Cargo bikes – Lining Up for Transport

Cargo bikes with electric pedal assistance up to a speed of 25 kph and a rated continuous output of up to 250 watts are legally considered bicycles. But which bike is actually suitable for a job in city logistics? And what rules have to be observed for its operation? A DEKRA expert provides answers.

The electric drive is undoubtedly a game changer for sustainable city logistics. However, the question of whether the electric motor always has to be put in a conventional vehicle is another matter. After all, cargo bikes pose serious competition for Sprinters and Co. It’s no longer just mail and parcel carriers who ride their transport and cargo bikes. Standard cargo with manageable dimensions and a practical weight can also be packed onto cargo bikes. With the right container, it’s no problem to transport blood samples and medicines, flowers, frozen foods, and meals on wheels. The National Cycling Plan, which the German cabinet plans to approve this spring, sees the bicycle as an important mode of transport for urban freight traffic. “Smart city logistics,” the paper states, “means greater inclusion of cargo bikes.” Indeed, cargo bikes have experienced rapid growth in recent years. According to the German Bike Association (ZIV), some 54,000 cargo bikes with electric assistance were sold in 2019, a whopping 40 percent increase over the previous year. The association expects further increases in 2020.

A good commercial cargo bike needs taker qualities

Commercial applications account for a significant share of the cargo bike boom. A solid argument is probably the vehicle costs – the total costs of ownership for cargo bikes are lower than for motor vehicles. In addition, the legislator has so far let bikes run on a long leash. Neither registration nor liability insurance are required to operate a pedelec 25. Riders don’t need a driver’s license, are allowed to use the bike path, and in many places are allowed to ride against the traffic on one-way streets. In the commercial sector, cargo bikes run predominantly as three-wheeled front and rear loaders. This requires certain taker qualities. “The requirements for a cargo bike go far beyond the norm for bicycles. Cargo bikes have to withstand considerable strain when heavily loaded, which is further increased by the additional drive,” explains DEKRA accident researcher Luigi Ancona.

A logistics-oriented cargo bike needs more power

The Nuremberg University of Technology is currently clarifying what a logistics-friendly cargo bike must look like as part of the “PedeListics” research project, which focuses on the potential of heavy cargo bikes in freight transport. According to their research, the ideal cargo bike is a double-track bike, has a load volume of more than 1.5 cubic meters, and a cargo load of at least 250 kilograms. In order for the bike to be able to use a bike path, a maximum width of one meter is also required. Specifications include safe handling characteristics, maneuverability, high reliability, and long service intervals. A particular concern of the researchers relates to cargo bike performance. For the driver, moving a fully loaded vehicle can be a real back-breaking job – the pedal assistance reaches its limits with the power permitted for a pedelec 25 especially when starting and accelerating. The scientists therefore propose that cargo bikes be approved for an output of 750 watts.

Hermes is currently testing the large-volume Armadillo cargo bike from the Swedish manufacturer Velove in Berlin. Photo: HermesThe four-wheeled pedelec from Bio-Hybrid looks like a small car, but is a cargo bike equipped with a lot of technology. Photo: Bio-HybridThe small electric vehicle SurbX is a high-tech cargo scooter with a transport platform designed for short distances. Photo: SurbXThe load on the cargo bike is limited. To ensure efficient transport, itʼs important to have suitable loading surfaces and superstructures. Photo: OnomotionCommercial cargo bikes with Pedelec 25 drive have the potential to become game changers on the last mile. Photo: HermesHermes is currently testing the large-volume Armadillo cargo bike from the Swedish manufacturer Velove in Berlin. Photo: HermesCargo bikes are legally regarded as bicycles that do not require a license or a driver's license if the pedal assistance is limited to the Pedelec25 drive. Photo: GLS

The driver must control the cargo bike even with a full load

In practice, the load position, distribution, and securing play a role in cargo bikes’ driving behavior. A high payload, in particular, can have an impact on driving dynamics. In addition, driving behavior differs significantly from that of conventional bicycles. A multi-track cargo bike isn’t easy to drive around corners. It’s not the shift of the body’s center of gravity that determines the driving line, but the steering movement. DEKRA expert Luigi Ancona therefore recommends that newcomers try out driving maneuvers such as cornering, braking, and stopping before their first official trip. Load securing also requires attention. “The load should be secured in such a way that it cannot slip or fall off when cornering or braking hard. Form-fitting load in the load box can contribute to this,” explains Luigi Ancona. Suitable aids for load securing are anti-slip mats, safety nets, tension belts, and covers. As a rule of thumb, heavy loads belong at the bottom of the cargo bike in order to shift the center of gravity as far down as possible.

Cargo bikes still have a lot of potential in city logistics

The latest industry highlights offer new designs and technologies. The SurbX mini electric vehicle, for example, is a high-tech load scooter designed for short distances with a transport platform for euroboxes, catering boxes, and mail containers. A recuperating electric drive in the rear wheel provides the necessary pedal assistance and additional range for the three-wheeled scooter. The six-and-a-half meter long “Megaliner” heavy-duty bike is a veritable XXL bike, which allows a payload of up to 500 kilograms and can carry three europallets on its loading platform. A new category of cargo bike is currently being developed by the mobility start-up Bio-Hybrid. The four-wheeled pedelec looks like a small car, but the cargo variant is a cargo bike equipped with sophisticated technology. There’s a choice of an open cargo area and a closed cargo box. And the joint research project of engineering company IAV and the Research Center for Information Technology (FZI) reaches far into the cargo bike’s future – they’re planning an intelligent e-cargo bike that recognizes the rider and autonomously follows them on foot during delivery.

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