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Tyrone's Ice Cream Bike

In 2021 we fundraised $1,225 to help buy Tyrone an electric ice cream tricycle. Tyrone panhandles outside the Burger King on the Corner of 29th and Sission Street. I got to know him over the years. I always liked talking with him, he told me about being a store owner for more than a decade and his family and a lot of other stuff. We’ve shared meals together. I also liked his sign he used on the corner: “I want someone to buy me an electric ice cream bicycle so I can stop panhandling”.

Turns out $1,225 is not enough to buy an electric bicycle with a freezer and umbrella attachments for vending. The United States companies I could purchase from were charging closer to $5,000-$6,000. When I realized I was going to be coming out of pocket for a large portion of the bike I decided to try buying directly from a factory in China through Here is how that has been going:

On July 19th I placed a $3,933 order for a bike through Alibaba.

On September 29th I paid $295 for additional shipping charges to the manufacturing company through which I placed the order. Because of supply chain issues. For every point past here you can assume there has been a LOT of correspondence for each individual issue. 

On November 11th I paid a $150 “customs inspection fee” to the manufacturing company. I was also told the battery for the bicycle with Lithium Ion was a hazardous materials and would cost an additional $600 to ship. I was told to pay an extra $600 or buy a generic Lithium Ion battery on my own. I opted to buy a battery stateside, so the bike was shipped without a battery.

On January 22nd 2022 I paid $754.50 by wire transfer to the manufacturing company’s shipping company. It took from July to January for the bike to get from the manufacturing company to the shipping company. In fact, I’m not actually sure that the company I purchased from on Alibaba was the original manufacturing company. They might have even bought the components from another company.

Sometime in January I paid $95 to to file documents with customs. Around then was also when I realized that as far as my Alibaba contract was concerned any port in the United States was a valid end destination. I thought they would ship directly to my door, I was wrong. It was being shipped to a port near New York City. 

On January 19th 2022 I paid $617.89 to a customs clearance company.

In Late January I paid $171.50 to a shipping and warehouse company in New York. The Bike was being shipped there, and it had to immediately leave the port to avoid port sitting fees which would have been quite expensive had I accrued any.

In February while I was in Vermont and without having been given an exact shipment date I missed two phone calls from an unknown number. The shipment was unloaded by some poor driver (I do feel bad) on the sidewalk in front of my house. See photo below. The boxes may not look like much but they combined to 400-500 pounds total. There is a metal internal frame around full wood packaging with 100+ metal fasteners keeping the bike safe.


Tyrone happened to be at his corner on February 11th, which I am grateful for. I only had one evening in between Vermont and Costa Rica to get the bike unpacked from the boxes and off the sidewalk. The two of us had a very efficient several hours of labor unboxing (I borrowed some power tools) and bringing all the bike components into my house. We even got all the wood over to the dump and walked the huge metal frames over, they couldn’t fit in my car. I’m glad the dump is just a block away.

Since February 11th the bike has been sitting mostly unassembled in my house. It has been a whole thing trying to get a functioning battery. I wanted to do anything other than go back to the original supplier and tell them I needed to order a battery through them after the rest of this experience. But ultimately no other battery will fit the connection plugs and terminals, the storage container in the bike itself, the lock, the voltages…it needs the battery it was designed for.

Amazon won't let me return the off-brand battery I bought from them that they shipped because...they won't accept hazardous materials. 

For several weeks the original manufacturing company said I couldn't get a battery from them. 

In early May I successfully placed an order for the battery for $326 including UPS shipping via air from the original manufacturing company. Hopefully it arrives soon. And then Tyrone gets to vend some ice cream. I don't have a UPS shipping number yet but I'm told it's coming. 

Lessons learned:

  • $1225 does not buy a custom electric bicycle

  • Don’t order large items that have to clear customs

  • Don’t order directly from overseas factories

  • Don’t let companies send you products with some components missing

Total spent: I truly don’t want to know and haven’t added it. Don’t tell me.

It’s been an adventure!

shipped bike.jpg
Tyrone Unpacking.jpg
ice cream.jpg
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