“We look like the Beverly Hillbillies,” said Cindy Lewis at one point. To drivers passing by we might have looked like gypsies, or a low budget circus on bikes.
This pedal-powered moving service runs on bread and coffee (and enjoys the work!).
About seven years ago, Portland, Oregon, now notorious as the global epicenter of smug*, pioneered yet another eco-trend that has finally made it to Norfolk. No, it’s not excessive facial hair , or coffee for $30/lb. It’s moving an entire household of stuff by bicycle. It’s called a bike move, and they’ve been doing it in the streets of Portland for years. It has spread to other bike-happy cities, including San Francisco, Brooklyn, Minneapolis, and even Ames, Iowa.
A Saturday in January might seem like a cruel choice to stage Norfolk’s first bike move, but the day offered a warming sun, air temps of around 50, and only mild wind. About 15 people assembled at the home of Wes Cheney, not to move his couch, bed, and bookshelves, as I’d seen in various bike move videos on YouTube, but to help him move his business to a better location.
Wes had packed up the contents of his garage-based bamboo-bike-building workshop, filling plastic buckets and bins with bamboo and bike parts. He had a couple of trailers, including one for moving his wooden workbench and drill press. We’d be packing up as much of the contents of his shop as we could, and riding them 8 miles up Granby Street, from Riverview to Ocean View, where Wes would reinstall the equipment in the back room of East Coast Bikes.
To help with a bike move, as I also learned from videos, it’s good to bring utility bikes and any kind of apparatus that can help carry stuff. Unfortunately, utility bikes have not yet caught on in the small but growing Norfolk cycling community. People came on road bikes, mountain bikes, even a trike, but nobody on a long bike or bakfiets, the signature rides of an accomplished bike move. I came on my wife’s hybrid, and I emptied out the trailer we use to haul our daughter, prepared to load it with whatever would fit.
Cycling, like it or not, is often about image as well as utility (hence the smugness), and dressing myself that morning I’d been torn between the practical and the hip. I have a drawer full of spandex outfits that I use for sport rides and workouts at the gym. These are practical riding clothes, useful because they reduce drag and chafing, wick away sweat, and stretch with your body. But they also make you look (to some people) like a poseur who thinks he’s Lance Armstrong.
The sport-riding crowd respects the spandex, but the urban bike-warrior crowd, the other contingency that would be at this move, is apt to sneer at too much snug clothing. I considered jeans and a hoodie with a vest, but in the end decided that 8 miles was too far to ride in scratchy, loose-fitting clothing, and pulled on the black spandex leggings and jersey.
When I arrived, as expected, the crowd at Wes’s was divided about equally between the spandexed and the non. And I didn’t feel judged.
I stacked three large plastic bins in my trailer, along with two sacks of books and a medium-sized chalkboard. All together it weighed over 100 pounds, and I looked carefully at the wheels of trailer to make sure the thing wasn’t going to collapse. It’s important to balance the load over the axle, since too much weight forward will strain the hitch, and too much weight to the back will risk lifting the bike’s rear wheel into the air, which would be bad. It took some time to balance the workbench, which we did by adding a drill and a fire extinguisher toward the front. Mike Evans had the job of pulling that thing on his single-gear road bike, a heroic challenge about which he never once complained.
I watched a few others jackknife their trailers in the street in front of Wes’s house, but a few quick lessons in trailer-handling was enough to get everyone in line. Then we were off, through Riverview and onto Granby, where we had to cross the Lafayette River bridge. Dropping to a low gear I put my head down and pedaled my load up the incline, oblivious of cars and other riders until I got to the top. I gave a whoop, and then barreled down the other side, which turned out to be much scarier than going up had been. My hundred pound trailer pushed me along at the bottom, and I had to brake hard to stop at the light. Everyone else made, it, even Mike and the Workbench. I didn’t notice if anyone had to walk.
The rest of the ride was just a slog up a long, straight street. We kept close together and must have made quite a sight. “We look like the Beverly Hillbillies,” said Cindy Lewis at one point. To drivers passing by we might have looked like gypsies, or a low budget circus on bikes. But drivers gave us plenty of room and nobody honked or complained at us.
We arrived at Ocean View with no spilled loads, no injuries, and no accidents. The contents of the workshop came off the bikes and went into the bike store, no worse for wear. High fives occurred. More homemade bread was consumed. Smugness increased.
I’d call Norfolk’s first bike move a great success. Watch the Bike Norfolk Facebook page for calls for the next one, whoever it may be for.
Also, a note: on the way home I rode over the first new bike lanes I’ve seen marked in Norfolk in quite a while. They are on Llewellyn Ave, just below the Lafayette River bridge. Bike Norfolk is advocating for the whole length of Lafayette to be marked for bikes, so this is a great start!
* Being fairly smug myself, I happen to love Portland.
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