‘We’re gonna’ need a bigger bike’ – why we have ordered an Iceni Trike

Last Mile Trikes

Last Mile began working with TNT late last year and quickly realised that the profile of consignments we would be receiving, would be getting larger, and that we needed something larger than our workhorse Bullitts.

For a good many months we have managed with an extra long Workcycles Bakfiets with electric assist. With approximately double the load capacity of the Bullitt in our specially designed box, we have certainly pushed this bike to the limit of a 2-wheeler.
We later purchased a second-hand Maximus and have fitted a large volume box (approx. 1.7m3) to the back with a hatch back style lift up door. Without electric assist this is somewhat slow, and it’s not very popular with my staff, but the ridiculously low gear ratio means that while it certainly plods up the hills it can carry bucket loads.

Nevertheless, we have been encouraged to look elsewhere for something that will help us deal with our increasing load volumes.

The Iceni Trike

I first rode the Iceni Trike at the ECLF conference in Vienna, and my initial thoughts were that it was too small. I have already expressed my concern about the shift to bigger and bigger bikes but, if I am going to commit to a trike with all the disadvantages compared to a 2-wheeler then it had better be able to carry lots. Volume is the key criterion over weight, but riding it compared to the Maximus didn’t feel like I was riding a large volume trike.

So, I was surprised to find out that the cargo box fitted to the test trike had a capacity of 1.4m3. This is slightly smaller than our Maximus but not by much, and it feels and rides like a much smaller cycle. Probably the biggest difference between the Iceni and pretty much every other trike on the market, is the choice to use stub axles. This break with traditional design means that rather than carrying the load on top of a triangular chassis with a wheel at each corner, the Iceni has a frame construction which creates a space for the load between the two back wheels.  Thus the load is carried lower giving a lower centre of gravity and a more stable ride. Many of the design decisions, follow on from this.

Sceptical of this I began further discussions with Adam, the designer and builder of the Iceni, and frankly he is one of the most impressive aspects of the package. There seems to be nothing that he hasn’t given thought to; from the stem angle which is raked to improve stability and reduce vibration, or the choice of ‘off the shelf’ bike parts to make ongoing maintenance easier, to the ‘monococque’ chassis which looks terribly light weight in comparison to traditional trike designs, but I was persuaded by spreading the frame around the load can be both lighter and stronger.

Of course, I’m no expert and to a large extent I took much of what Adam explained on trust. Nevertheless, I was sufficiently impressed by the Iceni to want to use it in anger to deliver freight on the streets of Leeds. I arranged a trial of a few weeks and made sure that all of my riders gave it a go.

From my own experience, I found that my route choice changed subtly when I was on this trike. The electric assist was a joy to use and I was quite happy to cycle a little further rather than take the sort of shortcuts I would always choose on a non-assisted Bullitt. It was also small and maneuverable enough to avoid the tendency to park and walk as I am sometimes inclined to do more often with our large trike, but would never do on a 2-wheeler.

The Iceni Cargo Box

The standard Iceni trike is configured as a pick-up, but our test model carried an early version of their cargo back consisting of a large square box with double doors at the rear.

The motor and battery are easily the heaviest components on the bike and are even likely to be denser than many loads that the trike carries, so dropping the load bed and putting the motor between the wheels is great for handling. But there are one or two drawbacks, as the motor occupies prime cargo real estate directly between the wheels at the base of the cargo box. It creates two dead spaces either side of the motor which are difficult to utilise efficiently. This can be further exacerbated as the standard position for the battery is on the bottom of the cargo box, but the current battery doesn’t fit neatly into the space beside the motor. Apparently the next iterations of the Heinzmann motor may allow a variety of different batteries to be used, which should allow batteries that will fit into this ‘dead space’ to be used. There are obviously alternative places the battery can be mounted, outside the box, which would also make it easier to get at when the bike is loaded.

I don’t know whether the calculated volume of the cargo box has allowed for these unwelcome intrusions. I suspect the usable space is somewhat less than the 1.4m3 declared volume, but overall I feel that a volume approximately four times that of our largest 2-wheeler will still offer significant advantages.

The Iceni on the Road

Mounting the box about 20-30cm lower than would be the case with a conventional design means that the rider has a somewhat unobstructed line of sight over their shoulder, to the road behind them. Personally, I would sacrifice this rear view for increased load carrying capacity as I have found wing mirrors provide a sufficient rear view, but one of the complaints I have had from some of my riders who aren’t drivers is that making the step up from a Bullitt which when all is said and done is only as wide as a regular set of handlebars to something which occupies road space like a small car is harder for those with no driving experience.

