“We hope to inspire the change within, and outside of, the cycling industry” Ben Lassanske, Program Manager at Trek Bikes
The bicycle is recognised as the most eco-friendly mode of transportation. However, it took the bike industry a comparatively long time to understand its own responsibility for sustainable design and production. The good news is that more and more companies are taking measures in the right direction. One such bicycle manufacturer, Trek Bikes, has made notable progress lately. The American company, one of the most famous bicycle manufacturers in the world, has recently launched Red Barn Refresh, a program dedicated to collecting and reselling used bicycles – a vital move towards a circular economy. On their journey, they also collaborated with CIRCO and the sustainability experts from Shift Cycling Culture. We spoke with Program Manager, Ben Lassanske about the project.
Over 100 million bicycles are sold each year. However, few good, sustainable solutions exist for reuse, refurbish or recycling options at the end of their lifespan. Thus, in 2024, many used bicycles will again end up in scrapyards worldwide. “This is definitely an issue. In many cases, there is a lot of value left in a bicycle when it reaches the end of its use time. That’s why we wanted to change that,” says Ben Lassanske. He is the Program Manager of Red Barn Refresh, an initiative by the American bike manufacturer Trek Bikes to give bikes a second life.
As a manufacturer, most of Trek’s environmental impact comes from the raw materials used to create products – categorised under Scope 3 emissions, which accounts for more than 95% of Trek’s total emissions. Demonstrating continued commitment to sustainable business operations, Trek introduced carbon reduction goals in the 2023 report: reducing Scope 1 and 2 by 68% and Scope 3 by 30% by 2032. Red Barn Refresh is an essential part of these ambitions. By giving bikes a second chance, Red Barn Refresh is extending a bike’s lifecycle, which will, in turn, reduce the cycling industry’s need for resources and waste streams.
What is Red Barn Refresh?
Trek launched the program in October 2023. It is the first manufacturer-led bike trade-in and refurbishment program in the cycling industry. The concept is simple: used Trek bikes can be dropped off at any participating Trek dealer in the USA in exchange for store credit. The bikes are then sent to the original red barn where Trek was founded in Waterloo, Wisconsin. There, they undergo a thorough inspection, and any worn parts are replaced. They are then listed for sale on the Trek website, sold, and shipped directly to customers’ homes. “The initiative marks a transition from a linear to a circular business model, something long overdue in the bicycle industry,” says Lassanske.
Indeed, moving away from the traditional linear business model was far from straightforward for Trek, as Lassanske shares. He explains that the concept for Red Barn Refresh developed as a result of his company’s growing commitment to sustainability. In 2021, Trek was at the forefront with the launch of its sustainability report, being among the first in the industry to address sustainability issues publicly. Since then, they have undertaken numerous initiatives to extend the lifespan of their bikes. “Red Barn Refresh was the next logical step. Even though the journey there was not an easy one. We had to integrate a circular business model inside of a largely linear corporation,” the Program Manager explains.
CIRCO Course as Accelerating Factor
“It took a year from the decision to the launch,” says Lassanske, adding that CIRCO also played an important role in the process. A couple of teams from Trek participated in the CIRCO Circular Design Course, a program, held in early 2022, aimed at creating a more profound understanding of the circular economy’s opportunities. The course, hosted by Shift Cycling Culture, brought together teams from 11 companies based all over the world to learn and share experiences.
Lassanske has fond memories of the program: “The workshop offered new perspectives on things you often don’t realise when you’re caught up in your daily routine,” he says. “I particularly appreciated how it inspired us to develop our ideas further. One outcome was that starting a refurbishment program for our bikes was a low-hanging fruit for us.”
The course also helped tackle the most difficult challenge before the launch: getting started. “Like many, we were unsure if we were ready to embark on such an initiative. However, during our discussions, we realised that we just had to try it and learn, adjust, and improve along the way,” Lassanske notes. He also mentions implementing appropriate return and service procedures as examples of other obstacles. Impressively, all used bicycles undergo a comprehensive 151-point inspection process to ensure they are certified products. Once inspected, they come with the same limited lifetime warranty and support as a new Trek bike.
Circular Economy as a Business Opportunity
Currently, Red Barn Refresh is only available to customers in the USA. However, there are plans to expand the service globally in the coming years. The success is already visible. Lassanske shares that the program has opened up new customer segments. As the refurbished bikes are offered at lower prices, premium quality is now accessible to customers who previously did not consider buying a Trek bike. Therefore, Lassanske is optimistic about the program’s success in the years ahead. “The program aligns with Trek’s mission to get more people on bikes and contribute positively to the environment. It was the right move.”
Trek Bikes is a global leader in designing and manufacturing bicycles and related products. Founded in 1976 in Waterloo, Wisconsin, it has since achieved worldwide expansion. Today, with approximately 3,000 employees, Trek is one of the most renowned bicycle brands in the world and a pioneer in sustainability within the industry. In 2021, the company published its first sustainability report, followed by a second edition in 2023. For more information, visit www.trekbikes.com.
Shift Cycling Culture is a non-profit organisation dedicated to promoting environmental sustainability within the cycling industry. They focus on raising awareness about sustainable practices, encouraging the adoption of eco-friendly materials and production methods, and fostering a culture of responsibility among manufacturers, retailers, and cyclists. Shift Cycling Culture's efforts extend to organising events, conducting research, and hosting courses and workshops that highlight the importance of sustainability in the bicycle industry. For more information, visit www.shiftcyclingculture.com.
Author: Werner Müller-Schell
Image Credit: Trek Bikes