Welcome to #BizUnited, a new series highlighting innovative partnerships between large companies and smaller businesses across America. Check back periodically for new installments.
Bill Stites experienced an entrepreneurial epiphany while biking on the busy streets of New York City in the late 1990s.
“I was delivering newspapers bundles with an old trike,” the veteran chiropractor (who rode a bike to make house calls in the Big Apple) and longtime ergonomics enthusiast told Free Enterprise. “The trike was heavy, awkward and had no gears. It was tough to handle. That’s when I had the realization that small vehicles could accomplish a lot of work for commerce. It got me thinking, with today’s materials and manufacturing tech, I could design some trikes for the future.”
Never did he imagine he’d end up designing a futuristic electric assist delivery trike for UPS, but we’ll unpack that amazing parcel in a moment.
Propelled by an abiding passion to help businesses reduce dependence on fossil fuels, and to do his part to curb climate change, Stites soon moved to Portland, Ore., one of America’s most bike-friendly urban enclaves. There, in the City of Roses, after much trial and error and tinkering, he designed what he calls the Truck Trike.
He describes the innovative, three-wheeled ride as “the first human-electric powered vehicle” built specifically to handle the demands of business. In 1998, not long after successfully inventing the rugged urban cargo delivery rig, he launched a business, fittingly called Truck Trikes, to sell the unique tricycles.
The specialized, easily maneuverable trike — equipped with a sturdy steel frame, an electric motor, foot pedals and motorcycle-grade brakes — can smoothly carry payloads of up to 600 pounds each. That’s a cargo capacity of up to three times the vehicle’s total weight. Not bad.
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“With the use of electric assist technology to supplement the human power input,” Stites said, “the trikes, particularly in cities and urban areas, create an amazingly versatile and efficient delivery system.”
Exceptionally efficient enough, in fact, to attract the attention of, and an exciting partnership with, none other than the United Parcel Service. Better known as UPS, the corporation is one of the best-known cargo delivery companies on the planet. In late 2015, the Atlanta, Ga.-based business enlisted Stites to design its first-ever eBike delivery vehicle.
“UPS contacted us about building a trike specifically for their package delivery needs,” he said, “and we got right to work. One of the primary criteria was ‘maximum volume box, please.’ The trikes also had to be pedestrian-friendly, work well in tight spaces, including high-density residential areas, and, of course, have no emissions.”
Stites and his close-knit three-employee team worked hard to develop and road-test UPS’s inaugural delivery e-trike, and they finished just in time for the 2016 holiday package delivery rush.
After rolling out the eBike prototype on Nov. 21, 2016, uniformed UPS employees began riding it to pedal packages across Portland. They used the newfangled, mini-UPS truck-like ride to ferry parcels along the “last-mile” of their journeys to customers’ doorsteps. Less than a month later, on Dec. 7, 2016, UPS announced the creation of the new vehicle.
“UPS anticipates this eBike prototype could become a component of its delivery capabilities in some other cities across the country,” the UPS announcement read. “The deployment of the eBike is part of UPS’s ongoing commitment to reduce carbon emissions as city populations and e-commerce grow, and traffic, noise and air quality challenges continue to rise.”
The pilot program is part of UPS’s “Rolling Laboratory,” an extension of its ongoing commitment to testing alternative-energy vehicles, and “addressing air quality and congestion concerns,” in different areas of the world, including in Hamburg, Germany, and Toulouse, France.
“While we have evolved and developed a vast network of ground and air vehicles,” UPS senior VP of global engineering and sustainability Mark Wallace said, “the bicycle may be making a comeback as we navigate through crowded urban areas and continue our focus on environmental sustainability.”
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Stites added: “These types of vehicles are ideally suited for inner-city commerce, as they directly address congestion mitigation in cities, as well as reducing emissions. After all, the only emissions are from the driver’s lungs!”
“We’re not saying replace all trucks with trikes,” he said, “but where you can use a trike, such as with shorter distances and more frequent stops, people and businesses are really starting to see the value.”
UPS surely included.
“UPS is a company that started more than 100 years ago in Seattle, Washington, on bikes,” Stites pointed out. “They recognize the value of small, efficient vehicles like Truck Trikes as they attempt to become more sustainable in their business practices.”
Not only does he applaud UPS for doubling down on greening portions of its delivery operations, he also commends its commitment to supporting and partnering with small, purpose-driven businesses like his.
“UPS has been great to work with,” Stites said. “They’re great people at all levels, embracing several policy initiatives to work with and support entrepreneurs like me.”
As for how the partnership with UPS benefits Truck Trikes, Stites credits the corporation with all but putting his small company on the map.
“Clearly, the opportunity to build an electric trike for the largest package delivery service in the world has been very good for our business,” he said. “We have instant credibility. This association has also helped open people’s eyes and minds to these types of vehicles.”
UPS, for its part, continues to pedal forward, trailblazing a path to greener, cleaner delivery options, with plans underway to test more e-trikes across the U.S. this year. According to Stites, you can look out for trademark brown and gold UPS eBikes soon in Orlando, Fla., Atlanta, Ga. and Pittsburgh, Penn.
Meanwhile, he says UPS is still steadfastly “e-trike-ing” packages to people in Portland today.
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“It’s still very early in the program, so no big rollouts yet,” he said. “However, the feedback has all been very positive so far.”
The mayor of Portland, Charlie Hales, is also pleased with the pioneering UPS eBike pilot program.
“Portland, like all cities, is looking for ways to fight urban congestion and pollution,” Hales said. “It’s great when a company like UPS brings us a unique solution that will help us combat climate change and protect the environment.”
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