Pedal power: the rise of cargo bikes in Germany

Modern cargo bikes offer lighter frames and more spacious carriers, while electrically assisted ones allow the less physically a
Modern cargo bikes offer lighter frames and more spacious carriers, while electrically assisted ones allow the less physically active or those living in hilly areas to also jump in the saddle

Whether they're hauling parcels or children, cargo bikes are becoming a familiar sight in German cities as the nippy, clean alternative to cars and delivery vans—and shaking up urban transport in the process.

A desire to go green has been key to the rise of bikes in a country where dozens of smog-choked cities are considering diesel driving bans to combat air pollution.

"The diesel scandal is a major incentive," said Arne Behrensen, one of the top promotors of cargo bikes in Germany, a mode of transport as old as the bicycle itself which refers to a two- or three-wheeled bike with a fixed load carrier, usually at the front.

Financial incentives, more choice in models and the promise of zipping past rush-hour traffic in the bike lane have added to the appeal.

"In the '90s, we were happy to sell one a year," said Gaya Schuetze of Berlin's Mehringhof bicycle shop, one of the capital's leading cargo bike centres.

"Then we noticed more and more interest, first from families and then companies."

Commonplace in northern Europe until the mid-20th century, freight bikes were used to deliver everyday essentials such as milk, bread and newspapers.

But these heavy, unwieldy bikes quickly fell out of favour and into oblivion as motorised vehicles gained ground.

The cargo bike's revival began some two decades ago in cycling-mad Denmark and the Netherlands, blessed with flat landscapes and comfortable bike lanes, before reaching Germany.

Today Germany is Europe's largest market for cargo bikes in terms of volume—with industry data showing sales for electrically as
Today Germany is Europe's largest market for cargo bikes in terms of volume—with industry data showing sales for electrically assisted cargo bikes alone surged to 21,000 in 2017, 42 percent over the previous year

Today Germany is Europe's largest market for cargo bikes in terms of volume—with industry data showing sales for electrically assisted cargo bikes alone surged to 21,000 in 2017, 42 percent over the previous year.

No sweat

Over the years, cargo bikes have evolved from bulky two-wheelers that required serious leg muscle.

Modern upgrades offer lighter frames and more spacious carriers, while e-cargo bikes have allowed the less physically active or those living in hilly areas to also jump in the saddle.

Cargo bikes "now reach a wider audience, people who don't want to arrive at work sweaty or aren't especially sporty," said Sophia Becker, a researcher at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) in Potsdam near Berlin.

According to the European CycleLogistics project, a staggering 174 models of cargo bikes are now available, while some 50 brands vied for attention at Berlin's International Cargo Bike Festival in April.

Industry observers say the cargo bike craze has yet to run its course because "they can handle situations where a car previously seemed indispensable", says Becker.

"In an average European city, half of all motorised trips related to goods transport could be shifted to bicycle or cargo bikes," Karl Reiter of the CycleLogistics project calculated in a 2014 study, based on journeys of a maximum of seven kilometres (4.3 miles) with loads of less than 200 kilos (440 pounds).

The cargo bike craze has yet to run its course because "they can handle situations where a car previously seemed indispensa
The cargo bike craze has yet to run its course because "they can handle situations where a car previously seemed indispensable," says green researcher Sophia Becker
Florists, chimneysweeps

But the "workhorse of the 21st century", as the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper dubbed it, has yet to win over the masses.

Just one percent of Germans own a cargo bike, a study released by the transport ministry in March found—although seven percent said they considered buying one.

Becker believes this will change "in the next few years".

"First people need to be able to try it out" without spending 1,300 to 5,000 euros ($1,500-$6000) depending on the model, she said.

Keen to promote the climate-friendly cargo bikes, several initiatives have emerged to lend them to companies and individuals for free trials.

Last year, German firm Velogut began loaning them out to 150 companies in Berlin.

Among the sign-ups have been photographers, coffee and pastry vendors, florists, chimneysweeps, beekeepers, Christmas tree deliverers and even a travelling anaesthetist.

The federal government has also got in on the act by introducing a rebate of up to 2,500 euros for the purchase of an e-cargo bike with a load of more than 150 kilos, while Berlin authorities offer subsidies of 500 to 1,000 euros.

