Interview Velove from Sweden Cycle logistics challenge the van

Cargo bikes have the potential to play a central role in a carbon free future of city logistics. Johan Erlandsson, CEO of the Swedish start-up Velove, gives a European perspective.

Johan Erlandsson, CEO of the Swedish cargobike producer Velove. (Foto: Jöran Fagerlund)

Johan, how did you get the idea to start developing cargo bikes?

It is a long story, but to simplify, the original idea was to develop a new type of bike for mobility purposes, to replace all of these short car trips that is one essential part of us Europeans emitting ten times more CO2 than what is sustainable. The concept was to combine the qualities of a cargo bike with the qualities of a velomobile, thereby reaching a level of comfort, cargo capacity and door-to-door speed that would make it a more attractive solution than the car on short distances in the city. In all seasons, all weather and when you have passengers and cargo you need to bring. Somewhere along the road we realised that we had created a fantastic last mile delivery vehicle, which the market was screaming for. So here we are today, focussing on logistics and professional services. But we will come back to the mobility version for sure.

In city centres, cargobikes challenge the van more and more

What’s the current state of city logistics in Sweden?

There are some consolidation projects going on in cities, some successful, some less successful. Two of the more known examples are “Älskade stad” in Stockholm and “Stadsleveransen” in Gothenburg. For small deliveries in city centres the van is still the king, but is in a small scale being challenged by cycle logistics actors like MOVEBYBiKE (Malmö and Stockholm), Postiljohan (Karlstad) and Pling (Gothenburg). And of course, there are, like all over the world, many “app companies” that are riding on the gig economy trend in last mile delivery. Foodora and Budbee are two examples of this.

From a developers‘ perspective: What are the specifics for cargo bikes for logistics/last mile purposes compared to cargo bikes for private use?

First on the list I would put the importance of uptime, maintenance and repairs. A professional cargo bike has a LOT higher wear than a cargobike for private use, and at the same time must have a really good uptime to provide good service quality. This is one of the bigger challenges for all cargo bike manufacturers I would say. There is lots of room for improvement, this is perhaps the one area where the van still has the upper hand. But we will get there!

Other aspects are cargo capacity, easy locking/unlocking, riding qualities, bike path fit, safety and ergonomics. A vehicle for professional use needs to score high on these points to be productive and popular among couriers.

Lower stress level for couriers in congested areas

Being a courier, delivering parcels in a van already is a very demanding job. How does the construction of an Armadillo cargo bike make sure that the physical stress for couriers stays on a minimum level?

Pedaling an Armadillo should be as exhausting as taking a walk. Fully loaded in steep hills we are not quite there yet, but in a flat city like Berlin the electric assist and big gear ratio range ensure a comfortable level of exercise even with a heavy load. I think the feedback we are getting is actually the best way to answer this question: Couriers that are switching from van to Armadillo are happy with the switch. We think it is because of lower stress level, partly because driving a van in motor traffic is more stressful than riding a bike on a bike path, and partly because the bike is more productive in congested areas. But our focus on riding qualities and ergonomics probably plays a part too, with a comfortable seat, easy step in/step out, smooth suspension and convenient cargo compartment height and accessibility. There is also one aspect that might improve health, even if we don’t really have proof: When you are on a cargo bike you don’t switch between temperatures as much as when you sit in a heated van cabin.

At least as much productivity as a van

Talking very relevant aspects in the parcel industry: loading capacity, handling and speed. An e-cargo bike is clearly not a van. Is it really possible to keep high productivity when using cargo bikes?

The data we have so far says that we are reaching at least the same productivity, but also up to double productivity (in the Netherlands). The cargo bike often has some advantages: It can always park right at the destination, it does not get stuck in traffic and it can take more shortcuts (through parks for example, where allowed). But to make it work you have to be able to transfer and refill the bike with parcels efficiently, and this is where our container system comes in. We are only at the beginning of containerized last mile delivery, and it will be very interesting to see what our new ideas in this field will do for productivity.

The Netherlands as forerunner

You brought cargo bikes onto the streets in several countries, such as Sweden, Denmark, Germany. Do you have a ‘best case’ of where infrastructure, mentality or regulatory framework specifically support cargo bikes as mode of transportation?

The Netherlands have fantastic bike infrastructure in many of its cities. Every city planner with self-respect should go there, and just copy their best solutions! This gives fantastic advantages to sustainable last mile delivery solutions. The car/van is in no way banned, car ownership in the Netherlands is still high. It is just that bikes, not cars, are prioritized in the cities. This gives huge advantages for everyone living in the city. I think this is more important than cultural aspects. Build it and they will come!


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