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Feb 16 / admin

Country’s Oldest Bike Maker Still Going Strong

Worksman has been manufacturing bicycles in New York City for a staggering 113 years. For some historical context, that’s three years after Schwinn started in Chicago, and a few years before Henry Ford founded his car company in Detroit. But while Schwinn gave up on building bikes in the U.S. in 1991, Worksman has been steadily churning out classic recreational and industrial bikes and trikes—making it the oldest continuously running bicycle manufacturer in the country.

The company was started by a Russian immigrant named Morris Worksman, who started building bicycles and delivery carts out of a toy store near what today is the World Trade Center site. By the early 1920s the company moved to a series of larger production facilities in Brooklyn, and in 1980 it moved to its current 90,000-square-foot factory in Queens.  Today the company employs fifty workers who stay busy filling orders for factories and bikes shops across the country. Worksman president Wayne Sosin doesn’t disclose production figures, but says it’s safe to say the company makes more coaster-brake cruisers and work bicycles than any other US manufacturer.

Even if you’re not familiar with the Worksman brand, you’ve likely seen the company’s product. Those of a certain age might remember hearing the Good Humor Man coming down the street—Worksman built those carts for the better part of 40 years. Same goes for Nathan’s Hot Dog carts and the vendors at Yankees Stadium. The company’s delivery bikes in particular are ubiquitous in many U.S. cities, favored by pizza shops for their durability and stability carrying toting hot pizzas around town.

But it’s factories, which use heavy-duty trikes as a cost-effective alternative to fork-lifts to transport goods across mile-long warehouse and factory floors, that have traditionally made up most of Worksman’s sales ledger. That’s begun to change in recent years, however, as commercial clients from from Ford and GM to Boeing and Pratt & Whitney have scaled back U.S. manufacturing.

“Watching the orders from our customer list since 1980 is an unbelievable indictment of our economy,” says Sosin, who adds that another challenge the company faces is that the bikes just go on and on and on.   “There’s no planned obsolescence in our product,” says Sosin. “We’ll get calls about bikes from factories, and when we ask how old the bikes are a lot of times they don’t even know. It’s not uncommon to hear, ‘I’ve been here for 40 years, and the bike was here when I started.'”

Consumer sales account for about a quarter of Worksman’s sales, and have been growing in recent years. As other companies revert to classic cruiser designs to appeal to the retro-chic aesthetic, Worksman bikes bring with them a certain authenticity of having never changed. Indeed, workers at the company’s nondescript production facility in Queens likely turns out more hand-brazed lugged steel bicycle frames every year than the entire annual output of the exhibitor list of the North American Handmade Bike Show.  Worksman’s cruisers start around $300, and nearly every one is built to order from a long menu of custom options—from chrome fenders and color options to drum brakes and three-speed hubs.  Below is a brief photo-tour of Worksman’s Queens factory.

 

 

 

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