Passing through the workshop the other morning I noticed there were four Massive Rack equipped WorkCycles Fr8’s being serviced, all from different Amsterdam customers. Each were quite unique bikes as well. Electric assist via a hub motor was being installed on the black and froggy green one. The battery will go under a false floor in the wooden crate.
The China green and green bike distributes books (can carries a bulldog) “De Wolleff en de Seve Geitjes” refers to a hilarious book he wrote and illustrated with Sacha Serano. The wolf and the seven goats is twisted version of a Grimm story told in pretty much the roughest possible “Plat Amsterdams” (Amsterdam dialect) language and style. My 8 year old son and I laugh ourselves into tears reading it aloud to each other.
The silver grey one is ridden by a local artist. The parts were actually hot dipped in zinc to galvanize them. It looks awesome and will never rust but it was such a pain in the butt to build it up afterwards that we’ll never, ever do that again.
The black and red Fr8 is just wicked cool. Just about everything on it is black… unless of course it’s red. Its owner also has a nearly identical bike in grey and orange. Just because he loves them.
Anyhow back to the Massive Rack. In principal it was designed for delivery and industrial transport but it’s just super handy so a fair number of them are being used by parents (compact bakfiets), artists, photographers and other small business owners.
The Massive Rack is securely mounted (with six bolts) to the Fr8’s frame. It doesn’t turn with the handlebars and front wheel when you steer so it has almost no influence on steering and handling. It fits either Fr8 Universal or Cross frame and can be combined with other Fr8 accessories such as the front child saddle and advertising board.
Any standard Euronorm 60x40cm crate or box fits perfectly in the Massive Rack and you can either bolt the crate down or secure it with a strap or clips to make it removable. Alternatively you can make a deeper crate to increase the volume. As for a maximum load capacity we’re not really sure. 100kg is absolutely no problem. 150kg won’t break it either but you’ll have to pump the front tire quite hard to steer well.
Maybe the most brilliant part of the Massive Rack is its integrated parking stand. At 65cm wide the bike stands as solidly as a house when parked. To deploy the stand just push it down with you foot and roll the bike back a little. Roll the bike forward and the spring-loaded stand folds up automatically behind the front wheel. It’s far enough from the pedals that you’ll never hit it with your feet and high enough from the ground that it cannot bottom out when cornering.
Sinterklaas and two Zwarte Piets test the Vrachtfiets in the TU Delft wind tunnel.
The Vrachtfiets is a really big, heavy-duty cargo hauler on four wheels that can do things pretty much no other bike can. It’s sturdy like a traditional Dutch bakfiets yet thoroughly modern with an ingenious suspension system and gasp…. electric assist. Yeah, yeah I already hear you thinking “Blasphemy! Henry hates electric assist!” Actually no I really don’t. I just hate most e-bikes because most e-bikes suck ginormously. The Vrachtfiets, on the other hand, is seriously different. It’s a robust, highly engineered workhorse that can carry a two cubic meter load. That’s a bigger load than many small delivery vans. Thus the name “Vrachtfiets”, Dutch for “Freight Bike”.
Vrachtfiets evolved out of a TU Delft student project and came to WorkCycles with it’s basic engineering already sorted out. A dozen pre-production Vrachtfietsen have been built and used by various firms including Ikea. Those are the two rider versions that will not go into production. At WorkCycles we’d long been considering the possibilities for a big transport bike as a serious small truck replacement for businesses and municipalities. The Vrachtfiets guys needed a partner with bike expertise and a way to promote and sell their bike. Add a super efficient, Dutch metalworking firm to build them and the partnership is complete.
A rare, modern day Dutch hard-man… at WorkCycles
Once upon a time Dutch hard-men rode heavily loaded, single-speed, fixed-gear bakfietsen tens of kilometers a day through wind, rain and snow (uphill both ways of course) to deliver their produce, milk, fish and baked goods, rocks and whatever other good old hard-man stuff they carried. For better or worse almost nobody in 2014 is so tough anymore; No modern enterprise will find employees willing to work that hard. So accepting that we live in the modern world the Vrachtfiets’ electric assist enormously extends the range and capabilities of a bakfiets. The system is a robust, EU legal 250W pedalec. With a full complement of 48V industrial quality battery packs hidden away under the cargo bay it’ll run a full work shift without recharging. You still have to pedal to ride and occasionally even a bit hard but it’s nothing to whine about. The batteries are pricey so the bike can be outfitted with one, two or three units – more can always be added later. It can climb hills and has big, hydraulic disk brakes on all four wheels to safely descend them too. Maximum load capacity is about 300kg, similar to our classic bakfietsen.
