‘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.

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.

 

 

So you want to be a Cycle Courier?

We were recently approached by Careersoft who make short video vignettes for use in schools. They asked if they could make a video about the work we do and this is the result.

 

If you are interested in working for us then see here.

Last Mile Leeds takes on City Centre Magazine Distribution

Recently, Last Mile Leeds has been taking on a new revenue stream, with bulk distribution of magazines across the city centre.

We were first approached by ‘The Professional’ magazine to distribute their inaugural issue to every office premises we could find!  Over the space of four days we delivered 60 boxes of magazines (totalling about 9000 copies) to 557 office premises across the city. Our knowledge of Leeds certainly helped, as we had both familiarity with most of the offices and relationship with many receptionists and concierges. Nevertheless, we also found new pockets of offices of which we had been previously unaware. I genuinely feel that no other company could have provided the service that Last Mile Leeds was able to offer.

Our Bellabikes proved invaluable for this sort of work. Not having to ‘park’ the trike on a stand every stop was a benefit, and their additional capacity compared to our Bullitts meant that we could deliver for several hours between refills. Even fully laden with 24 boxes of magazines, the Bellas while slow could still cope with the steepest hills we came across, and their rear wheel steering gave great manoeuvrability.

The recommendation of this satisfied customer, provided us with our next job, delivering The Leeds List Student Guide. We had to deliver copies of this magazine to every retailer, café, restaurant and bar, in Leeds. In all we delivered to 800 premises in just about 3 days. This customer also wanted GPS tracking of all deliveries, which we were able to provide through the purchase of GPS trackers. More of that in another post.

Our most recent distribution job of The Leeds List Shopping Guide was a little different as it was bulk distribution from our Safestore depot, to about 50 distribution points in Leeds. The largest drop was 70 boxes, but the average only about 8. Nevertheless this would have meant a return to our depot every four drops.  We found the most efficient way was to deliver from a rolling hub. We drove large volumes of the magazines to particular drop off points, and then used these centres as hubs from which the bikes worked. We used both our Bellas and the Bullitts to do this. I confess to using the car more than I would have liked, but in fact came to the realisation that despite our fears that the sheer scale of this job would break us, we could have coped with considerably less recourse to motorised transport. Next time we will be more efficient and reduce the distance driven significantly.

Overall this has been a learning experience for Last Mile Leeds. We always knew that bikes could be used for far more than individual packets and parcels, and had been waiting for an opportunity to prove our capacity in this regard. This done, we are more than happy to talk to any other company facing their own delivery challenge within Leeds City Centre.

Last Mile Delivery Ltd is now incorporated

Last Mile Delivery Ltd has been registered with Companies House, and assuming they accept that the name is sufficiently unique, we should soon be incorporated.

We spent some time deciding whether to become a Limited Liability Partnership, or a Limited Company, and eventually decided on the latter. Both offer the same limited liability protection and although the Limited Company has slightly stricter regulations in terms of reporting, but I am optimistic that I will still be able to do the bulk of this myself.

First step was to check that the name had not already been taken on the WebCHeck site. It was surprising how many of the company names listed there are listed as Dissolved. Last Mile Delivery Ltd are now listed there, so it seems that was accomplished successfully. I registered the company on line through the Companies House Web Incorporation Service and accepting the standard form for Company Articles of Association found this a very straightforward process, and although I did receive some very helpful advice, there is little reason why anyone would need to go elsewhere, or pay more than the standard £15 fee.

 

 

 

 

Amazon Lockers in Leeds

We are always interested in alternative ways for customers to get their stuff.

A new innovation are these Amazon lockers. This set appeared in the Merrion Centre last week and there are other similar sets in The Co-operative stores in Roundhay and Chapel Allerton.

Our partners, DHL, effectively operate a similar (but low tech) system with Service Points across the city, including Rymans in the Merrion Centre (just below these lockers) and another in our depot at the Safestore on Bridge Street. You can collect DHL deliveries from these Service Points, and can also bring consignments for collection by DHL. Alternatively, Last Mile Leeds would always be happy to deliver to your workplace.

