Todd Zawistowski

Traverse City’s spring-puddled streets are a welcome sight to Bartle, who delivers Higher Grounds Trading Company’s 100 percent fair trade and organic coffee beans by bike year-round (yes, even in winter) to save fossil fuels and reduce the company’s carbon footprint. We checked in with Bartle about this forward-thinking M.O. with good old-fashioned roots.

Does it ever get hairy riding with a trailer full of coffee? When you get over 100 pounds of beans back there, the trailer pushes and pulls a little. Especially when you have to stop abruptly.

What’s your route? From Higher Grounds at the Grand Traverse Commons as far as Garfield and South Airport. I go to law offices, companies, grocery stores and the front doors of individuals. The minimum order is five pounds of coffee.

What’s the best part of your job? It’s not like we’re going to save the world just by my riding the bike for deliveries, but we’re trying to create a more human, more friendly culture of business. It’s that old-school way, like when people used to have their milk and eggs delivered. People see me out there and say, Oh that’s really cool. That’s a good thing to do.

Any close calls with cars? A couple of times. People are not familiar with a bike and trailer on the road, so they see you but they don’t really see you. I find ways to get around without riding on 8th Street or Garfield or U.S. 31.

What do you wish drivers knew about bikers in this town? Give enough distance. People shake their fist at me sometimes. But in the winter especially, if you see someone on a bike, they are most likely working or commuting, not just out causing you a problem.

Any secret favorite routes to ride? I like to ride the alleyways on the west side. In the alleys you have more contact with people coming home or out taking the dog for a walk.
Any Beans by Bike groupies around town? At the Catholic school I pass on my way to Oryana [Natural Foods Market], kids out for recess wave. Riding a bike for your job is realistic to them.

Do you ever pop wheelies for them? I can pop small wheelies. The Peace Coffee bike couriers in Minneapolis are all about tricks, but they don’t do any production in coffee roasting. I do both, so if I got hurt, Chris [Treeter, Higher Grounds co-owner] would not be happy. So I stick to small wheelies.

Can you take coffee breaks? I always drink coffee before I ride.

How do you take yours? French press with steamed milk. I like the Ethiopian, because it has diversity on the palate. It doesn’t sit there when you take a sip–there’s an initial explosion on the tongue, then it moves back to corners of the mouth with a citrusy quality, almost like grapefruit. It’s light on the palate and on the stomach. And with cream or without, it’s a really different experience.

So you’d say light roast is way underrated? A lighter roast is more interesting, like wine. And it has a higher caffeine content. But Europeans drink dark roast. And when gourmet coffee took off in this country, diner coffee wasn’t good enough. People only wanted dark Seattle roast. They never gave light roast a chance.

For more on Beans by Bike delivery at Higher Grounds: 877-825-2262,–E.B.T.

Photo(s) by Todd Zawistowski