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Petaluma bikemaker's humanist sales pitch

  • Yuba Bicycles founder Benjamin Sarrazin in the Yuba Bicycles showroom in Petaluma, Calif., on April 25, 2014. (Alvin Jornada / For The Press Democrat)

Ben Sarrazin isn't just trying to sell stylish cargo bikes. He's selling a better future.

For Sarrazin, the 39-year-old founder of Petaluma-based Yuba Bicycles, the sales pitch isn't just a cool, new bike for commuting, running errands and even bringing your children to school, but the prospect of an eco-friendly lifestyle that makes the world a better place.

"We're trying to be evangelists here," Sarrazin said. "It's often a slow sales process. Because for many people, it's a big change from what they've been doing. They look at it and look at it and ask themselves, 'Am I really going to do this?'"

Yuba Bicycles in Petaluma

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"This" is buying one of Sarrazin's elegant, somewhat pricey bicycles with names like Mundo and Boda Boda. With longer wheelbases and stiffer frames, they are capable of carrying a lot more than typical bikes, like groceries and even people. They are designed to do the kinds of in-town errands that most people only do in cars.

"I like to tell people I had a baby so I could get one of these bikes," said Santa Rosa resident Sarah Hadler, who teaches bike safety for the Sonoma Bicycle Coalition and bought a Yuba after the birth of her son, Sylvester, who is now 2. "I ride it pretty much everywhere. I love the idea of carrying things and doing errands under my own power."

It's an idea that is slowly catching on. Companies like Yuba and Oakland-based Xtracycle, which is where Sarrazin worked before starting Yuba, are cropping up around the country. Even large bike makers, like Trek, are jumping into the cargo bike market. Xtracycle, like Yuba, can be customized with a variety of add-ons like bags, platforms and even electric motors.

Xtracycle founder Ross Evans was in Nicaragua in the 1990s when he first came up with the idea of a cargo bike as inexpensive, adaptable transportation that could help poor farmers and craftsmen get their wares to market, often over poorly maintained roads.

His revelation came when the locals would ask him about his car back in America.

"It was the biggest thing that hit me," Evans said. "They were saying, 'Those bikes are cool but we want what you have.' I knew we weren't going to effect any change until we started that change at home."

Evans started Xtracycle in 1997 and eventually hired a young Sarrazin as part of his team. He describes them as a group of young, active people who loved the outdoors, especially cycling and kayaking. They were adventurers with a shared passion: convincing people to bike more and drive less.


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