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Nedra DeadwylerNedra Deadwyler and her Xtracycle
By Erik Neumann
Photography by Ashley Genevieve
Nedra Deadwyler is the owner and operator of Seattle's Birdsong Dwellings. With the help of her Xtracycle Freeradical, affectionately known as Irene, Deadwyler and her pedal-powered business defy a number of conventions about biking.
In late 2009, Deadwyler started Birdsong Dwellings, a business that runs a gamut of services from landscaping projects, to interior design, to organizing her clients' living spaces. An average day is just as likely to find her setting pavers in a walkway as reorganizing a home office to create a seamless transition from work space to living space. "It's unintentional, very random and very much like myself," Deadwyler said, joking about her new business and the steep learning curve so far. Though still gaining experience, her work is inspired by principles of permaculture, using recycled and re-purposed materials and embracing the idea that one person's trash can be another person's treasure.
When Birdsong originated, Deadwyler used her 1987 Volvo sedan, and the occasional rental truck, to meet the physical demands of landscaping projects. At the time, her car was "old and dying" and Deadwyler was, in her own words, "not a tinkerer." Left with a collection of gardening tools, potted plants and only her single-speed commuter bike, she needed transportation options, fast.
"I need to learn how to haul stuff, and I need to learn how to be a good commuter," Deadwyler told the staff at 2020, her neighborhood bike shop. Her search would take her from panniers, to messenger bags to bike baskets, but would eventually end with Irene – the 2020 shop Xtracycle – and its accompanying blue, 1980s mountain bike frame.
"My bike is a tool that gets me to and from (places). I put my tools there; I've carried (plants) around. I've traveled as far as from Columbia City to Maple Leaf. It's my vehicle," she explained.
Xtracycles are, in essence, a frame extension that can be attached to most 26-inch or 700 c bicycles. They enable riders to carry up to 200 pounds of groceries, furniture or, in the case of Deadwyler, landscaping tools. In recent years, their long wooden racks and voluminous saddle bags have made their presence known around Seattle. Parents on cargo bikes with multiple half-pint passengers are becoming increasingly common; however, female cargo bike riders are still few. Deadwyler – a petite, stylishly dressed African-American woman – who is ready to spend a tiring day pulling ivy and hauling gear, breaks a handful of stereotypes in the often white and male world of Seattle cyclists.
"I've gotten into so many conversations with people about my bike," Deadwyler said. "I think it's changed how people think about what kind of bike you need for commuting."
Deadwyler was remarkably unfazed by the transition from car to bicycle, and, instead, sees her riding stamina as a gauge for her own personal health. "There is a close connection with how well I care for myself and my ability to power the bike," she explained. Over time, she learned to adapt her job to this new vehicle. "I've learned how to keep my tools to a minimum and found tools that are lighter and smaller in size," she explained. "I must admit there are times when I get off and push. Then it just becomes a balancing act."