Delivery Bikes Are Growing Up

By Siegfried Mortkowitz

‘Tis the season for the delivery of goods, and bicycles are gradually becoming a major means of goods transport, such as Christmas presents, of course. Like every other aspect of mobility in the world, the bicycle transport ecosystem is in the process of undergoing major changes.

Take, as a modest example, the pizza delivery bike, such as Domino’s Pizza DXB. For starters, the company’s new e-bike has an oven – better known as a “temperature-controlled pizza pod” – which uses fan-forced ceramic heating and a ventilated thermal bag to help the evaporation of excess moisture and ensure that not a single delivered pie is soggy. It also keeps the pizza at a temperature of 68°C, hot enough to eat right out of the box.

The Domino DXB is also equipped with a “space-age suspension that cuts G-forces by an incredible 67 percent” to keep the pizza from being shaken or stirred because, as the company maintains, a pizza in the process of being delivered by bike experiences a force of up to 10.2 G – which is more than the gravitational stress suffered by a fighter pilot. No wonder Domino’s channels the popular sci-fi franchise Star Trek by saying, “Domino’s is boldly going where no pizza company has gone before, launching a revolutionary new e-bike concept destined to change the food delivery universe forever.”

In Miami, Florida, the global delivery service DHL Express is partnering with Reef Technologies, the largest operator of parking, mobility, and logistics hubs in North America, to pilot the use of four new low-power e-Cargo Cycles for deliveries across the city. The three-wheeled cycles are equipped with a cargo container and are capable, DHL says, of pulling up to 400 pounds (181 kg), or the equivalent of 60 cubic feet in volume.

Delivery bike
Bicycles are gradually becoming a major means of goods transport. © Profimedia

These cargo bikes are part of DHL’s GoGreen strategy to reduce its carbon footprint, which has a goal of using clean pickup and delivery solutions for 70% of its operations by 2025. “Each e-Cargo Cycle deployed enables DHL to take one conventional delivery van off the road, reducing road traffic, noise and pollution,” the company proclaims.

The drive system of the cargo bike is also undergoing a transformation. The Mando Corporation, a Tier 1 automotive supplier, introduced the world’s first chainless bike, the Mando Footloose, in 2012. But it did not catch on because, as Jeff Chang, general manager of Mando Corporation Europe, admitted, “The pedal feeling was not refined enough.” As a result, the company re-engineered the system, using tech from its automotive business unit.

The result is the SPM Module, a powerful chainless drive system designed primarily for us in heavy-duty e-cargo bikes and people carriers. “It provides manufacturers with an integrated e-Mobility Module platform that consists of ePedal (alternator), electric motor, battery, wire harness and HMI+HBC,” the company explains, adding that a large number of manufacturers are currently pilot-testing or in series production using the system and that “market demand for the system has been radically increasing since the European Commission clarified the legal status of the series hybrid system early this year.”

One of the companies using the SPM Module is CITKAR, a German manufacturer of e-powered four-wheel cargo bikes that have a cabin and can carry a payload of up to 235 kg (518 lb) and are currently available in the UK, the Netherlands, Germany and France and used by DHL, assorted last-mile dispatchers and grocery deliverers such as the Dutch concern Plus supermarkets.

Finally, here is what could be called an advance in the technology of organizing deliveries. In the Czech capital Prague, a so-called delivery depot for the delivery of parcels throughout the city center  opened in 2020 and was named one of the three best projects in the Zero Pollution category of the 2021 Eurocities Awards.

The concept is a simple last-mile solution. The packages are unloaded from trucks and transferred to e-cargo bikes, which are then used to deliver them to the customer.

The depot is used by companies such as Dachser, DHL, DPD, GLS, Messenger, PPL and, who jointly operate a fleet of more than 30 e-cargo bikes. In addition, the depot also contains facilities for  couriers, such as showers, toilets, a kitchen and break room. It also has 24/7 security and access restrictions. More depots have since opened in other Czech cities, with a second one slated to open in Prague.