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.

 

 

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.

Cargobikes: a taxonomy

It is clear that commercial users of cargo bikes have a huge variety of differing requirements. To some extent this might be determined by the bikes that they have within their fleet, but to a greater extent I suspect that they have tended towards bikes which fit the work in which they are engaged.

Any model of classification is subjective but here is my take on the selection available. My perspective is that of a commercial user, delivering mixed cargo on behalf of a major international courier. My taxonomy would classify cargo bikes into four categories:

Lightweights – standard bike with minor modifications or panniers or messenger bag

Photo: Chrome courier bag

The traditional cycle courier has always been prepared to carry more than just a handful of envelopes.A traditional road bike with panniers or just a really big over-the-shoulder messenger bag allows a courier to handle most single deliveries, or to accumulate several deliveries to be dropped off on a longer run. When a standard road bike is sufficient for this sort of work, and pretty much any courier will have their own bikes set up to their own preferences, why would anyone want to spend money on ‘cargobikes’ in this category? There are a few however. The traditional UK postie bike, the urban arrow has a ‘shortie’ option and the Yuba Mondo or the Xtracycle are modifications to a fairly standard bike which increase the pannier capacity.

I would argue that unless the bike you choose is exactly what you need for the work you are doing, then COST is likely to be one of the most critical factors effecting the choice of

such a bike, and indeed whether you would bother purchasing a designated cargo-bike to fill this category at all.

Middleweights; the workhorses of the cargobike world

Photo: Bullitt cargo bike

The next category of cargobikes is probably the area which has seen (and is seeing) the biggest growth. For any commercial delivery business there is a need for a bike able to carry a number of larger items with convenience and ease.

In view of the fact that these bikes will be expected to make large numbers of deliveries over significant distances then SPEED and EFFICIENCY are determining factors to consider when choosing a bike to fill this niche.

Heavyweights; load eaters

Photo: Bellabike cargobike

These bikes are larger than the middleweights, generally sacrificing speed for increased volume. Their actual load capacity might not be dissimilar from the Middleweights in terms of weight, but they will usually have larger boxes with higher volumes. Due to their larger size they will typically have three-wheels which greatly increase stability making them a favoured choice of less confident cyclists and these are often the choice of those intending to carry young children as their cargo. As the boxes are not very much wider than those typically carried by the Middleweights they can usually access cycle infrastructure without problems. Three wheels can actually increase manoueverability at low speeds, but may reduce the ability to ‘filter’ through traffic. VOLUME and STABILITY tend to be the determining factors for cargobikes in this category.

Super – Heavyweights

Photo: cycle maximus cargobike

These are the largest cargobikes available, and are usually those which are readily converted to pedicabs. Many have modular designs which allow conversion between such applications with relative ease. The size of a small van they can carry payloads of 250kg or more, but to do so typically sacrifice the manoeuverability of a bike, and will often find themselves unable to access cycling infrastructure, and restricted to use on roads.

Although not always required, these cargobikes are often specified with electric assist as standard.

Although the specification of cargobikes usually includes the PAYLOAD WEIGHT, it is only when considering one of these behemoths that this is likely to be of primary consideration.

 

These categories are not necessarily rigidly defined, and depending on loads carried, different users might find different bikes slot into different niches. I would suggest that a bike will tend do one niche well, and can usually competently operate in an adjacent niche, but will not be generally effective if required to operate in a category not adjacent. Thus it follows that most fleets will require at least 2 types of cargobike, and looking across the industry this does seem to be the norm. Very few delivery firms operate a single machine – unless adjunct to other forms of transport such as motor vehicles etc.

I would go further, to suggest that most operators seem to choose majority Middleweights, with the addition of a smaller number of Heavyweights or Super-Heavyweights.

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.

2 new Cargobikes : introducing the Bella Bike

I drove to London this week to collect two new additions to our fleet of cargobikes. We haven’t taken our own pictures yet, but you can see that these Bella Bikes have a huge cargo box and possibly the most unusual steering mechanism seen on a cargobike.

The rear wheel steering creates an incredibly manoeuverable bike which can literally turn on the spot. And the fact that these are trikes will mean that there is no risk of them toppling over – something that can happen very easily when we are carrying 60kg on two wheels. Although the bikes are a little heavier than our Bullitts, it is the difficulty of pulling the longer Bullitts around in a tight space when stationery that is most difficult, and puts off some of those who would be interested in riding for us. I hope these Bellas will increase the diversity of those able to ride for us.

In any case, as I was recently discussing with a fellow courier and bike enthusiast, I  think of bikes as I would think of shoes. Each bike has a purpose. I wouldn’t dream of running a marathon in hiking boots, or going to work in running shoes. Every bike has a purpose and cargobikes are no exception. These Bella Bikes are perfect to make retail deliveries to Leeds pedestrian precinct. With the planned extension to pedestrianisation hours we expect to be picking up more of these so expect to see us around in the next few months.

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.

New Cycle Maximus Revealed

The new prototype Cycle Maximus looks to have a space frame design

Cycles Maximus have just revealed the first pictures of their new prototype. Having chatted to them about their new offering I understand that the designer of the original Maximus is behind this latest version, but there has been a significant departure from traditional designs with integration of a space frame.

This suggests a complete rethink of the trike has taken place. For the years it was in production, the old Maximus was widely regarded as the best load carrying trike in existence. I have heard of one company who managed to break one, but they claim to have broken 17 different load carrying machines and their Maximus had covered 150,000 miles. It will be interesting to see whether these changes have indeed improved a design which few had any complaints about.

We see in the Maximus a bike with the potential to bring our plans of a delivery consolidation centre for Leeds retailers into reality. With a capacity of 250kg and able to carry the europallet, there will be few consignments that would be beyond the Maximus.

The  prototype in this photo looks to be a Pedelec (electric assist version) with the Sunstar pedelec system, which first caught our eye at the Cycle Show last year.

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.