A company that hauls away
your trash — on bikes.
By Peter Smith
Pedal People is an 11-person cooperative
bicycle business in Northampton, Mass., that
hauls furniture, yard waste, and garbage —
all year round. In June 2007, Pedal People signed a
contract with the City of Northampton to pick up
its 70 trash barrels in downtown, one of the only
bicycle-powered businesses in the United States
picking up municipal trash.
I spoke with Pedal People’s founders, Alex Jarrett
and Ruthy Woodring, from their home in Florence.
Peter Smith: When did you start hauling with bikes?
Ruthy Woodring: I started in Chicago when I was
living in a Catholic Worker house. One of the things
we did was an open dinner, like a soup kitchen. To
get food, we would do some dumpster diving and
we also had a food pickup run to get donations. One
day the truck broke down and so I thought, “Well, I’ll
just tie the garden cart to the back of my bicycle.”
I started doing that until a friend came by and
said, “You know what, Ruthy? I got something better
for you.” And he donated a trailer to the house.
PS: Now you’re doing more. What’s an average day?
Photograph by Peter Smith
Alex Jarrett: Typically a day with Pedal People
involves getting the trailer ready, making sure you
have everything you need: bungee cords, spare
trash bags, gloves, and our trailers, which we stack
with eight recycling totes with lids.
RW: Our trailers can take four tubs on the bottom
and four on the top. So by the time the trailer’s full,
it’s about as high as my head. The weight limit on
the trailers is between 200 and 300 pounds.
PS: Tell me about the bike trailers you build.
AJ: If you can find your own wheels and plywood, it
costs about $30. Labor’s about five to ten hours — if
you get good at it. You need some basic tools and
Go to the hardware store for a few lengths of
conduit. You can use them to make a few other
optional things like handles. For the dropouts, you
6" angle iron. I only have a hacksaw to cut
out the dropouts, where the wheels will go.
And then the hitch is made out of ¼" flat stock
and a rod you bend to go around the chain stay. You
have to buy a little $6 universal joint for the hitch
so the trailer can tilt as you’re riding around.
PS: Do you think more people will be doing this?
Is this an easy way to transport things?
RW: It’s a pretty unique situation in Northampton,
where the city does not provide municipal trash
pickup service and does provide a transfer center
within biking distance of most households. Those
two factors let Pedal People work.
For other people in other towns, hauling things on
bicycles is pretty easy. There’s very low overhead.
The bike trailers are relatively inexpensive. The
capital is your human labor. Compared to a truck,
you don’t have to pay for gas.
» Pedal People:
» Build a bike trailer:
Peter Smith, a freelance writer based in Portland, Maine,
snacks on wild crabapples and dumpstered baguettes. His
work is viewable at