Why choose Safestore? A perfect place to pilot a delivery consolidation centre

Safestore Leeds Central is in a 1930’s building just 2 minutes from Vicar Lane – a perfect location for a delivery consolidation centre

We are only too aware that basing our business in a Safestore doesn’t necessarily give an impression of permanence. The nature of self-storage businesses is such that they are particularly attractive to those who want ‘space’ for an indefinite period, with no strings attached. In actual fact Safestore offers much more and there are good reasons why we expect to stay there for some time to come.

As we have begun to consider the possibility of offering Leeds retailers a delivery consolidation service, the location and manual handling equipment which seemed unnecessary when we first moved in are now looking like vital pieces of equipment the cost of which could have been severely prohibitive. Their presence makes such a project possible and could allow us to pilot the idea with very little additional preparation and next to no additional expense.

When Last Mile Leeds began operations the 4 weeks’ notice required to vacate was indeed a significant reason why we chose the  Safestore Leeds Central as our base. It was cheap and in a great location. If all went according to plan, we wouldn’t be there long.

Over the past few months of operating from there on a daily basis, I now have some real experience upon which to evaluate what has proven to be an extremely good business decision, and I suspect I will continue to operate from there for some time to come.

Safestore Leeds Central has a large off-street loading bay

Let me list some of  benefits:

  • Secure storage space for 3 cargo bikes and additional equipment
  • room to grow should we take on a larger cargo trike – likely if we do open a delivery consolidation centre
  • A location literally across the road from the planned Eastgate development and about 3 minutes from Kirkgate Market or the Victoria Quarter
  • Reception manned 8am-6pm, able to receive goods when all Last Mile staff are out
  • 24 hour access
  • Pallet trucks and goods trolleys
  • Fork-lift truck (and four licensed drivers) –able to receive palletized deliveries (all as part of the service)
  • Off-street loading and unloading bay able to accommodate up to 4 Luton vans
  • Off-street secure parking in Leeds city centre
  • High level of security, with 24hr CCTV etc
  • Insurance against loss of £6,000
  • massive flexibility to expand or contract the amount of storage space we use
  • huge goods lift with 2.5 tonne capacity, easily able to accommodate the large cargo-trikes which we are looking to purchase (should we ever take additional space above the ground floor)

And all this for about £30.00 week, with no additional bills, or rates to pay.

There are of course a few disadvantages, the main one being that office facilities are limited, though the staff are very helpful if you need to send an odd email or Fax. We don’t have electricity in the lock-up, or a telephone line. Nevertheless, so far we have been able to handle everything by mobile, and should we reach a point where this is holding back the business then I have found that Safestore are very accommodating and seem always willing to negotiate.

Overall this has proven an ideal base to grow the business and one which could see us grow significantly larger before we would ever need to move.

Loading the Bullitt

I reckoned this single shipment weighed around 40kg

35 pieces before loading

Since Last Mile began working with DHL, I have had the opportunity to test out the cargo capacity of our Bullitts in real conditions – regularly filling the cargo boxes to capacity. Most of the time the packets we deliver are small and lightweight – occasionally bulky, but not very heavy. Nevertheless, when the boxes are filled to capacity they do add up.

Last week a single large shipment gave me the opportunity to really test the capacity of the Bullitt – not just in terms of volume, but also in terms of weight. 6 boxes and 2 extra packets of exam papers, for one customer probably weighed at least 40kg. Adding another 27 smaller pieces (above)  they all fitted into the Bullitt’s cargo box, and I was able to deliver them all in a single run from our depot.

35 pieces in the cargo box (with the first 3 ready to deliver in the overflow courier bag)

So what was the Bullitt like to ride laden? The first thing I noticed was how much harder the bike was to manoeuvre when on foot. No real surprise of course when I was pushing a bike that probably weighed close to 100kg altogether. It certainly wasn’t impossible to push and I could still turn the bike around when necessary, but I avoided lifting the bike up kerbs if I could. There was a very significant degree of flex or bounce in the frame as the bike went over bumps, but it didn’t feel as though this was more than the bike was supposed to handle, rather that it was coping with the load rather well.

The second thing I noticed was that all hills were significantly steeper! That being said I still climbed the steepest gradient I faced in first gear, slowly, but without difficulty. Once on the level the Bullitt seemed to forget the load it was carrying and it was easy to accelerate up to a respectable cruising speed.

