While bikes were still in huge demand for transporting goods at the beginning of the 20th century, vehicle mobilisation during the second half of the century increasingly drove cargo bikes off the roads. However, as electrification gains traction and people want greater sustainability and quality of life in cities, trendy e-cargo bikes are now experiencing a successful comeback for handling commercial transportation.
After all, over a ten-year period, sales of e-bikes in Germany rose from 330,000 to two million in 2021.1 The market for e-cargo bikes has also grown to an enormous extent and tripled to reach a figure of 120,000 between 2018 and 2021.2 E-cargo bikes now account for six per cent of sales of e-bikes in Germany.3
‘Cargo bikes are a growth engine with many benefits, particularly for the one-person delivery segment,’ says Christian Rautenberg, Project Manager of “Deliver it”, a regional logistics specialist for the retail trade and consumers, which delivers goods to customers. One-person deliveries are ideally suitable for fairly small or light items, which one employee can lift and carry alone. The packages should not weigh more than 30 kilogrammes.
In addition to delivery companies’ own need to provide innovative and sustainable drive systems, their clients and customers are increasingly demanding that deliveries of goods and packages should cause as few emissions as possible. Then there is the sense of social responsibility and increasing demands from politicians. ‘We’re expecting a ban on diesel vehicles in Berlin in the medium term. We’re therefore transforming our supply chain now so that we can be one of the market leaders with our solutions for last-mile operations,’ Rautenberg adds, giving reasons for his actions.
In the face of increasing volumes of traffic in inner-city areas, e-cargo bikes can avoid these more easily by taking alternative routes in congested city centres. ‘Not only are you able to avoid the traffic jam, you don’t cause one either,’ Rautenberg argues. As the cargo bike can get closer to the house or flat, the distance which delivery staff have to cover to get the offloaded goods to their customers is shorter. Neither is there a need for double parking on roads any more.
Another benefit is becoming increasingly important, particularly at a time when there is a shortage of specialist workers. A driving licence is not required to operate cargo bikes; riders therefore do not need to pass a driving test. The number of employees who could be considered for deliveries is therefore much larger. But what does it feel like to ride an electric cargo bike?
Stephan Klabe also experiences plenty of appreciation from those to whom he delivers the goods. ‘It’s particularly nice for me as a rider to see customers’ reactions when they discover that I’m delivering their goods on my e-bike. Riding e-bikes is also a lot of fun because you can travel all over the place and even take a short cut through a park, for example.’
Christian Rautenberg also confirms the positive feedback from customers. ‘They’re delighted when the riders explain to them that their delivery is being made on an e-cargo bike and they’re thrilled that we’re using this ecological and sustainable form of delivery. Passers-by on the street often start talking to the riders directly to find out more about their bikes and discover where they can book this service. We’ve had nothing but positive feedback.’
E-cargo bikes have to withstand a great deal: long journeys, loads weighing up to 300 kilogrammes, uneven surfaces such as cobblestones or unpaved roads. Feeling comfortable on a bike is absolutely essential. The brakes must also work perfectly so that the bike comes to a standstill in good time, even when it is loaded with cargo weighing up to 600 kilos.
Rautenberg therefore recommends that operators first extensively test the cargo bikes from different manufacturers before making any fairly large investment and that they analyse what is required from the bike with the manufacturers in advance. This is the only way for a delivery company handling heavy/bulky goods to examine which types of bike best suit their needs and riders. After all, ‘Each bike has significant differences and can be sensibly used for a variety of purposes.’
E-cargo bikes are often still completely new ground, particularly for transport companies specialising in heavy/bulky consignments. In contrast, for courier/express parcel companies delivering DIY accessories or small furniture items – which have been the principal buyers of e-cargo bikes up to now – every package is different. It is therefore important to have more opportunities for loading and unloading the goods. ‘It’s ideal if the cargo space is accessible both from the side and from the rear. Interchangeable containers are also ideal for us because they provide a huge degree of flexibility for our operating procedures.’