There is also an argument that if a cargo trike is to be used alongside regular cycles on cycle specific infrastructure then it should not obstruct the view forwards of riders approaching from behind and about to overtake, but in the UK there are very few situations where cycles reach this density—especially outside rush hour when the majority of our deliveries are made.

Certainly, my staff were much happier to take out the Iceni than the non-electric assist Maximus, though it is hardly a fair comparison. I am planning to electrify one of our Maximus with the very same Heinzmann kit on the Iceni so it will be very interesting to compare the two then.  I really thought of our trial as an opportunity to test the benefits of trikes in general, but the positive feel of riding the Iceni was such that I immediately committed to buy one and we are currently awaiting the arrival of our new trike in time for the build-up in volumes on the way to Christmas.

I liked both Adam and his design, and would love to see Iceni succeed as a company, but I wouldn’t buy a trike that I didn’t think was going to work for us in Leeds. Watch this space, and in a few months’ time we will be able to give a fuller review of our new trike, informed from real experience and an extended road test.

It has to be about more than emissions

I recently attended the International Cargo Bike festival in Nijmegen in the Netherlands. It is striking how much the technology has moved on in the last 12 months. There was a whole host of cycle powered and vehicles present and I had the opportunity to ride several new vehicles which are either in prototype or pre-production phase.

bykkar

A quad bike trailer set-up from Bykkar

In particular I was keen to try several of the larger trikes and quads that were on show. The primary constraint with our delivery work is volume. The bikes we operate are rarely (if ever) unable to cope with the weight of the loads we are carrying, but we are sometimes defeated by volume. Our depot is very close to Leeds city centre and so it is no problem for us to make 2 or 3 return trips in the space of a few hours but if we want to extend our delivery range then we need to find a way to minimise the frequency of returning to the depot to reload and one obvious way to do this is to pack more parcels on one bike. Therefore I focussed on trikes, quads and trailer setups which would allow us to carry loads approaching that of a small van, and I was impressed by the range of solutions that have appeared in the space of a year or two.

When big isn’t beautiful

However I have also begun to think about some of the drawbacks…

quinticycle

Gary Armstrong from Outspoken taking the quinticycle for a spin

One of the vehicles I rode this weekend was a quinticycle (see here for one critique) which was not even pedal powered. Its pedals were attached to a small generator which apparently would trickle charge the batteries extending the (quite impressive 80km) range of the setup by about 20% but they provided no direct power to the drivetrain. Apart from being an incredibly inefficient use of human power (maybe only 40% of the input energy reaching the wheels) and effectively capping the power output at the 250W of the motor which the regulations allow what they have created is a rather slow and underpowered van unable to benefit from the input of the rider. This highlights a growing realisation that as pedal powered vehicles get larger what we are essentially creating are smaller slower vans.

At the moment the pressures from local (and city) authorities are in the form of emissions limits, but every indications is that they may begin to look at road space also. If our ped-elec bikes are approaching the size of small vans then what is the difference between these and any one of the increasing number of electric or hybrid vehicles coming onto the market? They may be cheaper, but they are also slower and have a smaller capacity. As they increase in width beyond a set of handlebars their ability to filter through traffic will be diminished to the point at which they offer no appreciable advantage. In fact their lower speed may prove detrimental to overall traffic flows. We need to provide a solution not be part of the problem!!

Overtaken by Technology…

If we allow our industry to develop solely through the use of bike shaped electric vehicles we run the risk of one day being overtaken by technology. Any courier can switch to a zero emission fleet almost overnight if they have the will to do so and if cyclelogistics as an industry has already committed itself to larger and larger vehicles which take up just as much room on the roads as conventional vehicles then we will find ourselves rapidly overtaken by the commercial courier sector who have suddenly saved themselves a fortune in fuel costs but have otherwise hardly changed their modus operandi.

One of the big benefits of cycles is the sort of environment they create, blurring the lines between pedestrian and wheeled transport when it suits while also allowing a very large number of people (and large amount of freight) to be carried. Bikes can be faster round our cities than vans and make more stops per hour, but they can do this because they exist in the liminal space of both vehicle and pedestrian. We can flow through busy traffic when we need to cover distance, but can also seamlessly become pedestrians when the need arises without undue thought to parking or inconvenience to others (either on the roads or otherwise). Of course anyone who has ridden a two-wheeled cargo bike has wished for greater capacity, and I will be the first to admit that I am looking for a larger vehicle to add to our fleet, but this needs to be as part of a mixed fleet which is brought in to handle particularly large deliveries. Otherwise we may find ourselves looking more and more like the competition.

