One of the recent growth areas in cycle sales has been that of cargo cycles. Always popular in countries like Holland and Denmark, they are now becoming a more familiar site on the streets of many cities worldwide. In some cases this has been driven by the authorities taking measures to reduce pollution and improve air quality. Other examples have resulted from a desire to take advantage of improved infrastructure for cycling, and the economic benefit arising from speedier deliveries in a congested city centre.
The picture above shows a ‘Pedal Me’ bike – a pedal powered goods and passenger delivery service that operates in central London. The picture below demonstrates how their cargo bikes can be used as a taxis. It is included because it amuses me.
International courier company, Santis Global, may use planes, trains and automobiles; but on the streets of London a cargo bike can avoid the slow moving traffic to make speedier collections and deliveries.
The traditional tricycle format used by this Zedify Logistics cargo trike allows a taller box to be fitted to allow bulkier items to be carried.
The Pedivan cargo tricycle above gives some idea of the capacity of this type of box.
Private ownership of cargo cycles is relatively common place in some European countries and is becoming more so in the UK. Not only useful for shopping, it is not unusual to see them being used for the school run. For those who only need the occasional use of a cargo cycle, hire schemes are now available in some UK cities. This is also offers the chance to try one before deciding whether to purchase.
An alternative to the commercial and private ownership models has been developed in Budapest. The organisation Cargonomia have launched a not-for-profit cargo cycle rental scheme that allows anyone to, depending on availability, hire a cargo cycle or trailer. They are available at a number of sites throughout the city. Each user is asked to donate a rental payment that matches what the use of the bike has been worth to them.
The Dutch company Cargoroo have a commercial version of this scheme operating in some Dutch cities using Urban Arrow e-bikes. They have been awarded a grant from the European Union to launch a similar scheme in Manchester during 2019. Let’s hope the Brexit uncertainty doesn’t scupper these plans.
The growing use of cargo cycles is perhaps reflected by this poster I recently came across in Croydon. It is produced by Ikea as part of its ‘People and Planet’ campaign.
I was aware that in some countries they have various types of cargo cycles that can be borrowed or hired by customers. It would have been ideal for me as I could take a tram to Ikea, cycle my purchases home, return the bike and hop back on a tram.
I tweeted Ikea enquiring about the availability of cargo cycle hire at their UK stores. Their reply was initially that Ikea do not do cycle hire. Once I had forwarded the pictures above to them, this was modified to thy do not offer cycle hire at UK stores.
I should really have left it at that, but instead asked them why they were displaying the poster if they couldn’t offer the service. The reply was that they produce generic posters for use throughout Europe with text in all the relevant languages. I assume the one I saw was for use in all those other English-speaking European countries.
To be fair to Ikea, if I must, they have made a commitment that all their home delivery vehicles will be zero emission by the mid 2020s. They have also stated that they may make a cargo cycle available at their new UK store at Greenwich .
Early Cargo Cycles
Cargo cycles have existed almost since the bicycle was invented. It hard to imagine that the early rider on a penny farthing didn’t strap on a pack of sandwiches and something to protect them from the rain. The formation of the Cycling Tourist Club way back in 1878 emphasises this. Journeys of several days would have required carrying some luggage, and possibly a tent. As bicycles and tricycles became more available, so they would be used to carry tools or materials required by a tradesperson.
Various designs with anything from two to six wheels were developed. Early adopters of the cargo cycle were postal services. The cargo cycle above is from before 1886 and would have been painted a striking post office red – a colour scheme that has lasted right up until the vans used today.
Other trades were quick to spot the potential and the tricycle design rapidly became the norm due to the stability that they offered. Some were built with special trades or a particular purposes in mind.
I first came across the picture above at the Design Museum where it formed part of a display on cycle design and showed how versatile the basic tricycle platform was and is. In the same exhibition was this Boxer Rocket trike. I’m including it for no other reason than I liked the modernism meets steampunk styling.
This video is of a version of the Rocket shown at the London Bike Show in 2016
These bikes were built in Dorset but, sadly, Boxer are no longer trading. For where the market is, they were probably six or seven years too early when they entered it.