If I was expecting to carry such a large load over a significant (relatively flat) distance I would be far less concerned than carrying it on a typical delivery route, where the bike is stopping and starting, climbing kerbs or traversing cobbles and turning round in tight spots every few minutes. Given this  if I was faced with a similar situation again, I might be tempted to divide the load choosing to make the 5 minute trip back to our depot to reload,  so as to keep the bike more easily manageable at low speeds. Overall, however the Bullitt stood up well to the test, and confirmed its capability (and indeed, suitability equipped, the capability of ‘cycle couriers’ ) to handle anything that might be delivered by a man with a van.

Last Mile Leeds in partnership with DHL

About a month ago, Last Mile Leeds began a pilot with DHL. Starting with a couple of days out with two of their van drivers I got an insight into the job of a van courier.Then over the last month I have been delivering some of their smaller packets and parcels by cargo bike.

It has been a learning experience, as we work out what sort of shipments the Bullitts can comfortably carry and within which areas we can operate. So far we have taken everything they have asked us to deliver on their behalf and have extended our geographical coverage beyond the University to the Hyde Park area. Usually, all the deliveries fitted into the cargo boxes fitted to our Bullitts, but on the odd occasion when we have not been able to carry them all at oncedid not fit into the cargo box, it was easy to make a return trip to our depot, load up and make a second (or even a third) run.

Overall, the pilot has been successful, and we look set to work with DHL on into the future. More importantly it has been proof of the concept – that cargo bikes operating to fulfil last mile deliveries have something to offer the large courier firms, and specifically that they can do this in Leeds.

 

 

 

 

Cycle Couriers vs. Van Couriers: Pros and Cons of a cargo bike

If Last Mile Leeds are to make cargo bikes the delivery method of choice for Leeds city centre deliveries we must reinvent the cycle courier as a realistic alternative to the van courier.

To this end, I spent two days with a van courier for one of the big international courier firms this week. It was a great insight into the challenges of their job, and the constraints they work under and has helped me to identify the advantages (and some disadvantages) a cycle courier riding a large capacity cargo bike would have over the driver of a traditional transit van.

Advantages of Cargo Bikes

  • The large majority of deliveries we completed could have been carried easily in a cargo bike. Indeed I would suggest that our cargo bikes could have carried 80% of the deliveries we made at one time.
  • Delivery deadlines and pickups which cannot be made before a certain time, mean that delivery routes must double back and couriers may on occasion visit the same customer twice in a single day. Bikes are better able to negotiate the leeds city centre, against the clockwise traffic flow of the city centre loop.
  • The pedestrian precinct is off-limits to motor vehicles between 10.30am and 4.30pm. Not so for bikes which can be wheeled to any premises, even within the covered quarters.
  • Parking. Even when access is straightforward, vans must spend time parking, maneuvering and turning and they often park some distance from the reception or delivery entrance. Bikes are able to pull up right outside, and pull away just as quickly without obstructing clients or customers.
  • In Leeds city centre deliveries were rarely further than ½ a mile apart. Vans offered no advantages in terms of shorter journey times, even when traffic or one-way streets allowed.
  • Cargo bikes can operate efficiently from city centre locations. If our cargo bikes must return to our depot to pick up additional deliveries (either newly arrived or beyond their capacity) this is a short trip – all the shorter for a bike. Vans are typically away from the depot for the duration of the day.

Disadvantages of Cargo Bikes

  • About 20% of our deliveries or collections were either beyond the capacity of a cargo bike, or if carried would limit the ability of the bike to carry other deliveries.
  • Customers (even regular customers) are not predictable. One day they may have a single envelope and the next 20 large boxes— the former easily delivered by bike the latter would require a van.  This means that where this unpredictability exists, a bike can only supplement a van, rather than replace it.
  • This is particularly the case when collecting from customers, as such pickups rarely give an indication of volume. Therefore the ability of a bike to collect may not be confirmed until actually in front of the customer.

Cargo bikes clearly have their place, but are limited by their capacity. Large capacity cargo trikes, such as the Cycle Maximus, do exist that would accommodate loads equal to a small van, but these would lose some of the maneuverability of a two-wheeler and are usually required to operate as part of a mixed fleet. Such bikes are on our horizon, but as yet are not an imminent purchase.