Four wheels with suspension make Vrachtfiets super stable and easy to ride, even in situations where either delta (rickshaw style) or tadpole (bakfiets style) type trikes get sketchy. There are some firms using modified rickshaws (bike taxis) for cargo transport but the Vrachtfiets is much more stable. It’s narrower and a little shorter too, which enables the Vrachtfiets to squeeze into spaces the rickshaw cannot.
The Vrachtfiets carries its load behind the rider so it’s much less limited in volume than our classic bakfietsen. The standard load platform is a full 200cm long and 100cm wide and low to the ground. Tall loads won’t impair the rider’s vision and the platform remains fixed when turning. Note that the platform extends the full width to keep the bike as narrow as possible. While the Vrachtfiets looks really big it’s actually only 100cm wide the same as a typical three-wheeled family bakfiets; It can be ridden on bike paths.
We’ll begin with two basic load platforms: the Pick Up (open) and the Cargo (box). Accessories such as a windscreen and a range of modular box options will be added as needed. Like other Workcycles bikes customization is always an option. How can you put Vrachtfietsen to work? We’ve the following applications in mind but there are certainly many, many more:
– Local deliveries: Keep your customers’ cargo secure with a 2m3 locking box – Food vending: Espresso, crepes, sandwiches, stroopwafels, ice-cream, panini. There’s enough surface area and volume to outfit a handy little kitchen. – Maintenance: Greens-keeping, neighborhood cleanup, trash collection, recycling collection. – Zoos: Animal feeding (Yes, we’ve done this before) – School bus: How many kids will fit on a 2m x 1m platform? My sketches say that four benches of three kids wide equals 12! That’s even handier than our current 8 child KDV bike schoolbus.
– How about a Vrachtfiets hearse? Please make my last ride be on a bicycle instead of a black Mercedes or Cadillac. If we can build Vrachtfietsen for both the nursery school and mortician we’ve got the full life span covered.
Though it’s not our target market a Vrachtfiets could even be built into a great family vehicle for a fraction of the cost of a Prius and far more fun (and infinitely greener).
We’re now sorting out the production details (think programming welding robots and the likes) and the first series of production Vrachtfietsen will be available in mid 2014. They’ll be sold in the Amsterdam region in order to follow them closely. Ideally the first bikes will land in the hands of customers who can provide handy feedback and we’ll offer some nice perks in exchange. Later they’ll be sold worldwide. We’ll get the Vrachtfiets on the WorkCycles website soon and a demo example in the shop so you can visit and try it out.
As you might already expect such a robust and sophisticated vehicle won’t come cheaply. Final prices have yet to be fixed but expect about €7000-10.000 depending on how your Vrachtfiets is equipped. That’s a considerable investment but then again the operating costs will be minuscule compared to any motor vehicle and one needs no drivers license to operated it.
Reenactment of the scene of the crime that could have but didn’t happen… except that P1 is happy in this photo instead of P2 going full-on tantrum boneless.
To cut to the chase I allllmost lost our beloved Workcycles Fr8 bike. In most every other alternate universe it would have been stolen.
Monday morning I couldn’t find the Fr8’s keys. I never, ever lose keys, so of course I assumed it must have been the fault of “she who misplaces keys”. We checked all the likely jacket pockets but with four year old already ambivalent about going out to play and quickly losing patience I just grabbed the Cargobike keys instead. But just before heading downstairs I looked outside to see who rode the Fr8 last. We park it in one of several racks in front of our house, usually where it is in the photo below.
Two of the five bike racks in front of our home. Fr8 is in the upper left of the image (with light blue carriers).
But wait, I could see from the window that the saddle was adjusted for me, not for “she who sometimes misplaces keys”. I was thus the last one to ride the bike so its keys are wherever I put/left them a few days ago when the Fr8 was last ridden a few days ago. The plot thickens. P1 and I go the three flights downstairs to the outside world and before unlocking the bakfiets we check the Fr8. Could he who never, ever loses keys actually have left the keys in the bike? Yep, there they were just hanging in the rear wheel lock. The (very protective when actually locked) Abus Granit City Chain was still wrapped in its bundle around the child saddle frame. It’s the perfect place to keep your chain lock by the way. So there it is: I left the keys in my €1500 bike for several days in the middle of Amsterdam, one of the bike theft capitals of the world… and nobody took it. I’m guessing nobody noticed it.
