What's a Bike Good For? Churning Ice Cream, Apparently

A store in downtown Los Angeles sells only pedal-churned frozen treats.

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Edward Belden

We’ve heard of bicycle-powered televisions in an "eco-minded" U.K. hotel, and we’ve seen bicycle-powered blenders in action making smoothies at the local farmers market.

Now there’s a Los Angeles-based business that sells only pedal-churned ice cream.

After getting a year-long rolling start with a mobile unit, Peddler’s Creamery has just opened a storefront outlet in downtown L.A., where they’re dishing out frozen goodies that are not only made from organic ingredients, but are also processed entirely by human power.

It might sound impractical at first, but according to owner Edward Belden, it only takes about 3-4 miles of pedaling (aboard an old Schwinn bike mounted on rollers) to freeze a 5-gallon batch of Mexican chocolate ice cream, salted caramel non-dairy vegan dessert, or strawberry-basil sorbet. If you’re going at a decent clip, that’ll take about 15 minutes. Belden says it’s no problem, for now, to keep his freezers stocked.

Edward Belden

Belden, who also works at an environmental nonprofit, says that his new business unites two of his longtime interests. “Bicycling is something I’ve been interested in since I was a kid,” he says. “And I’ve been into ice cream since high school. My first job was at a Baskin-Robbins. I’ve been trying to figure out how to put those things together.” 

So he took a class in ice-cream-making at the University of Wisconsin, followed up with some independent study, and started a year ago selling his wares from a cart financed by Kickstarter. It may be hard to resist a "Portlandia" joke, but this business is very real. Last weekend, Belden, who now has six employees, opened the Peddler’s Creamery storefront in the Historic Core neighborhood of Los Angeles.

The area, once the vital heart of the city, fell on hard times in the second half of the 20th century, becoming notorious for drug-dealing and prostitution. It's now entering a new phase, with condos and loft apartments in historic buildings attracting residents who want to live in the rare part of town that is not completely car-dependent.

"I wanted to be part of that revitalization," says Belden. "It’s a lot of mom-and-pop stores down here, not the big chains. Everyone helps each other out."

His storefront, which has been built to LEED standards, incorporates a mixing room made out of recycled pallets and a kinetic bike sculpture. Customers can watch ice cream being made and sometimes get a chance to spin the pedals themselves.

The Peddler’s Creamery grand opening took place during L.A.'s recent CicLAvia, a daylong event that opens city streets to bikes and pedestrians. The route went right past Belden's front door, and on that day, all nine flavors sold out.

He says that people seem to really like the whole idea of bicycle-churned ice cream. "You can take a little step back from our modern ways," says Belden. "It shows you what we can do with our own power."

About the Author

  • Sarah Goodyear has written about cities for a variety of publications, including Grist and Streetsblog. She lives in Brooklyn.