‘Deliver it’ tested three e-cargo bikes from ONO, Citkar and ANTRIC in the centre of Berlin around the Alexanderplatz area and in Lichtenberg from July 2021 until April 2022. The couriers delivered sports equipment, furniture items and home furnishings as well as building and garden materials. ‘Deliver it’ didn’t make its final decision to purchase several bikes from the manufacturer ANTRIC until it completed the test process in the early summer of 2022. ‘Not because the other models were bad, but the one that we’ve selected suits our current operations and requirements particularly well.’
Rautenberg assumes that there will be some more breakthroughs in developments in the e-cargo market in future because most of the manufacturers are only just commencing their development work and want to gradually improve their vehicles and adapt them to clients’ needs. ‘The support from the manufacturers is huge. All the makers of the bikes that we tested were grateful for and open to our feedback. We’re happy to communicate our experience, ideas and suggestions for improvements and arrange joint brainstorming sessions geared towards new developments and adapting products.’
The e-cargo bike from ANTRIC emerged as the winner, primarily because of its reliable, durable and robust design. ‘Deliver it’ was also persuaded because the bikes are easy to load thanks to their low payload area and trolley system. After all, easy loading procedures save valuable time. ‘It was also important for us that there was sufficient cargo space for our goods, some of which are bulky. Even complete Euro pallets fit into the bike, if necessary.’
‘Deliver it’ has now been operating four electric cargo bikes in Berlin since July 2022 to deliver all those home & living products such as lamps or chairs or smaller DIY items, which are too large for people’s car boots or too heavy to carry on public transport – and without causing any CO2 emissions in the process. Other e-bikes are due to enlarge the fleet during the next few months.
Even if Christian Rautenberg is convinced by the concept of e-cargo bikes for handling emission-free deliveries in urban areas, he still believes there is further potential for improvements. First of all, he says that there is room to enhance the durability and load-bearing capacity of the structural components of e-cargo bikes in general. ‘We’re transporting much greater weights on far longer routes than courier/express parcel companies,’ says Rautenberg. ‘If we have to replace worn parts frequently, that not only costs money, but, most importantly, time too.’
The second aspect concerns the charging infrastructure for the rechargeable batteries. ‘There haven’t been any uniform standards up to now. Our cargo bikes may be able to complete their daily distance of up to 60 kilometres with a couple of replacement batteries. But we believe there’s huge potential in the form of exchange points for rechargeable batteries.’ That would be the only way of significantly reducing the number of fairly large delivery vehicles such as normal transporter vans. And he has other developments on his list of wishes. ‘Digital tracking for cargo bikes would be fantastic, just as other practical features such as a top hatch in the payload area so that you can slide through and transport long parts.’
After studying Industrial Engineering, Christian Rautenberg completed his master’s degree in Logistics at the Technical University of Berlin, The 29-year-old has been part of ‘Deliver it’ since 2019 and has been its product manager since 2021. He himself rode all the e-cargo bikes that the company tested.
Will e-cargo bikes compete with classic delivery vehicles for last-mile deliveries? Let us know what you think.
Same day, next day or at any preferable time – ‘Deliver it’ delivers things that are too heavy or too large for customers – directly to their homes (ship from store).
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1 | Cf. Zweirad-Industrie-Verband e. V. (ZIV) (Editor): “Marktdatenpräsentation 2022 für 2021”, p. 28, at: https://www.ziv-zweirad.de/fileadmin/redakteure/Downloads/Marktdaten/ZIV_Marktdatenpraesentation_2022_fuer_Geschaeftsjahr_2021.pdf
2| Cf. ibid.: “Marktdatenpräsentation 2022 für 2021”, p. 36, from the same source.
3 | Cf. ibid.: “Marktdatenpräsentation 2022 für 2021”, p. 41, from the same source.
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