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How e-bikes can make you money

Cycling Electric delves into a number of cases where profit has sprung from pedal power

Here’s a perhaps surprising reason for adopting the electric bike: it’s good for business. Having tested them against traditional vans, many businesses are consigning vans to the history books in favour of cargo bikes.

When Richard Hammond, James May, Jeremy Clarkson and the Stig participated in a race across London using various modes of transport for the BBC’s Top Gear in 2007, few of its millions of car-fancying viewers could have predicted the outcome. Cyclists could have told them.

When filtering people through a city, some things are a given. If it’s rush hour, expect traffic on the roads and difficulty in grabbing a seat on the train.

Few of us will be fortunate enough to replicate Clarkson’s speedboat commute on the Thames, so for the sake of keeping things simple we’ll leave water-based transport out of the picture for now (though if you insist we suggest looking up the Manta 5 hydrofoil).

By comparison the bicycle is consistent, or at least as consistent as its rider. As proven by Top Gear’s foursome, pedal power is the fastest way to cross a city like London. What’s more, the gulf is widening.

According to a report by the World Economic Forum, the current increase in delivery vehicles alone in 100 global cities will see congestion levels rise by over 21% on average by 2030.

Need for speed

With a higher average speed than all other modes of transport and only traffic lights limiting flow, the cyclist is first to arrive for most inner-city journeys of up to five miles.

For reference, drivers in London crawl along at an average speed of just 7mph, wasting some 227 hours every year sat in gridlock, according to research firm Inrix. Furthermore, an In-Car Cleverness study found that driving speeds in some of the UK’s key cities fell by as much as 20% between 2016 and 2017.

For businesses with vans and HGVs on the road this presents a headache. Royal Mail, as the UK’s largest logistics business, is particularly exposed with almost 50,000 vans on the road.

Having sent its fleet of much-loved Pashley Mailstar bicycles to Africa for recycling, the postal firm has, for the time being, been investing in low-emissions vans – but these are just as cumbersome in the city, albeit cleaner when idling.

Meanwhile, Royal Mail’s Italian sister firm GLS over has been experimenting with delivery via cargo bike.

It has since been followed by DHL, UPS, Ireland’s An Post and many more logistics giants. For the most part, lorries still carry parcels to consolidation hubs on the edge of cities, but when the traffic starts to build these centres act as distribution hubs to ensure the most efficient vehicles carry out the last mile of a delivery.

A specialist retailer of electric cargo bikes, London’s Fully Charged has been exceedingly well placed to capture this new wave of vehicle purchases. Not so long ago founder Ben Jaconelli’s electric cargo bike trade was deemed a niche of a niche. Not now.

‘Businesses are lapping electric cargo bikes up now,’ he says. ‘This year we forecast such vehicles to be represent around 20% of our trade, a figure we expect to reach 50% when a certain mass is reached and people take note.’

A study conducted under the Intelligent Energy Europe programme established that ‘in almost every case’ businesses could make both financial and efficiency savings by switching deliveries in urban spaces from vans to e-cargo bikes and pedelecs. Forty delivery businesses from 20 cities in Spain, the Netherlands, Sweden, Italy, Croatia, Slovenia and Portugal were involved.

After the research period, firms in three of the seven countries saw a 100% retention rate of their electric bike fleet. Logistics managers noting a marked efficiency improvement or cost saving, in particular where a short-distance urban delivery was made.

Pedal power

Also riding a wave of electric cargo bike success, London business Pedal Me spotted the opportunity to contribute to urban decongestion with its electric cargo bike-based business.

It started as a pedal-powered taxi service for the capital, but a second wave of crowdfunding helped co-founder Ben Knowles – a former transport planner – to reshape his trade around the demand for logistics by city firms.

‘We now operate with about 97% of our trade attached to deliveries and it’s become a stretch for our custom-built fleet of 42 Urban Arrow cargo bikes,’ he says. ‘We need more.’

Knowles’ team rode much of the fleet direct from the source of assembly in Holland to London, some carrying cargo (another nail in the coffin for e-bike naysayers).

Some of Pedal Me’s cargo bikes now depart from the outskirts of the city clad with a custom four-metre-long trailer, which then supplies the inner city couriers – a micro-example of what much larger logistics businesses offer, but with a surprisingly large payload.

‘We now do the same volume of trade in an hour as we did in our entire first month,’ says Knowles. ‘We do still carry people, but this requires pre-booking and available resource. As it stands our logistics trade outstrips our capability: we need more bikes, people and for our IT systems to catch up – hence the second crowdfunding effort.’

