By Adam Kroopnick
Photos by Takuya Sakamoto - www.newyorkbikedreams.com
Housed in a former candle factory in Queens, New York is one of America’s oldest manufacturing traditions. Worksman Cycles is a 116-year-old, family-owned bicycle maker producing machines first designed in the 1930s and whose best-selling model, says Worksman spokesman Bruce Weinreb, is not a carbon-fiber road bike but a steel tricycle designed for carrying 500-pound loads across factory floors.
From the rugged-looking building to the decades-old machines used for bending and crimping the steel tubes for the bikes, every part of the company’s business model seems to be philosophically in line with the bicycles they produce: low maintenance, no frills, and designed to last forever. For more than a century, Worksman has survived by focusing on the niche market of manufacturers needing industrial bikes to carry people and equipment on their factory floors, and Worksman show few signs of changing.
The company itself began in 1898 in a lower Manhattan store run by Morris Worksman. Worksman started out selling Columbia bikes, says Weinreb, but began selling his own design that was purpose-built for workers carrying heavy loads around the city. Worksman’s 1915 patent shows designs for a tricycle with a removable back box.
In the pre-automobile era, most deliveries and transport were done by workhorses who had to be fed and stabled and were the source of one of the major pollution problems of the day: streets filled with horse dung. Worksman’s machines did not need oats and, as Weinreb points out, were the emissions-free transportation alternative of turn-of-the-century New York.
According to Weinreb, the business remained a small-scale operation until the 1930s, when Worksman was contracted by Good Humor Ice Cream to build their iconic ice-cream trikes—a front-load tri-