By Alex Christodoulides
Just south of Atlantic Avenue in Ozone Park — with its cheek-by-jowl auto repair shops — is a factory that makes one of the quietest, greenest forms of transportation, and you're probably familiar with it from buying hot dogs and ice cream.
The Worksman Bicycle factory has been quietly producing recreational cycles in the city since 1898 and moved to 95th Avenue in Ozone Park in 1979, but the company does the majority of its business selling food carts and industrial tricycles.
“Most of the food carts are custom done,” said Worksman Cycles President Wayne Sosin. “We make carts for Boar's Head and Nathan's. The crossover was with Good Humor,” after the ice cream company approached Worksman to manufacture its carts in the 1930s.
The company literature plays up the environmentally friendly aspects of cycling: no fuel, no electricity. Sosin said the biggest part of what Worksman does, though, is industrial trikes.
“The larger they are, the bigger they are” as a part of the factory's output, he said. Worksman has shipped the three-wheelers with big baskets or attached platforms all over the world to businesses that need to be able to move heavy equipment easily.
“The people who use them drive around 200 pounds of tools, and these are big guys,” he said.
Among their clients are a hotel in Australia that uses the trikes to ferry equipment to its far-flung bungalows, businesses in Saudi Arabia, United States military bases, factories in Germany, downhill bike trail ride companies in Hawaii and more.
For the trail rides, Worksman offers its sturdy classic cruisers.
“They're not performance bikes, they're not road bikes, they're not racing bikes, we don't do kids bikes,” Sosin said. “It's really a niche market.”
Their trikes are also popular with people with poor mobility.
“What we offer are adult bikes that offer people with limited mobility a chance to go out and have fun,” Sosin said.
Workers at the three-story, 91,000-square-foot Ozone Park factory fabricate the bikes and carts on site, welding frames, putting spokes in wheels, painting the finished product to customer specifications and packing them to ship worldwide.
Sosin said 2008 has been Worksman's busiest year ever, but declined to comment on the company's bottom line except to say that a June article in Crain's New York Business magazine citing sales of $5 million had lowballed the actual amount.
“Our costs are escalating, but we made a commitment to hold prices because we want to get as many people as possible on bikes,” Sosin said, calling the price freeze not his smartest business decision.
“Don't believe the government on inflation. The cost of materials has gone up in double digits,” he said.
Worksman's commitment to environmental friendliness does not end with the bikes.
“We make the greenest product, so we said we should make the factory green, too,” Sosin said.
In February 2007, the company installed solar panels on the roof.
“To run the whole factory would take four times the system we have, but we're 25 percent solar,” he said.