Gifted local artist (and Baltimore School for the Arts grad) Natan Lawson, 23, on his way to RISD in the fall, makes yummy, all-natural smoothies using bicycle-powered blenders sculpted with delightful mosaic detail. His traveling smoothie tent, Wheely Good Smoothies, circles the city, so keep your eyes peeled for Natan and his fruit-spinning blenders. Keep in mind: Ride the bike blender yourself, and you get a smoothie discount, in addition to a heart-healthy calorie-burn.
How long have you been selling smoothies?
The first time I setup my bike blender was in September of 2008 for my street’s annual block party. The blender contraption barely worked…but everyone loved the concept. I lost my construction job that winter (a blessing in disguise!) so I took up perfecting the blender design and constructed four bike blenders with parts from velocipede. Typically, bikes and blenders are viewed as strictly utilitarian–all steak, no sizzle. That inspired me to take an outsider art approach and cover every possible surface of the bikes with paint, mosaic, and even a little a little fur. My small but sturdy fleet of pedal-powered machines became part work of art, part outright vandalism of aerodynamics, and (perhaps) part good sense.
I applied for a spot in the 32nd St. Farmers Market and began there in June 2009. Without a car, I had to walk everything over in 12 trips from my house (not too far) with a grocery cart at 5 a.m. to be ready by 7 a.m., and then back 12 more times at noon. I got a van in 2010 so have been able to add the Downtown Farmers Market and other events to my schedule.
How’d you learn to make these treats so expertly, and ingeniously?
In the fall of 2007, I was an apprentice on a farm in Oregon called Aprovecho. They had a bike-powered grain grinder and while I was there we built a bike-powered washing machine and other human-powered machines. However, it wasn’t until two years later while on a bike tour from Vermont to Baltimore that I heard of bike-powered smoothies. When I saw one the moment felt like a light bulb flashed over my head–my first thought was I had to bring this to Baltimore.
A blender’s blades rely on rotary motion from pedaling that can be transferred directly from a bike’s rear wheel to the blender’s shaft. The bike sits in a training stand to keep the wheel off the ground and firmly in place, and mixing requires only modest amounts of power.
What are your flavors? Who makes up the great names?
Bananaconda: banana, mango, mango nectar, ginger root
Bossy Lassi: mango, mango nectar, yogurt, honey
Strawberry Spice: strawberries, orange juice, basil
Ting Thing: mango, mango nectar, chili spice, parsley
Mango Tango: banana, pineapple, mango nectar
The Fuzz: peaches, lemonade, chipotle spice
Lemon Stick Smoothie: peaches, lemonade, fresh mint
Yabba Dabba Blue: banana, blueberries, apple juice, cream
Mochachino – Zeke’s Coffee, ice, cream, chocolate
I make the smoothie names but, and I have a document with pun-y smoothie names that I’ve yet to figure out a smoothie for. Here are a few, and if any of your readers have any ideas for recipes they can contact me.
Berry Manilow, Banana Karenina, Cherry-ots of Fire, Cider Man, Itsy Bitsy Cider, Meet the Pear-ents, Melon of Troy, Nobel Peach Prize, Peel of Fortune, As the Whirl Turns, Cherry Potter, A Beautiful Rind, Alicia Kiwis, Cran Prix, Po-Kiwi-Mon, and A Day At the Peach.
Why the bike blenders? Why are you doing what you’re doing?
I began selling pedal-powered smoothies as a way to make money that was fun and also gave me the opportunity to be a small-time entrepreneur for the summer. However, after bringing the bike blenders to a couple schools and seeing kids interact with them, I’ve come to view them as more than just a blender plus a bicycle: They’re tangible demonstration of green technology! No matter how small the output, it’s possible to show kids how much they can do without a noisy motor, or a plug. I’ll admit that the amount of energy used to blend a smoothie will not go far toward lowering one’s monthly utility expenses or combating greenhouse gasses. Still, the first step is realizing how much energy we use, and could avoid using. When someone blends a smoothie, their exertion makes visceral what they might take for granted when they plug in an appliance.
What news would you like to share about special programs or offers or future plans?
Wheely Good Smoothies does office parties and events. I give out free smoothies sponsored by the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Check here for their calendar of events.
What is your relationship with fund-raising entities?
I’ve partnered with schools (JHU, MICA, Goucher, Park, and Montessori) for fundraising and also with organizations like 4k4Cancer, Beit Tikvah, and Planned Parenthood.