Women on Bikes Series: Yvonne LeFave

My Stites Design Truck Trike delivering a grill
Well, howdy! My name is Yvonne LeFave, and I'm a professional cargo cyclist. I'm the founder/owner of a commercial cargo delivery service that uses heavy duty electric assist tricycles and bikes with trailers in Lansing, Michigan. The name of my business is Go Green Trikes, and it officially launched on Earth Day (April 22) of last year. What better day to launch a completely green business??

When did you first start riding a bike?
Ooh, probably quite young. At least my mother tells a story of me on a tricycle crashing into something because I was looking to see if she was watching.

What motivated you to ride as much as you have over the years?

For me, cycling has played a large part of my life and started in earnest back in the early '90s. During the First Gulf War, folks were shouting "No blood for oil!".

I'm Quaker and consider myself a peaceful person, and I just couldn't reconcile driving while all that was going on, so I started experimenting with driving less, and soon I parked my leased vehicle for the last two years of its lease!  Cargo cycling became my main method of getting groceries and other items back home after shopping excursions, and eventually I decided that skill could become a business of benefit to others in my local community. That brainstorm became Go Green Trikes.

What styles of cycling do/have you enjoyed and why? (gravel, road, mtb, etc.)
I do some group rides with my Kona Ute -- and occasionally head up local Ride of Silence processions (either carrying a ghost bike on a trailer or banners on the Truck Trike), but for the most part my bikes/trikes are pretty specialized critters that don't adapt well to off-roading.

Do you commute by bike year-round or during the warmer seasons?

The contract work for Go Green Trikes is seasonal to ensure I can do the deliveries, but as long as the roads are clear, I can make deliveries year-round. Personally, I do commute year-round, but prefer to ride with clear roads.

If you commute year-round, what do you do to make it more tolerable when weather is poor?

I wear multiple breathable layers, a face mask and ski goggles, and leg warmers in the winter when on my biggest trike (a Truck Trike by Stites Design) and my Kona Ute. I also deflate the tires a bit to allow for added traction. When I want to spoil myself, I use ATV handlebar mitts on my ELF by Organic Transit and put a small battery-powered generator behind the seat and plug in a seat warmer!

Do you have suggestions for new bike commuters?

Sure! Dress in layers as if skiing. And if there's a winter cycling commuter class near you, take it! Seasoned riders (pardon the pun) often attend and will have tips specific to your locale that you can't find in any article online -- although DO look up online articles about winter cycling, too! Also, in nicer weather, check to see if there's a League of American Bicyclists safety course offered near you. It's typically a one-day workshop that includes on-bike safety instruction like how to safely swerve, stop fast and other skills for safer on-road riding.

Have you had an accident while biking? If so, what happened and how did you heal (physically/mentally/emotionally)?

Yes. Twice my bike has been hit by a car (thankfully both times at low speeds) and once last winter, I wiped out on black ice. I haven't broken anything so far, but these small brushes have made me aware of my surroundings and a more cautious cyclist.

What do you love about riding your bike?

I love the freedom and the independence cargo cycling affords me. And the slower speeds means I don't miss much that's happening in my neighborhood!

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?

Kona Ute (2007) - this is a long tail cargo bike with a double kickstand and huge panniers with a wooden deck above the panniers. The frame is capable of carrying 400 pounds. I chose this one long before I started the business. I wanted something that could bring home whatever I needed hauled after a bulk shopping trip.

Organic Transit ELF (2013) - The ELF seemed like the perfect commuter vehicle for me. It's a covered recumbent trike with storage space behind the seat, electric assist and a solar panel on the roof to recharge the electric.  Her frame can hold 350 pounds and weighs in at about 130 pounds with two batteries.  The electric assist allows the ELF to travel up to 20mph for up to 20 miles on one battery.

Stites Design Truck Trike (2014) - This is a specialty commercial cargo hauling machine. The Truck Trike weighs about 275 pounds and her frame can hold up to 800 pounds. The front tire is a manual chain-driven 8-speed while the two back tires are electric assist motors. Under the deck is a dual 48volt lithium ion battery pack that allows her to travel at about 15 mph for up to 100 miles!

What clothing/bike accessories do you love? What would you recommend to your friends?

When I first started this venture, I asked around and found out that many cargo cyclists wear gear by Showers Pass. I can't say I'm disappointed by any of it!  I wear their Elite 2.1 jacket, rogue hoodie, and their Storm pants. For gloves, I use their crosspoint hard shell glove with a Under Armor glove liner. Lately I'm loving something brand new on the market: a You Saw Me LED RGB Verve vest with a rechargeable lithium ion battery. That's made my night rides feel much safer!

Ooh, and I love my Bikes at Work trailer. I sprung for the dual-wheeled version with dry wall racks It's modular design so versatile. Depending on what's needed, I can modify the length to 32", 64" or the full 96" (8' foot) in length. And the dual-wheeled model means it can haul up to 600 pounds while weighing less than 50 pounds!

Tell us about Go Green Trikes, what inspired the idea?

