Mettle to the pedal

To refer to Yvonne LeFave’s ride as merely a “tricycle” seems disingenuous. Sure, it’s a three-wheeled bike, technically fitting the definition, but that word brings to mind a teeny red pedal-toy with handlebar streamers. LeFave’s trikes — her preferred nomenclature — utilize cutting-edge, solar-powered electric engines to supplement her leg power, achieving speeds of up to 20 mph and delivering payloads as high as a quarter of a ton. And she has a small fleet of them.
“These are heavy-duty cargo delivery vehicles,” she says. “They use no fossil fuels, and they’re built for accommodating a wide variety of (package sizes). I wanted to give local businesses (the ability to make deliveries) without increasing the area’s carbon footprint, and these trikes are one way to make that happen.”
LeFave, 61, launched Go Green Trikes out of a garage in Lansing’s Eastside Neighborhood on Earth Day in 2014; she shares the building at 1715 E. Kalamazoo St. with the Lansing Bike Co-Op, which opened last year. LeFave started Green Trikes with an Organic Transit ELF vehicle — which she calls “Jiminy,” because it resembles the friendly face of the Disney character — and has since added four more trikes and five cargo bikes. The biggest is “Clifford,” a big red dog of a Truck Trike; there’s also a 10-foot bakfiet bike, a Dutch-style two-wheeler that has a giant cargo basket in front of the handlebars. The variety helps cater her vehicle to the job, which includes dropping off scrap metal at Friedland Industries in Old Town and schlepping paper for the Sierra Club.
“It all depends on what you need to move,” LeFave says. “Today I was taking Preuss Pets’ Styrofoam to a drop-off point at Impression 5 so it could be recycled instead of going to a landfill. Dart Container picks it up from there to turn it back into something usable. It’s a small (job), but every little bit helps. And who knows how much harder this is about to get.”
Last week it came to light that President-elect Donald J. Trump had picked a longtime climate change denier to lead the transition team at the Environmental Protection Agency. He had previously announced his intentions to withdraw U.S. participation in the Paris Agreement, a commitment from world leaders to reduce global carbon emissions. These developments sent a collective shiver up the spines of environmental stewards like LeFave, who says she’s going to be paying close attention to the trickle-down effects of this green policy-making setback.
“There might be some roadblocks with new administration,” she says. “I’m not surprised at these policies, given the source, but I’m concerned for the trend. It’s so not what the world needs right now. But I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing.”
What she’s doing includes incorporating green technology into her lifestyle and business. She’s currently working with the Ingham County Land Bank to get her garage off the grid, and she recently signed up for the Community Solar Project, which involves leasing one of the 1,000 300-watt solar panels from the solar park on Burcham Road in East Lansing to help power her home. She also uses a water-saving tankless water heater at home, recycles her shower water to flush her toilet, and has incorporated countless tiny energy efficiency updates to her 1911 Craftsman-style home to minimize her resource consumption.
“There’s no question that climate change is caused by what we’ve been doing,” she says. “The past 11 years have been the hottest on record — how much more clear do you want to see that this is a trend? We have the ability to make changes in our own daily habits to start moving in the right direction, but perhaps we need a mirror to point out all our flaws (so we can) better see ourselves to fix the system. And I’m highly motivated to fix it.”
LeFave grew up watching how her grandparents, who lived through the Depression, conserved their resources, including their ability to live without a car. LeFave is also a Quaker, a belief system that holds as one of its central tenets a commitment to live simply and in harmony with the environment.
“Between those two, I’m able to see examples of how to live (a sustainable existence) that others may miss,” LeFave says. “I apply these examples to my own life, and as often as I can I try to go beyond them. I want to show how easy it can be and demystify it for people who may want to try some of these tactics but are intimidated. It doesn’t happen overnight, and there all kinds of options out there.”
She says folks just starting out can start by doing things like eating “lower on food chain” (e.g., experimenting with Meatless Monday). Getting food from a local CSA, shopping at secondhand stores, and using your recycling bin are three other easy tactics. Of course, she encourages living sans automobile, but that could require a sturdy investment.
“These trikes aren’t cheap,” LeFave says. “The new technology is part of what drives that cost. I also (contribute) to startups on Indiegogo. That’s where I found my Kodiak generator system, which I use to charge the batteries for the trikes and things in the house.”  
She said she thinks that the Trump policies may motivate progressive people to start taking a more active role in their own sustainability, and initiate the changes that are needed from the ground up. She says it may be uncomfortable at times, but this is a woman who rides around on a bike loaded with scrap metal through Michigan winters — saving the world isn’t meant to be comfortable. 
“What I do sounds weird to most humans, but that’s the fun,” she says. “It’s always an interesting challenge, but it’s do-able. You have your set of chores and I have mine. I just have a different set than most people.”

Allan Ross is a frequent contributor to Capital Gains.

Photos © Dave Trumpie
Dave Trumpie is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.
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