Future Proofing

I recently had a very interesting meeting with a representative of one of the biggest international couriers (or consolidators as he liked to call them). He recognised that within the next 5 years they would not be able to deliver in city centres the way they do now, so his interest in cyclelogistics was as a way of future proofing their business. If every private car was a Prius (and every delivery vehicle run off hydrogen fuel cells) this won’t appreciably change the environment of our cities, unless moves are also made to reduce the number of these vehicles on the road. He expects pressures to reduce traffic flows during the day will drive deliveries out of usual business hours with the requirement for ‘quiet’ vehicles in residential areas.

Cyclelogistics has plenty to offer to this vision, and can contribute to our cities becoming better more human places to live. Doing that, rather than reproducing the current model with less pollution, will more effectively secure our role in 21st century logistics.

Last Mile Logo

It has been a long process but to mark the formal constitution of our cross Pennine partnership Last Mile has a new logo. LMLlogo gif

Obviously we have started with a cargo bike, in the purple shade which has become our company colour. This shade sets us apart from any other operators in the delivery sector and our uniforms and bikes will also use this as much as possible.

Our name is clearly shown in a contrasting green (with associated zero-carbon implications) and states (to those in the industry) exactly what we do. Our designers came up with the idea of a tube map to indicate our movement and deliveries or stops around a city.

We like it, and hope you do too.

 

 

Leeds Cycle Couriers or Leeds Cycle Delivery

Lets face it Cycle Couriers don’t have the best of reputations…

They are all Gung-ho, red-light jumping, thrill-seekers with a death-wish and no thought for other road users, right?

Certainly not the sort of person you want to entrust your deliveries to…unless it’s an emergency. So that is when cycle couriers get called – in an emergency. When something has to get from your office to someone elses office NOW, then you can put up with the bad rap for the sake of speed.

Obviously not all cycle couriers are like that. There are cycle couriers in Leeds and to the best of my knowledge, none of them have dreadlocks and all of them wear helmets. Although Last Mile Leeds can can offer rapid point-to-point collections and deliveries, and we probably are the quickest way to get your urgent item across the city,  we want to change the perception of cycle logistics, and are aiming for Last Mile Leeds to become the delivery method of choice for all inner city deliveries. That is why we have deliberately chosen to promote ourselves as Leeds Cycle Delivery rather than Leeds Cycle Couriers.

Our cargo (or freight) bikes allow us to deliver virtually anything that could be delivered by a man with a van and we soon expect to be running regular routes at set times for a number of our customers. This is not dissimilar to the myriad of other courier firms operating vans within the city, who (with the exception of the proverbial ‘white-van-man’ ) don’t have the same negative associations. Rather than contributing to the traffic problem and infuriating other road users, by choosing our services you are helping to alleviate some of the congestion in our city.

So next time you think of ‘Leeds Cycle Couriers’, instead think ‘Leeds Cycle Delivery’ and give Last Mile Leeds a call.

 

 

Leeds City Council Business Starter Taster Workshop

I attended the first in a series of business start-up taster workshops run by Leeds City council on Monday. The meeting offered 6 speakers, with support and information for those interested in starting up their own business. I found that I had already passed through this stage as most of the information provided I had already learned, but the speaker from HMRC was quite helpful.

The most interesting thing I learned was that an employee benefits from their employer paying National Insurance contributions of 13.8% when they earn £144.01/week  but the employer does not have to pay National Insurance contributions (at 12%) until they earn £146.01/week. Therefore there is a sweet spot of earning £145/week when the employee gets the contributions from their employer, but doesn’t pay them themself. I’m not sure whether the amount of NIS contributions really makes any difference at all in the light of the recent announcment of a fixed rate state pension.

Here is the agenda for these meetings…with a link below:

    1. An overview of business support within Leeds –  Leeds City Council
    2. How to access, Business and Patent Information Services  – Library Business Services
    3. Business advice and guidance  – Leeds Chamber
    4. Making Tax & Book keeping less painful  – HMRC – Business Education & Support Team
    5. Maximising your marketing ability  – Chartered Institute of Marketing
    6. Are you eligible for the  Enterprise Allowance scheme? – Job Centre Plus
    7. Networking (between speakers and attendees)

http://www.leeds.gov.uk/Events/Pages/business-start-up-taster-workshop.aspx

Riding the Bullitt

Riding the Bullitt: First thoughts…

I’ve been riding a Bullitt for about a month now and I thought I would put down a few thoughts  in lieu of a short review.

