Wash Cycle Laundry’s new electrically-assisted tricycle next to old trailer
Wash Cycle Laundry is an environmentally-conscious laundry service that does pick-ups and deliveries throughout Philadelphia via bicycle. For its first two years, the company has depended strong riders who can haul hundreds of pounds of laundry using only a sturdy mountain bike and a trailer.
But after sending many a courageous employee to scale the hills of West Philadelphia and Fairmount Park, Wash Cycle has decided to transition to electrically-assisted tricycles. The reasons for the change include concerns about safety, liability and branding.
“We’ve been sort of experimenting with things that we like and don’t like, and I think this is just part of that experimentation,” said Gabriel Mandujano, founder and CEO of Wash Cycle.
“We’ve probably tried every bike-cargo product on the market right now,” he added.
The tricycles work like any other chain-driven bicycle, except they have three wheels and are assisted by a small electric motor which riders can use to accelerate up hills and cover distances faster. The motor is activated by a throttle on the handlebar, and the electrical charge lasts for about 30 miles. The tricycles also have attached containers that can hold around 500 lbs compared to the recommended load of 300 lbs on the old trailers.
Mandujano said that the tricycles, which have hydraulic braking for the back two wheels, are safer and more stable. This means, in addition to safer riders, less liability for the company.
“We’ve talked to our underwriters, and I think they’re more excited about trikes. The transition wasn’t forced upon us, but like us the people who insure us are interested in having us do things more safely,” Mandujano said.
Branding and greater visibility were factors as well. The new trailers are bigger and have a more streamlined look. Mandujano added that the old trailers were often mistaken as trash cans by onlookers — an unfortunate point of confusion for the budding social enterprise.
As for the employees, who are often bicycling enthusiasts and enjoy the peddling aspect of the job, the response to the transition has been mixed, according to Jake Clark, the current fleet manager.
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Clark said that some riders have concerns about holding up traffic, due to the larger size of the trailer, but that the trikes, at 45 inches wide, still fit within the city’s bike lanes. It should also be noted that the old bikes have not been completely replaced, and many of the riders have yet to transition into using the trikes on a regular basis.
“There’s no silver bullet either. The trikes come with their own complications,” Mandujano said. “But it seems to be what’s working out for us best.”
There will be total of nine tricycles. Some of these will be sent to Washington D.C., where the company recently opened another branch.
Something New on Philly’s Streets
Wash Cycle is one of most well-known bicycle businesses in Philadelphia, and its success has brought attention to the potential of bicycles to replace other forms of transportation and even serve as the backbone of an entire business model.
But how do electrically-assisted bicycles/tricycles fit into this growing landscape of bicycle-based business, commuters and recreational riders? As of now, this is an open question for both city officials and bicycle advocates.
“We don’t have a strong opinion about electric-assist tricycles. They fall into that nebulous region between bicycles and motorcycles that seems to be getting more finely segmented every year,” said Nicholas Mirra, communications manager at the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia.
City officials are equally non-committal.
“The City of Philadelphia has not adopted any municipal ordinances concerning the use of electric bicycles,” said Charles Carmalt, pedestrian and bicycle coordinator for the Mayor’s Office of Transportation & Utilities.
The current state laws concerning electrically-assisted bicycles distinguish them from pedal-driven bicycles, though there is now a bill in the senate that would put them in the same category and set specific design qualifications and speed limits. It would also ban anyone under 16 from using them.
“Philadelphia and Pennsylvania’s laws are still trying to catch up to all the circumstances involved in bicycles, let alone newly-created hybrid vehicles,” Mirra said.
But as shown by Wash Cycle Laundry’s transition, there are personal and economic advantages to using electrically-assisted bicycles. Some of these advantages could get more people out on the street.
“There are a large number of people with limited energy for whom these vehicles provide a window for exercise within their stamina range,” Carmalt said.
“The other side of the issue is the potential for these vehicles to be driven faster and more aggressively than human powered vehicles. This could especially pose a problem on trails and in bike lanes where use of electric assist could result in a new class of vehicles traveling faster than prevailing traffic,” he added.
Senate Bill 997 – bill changing laws concerning electrically-assisted bicycles-30-
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