Cycling

BATTERY THEFT IS BIGGER ISSUE THAN LIFESPAN, SAYS LONDON CARGO BIKE LOGISTICS FIRM

Cargo bikes with trailers can carry a hefty load and are proven faster than vans in London (photo: Pedal Me)

One of London’s largest zero-emissions logistics firms says e-cargo bike batteries are being stolen faster than they wear out.

In a city where even drain covers are filched for scrap metal, still-warm catalytic convertors are pinched from cars and where cargo bike batteries can easily sell for GBP300 (HK$3150), e-cargo bikes have become hot targets for thieves.

Bosses at cargo bike startup Pedal Me revealed the issue at an investor Q&A and say they are now reducing the number of batteries its riders need to carry and working to improve range by making the bikes more efficient.

The firm has pumped GBP20,000 into its own custom bike development with an aim to improve not only range but also handling.

Transport planner Ben Knowles spotted an opportunity for cargo bikes in London’s GBP5 billion logisitcs market (photo: LinkedIn)

Speaking to Transit Jam after the investor event, Pedal Me founder, CEO and rider Ben Knowles said the current e-cargo bike technology was surprisingly basic.

“When you consider how much goes into R&D for motors, and how much more value cargo bikes bring than automotive, today’s bikes are far more crude than the ones I’d expect to see 10 years from now.”

Knowles, who founded the firm in 2017 after trying to convince established logistics firms of the value of cargo bikes, says he expects big improvements in the coming decade.

“I’d expect in the next 10 years to see cargo bikes half the weight of ours today, able to carry similar loads; I’d expect to see more powerful brakes; more aerodynamic shapes; significant improvements to stiffness, which helps handling under load,” he says.

Crude or not, data from the Pedal Me fleet shows cargo bikes already outperforming vans in terms of speed as well as environmental metrics.

The average speed of a Pedal Me bike in central London, measured across 19,000km travelled, was 15 kph, against the average central London traffic speed of 11.4 kph.

As well as being faster, bike riders also don’t need to waste time searching for parking… or attracting parking tickets. For example, New York City’s Department of Finance says delivery firms UPS and FedEx racked up over half a million parking violations between them in 2019, earning fines of over US$32 million that year.

The smaller loads of the cargo bikes also, perhaps unintuitively, mean shorter distances ridden overall. A study of 2,000 Pedal Me jobs showed the same trips by larger vans would have added 620km to the total distance travelled, largely thanks to the reduction of “dead miles”, where a van or truck is running back to a depot empty.

And while manufacturing of e-bikes is not without environmental issues, the firm says the carbon emissions are still orders of magnitudes less than that of electric vans.

“The difference in carbon emissions is so great that one of our cargo bikes could be manufactured and ridden for over 300,000km and produce the same amount of emissions as a brand new electric van just rolling out the factory,” says the company in a blog post.

Knowles says the ideal model for his firm has a warehouse or depot every three miles, while the current trip average is about five miles. The bikes, he says, can carry 150kg or 300kg with a trailer.

A man delivers cooking gas around a locked-down neighbourhood in Jordan last year

Cargo bikes and trailers remain a grey area, legally, in Hong Kong, with electric models being illegal to ride in public and even legal non-electric bikes not allowed to carry passengers.

Bikes with sturdy frames for carrying cooking gas cannisters and “baker’s bikes” are still a common sight in some parts of the city, but more modern cargo-styles such as the bakfiets or Long Johns are notably absent.

Last year police found smugglers were using long-tail e-bikes to shift goods from trucks to speedboats, with police saying at the time the smugglers were trying to be “innovative and stealthy”.

The mooted upcoming trials for Hong Kong e-mobility would exclude e-cargo bikes based on their size.

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Full disclosure: Transit Jam editor James Ockenden is a crowdfunder investor in Pedal Me.

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