Knowles suggests that, by the estimates of his business, around £100 million worth of food delivery trade alone would be better served by electric bike delivery in London. It could revitalise an entire industry and create new jobs for a healthy workforce.

It goes without saying that the cost of charging an electric bike battery comes in substantially lower than the cost of running a van, and that’s before you take into account the anti-social elements such as noise and pollution.

As such, in a bid to meet demand from businesses and logistics specialists, expert group Cycling Industries Europe predicts that the cargo bike market will shift two million new units by 2030, many of which will include some form of electric assistance.

Delivering change

It is the convenience by which goods are available, often promised the next or even same day, that is vastly increasing the need for additional vehicles on the road.

The World Economic Forum’s study suggests that, driven by consumer demand for goods bought online, 36% more delivery vehicles will be needed within dense urban spaces by 2030. It’s vital that these vehicles become more efficient and less polluting.

‘Consumer demand for the convenience of online shopping and fast delivery is rising rapidly and companies are struggling to meet this demand with sustainable delivery options,’ says Christoph Wolff, head of mobility at the World Economic Forum.

‘Rising congestion and emissions from e-commerce delivery are already putting stress on city traffic patterns and this pressure will only rise from growing demand – unless effective intervention is quickly taken by both cities and companies.’

Five electric cargo bikes that could change our cities

Cube Cargo Sport Hybrid – £4,498.99

While it may not have as high a profile as some of the bike market’s top brands like Giant, Trek and Merida, it’s Germany’s Cube that in fact ranks as Europe’s largest bike maker and its investment in developing its electric bike offering is substantial.

With that knowhow, plus its immersed position in within the Dutch cycling culture, Cube is well placed to design a versatile cargo bike. The Bosch motor-driven Cargo Sport Hybrid carries an EPP foam box that’ll carry children or goods, with a canopy to cover whatever’s in tow.

You can even add a rear rack, making this build ideal for businesses that need an efficient and capable route to servicing multiple customers.

Buy the Cube Cargo Hybrid from Rutland Cycling now

Tern GSD – £4,200

The GSD, short for Get Stuff Done, was a smash hit on its release just a few short years ago and widely touted as one of the most accessible and versatile cargo carriers ever to land on the market.

Tern’s founder Joshua Hon even sought his children’s input on the design to best understand what they would like to carry, or indeed how they would like to be carried.

One of the key issues for those looking at a cargo bike will be where to store it. Tern’s bike has folding elements and is designed to be able to fit vertically in a lift, should it need to be taken up to an apartment. It’s one of the few cargo bikes on the market that can make such a claim.

Buy the Tern GSD now from Fully Charged for £4,200

Ridgeback Cargo-E – £3,799

Packing the punch of a 504Wh battery, Ridgeback’s Cargo-E is new to the market, but has been refined around the principles that make cargo bikes much easier to handle than they once were: that is, a stable ride position with good view above the traffic, well-distributed weight and a steering system that will take no time at all to get used to.

It’s even got a handy central kickstand to pop up when making a delivery, as well as a rear wheel lock tacked on to the frame.

That battery, paired with Shimano’s range-topping E8000 drive system, could well give you up to 100km of assisted riding, depending on terrain and load carried. And you’ll easily fit the weekly shop and a dog in the supplied bucket.

Riese & Müller Packster – £5,100

The Packster range from Riese & Müller comes in three iterations: the 40, 60 and 80, each number referring simply to the load-carrying capacity, with the first having a 40cm-long tray and the last double that.

This load is placed low and in front of the rider, which when carrying children can be reassuring. Accessories are available as add-ons, but if it is the child-carrying option that catches your eye, Riese & Müller’s design flair carries through, with dual five-point belts keeping up to two children up to eight years old secure and protected by sturdy side walls.

Larry vs Harry Bullitt – £4,600

The popular Bullitt started life as a fan favourite among cargo bike enthusiasts, so the next logical step for Larry vs Harry was to add assistance. Nowadays you can even custom-spec your Bullitt, choosing your own level of components, paint colour and accessories such as luggage.

We use the term ‘luggage’ very loosely: the accessory list is vast, spanning canopied child carriers, boxes capable of serving food and even advertising space if your business requires a presence on the street.

Buy the Larry vs Harry cargo bike from Larry vs Harry now for £4,600

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