Local renovation company uses bike-only approach to reach job sites

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Seeing is believing.

Velo Renovations is a home improvement company with a quirk: instead of loading tools and supplies into a van or half-ton, employees rely on the power of the pedals to get from one job site to another, 12 month by year.

The company website does not hide this fact, openly plotting how many kilometers workers have collectively traveled to date – a check mark of less than 15,000 – as well as the estimated amount of carbon emissions saved by doing so (2.73 tonnes and more). Yet customers who enlist them to paint a living room or repair a wall continue to be surprised when they arrive on two wheels, especially during a torrential downpour or a cold snap in January.


Maraleigh Short (left), Shamaun Chowdhury and Nathaniel De Avila tackle the same projects as most so-called conventional renovation operations. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

“To be honest, the fact that we get around by bicycle is one of the main reasons why many of our customers choose to accompany us in the first place”, explains Nathaniel De Avila, who founded Velo, the French cycling company, in October 2020. “But there were definitely days where it was 30 below or whatever, when we pulled up and the person answering the door was like, ‘I know you’re going to work by bike, but I didn’t think you actually would today. ”

De Avila, 33, laughingly described Velo Renovations as a “mid-COVID hub.” Around the same time last year, De Avila, a professional music producer who moved to Winnipeg from his native Iowa in 2016, found himself unable to work in his chosen field due to restrictions related to the pandemic. He had long been comfortable with a hammer in his hand; he worked part-time for a home improvement company while in high school and again while earning a Master of Arts in Music from the University of Iowa. To keep busy, he thought this might be a way forward.


A bike Renovation bike.  (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

A bike Renovation bike. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

Why bicycles? It’s easy, says the veteran winter cyclist, tracing his environmental awareness to a book he read when he was in college titled More-with-less by Doris Janzen Longacre and, more recently, to a documentary titled Freight, which details nightmarish statistics regarding pollution from the shipping industry.

“Most of the world does things on a bicycle, it’s only North America where it’s a bit of a novelty,” he says. “Are we going to save the planet by having an eight-pedal to work? Of course not. But that doesn’t make it unimportant either.”

On the day we met, De Avila and one of his associates, Maraleigh Short, were doing exterior repairs at a house in Fort Richmond, an hour’s walk from Velo’s home on West Broadway. De Avila arrived in his personal 10-speed while Short took one of the company’s two official “vehicles”.


De Avila from Velo Renovation attaches a trailer to his bicycle.  Velo's corporate vehicles were designed in part by Colin Bock of Freedom Concepts.  (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

De Avila from Velo Renovation attaches a trailer to his bicycle. Velo’s corporate vehicles were designed in part by Colin Bock of Freedom Concepts. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

“Colin Bock of Freedom Concepts (a Winnipeg company that designs and manufactures bikes and mobility devices for special needs) helped find this, based on an Xtracycle (a recumbent and carrier bike developed in the United States)” De Avila explains, running his hand along the frame of a two-meter-long contraption that connects a full-size chromoly mountain bike to a cut-out 20-inch BMX model.

“It has a rechargeable battery unit that slides out, but is designed to be pedal assisted. There is a step at the back for tools and the like, but we often attach a sliding ladder on wheels, on which we can charge. even more stuff. ” (There is no bespoke, canary yellow-colored tricycle and trailer unit, which is always a real eye-catcher – and sometimes business card requests – when motorists pull up next to it at a red light.)

Cropped, sporty sweatshirts and sneakers speckled with a white finish, says one of the factors that most attracted her to Velo, more of a co-op than a company, is its people-centered approach. Not only do workers set their own hours and choose work assignments, they also determine their individual rate of pay and have the ability to view the finances of the business as a whole. It’s a model De Avila came up with long before Velo was even a “thing,” based on conversations he had with a university professor well versed in businesses that place people and the planet. before profits.


Nathaniel De Avila (left), Maraleigh Short and Shamaun Chowdhury from Velo Renovation take a ride.  The home renovation collective uses the bicycle as its main means of transportation.  (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

Nathaniel De Avila (left), Maraleigh Short and Shamaun Chowdhury from Velo Renovation take a ride. The home renovation collective uses the bicycle as its main means of transportation. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

“It could be a gender thing, or it could be my personality, but I probably wouldn’t have looked for construction or renovation work if I hadn’t found (Velo),” says Short, sitting on a painting. empty and overturned bucket. “Initially, I didn’t bring a lot of skills to the table, and I didn’t have a ton of self-confidence, but because there’s a solid teaching structure in place here, I have been able to learn so much from Nate and the other people I work with, now I really feel like part of a team.

Velo Renovations tackles the same projects as most so-called conventional renovation operations, namely painting, plasterboard, restructuring and tiling. At the same time, it’s not like you’ll soon spot them carrying a kitchen counter or drywall behind them. Knowing their limitations, they obligingly work with on-site delivery systems when it comes to larger items, says De Avila. He adds that it’s certainly not a condition of employment that employees have to pedal to work, and a few of their contractors don’t. That said, if any certified plumbers and / or electricians reading this aren’t averse to jumping on a bike, don’t hesitate to give him a call, he says with a smile.


Velo Renovation employees set their own schedules and choose assignments, they also determine their individual pay rate and have the ability to view the finances of the company as a whole.  (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

Velo Renovation employees set their own schedules and choose assignments, they also determine their individual pay rate and have the ability to view the finances of the company as a whole. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

Another way that Velo differs significantly from many of its counterparts is that it is not uncommon for staff designers to deter potential clients from jobs that would likely earn the company a higher salary if they feel that ‘there are better options available from an environmental point of view. .

“‘Are you sure you want to do this?’ or “Is there a way to consume less? are questions we ask all the time,” says De Avila. “For example, someone might want to enlarge their home’s footprint by adding an addition. To which we might suggest changing a few existing walls, thus avoiding having that larger space that you are now going to have to heat for the next 50 years, draining valuable resources.

“When we consult with our customers, we try to provide them with all kinds of alternatives, whether it’s using building materials salvaged from ReStore or plant-based or durable products. Many renovators will say that after fixing your house it will.But as soon as you spend that money, you get into debt to a structure more than you already have with a mortgage, which requires you to work X hours to earn X amount of money, which goes to against our general philosophy. ”


Velo Renovation works with on-site delivery systems to ensure that the necessary materials arrive on the job site.  (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press0

Velo Renovation works with on-site delivery systems to ensure that the necessary materials arrive on the job site. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press0

Finally, with bicycles, over the past 12 months De Avila, who also owns a car, says he noticed a noticeable difference in his behavior on the days he commutes to work by bike compared to those when, for some reason. whatever, he was forced to fall behind. wheel.

Whenever he is growled in traffic due to lane closures or an incident, he finds himself running out or getting angry faster than when he is pedaling here and there.

“It makes me wonder if the current mode of transportation is fundamentally changing the way I interact with others,” he says, adding that another benefit of cycling to working with colleagues is that it gives everyone the opportunity to discuss the day ahead, which they interrupted yesterday … the same sort of thing that they probably would have spent the first 30 minutes deliberating if they had gotten there separately by car.

“So if I compare the two, I much prefer getting on a bike at the start of the day. Plus, it’s pretty hard not to be awake and alert when you get to work, especially when it’s cold.”

[email protected]eepress.mb.ca


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