Over the last two years here at Utility Cycling we have tried to research, explore, experience, and write about all of the different potential uses for a bicycle to accomplish a meaningful goal that is not sport or recreation focused. We have covered everything from emergency and patrol services by bike to bicycle messengers to bike cargo trailers to family cycling to critical mass and much, much more. But despite all of the research and time I have spent thinking about utility cycling over the last few years, I am always amazed at all of the new and creative ways in which people are using bicycles to accomplish specific goals.
To that end, I’d like to introduce you to Jed Proujansky. Jed started his working career as a bicycle mechanic while in middle school. He rode a large delivery bike filled with parts and repaired the rental fleet of delivery bikes. Later, he went on to be an avid hostler and rode centuries for fun. Now, over 60 years old he bikes less but still cant see life without a bike or two.
Jed’s use of a bicycle is the ultimate in utility cycling, as it really comes down to a matter of life or death for a specific fish population. But before things sound too sensational here, let me explain further. Jed is an avid fisherman whose wife volunteered him to help stock the fish tank at the Great Falls Discovery Center, which is an educational visitor center in Turners Falls, Massachusetts, that is part of the Connecticut River Watershed. The Great Falls Discovery Center is part of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge and has a particular focus on environmental education to teach visitors about the importance of the natural resources within the watershed. As part of the educational component, the Discovery Center has a variety of exhibits that show the wildlife of the watershed in their natural habitats. Given the Discovery Center’s focus on the local watershed, there are a number of exhibits with fish that live in the nearby Connecticut River. As Jed explains,
“I go out to different parts of the watershed and try to catch appropriate display sized fish for our tanks. The largest tank is about 6x6x6 and will hold a half dozen trout about 6-8 inches in length. I have caught small bass and panfish and even some dace (about 2 long) for our tanks. We rotate the stock periodically so that we get new fish there.”
Given Jed’s proclivity for fishing, the opportunity to go out and catch fish for use in the exhibits was a perfect excuse to get in more time to fish. However, one of the reservoirs from which the fish are collected happens to be at the top of a mile long, hilly, dirt road that is not open to motorized vehicles. Jed puts the fish he catches (using safe, humane methods, of course) in a bucket with two gallons of water and an aerator for their journey from the reservoir to a larger tank at the Discovery Center. But time is of the essence, because once the fish are caught, it is critical that they be transported from the reservoir to a tank with plenty of oxygen and cold water as quickly as possible so that they will not be harmed. Obviously a lack of oxygen will lead to fish mortality, as will warm water, so Jed needs to move fast.
For a number of years, Jed hiked to the top of the road, placed the fish he caught in the bucket, and raced back down the road to his car on foot with 15 pounds of equipment and a bucket full of fish. The walk up the hill was hard enough, but racing back down with the fish, which took about 30 minutes, was very difficult. Once in his car, Jed cranked the AC to keep the water as cool as possible and drove the 10 miles to the Discovery Center where the fish were moved to a larger tank.
Finally, one day, after hitting his head – once again – on his bicycle, which is stored near his fishing equipment, a better way to transport the fish became painfully obvious. Why not use a bike to get to the reservoir and cut the transportation time down significantly? So Jed went about setting up a bike to do just that. He now uses his daughter’s mountain bike that is equipped with a rear rack, to which he bungee cords his fish bucket with the lid and aerator, to get up and down the hill to the reservoir. With a fishing rod and other gear tied to the bike forks and frame, the bike can carry all of the necessary gear, which can also be easily removed for quick access.
Using the bicycle, Jed is able to walk/ride up the hill to the reservoir and cruise back down the hill with the caught fish. He was able to cut the transportation time down the hill from 30 minutes to just about 5 minutes, which is a huge improvement for the fish.
I asked Jed how the fish react to being transported by bicycle. Since they are used to being in rough water, he suggests that they probably don’t mind much. Not to mention, the water cushions them during the ride. I also asked Jed how he reacts to transporting the fish this way, and he says that so far, there have been no issues. As one might imagine, it’s somewhat difficult to secure a bucket to a bike rack and ride down a bumpy, dirt road without any leaks, etc., but he keeps his hand on the lid during bumpy sections of the road to keep the cargo secure. I also couldn’t help but ask Jed how the Discovery Center reacts to his method of fish transportation. Since the fish he catches arrive at the Discovery Center in great condition, he says they are quite pleased with it, and that they are happy as long as they have healthy fish.
Jed’s method of fish transportation is an interesting and creative type of utility cycling. His use of a bicycle is an interesting type of cycling service, and one which I hadn’t previously given much thought to: Educational Se
rvices by Bicycle. Jed also mentioned that one of the best things about the Discovery Center are the educational programs and events they offer for youth and adults alike. The educational programs help to bring people into contact with their environment in order to help them develop an environmental conscience. Jed mentioned that many fish and other wildlife are saved due to the success of the Discovery Center’s programs. I asked if he had taken the opportunity to tell any of the youth how exactly he goes about catching the fish, and he hasn’t done that yet, although it sounds like it may be a good opportunity for the future. I would argue that in addition to teaching people about their local environment, telling the story of how he catches the fish by bicycle could also open their eyes to the plethora of ways in which bicycles can be used. And that’s always a good thing!
Editor’s Note: No fish were harmed in the telling of this story. Once the fish have been in an exhibit at the Discovery Center for about 6 months, they are released back into the watershed.
Also, many thanks to Jed for taking the time to answer my questions, tell this great story, and provide the photos in this piece. All of the information provided here was obtained from emails and a telephone interview with Jed.