Sunday, January 30, 2011

Worksman Cycles - Queens Bike Maker Seeks Big Leg Up by Hilary Potkewitz- Crain's New York Business

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Ever since the city's Department of Transportation started asking for proposals for a citywide bike-share program in November, a small bike factory in Queens has been trying to get noticed.
“It's a grassroots effort at this point, but we're trying to create as much awareness as we can with local businesses, the Department of Transportation and the Mayor's Office,” says Wayne Sosin, president of Worksman Cycles. In fact, the company has been quietly wheeling out heavy-duty bicycles and tricycles in Ozone Park since the 1890s.
“No other city has the opportunity to source their bicycles from their own local bike manufacturer,” Mr. Sosin adds, noting that Worksman bikes are already used in several smaller U.S. cities' bike-share programs. “If that didn't happen in New York, it would be tragic.”
A contract for 10,000 or more bikes for New York City's program would be a huge boost for the small company, and would mean hiring more welders, painters, assemblers and packers for the Queens plant. That's a fact not lost on local politicians. Nearly all of Worksman's employees live in the five boroughs.


“Those jobs are important not just for that one business, but for the local economy,” said City Councilman Eric Ulrich, whose district includes Ozone Park. “If the city is serious about keeping and creating local jobs throughout the boroughs, then it's going to do everything it can to support small businesses currently operating here.”
The DOT is accepting bids until Feb. 16 for the bike program, which would involve setting up more than 600 bike stations around the city, equipped with high-tech locks, and more than 10,000 GPS-equipped bikes. The request for proposals dictates that a private company will bear all costs of the program, slated for a 2012 launch, and share any profits with the city.
Modeled on similar bike programs in Europe, the New York bike-share system will be the largest in the U.S. Naturally, the companies that run programs in other cities are eyeing the New York contract—but none manufacture their bikes in the U.S.
Mr. Sosin's challenge is to be considered as a possible supplier. It's proving an uphill climb.


“We love Worksman, and it's super cool to have the oldest bike manufacturer in the country right here in Queens,” said Caroline Samponaro, director of bicycle advocacy for Transportation Alternatives, a transportation policy think tank. “I've mentioned them to all the [bike-share program] operators I've spoken to, but my role is advocating for better mobility options at less cost, not in picking sides.”
For nearly a century, Worksman bikes were primarily used in auto and other heavy industries to help employees get around in sprawling factories. When those plants began closing up, Worksman was hit hard.
The company has shifted its emphasis to recreational bikes for everything from old-age communities to urban bike-share programs. Its new line of commuter bikes costs $300 to $600, slightly more than foreign-made rivals. Last year, sales were up 10% over 2009 levels. The company's largest single order in recent years was 1,700 bikes for a Central American postal service.
The problem for Worksman's attempt to get in on the big New York contract is that the bike-share industry is dominated by BIXI, a Canadian outfit that runs such programs in Montreal, London, Boston and elsewhere. Its bikes are manufactured in Quebec by Cycles Devinci, which last year received a sizable grant from the Canadian government to expand its assembly line. Denver, Chicago and Louisville, Ky., use Asian-made Trek bikes.
DOT declined to give details on proposals that have been submitted, but it's safe to assume that major players like BIXI are aggressively bidding for the contract, said Transportation Alternatives.
That prospect concerned Mr. Ulrich. “I think that preferential treatment absolutely should be given to local businesses like this bike manufacturer,” he said. “Why should we be giving money to a Canadian company when we can create more jobs right here?”