Cargo E-Bikes Will Eat SUVs

kids in cargo bike

Forget drones and flying cars; this is the future of deliveries, whether goods or kids.

A hundred years ago, cargo bikes were the standard vehicle for many trades and deliveries. We have even shown a cargo bike cat litter exchange service, a business idea that might work well today.

According to the World Bank, they are having a renaissance and gaining "recognition as a cleaner, safer, and more efficient mode of urban freight delivery and passenger transport. As a human-powered and fuel-free vehicle, this form of active transport could bring even more benefits to our cities than other disruptive technologies."

Coincidentally, while I was researching this post, the Twitter account of the All-Powerful Bicycle Lobby invited readers to submit photos of people moving goods by bike. Some are electric; it seems that they are already taking over.

Give them a little boost from an electric motor like John Lloyd's here and the better batteries that we have now, and you have another story altogether. We recently quoted a Deloitte report:

E-bikes may soon start to invade the niche currently occupied by automobiles thanks to their convenience, utility, and relatively low cost. Even electric cargo bikes, though more expensive (at about US$8,000) than standard e-bikes, are much cheaper than most cars—and may be just as useful for running most errands. According to one survey, 28 percent of e-bike buyers bought the e-bike as a substitute for a car, not as an upgrade to a bike.

NOTE: There are complaints about the $8,000 price of a cargo e-bike. That is in the Deloitte quote. You can buy RAD or other cargo bikes for a lot less than that.

In fact, last year in Germany, electric cargo bikes outsold electric cars, 39,000 to 32,000. There are many reasons, including the fact that they are smaller and don't clog up the streets, and don't pollute. But they also make sense in this new world of online shopping and instant gratification. According to the World Bank,

Research commissioned by the European Union concludes that 25% of all goods and 50% of all light deliveries in urban settings could be serviced by cargo bikes. Around the world, customers of online retailers are increasingly purchasing everything from groceries to furniture. The expectation of immediacy, especially in urban centers, has led to massive traffic increases on city streets.

It's also obviously greener, which can be a big selling feature.

87% of Millennials prefer to conduct business with socially and environmentally conscientious companies. In that context, informing your customers that their package has arrived using a sustainable and environmentally friendly means of transport could become a significant commercial advantage.

Electrification of cargo bikes makes it a whole new world, letting more people carry more stuff greater distances. According to the owner of an e-bike store in London, quoted in the Financial Times, it makes it much easier. "Whereas before they were manual and you had to have a really big chap riding them, you now have electric cargo bikes." Delivery companies are switching from diesel trucks to cargo e-bikes. The CEO of Mango, a delivery company, tells the FT that they will "gradually to supplant the diesel vans that perform many of the company’s drops and provide a more efficient, greener service."

The Urban Arrow cargo bike used by Mango is capable of moving up to 250kg of goods at a time but has only two wheels and so slips easily past traffic jams and down cycle tracks, according to Mr Levan-Harris. “I think the future would be pedal power, rather than drones or driverless cars,” Mr Levan-Harris says.

We noted a few years ago that 'the cargo bike is the new family car,' but the cargo e-bike really opens up the market; it becomes the family SUV. Robert Wright of the FT writes:

It is the technology that is changing the face of the school drop-off. At many London primary schools, alongside the children arriving in cars, on bikes and by scooter, a growing number are arriving strapped into the boxes of cargo bikes.

Air quality around schools has become a big issue in London, and cargo e-bikes eliminate that. And for all the complaints about how expensive some of these e-bikes are, they are a lot cheaper than a car. They are emission free, don't take up much space and, as the photos have shown, can carry just about anything, electric or not.

I couldn't write a post like this without my usual conclusion: If we are going to have an e-bike revolution then we have to have good infrastructure as well as good bikes: we need safe, separated bike lanes and much better enforcement to keep them clear. At least if the delivery companies switch to cargo e-bikes, life will be easier in the Fedex lane.