Experts say the biggest roadblock to cargo bikes going mainstream is the lack of adapted infrastructure: safe cycle lanes, secur
Experts say the biggest roadblock to cargo bikes going mainstream is the lack of adapted infrastructure: safe cycle lanes, secure parking and easy-to-find repair shops
'Protect us'

But experts say the biggest roadblock to cargo bikes going mainstream is the lack of adapted infrastructure: safe cycle lanes, secure parking and easy-to-find repair shops.

"If they want clean air, they have to protect us," said Antje Merschel, co-initiator of a recent Berlin referendum on cycling policies.

"We're not going to risk our lives on a bike."

Online retailer Amazon has started using cargo bikes for deliveries, while shipping giant UPS has been running battery-powered freight bikes in German cities since 2012.

But the big players in delivery are still waiting for bike manufacturers to catch up and mass-produce reliable low-maintainance models, which are so far mostly made by small, independent companies.

There is also the complication of needing "micro-hubs" in often high-rent urban areas from where couriers can collect trucked-in goods for the final kilometres to the client's front door.

"For families, the bikes are here and they're reliable," said urban planner Francisco Luciano of the French cargo bike manufacturer Douze Cycles. "When it comes to cycle logistics, we're still learning."


Explore further

Bike-share companies are transforming US cities – and they're just getting started

© 2018 AFP

Citation: Pedal power: the rise of cargo bikes in Germany (2018, May 2) retrieved 25 June 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2018-05-power-cargo-bikes-germany.html
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.
21 shares

Feedback to editors

User comments

May 02, 2018
the demi-socialist economy has been debased to the point people are reverting to late 19th century, or third world (you pick), technology for their transportation needs.

Sad.

May 02, 2018
The "clean energy" trend is ideal for wealthy countries that strive to be less wealthy, or want to go back to the middle ages and energy poverty, eating organic food, breathing pure air, living until 40 years old, freezing in the dark when wind stops blowing, until "Don Quixote" destroyed the windmills and their lifestyle.
https://pbs.twimg...3MQ6.jpg
https://pbs.twimg...WqiP.png

May 02, 2018
the demi-socialist economy has been debased to the point people are reverting to late 19th century, or third world (you pick), technology for their transportation needs.

Maybe they're just fed up having to hunt for parking spaces?

But seriously, there's something you don't understand, here:.

In germany stuff is a lot closer together. It is not uncommon to have a several shopping places within walking distance (I guess I have about half a dozen supermarkets/farmers markets within a 300meter radius...and I live in a typical suburbs). Why would I take a car for such a short ride? By the time I get it out of the driveway I've already walked there.
If someone has to shop in bulk (because they have little time or a family) then such a bike may be a real option.

Sad

You have the same disability as your president?

May 02, 2018
the demi-socialist economy has been debased to the point people are reverting to late 19th century, or third world (you pick), technology for their transportation needs.

Sad.

I see nothing sad about it. I have looked for something to attach to my bike for some time now and all I can find are trailers that are inappropriate fro carrying cargo. I agree that using my own leg power for most of my errands is the best way to go about it. Just like most countries, my area is entirely built for cars and everyone else can just lump it, but I want to try anyway. At least I can walk to a lot of places in spite of the infrastructure for cars over all else. Carrying groceries is the only real big hurdle.

I say start making way for these sorts of vehicles on a wide scale. It's better for everyone all around. More exercise, less fuel burned, etc.

May 03, 2018
the demi-socialist economy has been debased to the point people are reverting to late 19th century, or third world (you pick), technology for their transportation needs.

Sad.

Indeed. It makes so much more sense to drive everywhere, and then because it turns out humans need exercise, go to the gym and ride a stationary bike. That's the future right there, friends, paying huge amounts of money for cars and gym memberships. This is the absolute best use of one's time and money.

May 03, 2018
Clearly when a consumer chooses to spend money on a bike, it's socialism at work, not capitalism, because the invisible hand of the free market said so. And today's bikes with their suspensions and carbon frames and disc brakes and electric power boosts are in every aspect of no better quality than a 'boneshaker' velocipede with an iron frame, wooden wheels, and iron tires from 1868. Why? Because Shootist said so.

May 03, 2018
If you want to see cargo bikes go to Cambridge during the school run, you have to drive your car as if you are a pedestrian or cyclist! Try driving down Kings Parade with a few 1000 tourists thrown in for good measure.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more