The cargo tricycle came in several forms. The most common was the single rear wheel with the load in front like the one above. I’m guessing that this is a circa 1910 Alldays Carrier Tricycle by Alldays & Onions of Birmingham.
At the time they cost £30.00 each. According to the UK Office for National Statistics, prices in 2019 are 11,581.48% higher than average prices in 1910. So, the equivalent price today is £3,504.44.
In comparison, a basic delivery trike such as this Babboe transporter can be bought today from about £1600. The price increases depending on the load capacity of the bike, the type of box fitted and whether or not it has electric assist. Start fitting insulated, aerodynamic carbon fibre boxes, and that £3500 1910 equivalent figure can easily be reached and passed.
After the 1st World War, the Post Office deliveries and ice-cream vending became the two most common uses for the cargo tricycle in the UK.
This is the earliest picture if an ice cream trike I could find and is credited with being from the early 1920s.
The more familiar ice cream trike from 1930s was the Walls Ice Cream “Stop Me & Buy One”. This late example below has been restored and is in the Science Museum collection in London.
The museum’s attribution for this Walls Ice Cream trike reveals that in the Second World War it, and others like it, were: “Fitted with radios, compasses and metronomes… [and] used to train fighter direction officers at a base in Pembrokeshire”. I guess cyclists were more readily available than pilots and planes.
One of my favourite commercial trikes from the interwar period is the Fish and Chip one that was a familiar site on the streets of Halifax in the 1930s. I certainly would not have wanted to ride it up a hill with tub of hot fat in front of me. I was unable to find a photo of it so grateful thanks to the person who did this sketch for me.
Today many of the surviving trikes are now used as advertising vehicles and can be seen parked outside even top brand stores.
The tricycle design was equally, if not more, popular across Europe both before and after the second world war as these pictures show.
Next time you use a quick release wheel locking mechanism on your bike, remember Tullio for it is he you have to thank for it.
A variation of the three-wheel arrangement was the bike and sidecar. For me, the best way to illustrate this is with a toy from my childhood.
The sidecar seems to have been more of a British trend with trailers more common in Europe. KP Cyclery of Denmark produce this beautifully designed modern-day equivalent. It is engineered with bearings to allow the bike to tilt without lifting the wheel of the sidecar.
The Modern Era
One of the bikes that helped transition the cargo trikes from those like the early 20th Century French delivery bikes above to the modern version of today, was the Cykelfabrikken Transporter Trike, now known as the Christiania bike.
Its roots are in the car-free hippie commune of Christiania in Copenhagen, where, in 1978, Lars Engstrom and three friends set up a blacksmiths’ workshop. Amongst other things they produced bicycle trailers and Pedersen style bikes. Engstrom’s partner wanted a bicycle so, in 1984, he set about building one as a birthday present for her. What she received was the very first Christiania crate, or cargo, trike.
The story goes that when people saw how practical this was, especially for transporting children, three orders were placed on that birthday day.
In 1989 Engstrom and the business moved to the island of Bornholm. The picture of him above was taken at the original Bornholm factory shortly after that.
Different boxes can be fitted to the Christiania as illustrated below This shows just a couple of the variants, stashed in the workshop of London Green Cycles, ready to fitted either to new bike frames or as replacements.
I must admit I often find the workshops and yards of bicycle shops far more interesting than the actual retail area. If you’re in the South East and interested in cargo cycles have a look at London Green Cycles web site. They quite often have good value second hand ones available as well.
When health and safety become involved you know that a vehicle is an accepted part of the workplace. I saw the Christiania below tucked away at the side of a stall at Borough Market. It has a label on the box advising riders about maintaining correct tyre pressures and repairing punctures.
At the same time as the Christiania was being developed other manufacturers were following a similar design route and developing variants for specific purposes. About 1990, the local authority I was employed by purchased a cargo tricycle that was designed to carry a wheelchair. This was available to the public on a loan basis. It was fine on the several miles of smooth sea-front promenade. On some of the hillier rides it could become energy sapping to pilot. Oh for the e-bikes and lighter construction materials now in use.
