Post from Paul Willerton, Electric Bike Report correspondent from Bend, Oregon.
It’s a cool, February afternoon in Portland, Oregon. There is intermittent rain falling, the type Oregonians sometimes call ‘dry rain’. On the city’s East side, I’m looking for a company called B-Line PDX.
Not seeing obvious signs on the buildings around me, I call their number. “B-Line PDX, this is Franklin.” Franklin Jones founded the company and is it’s owner and CEO. “Where are you?” he asks. I see a man appear on a loading ramp holding a phone, looking around. From the warehouse behind him, a rider pedaling a trike with a large box attached emerges and glides down the ramp. “I’ll be right there”, I say.
From the humble concept of supplying ‘last mile’ deliveries to businesses in a metro area via bicycle transport, Jones has proven his concept works. His business is not only profitable, but it adds value in ways that keep adding up.
First of all, Portland is a cooler city by having electric-assist bicycle delivery. Residents not only seem to take some pride in it, they are also shown what is possible with an electric-assist bicycle. Many may be compelled to get on bikes, themselves.
Other companies that want to show they support green delivery and a healthy lifestyle are choosing to advertise on B-Line PDX delivery trikes. Those ad placements now account for 40% of B-Line’s revenue. B-Line PDX is demonstrating that their model not only pencils, it injects life into it’s city.
Portland, Oregon gets to call itself home to a global leader in electric-assist bicycle delivery. The results show there is no doubt that this type of service will grow around the world.
The United States and other developed nations may not have embraced rickshaw bicycles in the way that poorer countries have, but they will want to pay close attention to electric-assist bicycle delivery and transport. With zero emissions, lower operating cost and smaller footprint on already too-tight city streets, they can’t afford not to.
Company Founder, Owner and CEO Franklin Jones poses with a B-Line PDX electric-assist delivery trike. The boxes are custom and purpose-built for the types of deliveries that B-Line makes on a daily basis. They are insulated to help keep perishables in good condition. Contents stay at more optimal temperatures regardless of season and weather condition.
B-Line keeps mechanics on staff. With payloads consistently reaching 600 pounds, total trike weight is in the 1,000 pound range. Averaging speeds of 11-13 mph over routes that are not always the smoothest, trikes need attention. Mid-drive electric-assist motors on stout platforms make it all possible. B-Line learns quickly what works and what doesn’t.
Batteries lined up at charge stations, ready to be dropped in and sent on their missions. B-Line uses both 12V and Lithium Ion systems in their fleet.
600 pound payloads require heavy duty drivetrains and plenty of support in the undercarriage.
An EcoSpeed mid-drive motor equipped trike. B-Line uses different equipment on it’s trikes, learning much about it’s functionality in the process. Questions about which equipment to source and from where are always being pondered.
While pedicabs have been around for decades, electric-assist and the horizons it opens are raising ideas for new concepts. It is early stage in the delivery and transport business. No doubt there will be a growing number of options in the future.
B-Line messenger routes are organized in this fashion. There are usually many routes within routes in a two mile radius. If there are questions regarding speed, studies show that traffic in the city actually averages 11-13 mph, which matches the speed of a B-Line trike.
Customers like McMenamins and Whole Foods benefit from B-Line services as well as schools and shelters. Office Depot has learned that B-Line handles their final destination deliveries well. On the day we visited, 2,000 pounds of office supplies found their destination via B-Line trike.
One advantage that B-Line enjoys is that they don’t need to park in a loading zone or loading dock. They can be in-and-out of a delivery before a large truck has stopped and lowered their gate.
B-Line operates out of a warehouse that is equipped with a large walk-in freezer. This is some of the fresh, top-quality organic produce waiting in the facility for delivery. B-Line’s serves it’s community and part of it’s activity is funded by it’s B-Share program.
An investment of $20 serves 40 meals to the needy. B-Shares can be purchased here.
B-Line has as a stack of billboards that can be slid into place around their trikes. Advertisers like these see the value in aligning their brand image with what B-Line is doing.
With her delivery route completed, a happy B-Line messenger finishes her route. B-Line keeps eight riders on staff, presently. Many of these riders will put in 32-35 hours per week making deliveries. B-Line has more riders that can be added when needed who work on an hourly wage.
They must all complete a four to five week training period before becoming full-fledged B-Line riders. It’s an intensive course where much of the time is spent on the routing process. For B-Line, some of the heaviest costs to bear are insurance and workers compensation.
B-Line is demonstrating in public view what the hybrid-human vehicle can accomplish. They are showing that electric-assist bicycles are a viable alternative that most business can utilize. In this case, their model was made possible in large part by electric-assist. Getting their trikes on the road, gaining customers, working with their city, forging relationships and always learning has made B-Line a first-mover in the industry.