About a year ago, I confided to a life coach (Jaya the Trust Coach out of Ithaca NY) that I was bored. I'd been a geek and working with computers and/or in an office setting for about 30 years and I needed a new challenge but had no clue what that could look like. She stepped me through some exercises of her own design that helped me figure out that my new job had to include the following:
  • I wanted to make a difference (preferably for a local environmental or community group)
  • Work at/create an environmentally sustainable business
  • Job needed to have a creative component
  • Nothing with tedium
  • something with spirit/depth
  • quiet environment
  • Less-pressured situations with a mental component to it.
  • Solo, one-on-one or small groups (or ability to tune out others)
  • Enough money to support myself and set something aside
  • Working from home preferred
  • Passive Income so I can pursue other interests?
  • natural beauty/wild critters /environmental concerns
  • innovative (regularly support efforts to help bring about positive change)
  • green technology/sustainability/reuse ideas
  • spiritual dimensions -- NOT religious rhetoric, but new-agey answers to questions
  • puzzles (actual or problem-solving)
After looking at the list, I realized that what I wanted didn't exist in Lansing so I'd have to create it. I thought at first that it would be a bike courier service, but after researching it found that wasn't quite what I was looking for. Then a friend sent me a "Top 10 Cycling Articles for 2013" sort of article, and one of them featured commercial cargo by bike and I knew that's what I wanted to create here.

What should people know about cargo bikes and what they can do?
With enough skill and practice (and some ingenuity!), cargo bikes can carry a surprising amount of STUFF!  It's fun to have folks stop and gape at what these bikes can do!  Some notable hauls this past year included: a queen size mattress, a cubic yard of mulch, a grill, and a washing machine!

What do you love about having a bike-related business?

Mostly, I love that it forces me to be creative. It sounds duh-worthy to say I have to keep things in balance, but I'm not just talking while on my two-wheeled bike. I'm still working full-time while getting Go Green Trikes up and running, so, in essence, I'm working at least two jobs.  And each cargo run requires forethought. I can't show up without any required gear; it all has to be carefully planned out (and I like the logistics of all that).

I also like offering this service to the community. It's unique enough that folks have a hard time envisioning how it can be of use to them. I remember calling the Greater Lansing Women's Center and speaking to its director, Cindie Alwood. I asked how I could be of service to her. She said "about the only thing we have to deliver anywhere around town would be posters and that would be a waste of your time and skill."  I knew, though, that they were holding an event later that year along Lansing's River Trail where no vehicles are allowed. I reminded her of this and I could see the light bulb go on!  Having a large trike on hand for their event saved their volunteers countless hand-held loads down to the river trail, and my fledgling business got some fabulous local exposure!

What has been the most challenging situation/experience you've had since you started your business?

This past September, on an unseasonably cold and wet day, I was slated to have my Truck Trike haul two banners for a Ride of Silence in honor of a woman that was killed while cycling. Over 200 cyclists were on hand to ride, and with the rain and winds, the banners just weren't cooperating. Finally, one of the cyclists came forward. He happened to be an engineer and devised a different way to tie down the banners with the ratchet straps and bungees I brought and I was able to do the rest of the 35 mile ride without incident.  I was so thankful; it's one thing to have to stop to resettle a load, but it's quite another when 200 cyclists and a police escort are waiting for you!

What has been the most inspiring situation/moment you've had?

That Ride of Silence, I would say. To be the lead cyclist for 200 others in a silent ride with a police escort. And when we all pulled over and lined both sides of the street for a moment of silence at the crash site. It was so moving and memorable. The cyclist that was killed was doing all the right things -- reflective clothing, riding on the right side of the road, wearing a helmet -- Yet a teenager that was texting while driving didn't see her. I think every cyclist there could identify with her, and knowing that we're all here for a finite moment makes our choices to live and ride freely that much more conscious.

What suggestions do you have for someone wanting to use a cargo bike on a regular basis?
Think through what you most need/want to haul on a regular basis. Can you do it with your current bike? Or with your current bike and a trailer? I made do with a Diamond Back mountain bike with a modified back rack and panniers designed for groceries for years until I found my Kona Ute on EBay.  It's quite possible that you can haul more with your current bike, but whatever you do, do it safely! Test out your equipment BEFORE you need to take it out on the road for a must-do haul.

How can someone get involved and/or help out with your business?

Globally, I could use more FaceBook (https://www.facebook.com/GoGreenTrikesLLC) and Twitter (@GoGreenTrikes) fans! If you live or are visiting the Greater Lansing area (perhaps for the DALMAC?), look me up! I'd love to show off my rigs to those with an appreciative eye. You can find out more about Go Green Trikes at my website, too: gogreentrikes.com

My Organic Transit ELF
(Orange covered trike) preparing for a catering delivery
Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I'm all of 5' 1" tall and about 120 pounds -- and 50 years old! All of that helps people realize that they, too, can do more than they think they can without a car AND on a bike!

Have you participated in any competitions? If so, tell us about it!
Go Green Trikes participated in a monthly business model competition last January. I'd just figured it all out within a week of the competition and submitted the idea thinking I'd present it in February, but they contacted me and said if I could get them a PowerPoint within the hour, I could present that night (gulp!). So, I got them their PowerPoint, presented, and somehow walked away with both the cash prize ($1,000 and legal help starting my business) AND the popular vote!