How could I pull such a boneheaded move? Well, firstly I’m just a bonehead sometimes. Just ask the trainer at our Wednesday evening track racing classes. But also anybody with young kids understands the general scenario: You’ve just arrived home with 2 year old daughter who you picked up at daycare after work. It’s the Friday before the Christmas vacation so the kids are partied and danced out. On the way home we stop at the grocery store to pick up some needed items. Maybe papa refuses to buy some strategically placed holiday item that little girl wants, or perhaps little girl is just hungry and tired. In any case little girl does just what any self respecting two year old does when they don’t get their way: Tantrum! Turn instantly into a desperate, crying, writhing, wriggling invertebrate creature. After succeeding in wrestling the writhing, now screaming invertebrate two year old into her bike seat you ride the couple minutes home in the driving rain hoping she won’t somehow manage to Houdini her way out of the five point harness. Needless to say the child saddle behind the handlebar is NOT appropriate under such conditions.
Upon arriving home you find an empty spot in the bike racks, carefully release the now frantic storm of a child from her seat, holding her securely around the middle. You grab your bag and the groceries from the bike’s bin and dash inside, out of the rain, of course carefully picking your way across the bike path thick with the evening’s bike and scooter traffic. You get inside warm home, remove wet clothes and shoes and two year old usually snaps seamlessly back into normal child mode. Family sits down for dinner and all is fine. Except that your bike is unlocked outside with the keys hanging in the lock.
I assume this sounds familiar to most every parent because I hear it all the time at Workcycles, usually while discussing the details for a new bike to replace the stolen one. People say “It was my own fault; I left the keys in the bike.” No, that’s total BS. Keys in the bike or not it was stolen. Yes, you made the job much easier but the asshole who took your bike is still a thief. An honest person would leave it alone. A good Samaritan would find a way to help you, perhaps locking the bike and leaving a note with their phone number or email.
Anyhow I’m tremendously relieved that we still have our Fr8.
In and of itself me getting a new bike shouldn’t be all that interesting to you. This particular story though has connections that make it worth telling. There’s the story of why Mike Flanigan of ANT built me a bike. There’s the story of how the plan for a family touring bike became a road/time-trial race bike which later became a more versatile all-around road bike. Then there’s the bike itself which is a sort of Workcycles of the road bike world. (more…)
Bike transport is a constant challenge at Workcycles. People from all over the world mail, call, skype, tweet, facebook, flickr and visit to buy our special bikes but unless they live in the Netherlands actually getting that bike to them can be expensive. Customers are sometimes incredulous at what it costs to ship a utility bike or trike to their home in another country and sometimes respond with something like “But Chain Relaxion will send a crabon racing bike to me for €10.” Perhaps they will but that’s really a horse of a different color. That crabon, Campagimano equipped Pinarosa weighs less than a ciabatta and can be packed, wheels off, in a torsionally stiff, vertically compliant box the size of its compact geometry frame. Further Chain Relaxion ships about a gazillion packages per day so they get enormous discounts from the shipping firms who want them dearly as customers, and really aren’t all that flexible with high-maintenance, low turnover, little customers like Workcycles. (more…)
My friend and former colleague Alex in Vancouver sent this picture of a Workcycles Cargobike buried under a tasteless display of kickballs in a Whole Foods organic grocery store. Wouldn’t it be better to just ride it, or maybe loan/rent it to customers? (more…)
I’ve been in Japan with the family for the past couple weeks. We come here to visit family and friends, talk bikes, and help the kids practice their Japanese. Most of our time is spent around Hiroshima, Osaka and Kyoto and then during each trip we do some traveling to other regions. This is my fourth visit of three to four weeks each so I’ve now seen quite a bit of Japan. I enjoy my time here but don’t claim to understand much at all of what’s going on around me. It’s not just the language barrier; Japanese society is just enormously different from anything else I’m familiar with. It’s also quite private and discrete making it even harder to learn about why people do things the ways they do and why the country is put together the way it is. (more…)
To be straightforward marketing just isn’t our specialty here at Workcycles. We’re great at developing lovely, handy, durable bikes, adapting them to your needs and keeping them running nicely for as long as possible. Marketing campaigns? Well, we tend to be full of great ideas that never get off the ground because we’re too busy building and selling bikes. Thus, with that as background… we introduce our winter special in the second week of February.
