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The Cargo Bike Club idea revisited

The Cargo Bike Club idea revisited

Some time back I came up with the idea for a Cargo Bike Club™ along the lines of a City Car Club (read all about it here). Since that time it has been sitting on the back burner and a number of people have been in touch to ask what, if anything, I am doing about it. So I thought it was about time for an update. This post is based on an exchanges of e-mails I have had with interested parties.

Cargo bikes cost about £2K – £4K each and have a high resale value, so security is a bit of an issue. Therefore, having hire stations and security are the key things which are really holding me back. Funding may be less of a problem once I have a clearly laid out business plan ready. There are a range of grants and an increasing number of social enterprise funding models popping up (along the lines of which could make it possible to get off the ground.

Most cycle hire schemes use docking stations, where there is no lock on the bike, and you are expected to travel from docking station to docking station, think London, Paris, etc. This model is fine for big city wide schemes, but would be no use for something like the Cargo Bike Club™. Ideally there would be a locking system attached to the bike, which is track-able when the bike is away from its home location. So I have been looking for a suitable locking system, something like the SoBi model. SoBi started out by developing a locking system which would attach to any bike, so that people could start up their own social bike hire schemes. This sounded just the thing I need, sadly they have moved their business model to selling only whole bike systems and won’t just sell me the locking system. Deutsche Bahn have a similar locking system, with their Call a Bike scheme, but I haven’t found out yet if it is possible to buy the locking system (although I have found out how to hack the software to get unlimited free usage).

I did think of trying to get the supermarkets interested, but an earlier attempt to persuade them to provide free bike trailer hire got nowhere. Waitrose has offered this at some stores down south, but showed no interest in Edinburgh, despite a number of customers asking for it. So I thought that having residential hubs might work better, this also makes the bikes available for a wider range of uses, other than just shopping, i.e., the school run, moving flat, etc.

These residential hubs would need parking space, and I am rather hoping the proposed on-street cycle storage scheme which the City of Edinburgh Council is talking of trialling this year will provide a precedent for this. I have also thought of trying to get the Universities interested in hosting hubs near student housing.

Also, given that Edinburgh isn’t exactly flat, I also wondered about getting electric assist for the cargo bikes. There are a number of options available, so it is perfectly possible, and some users would consider it highly desirable. However, there are the obvious downsides of extra cost and the problem of battery charging. So that one requires some more thinking. Having spoken to Neil from Pronto Pedal Power about his Bullitt (my preferred choice of cargo bike, although Dutch models will also be considered), he says the gearing is low enough to manage to get about Edinburgh without electric assist, but then he rides for a living.

One way of dealing with the security issue and electric assist at the same time might be to employ a modified Copenhagen Wheel. I did try contacting MIT about this, they said they would put me on their mailing list for information and updates, and that was the last I heard from them. Well, that is design students for you, just make it look pretty and ignore real world applications.

If all else fails, we could just form a consortium, buy a couple of bikes, cut some keys and set up a Google calendar…

New Idea: the Cargo Bike Club

New Idea: the Cargo Bike Club

Following my recent wee issue with getting the biggest pumpkin home from the allotment and trying to find a cargo bike to transport it has made me wonder if there are other people in a similar situation? I think I might have a solution: the Cargo Bike Club®. But, before I get into the details, maybe I should just give a wee bit of background.

First off, what is a Cargo Bike? Well, they come in all shapes and sizes, they are general purpose load carrying bikes, basically they are the SUV of the cycling world, only a lot more environmentally and people friendly. This concept is well understood in Europe, but some in North America struggle with it.

For my purposes, the sort of cargo bike I have in mind is either a Dutch Bakfiets or a Danish Larry Vs. Harry BULLITT, although other bikes would probably work just as well [UPDATE: the Urban Arrow is now the front runner].

Why would you want a Cargo Bike? In places that have a cycling culture, cargo bikes are used in the same way as a second car, for taking the kids to school, doing the weekly shop, moving flat, and all that sort of thing. Indeed some people use them instead of a family car. The important thing to remember is, we are not talking about poor countries here, but the likes of Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany and Austria. Also, cargo bikes are cool! They are increasing in popularity all over the place, even yummy mummies and (I hate to use this word but, here goes) Celebrities are using cargo bikes.

If cargo bikes are such a good idea, why aren’t we seeing more of them on our streets? Here is the rub, there are several good reasons:

Cost: a basic cargo bike will set you back between £1,100 – £1,600, and then there are the accessories: child seats, rain covers, etc. So, for a kitted out cargo bike you are looking at somewhere around £2,000 – £2,500.

Availability: there are very few dealers in the UK who sell these bikes, I am not sure if there are any in Scotland.

Secure storage: yes, they can be stored outside, but, having spent £2,000 – £2,500, you are going to want to keep it safe and secure. As we all know, this can be a problem in our cities.

So this brings us back to my idea of starting a Cargo Bike Club! This would work in a similar way to the City Car Club, with a number of cargo bikes available for hire 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, across the city, for a modest fee to members of the club. The cargo bikes would be stored in lockers around the city, not sure I like the term locker, so let’s call them kennels, I like the idea of a cargo bike kennels. The kennels would be opened by a digital key, with each member having a personalised key. Members will only be able to open the kennels when a (club owned) cargo bike is in the kennel or nearby. This will mean that members will be able to store their own bike securely in the kennel while they are using the cargo bike.

So how would it work? Well, you would book the cargo bike on-line (or maybe even by SMS text or phone, but I would have to work out the cost of that) > go along to the cargo bike kennel > unlock it with your personalised digital key > take out the cargo bike (and put in yours, if you have ridden there) > close the door and ride away.

When would you have to make the bookings? The bookings could be made in advance or right at the last minute 24/7.

