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Local coffee roaster does it all by bike

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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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