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.
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.