Where would these “cargo bike kennels” be? The aim would be to have them in residential areas throughout the city, ideally at roadside or on road in existing parking bays. There would need to be round the clock access. If provision can be made for City Car Club cars, then why not for the even greener alternative? Yes, there maybe some local resistance in some residential areas, people might say silly things like roads are for cars or cyclist don’t pay tax, but this can be overcome in time. Because there may not be a cargo bike kennel inwith walking distance of every member, it is important that members are able to leave their own bikes in the kennel when they take out the cargo bike.

If there were “cargo bike kennels” at various locations, would you have to return the cargo bike to the same one? Yes, unlike other bike hire schemes, the Cargo Bike Club would not be about point to point travel. Although it could be possible to expanded the facilities to include Vélib’ style bicycle hire scheme as well, at a later date.

What would these “cargo bike kennels” look like? Well, there are two approaches that could be taken, either the bicycle locker disguised as a rubbish skip approach or Copenhagen urban camouflage (although I am not suggesting using these colour schemes). Both these approaches could easily fit into our urban landscapes.

What would it cost to hire a cargo bike? Well, that is a detail which I would have to work out, but I would envisage having an annual membership fee and then an hourly hire fee for the actually usage. So, something along the lines of £50 per annum membership, then the first 30 minutes of use free, followed by a sliding scale of hourly fees. Say £1 for up to an hour, £2 for an hour and a half, £5 for two hours and so on. These are just suggestions, I have yet to work out the details.

So who would the Cargo Bike Club be aimed at? The cargo bike club is for everybody! Well, everybody who needs to shift things about, things like the weekly shopping, or kids on the school run, or move a washing machine, or just stuff… More seriously, the obvious target market for the Cargo Bike Club would be young urban professionals (contrary to the belief prevalent among many motorists that cyclists are poor, urban cyclists are more likely to be from socio-economic groups ABC1 than in D or E), students, and allotment holders bringing home large pumpkins.

This Cargo Bike Club sounds like a really good idea, so what is next? Well, I am about to start working up a business plan, so if you are interested in getting involved or you would like to invest, please feel free to get in touch.

Cycle hire in Edinburgh

Cycle hire in Edinburgh

One of the good things about living in Edinburgh is that there is no shortage of people wanting to come and visit you, this time it was Ulli’s cousin Bernhard. Now Bernhard is a keen cyclist so we want to be able to take him out cycling, but he wasn’t too keen on trusting one of his bikes to tender mercies of an airline baggage handle. So we decided to rent a bike for the week he was here. After a wee bit of research I established that there were two options for cycle hire in Edinburgh: Biketrax who offer city bikes, mountain bikes and Bromptons, none of which were ideal for what we had in mind. Then there was Edinburgh Cycle Hire (aka Rent-a-Bike Edinburgh) which also offered city bikes and mountain bikes, but more interestingly road bikes as well.

Having asked around, I had been told that it was best to phone in advance if I wanted to use Edinburgh Cycle Hire, as their opening hours could be unpredictable. So when I phoned and didn’t get an answer, I thought that renting from them was out, but to my surprise within five minutes of my putting the phone down, Peter from Edinburgh Cycle Hire phoned me back and apologised for having missed my call, obviously someone who wanted to do business. So I asked what sort of road bike did they hire, and was told they had a couple of Dawes Galaxies available, this sounded ideal for the cycling we had in mind, although at a £100 a week it was not cheap. After consultation with Bernhard it was decided to rent a Dawes Galaxy for the week that he was here.

Bernhard, having arrived in Edinburgh, and I went to pick up the Dawes Galaxy from the shop in Blackfriars St., which had been brought down from Perth the night before. The first surprise was that the bike wasn’t exactly in the first flush of youth, this wasn’t what I had expected as their web site states “Every year we sell-off our fleet of rental bikes and renew our stock”. Still, the Galaxy is a classic British touring bike and, so long as it is well maintained, will last for years. A quick inspection of the bike showed that it had two left pedals (or one of the toe clips had been attached the wrong way round?). Bernhard had brought his own SPD pedals, so these toe clipped pedals were quickly removed and the thread inspected, fortunately it had not been stripped. A further inspection of the bike showed the brake blocks to be badly worn. Peter explained that the mechanic whom he had just employed for the season had left after two days, and this was one of two bikes which had just be returned from a two week hire the day before, and that he hadn’t had time to check them over fully. Bernhard offered to change the blocks himself, so long as new blocks were provided, and a set of V-brake blocks (the only ones in the workshop) were duly provided. As an offer of good will Peter threw in a pair of panniers and a bar bag for free (normally £15 for a week’s hire), even though Bernhard was happy to do without them.

Having got the bike home, Bernhard set about changing the brake blocks, after much cursing of cantilever brakes, the rear blocks were fitted. Then, as he set about making the final adjustments of the blocks, he noticed that the wheel was out of true. On closer inspection we found that there were cracks in the rim around some of the spoke holes and that several of the spokes were loose, one was even kinked. So after a short phone call, we were off back down to Blackfriars St., where Peter was waiting with a rear wheel off one of the hybrid bikes. However, a quick inspection showed that this had a 9 speed cassette and the Galaxy an 8 speed cassette and indexed gears. After some discussion, Bernhard offered to swap the cassettes over himself, and after some further haggling a 10% refund on the week’s hire was agreed to compensate for the repair work.

The details of the cycle trip will be covered in further posts, but at the end of the week, when we asked Bernhard what he thought of the bike, he commented that, if he were to buy a touring bike, it would probably be a Dawes Galaxy.

Dawes Galaxy

Addendum: Since this post was written in 2008 the number of place you can hire bike in Edinburgh has increased considerably, you can even hire a cargo bike.

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