Most people ride their bikes for fun, if at all. For Gary Hochgraf, it’s not just fun (though it’s more pleasant than driving), not just part of his job (though it’s an integral part now), but part of a broader connection to the world around him.
Hochgraf has been running his Ann Arbor home repair business full-time since 2001, driving a ’97 white Ford van to get to clients throughout Washtenaw County. But this summer, gas prices – and karma – spurred him to make a switch. He decided to build a trailer to haul his tools and supplies by bike, and he set a budget of $125 to do it: The cost of a tank of gas for his van.
He already had a bike, and crafted the trailer from a large Coleman cooler – “it’s cheap, it’s light, it’s strong, it’s reasonably waterproof,” he says – plus wheels found at the dump, a Master Lock hitch and a frame fashioned from bent steel tubing bought at Stadium Hardware. Putting his green “Home Repairs” logo on the side was a final touch.
The decision to become a bike-based business is grounded in an outlook that sees the connection between what individuals do on a daily basis, and how that impacts the planet.
Driving the van “just feels indulgent and part of the problem,” Hochgraf says. He still uses the van on an occasional basis – hauling a large load of concrete, for example – but it’s a matter of two or three times a week, versus multiple times a day.
“I thought it was a great success when I noticed there were spiderwebs growing between my van and the ground,” he says, laughing.
And while he isn’t promoting the bike-hauling aspect of his business yet, he does think he’ll land at least one job because of it. He was dropping off a donation at a local clothing recycling box, with his Home Repairs trailer in tow, when a woman rode up on her bike. She was looking for someone to do repairs, and is now considering him for the job.
But gaining business from a bike-hauled approach isn’t the point, says Hochgraf: “It just feels like the right thing to do.”