additionally, mechanics and repair people can get themselves around the factory and be very mobile and available via bicycle. Lastly, many factories and industrial settings are large, sprawling areas, and getting from one place to another within the confines of the factory can be quite time consuming on foot, so bicycles can increase the speed with which employees can travel around a factory.
A cyclist in the Boeing factory building in Everett, WA (the largest building in the world). Image Credit: USAToday
Although, many companies use golf carts to transport people and goods around factories, there are many additional benefits to using industrial bicycles in factory settings as well. According to Wayne Sosin of Worksman Cycles:
Weve found on that note that many companies have switched over from Worksman bikes to trikes as time goes on, because you can literally move hundreds of pounds safely, and there are no stability issues. Thats where companies can benefit, because now theyre moving merchandise that they used to move on a golf cart, which costs five times as much to buy and ten times as much to maintain, with the added benefit of getting employees in good shape. So its a win-win. Its just not the easiest sell to make, because people have not witnessed what tricycles and bicycles can do. You can envision a lot of people who work in these plants are middle aged, overweight…they start riding their tricycle, and the first week its very tiring, and then all of a sudden they realize theyre not as tired anymore, and then they love it. And maybe thats going to contribute to some better overall fitness activity. Its rewarding when it happens, but we hear it both ways: Oh yeah, they make us ride those tricycles instead of using golf carts, then you hear, Oh, I love your tricycles, it keeps me in great shape. (Source: Bicycle Times).
Clearly, industrial bicycles, in addition to being efficient and powerful, are also great ways to maintain the health and wellness of factory employees. They also help with promoting the idea of being “green” or “eco-friendly” in factories, as well.
Image Credit: Andrea Mohin/The New York Times – Source
Common styles of bicycles used in factory work
There are three main styles of bicycles that are used in factories and other industrial settings, which include tricycles, two-wheel cargo bicycles, and regular two-wheel bicycles. Tricycles are bicycles with three wheels that provide better balance and moving power than their two-wheeled counterparts. Front-loader bicycles, such as the popular Long John-style bicycle, are also common, as the long wheel base and front-loading cargo area can carry large loads. Lastly, regular bicycles are also common in factory work, as they provide quick and convenient transportation across large, cavernous factory spaces.