Actually it’s almost just in time considering that the temperature here in Amsterdam hardly dipped below freezing until last week. Then winter appeared with a vengeance bringing record low temperatures and a little snow that’s stuck around for a while already. Saturday morning we got up early with the kids to be amongst the first to enjoy sledding the fresh powder on the steep slopes of the Westerpark and try out some skating on the frozen canals! Yayyy!
Winter does make getting around by bike a little harder, thus our Winter Service Special. In particular water (even just a tiny bit) in the brake and gear cables tends to freeze, locking it in whatever position it was in while parked. You can read all about freezing cables and how to fix them here. Both our Fr8 and Cargobike have been fixed in one gear for a week and the Fr8’s rear brake is frozen solid as well. I’ve no time to fuss with my own bikes but fortunately you needn’t suffer the same inconvenience. Call us to make an appointment and we’ll give your bike a thorough winterizing.
While we’re at it we realized that we’ve accumulated a rather absurd inventory of tires, so they’re all 50% off (as long as we’re installing them). We’ve got possibly the best selection of city bike, transport bike and bakfiets tires on the planet so it’s a killer opportunity to put fresh rubber on your bike too.
In the same spirit we’ve been building nonstandard frames and parts into a collection of cool but somewhat quirky special bikes. Ride home with a great new bike for a great price and help us make space for other stuff. We’ll take photos and put more information online but here are a few examples below: (more…)
This is how stable a Workcycles Fr8 stands on the Massive Rack. Photo by Tom Resink, who also built these bikes.
UPDATE Fall 2015: Over the last few years we’ve built hundreds of bikes with electric assist, mostly Fr8’s and Kr8’s, also a few Gr8’s and classic city bikes. We’ve tried different components and developed a reliable, effective system that we now sell worldwide. These bikes are still individually built and tested in our Amsterdam workshop, thus not yet factory options that can be purchased via WorkCycles dealers. We now ship our E-bikes all over the world though. The development is ongoing and we expect to replace the current front hub motor with a mid motor in early 2016.
About the current electric assist system: The front hub motor is 36V x 225W with 30Nm torque. It is powerful enough to easily ride into Dutch winds and up moderate hills. This system would not be suitable for cranking, for example, a heavily loaded Kr8 up San Francisco hills.
The rear hub gearing with Shimano Nexus 8sp or NuVinci remains unaffected. The brakes are replaced by powerful and reliable Magura hydraulic rim brakes front and rear. The excellent standard B&M LED headlamp and taillights are powered by the motor battery.
Our system is not as sophisticated as the Bosch but it’s effective, smooth, durable and reliable, and (unlike the Bosch) it’s quite “future proof”. Parts can be replaced individually if needed and it won’t be obsoleted and unsupported in a couple years either.
E-Kr8: The 13Ah battery is under the bench in the box. Though slightly less convenient than the battery in the rear carrier it makes the “E” part of the bike almost invisible and the battery is kept warm in the winter by young occupants. A passenger can sit on the rear as well.
E-Fr8/Gr8: The 13Ah battery is custom built into a sturdy wooden crate on the front carrier making the entire system almost invisible. The rear carrier retains its full functionality.
Original artikle, as posted in 2011: Yes, we are asked constantly whether we’ll build a Fr8 or other Workcycles bike with electric assist. The answer is basically yes and no. By no means are we philosophically opposed to the idea of adding a motor to our bikes. We are however very much aware of the many downsides so we generally advise against it unless the need is clear.
For handyman firm Buurtklusser in hilly Nijmegen the need for some help was very obvious. This particular Fr8 will have its Massive Rack frequently loaded up with 100+ kg of cargo and the giant newspaper panniers filled with packages. How would you like to pedal uphill with a total weight of 250kg? In case you’re curious check out their blog at Trapkracht.nl (“Pedal Power”)
Further these bikes will be operated by professionals so we’ve a pretty good chance they’ll be used appropriately and maintained properly. That’s very different from sending special bikes out into the wild with customers who may not have the skills for (or interest in) maintaining them, nor a suitable workshop in the area to turn to when necessary. (more…)