There were, and are, lighter arrangements where the back half of a bike could be connected to a wheelchair, but these tended to be less successful unless each half of the combination was specifically designed to work with the other
In the 1980s Siegfried Schramm of Hildesheim, near Hanover, was developing such a design as this drawing from his 1988 US patent application illustrates.
His later European patent applications reveal that he envisaged a number of interchangeable front ends that could be connected to the rear section; including a pram (baby carriage) and a passenger carrying seat.
After about 5 years of development the Tri-Set cargo carrier went into production in 1994. At the time it was reported that some Tri-Sets had been sold and were being used to carry parts around a car factory. I’m using these pictures from the time it was launched as I didn’t find even one other when I searched on the internet.
Successors to the Tri-Set come and go and rarely make an impact. Currently a similar product is available from Veleon of Berlin.
In the period we’ve been considering, other than Northern European countries, pictures of work and cargo cycles seemed to come from India, Africa or the Far East. There were however, even in the land of the automobile, advocates in support of the use of cargo cycles to help reduce pollution and congestion. George Bliss, of the New York Center for Appropriate Transport, designed the ‘Dump Truck’ below for that purpose.
At the time he was known for designing and building pedicabs and cargo, or freight, cycles. He was reputed to be a demon welder and frame builder and for many years operated a pedicab rental business.
Those more familiar with either cycling protest movements or the films of Ted White, may recognise George Bliss as the person who first coined the term ‘Critical Mass’ in the film Return of the Scorcher. It can be viewed on Youtube using the link below.
A group of cyclists who had been on a protest ride gathered for a screening of the film. They heard the term used and realised that it applied perfectly to what they were doing.
The National German Cycling Club decided to feature cargo carrying as the main theme of its stand at the 1994 Cologne bike show. I mention this not so much to illustrate that this was being promulgate widely as a solution to some issues related to city centre congestion and pollution, but as an excuse to include the picture below.
After the World War Two, in the UK the carriage of goods by cycle was mainly made using delivery bikes such as those below. I shall leave it to another blog before I discuss two-wheel cargo bikes, multi wheel delivery cycles, and electric and post electric auxiliary power assistance devices.
So, to round off on cargo trikes. Electric assist has, it appears, boosted the popularity of this and all types of cargo cycle, and made their use more feasible. The physical capacity of the rider has become less of an issue as have hills and load weights.
The majority of the cargo trikes I see around are designs similar to the Christiania. There are however a number available that look far more modern using contemporary designs and materials. The carQon (sic) e-bike below illustrates this, and has won a design award.
The TRIPL urban delivery vehicle below has developed the cargo trike and e-assist to the point where there are no pedals and it has become just an electric vehicle.
120 years after Ferdinand Porsche’s P1 first design – the battery-electric powered Egger-Lohner vehicle, which could be converted to four-wheel drive by adding two additional electric motors – and 117 years after Lohner-Porsche Mixte Hybrid; a self-charging petrol/battery hybrid, Volkswagen are producing contemporary equivalents. They have announced electric powered light delivery vehicles and, particularly for ‘last mile solutions, the VW Cargo e-Bike.
Yes Ferdinand Porsche really did design a battery powered electric car that was produced in the 19th Century.
The VW Cargo e-Bike will be available with optional load containers as well as the load carrying platform. As increasing numbers of cities create low or zero emission zones and, in some cases ban most vehicles, so the demand for alternatives has grown. Presumably it has reached a point where Volkswagen can see potential for a commercial return from entering this market.
Last year my local supermarket decided to experiment with deliveries by cargo bike. Funny how some things go full circle.
Lars Engstrom, Siegfried Schramm, George Bliss and Ferdinand Porsche in one article – I didn’t see that coming when I started writing.
A couple of notes
I had someone read this text and they asked what is the difference between ‘cargo cycle’ and ‘cargo bicycle’? A cargo cycle is a pedal powered load carrying vehicle with any number of wheels. A cargo trike or tricycle is the same but with three wheels; and, as you might expect, a cargo bike or bicycle has two wheels.
I try to acknowledge the photographer and source of all pictures wherever possible. There are increasing numbers of, especially older, pictures being posted on the internet without any attribution. If I have an unattributed picture in this blog that you can give further information on, then I would be happy to make the necessary revisions.