I should perhaps start with a disclaimer. I’ve never been particularly discerning about the bikes I’ve ridden. All this talk of stiffness or flexibility of frames leaves me a little nonplussed. But what I can do is let you know something of what a Bullitt is like to use on a daily basis. I am also rather tall – about 6′ 2″. I can therefore only speak for how the Bullitt is to ride as a reasonably fit and strong male. (Note for future Blog post when we have a lady ride one for a while).

I have been riding a Bullitt with 8 speed Alfine hub gears, with Alfine disc brakes front and rear. The bike is equipped with a large box on the front, which at something over 20kg actually weighs more than the bike itself. Thus, I have been riding a lightly loaded Bullitt most of the time.

Design

The design of the Bullitt is beautiful. The aluminium frame is curvy and appealingly substantial. Placing the load at the front allows a fairly normal back end, with 26” rear wheel, which in turn allows for a great deal of flexibility in rear mech and tyres etc. The maximum carrying capacity is apparently 180kg, which I assume includes the rider, but allows for a total  payload (in my case) of at least 100kg.

Steering

The linkage between the handlebars and the front 20” wheel takes a little bit of getting used to. When I first rode a Bullitt, I found it a little strange to steer a bike about a pivot point a metre ahead of the handlebars. This was further complicated by the fact that the cargo box completely obscures the front wheel, and the handlebars were not lined up accurately with the straight ahead position. This made signalling quite tricky as there was a tendency to adjust to the straight position when I took one hand off the handlebars. Once I adjusted the handlebar alignment, it became a lot easier and within an hour of riding around I was riding accurately and confidently.

Gears

The Alfine hub gears just work. Uphill or downhill, moving or stationary, the gear changes are smooth and reliable. The lowest gear has been sufficient to climb the gradients that I have come across in Leeds city centre (maybe up to about 10%) and in the higher gears I have been able to ride confidently in busy city traffic. Acceleration isn’t great, but perfectly acceptable, though this is more likely to be due to the overall weight of the bike and rider.

 

Handling

After the initial period of getting used to riding the Bullitt, I have come to quite enjoy it. Although longer than a standard bike (its 2.43m long) this obviously has no impact at higher speeds, and there is a certain sense of satisfaction leaning into a turn at speed. Occasionally I have felt the back wheel sliding out from under me when taking turns at speed on greasy roads, but while a little disconcerting, this has not led to any mishaps, and I suspect that I will soon get used to it.

As I described above, my bike is equipped with a 20-25kg box, so while I have not carried any large loads, the bike is always moderately loaded. At speed it has not seemed to affect handling too adversely, but when wheeling the bike it can prove a little unwieldy. The biggest drawback of carrying the load on the front is that climbing kerbs can be quite difficult. It is possible to lift the front wheel from the handlebars, but the added weight in front of the handlebars makes this difficult and I have sometimes found it easier to combine the lift with a push at the kerb. Similarly, dropping down kerbs is best accomplished partially dismounted, pulling on the handlebars to avoid a heavy drop.

Even with the cargo box, the bike ‘scoots’ easily when I ride one pedal in pedestrianised areas, or over short distances. The stand built into the frame is solid and is nicely balanced, allowing the bike to lift onto the stand with just a little pull backwards, and sliding, rather than dropping onto the front wheel with a gentle push forwards.

In Traffic

Although the cargo box is about 70cm wide this is not dissimilar to the width of the handlebars, so it doesn’t feel especially wide, or unwieldy. I have tended to avoid narrower gaps between stationary vehicles, but these are probably the sort of gaps that aren’t the safest to exploit. The additional size also provides confidence when cycling in the middle of the lane with following traffic. It does feel like vehicles give the Bullitt a little bit more room than they would a normal bike.

In Conclusion

I am sure that over time I will have more useful comment, but to summarise my experience over the past month, I am very happy with my Bullitt. I hope to do something of a comparison between the Bullitt and the Mike Burrows designed 8-frieght at some time in the future.

Closing down for Christmas

Last Mile Leeds is closing down for Christmas.

We will be back up and running on 2nd January. In the meantime you can still email us with any enquiries or contact us through the website.

We wish all our (current and future) clients a very happy Christmas.

The Pedallers Arms – Fix your bike on the cheap

I discovered the Pedallers Arms this week.They are a bicycle repair cooperative in Leeds, offering free drop-in sessions for people to fix their bikes. Their philosphy is that anyone can fix their bike, and they have the tools and exppertise to help anyone do just that.

http://pedallers-arms.org/