Friday, March 4, 2011

Ozone Park Bike Factory Wants to Ride with City by Anna Gustafson - Queens Chronicle

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Wayne Sosin poses with one of his bikes. photo by anna gustafson

New York City’s last remaining bicycle manufacturer, based in Ozone Park, is hoping the city it has called home for more than a century will select it for an upcoming bike sharing program.

Worksman Cycles President Wayne Sosin said his company submitted a bid last week in hopes of being selected to provide thousands of the bikes for the program the city is slated to launch in the spring of 2012.

“It’s such a wonderful idea,” Sosin said of the bike share program that would allow individuals to pay an hour fee not yet specified to rent a bicycle in Manhattan. “It creates a friendlier commuting system where people don’t have to pay an arm and a leg for gas.”

There would be spots around the city, most likely concentrated in Midtown, where riders could drop off and pick up the bicycles. DOT officials have said they would like the program to expand to other boroughs as well.

“Biking has become a serious transportation option in New York and bike share is the clear next step,” city Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan said. “New York’s ideal geography, high residential and commercial density and growing bike infrastructure make it the perfect option for short trips since over 50 percent of trips in NYC are under two miles.”

Worksman Cycles, at 95th Avenue between 101st and 102nd streets, was founded in 1898 by Morris Worksman, who believed a well-designed three-wheleed cycle could replace the horse and wagon.

The original cycles were built in a small shop where the World Trade Center would come to be located. The company moved to Ozone Park in 1979, and it continues to make industrial-strength tricycles and bicycles that are used around the city — and world, from neighborhood pizza shops to the U.S. Army in the Middle East.

A number of companies use Worksman bicycles, including General Motors and Mercedes Benz, as do other bike-share programs in Tulsa, Okla. and Princeton University.

“We had been talking about ordering a crate of bikes from China, but we wanted to have fewer, better bikes,” said Tom Cooper, a member of the Tulsa Townies LLC, the group that runs the bike share program in the Oklahoma city. “We discovered one of the local bike shops here in Tulsa had provided Worksman bikes to a large industrial facility where bikes sat outside, and they had held up to the rigors of being outside. Our bikes were going to sit outside for most of the year, so that was important to us.”

Cooper said the approximate 75 Worksman bikes they use have worked well and noted he expects they will be ordering more in the near future.

Because the bicycles have “substantial” frames and rims, they even deter vandals and thieves, Cooper said.

Theft has been a problem in other bike share programs, perhaps most notably in the Parisian one, according to 2009 reports from “Le Monde,” a French daily, and “The New York Times.” However, while there were reports in Paris of thousands of bicycles being stolen, or even tossed into the Seine River, cities in the U.S., including Washington, D.C. and Minneapolis, have seen very little theft and vandalism.

Five bicycles have been reported stolen since D.C. launched its share program with 1,100 cycles in September 2010, and Minneapolis has lost two bikes since the city began its share program with 700 bicycles in June.

Should Worksman become the city’s bike supplier, it would also be in charge of repairing any damaged cycles.

For Sosin, the opportunity to land the job with the city would obviously be a financial boon — but it would be something more than that, he says.

It is a step toward a greener, more bicycle-friendly city where people would not think twice about hopping on their bike to go to work.

“I went to Amsterdam to learn more about the bike culture and saw it was part of the daily transportation for most people,” said Sosin, who grew up in Fresh Meadows and now lives on Long Island. “There were people in nice work clothes on bicycles and moms bringing kids to school on bikes. Blue collar workers to heads of companies think nothing of jumping on their bikes. It was really very motivating for me to see that. They know how to respect bicyclists. That can happen here, but it won’t happen overnight. It’ll happen over 10, 20 years.”

Sosin stressed it would be good for the local economy because he would likely have to hire another 30 to 40 people if Worksman landed the contract. About 50 people now work at the business, which is solar-powered.

“Plus you’d be getting something actually made in the United States,” Sosin said.

The Ozone Park factory is a relic of the country as it was decades ago, when blue collar workers had little trouble finding jobs using their hands and goods often had the Made in the U.S.A. stamp.

One of the ways the company has been able to remain in the states, instead of going abroad as so many others have, is because it has found this niche market making industrial strength bikes and tricycles.

And a deal with the city really could cement a future in Queens, Sosin said.

“The American bike industry has really left, but we’re still here,” Sosin said. “We want to be here.”