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Local coffee roaster does it all by bike

Posted by on April 24th, 2009 at 8:59 am

Trailhead’s delivery truck.
(Photos © Dan Liu)

Few are the passions can match the fervor of bike geeks, but the achievement of the quintessential espresso has driven coffee innovators since the death of the penny-farthing gave way to to the modern bicycle.

Portlander Charlie Wicker, owner and operator of Trailhead Coffee Roasters, has found a way to combine both of those passions into a solid local business.

A long-time road racer, mountain biker, and bike commuter, Wicker officially opened Trailhead Coffee Roasters for business this past January, and is one of a growing number Portlanders whose work is done exclusively by bike. After roasting the coffee, Wicker uses a decked-out Xtracycle to make deliveries. The bike allows him to deliver up to 150lbs of coffee per run.

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“It’s awesome that Portland is into new forms of transport, and that we’re embracing a whole spectrum of transportation options.”
–Charlie Wicker, Trailhead Coffee Roasters

The decision to forego the delivery truck was easy, says Wicker. “Doing it by bike was more of a default position for me. I’d rather be on a bike anyways. Actually, I noticed this morning as I rolled out that there’s a pile of leaves on top of the car.”

For Wicker, the success of his coffee is somewhat independent of the way he moves it. But, he says, he wouldn’t have started the business had he been unable to do it by bike. “It’s awesome that Portland is into new forms of transport, and that we’re embracing a whole spectrum of transportation options.”

Given his current customer base, Wicker says transporting that quantity of coffee by car or truck would add to his costs, and be no faster to boot. There are challenges, however, with doing it by bike. Wicker has to make the most out of each delivery run, and make sure that his cargo is properly rain-proofed.

Charlie Wicker.

There’s one other challenge that Wicker hoped would be solved this year. He was especially disappointed that the Idaho Stop law wasn’t passed this year, and notes that, “Stopping and starting 150lbs gets to be painful.”

Trailhead currently sells online and through Cherry Sprout Produce (N. Albina and Sumner). Wicker’s goal, however, is to break into the office coffee market, which is populated by few, if any, small roasters. “I’m actively looking to reach anyone drinking bad coffee in their office.” And doing it all by bike saves him the trouble of finding downtown parking.

Trailhead Coffee Roasters sponsors several bike events, including Shift’s Breakfast on the Bridges, where you can sample Wicker’s beans for free from 7-9am on the Steel and Hawthorne bridges on the last Friday of every month.

— Trailhead isn’t Portland’s only bike-based coffee roaster and delivery service. We profiled coffee master Joel Domreis and his Courier Coffee Company back in April 2007. There’s also Rick Wilson’s Cafe Velo. Rick rides his massive Dutch cargo bike to farmer’s markets and other events where he serves up “dripped to order, single origin coffee” from Stumptown.

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  • Sareena April 24, 2009 at 9:32 am

    I was lucky enough to drink a couple of o’ cups of Trailhead this morning. Not only is Charlie a great roaster, but he (and his wife, Amy) have been so inspiring to me as a newbie cyclist.

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  • Kt April 24, 2009 at 9:32 am

    We’d love to try it here at our office, but we’re WAY out of the downtown core… and I don’t think he wants to schlep that much weight up Terwilliger and down Hall to the SW suburbs.


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  • Bent Bloke April 24, 2009 at 9:44 am

    Mmmmmm, coffee. I wish Breakfast on the Bridge started earlier. I cross the Hawthorne Bridge around 6:30-6:35, so I always miss out.

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  • mmann April 24, 2009 at 9:46 am

    I got to sample Charlie’s coffee at the PIR cross race. He’s a great guy and it was excellent coffee. It’s also worth noting (check the website) that his beans come from Cafe Feminino – an organic, shade-grown, fair trade coffee co-op that supports women farmers.

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  • a.O April 24, 2009 at 10:11 am

    I sure wish this coffee was available at the New Seasons in Sellwood where I shop.

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  • Todd Boulanger April 24, 2009 at 10:33 am

    Wow…it looks like from his rig…I could get a cup of coffee and a ride!

    Good luck with your business. 😉

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  • Bill April 24, 2009 at 10:44 am

    Charlie’s coffee is good. he’s brought it by Cyclepath a good number of times. If you like his coffee and would like to see it more available, make sure you urge your local stores and coffee houses to carry some!

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  • John April 24, 2009 at 11:44 am

    Someone gave me a bag Trailhead Coffee and I LOVE it. We have great coffee in San Francisco but this stuff is over the top! I have to buy it from the but I would love to find a local coffee shop that carries it.

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  • Scott Mizée April 24, 2009 at 12:01 pm

    excellent. I wish him the best!

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  • cory April 24, 2009 at 1:09 pm

    This dude was at one of the Cross Crusade races. Not only is it a great idea but he was also really nice and very passionate about his business.

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  • Fergus April 24, 2009 at 7:23 pm

    Nice going Charlie!

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  • meligrosa April 25, 2009 at 12:13 am

    awesome! my biggest two passions united are just the best <3
    here in SF de la paz is coffee with the same bike love all around town. ride on!!

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  • Esther April 25, 2009 at 9:31 am

    You should aslo check out Courier Coffee, who do everythingby bike including delivery to commercial customers like Half and Half and Little Red Bike Cafe, and St. Johns Coffee Roasters who provide bike delivery service to the nopo peninsula.

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  • the "other" steph April 27, 2009 at 6:22 pm

    St. Charlie!
    thanks for all the bridge-based coffee to date. say, if folks want to help brew some of the good stuff for the benefit of earlier Breakfast on the Bridge (BonB) commuters, drop a line:
    then you, too, can join in the fun of clandestine streetside bean-bag pick-ups from the Honorable Mister Wicker and his Magic Beans.
    did i mention BonB is all volunteer-ridden?

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