Introducing the Mighty Vrachtfiets

Monday, February 17th, 2014


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-pallets

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.

workcycles-verhuur-bakfiets-renzo
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.

Vrachtfiets Insulated for veggie delivery.

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.

Vrachtfiets Cargo in Brussels

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.

vrachtfiets on roof

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.

WorkCycles 2014: Good Stuff Coming!

Thursday, January 9th, 2014

happynewyear-2014 (1)
That’s my family and I; a “selfie” in Lego if you will

Each first of January I wish everybody a happy, healthy and productive New Year though I have to come clean that this is my least favorite holidays. To begin with it’s on the wrong day of the year. The Gregorian calendar, and the Julian calendar that preceded it, are based on the relationship of earth and sun, the year changing with the winter solstice. Being here in dark Northern Europe I’m all for celebrating the days getting longer. The solstice, however, is on December 21 ten days before New Years Eve. The day we call December 31 is nothing special. Talk about getting off to a bad start! I also have other, more practical reasons, to dislike New Years but I’ll quit whining for a moment and talk about good stuff.

WorkCycles had a great 2013 and 2014 promises be even better. For the past few years we’ve been busy restructuring to run more efficiently, help our customers better, and just have more fun doing what we do. It was a lot of work but there comes a point in the growth of many firms when the management recognizes that disruptive changes are necessary to iron out quirks that hinder the business. These quirks get built in by the founder (yes that’s me), often an expert in his field but not in running a business (that’s me too). More strangeness gets added organically through the years by the staff the founder assembles. The trick to such a process is not throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Many a firm becomes generic and ultimately irrelevant at this stage, after they strip out exactly what made them unique. We’ve been extra vigilant to avoid this because, frankly, I would have stuck with my corporate career had I wanted an easy, boring way to earn a living.

Meanwhile we’re launching not one but THREE really cool new bikes in 2014.The long awaited Workcycles Kr8 cargobike and trike represent big evolutionary leaps for the family utility vehicle (FUV?) world. Hey, FUV, I just made that up and I like it! Anyhow these bikes build on the success of the popular Fr8 and Gr8. The big Vrachtfiets cargo quad marks the start of a new partnership. More about these below but first more boring business lessons since you might not read it if the fun stuff came first.

Prinsengracht one fall morning 1
A random pretty picture I took a few weeks ago. Much nicer to look at than business stuff.

It isn’t sexy marketing to tell the world how you’ve thoroughly analyzed your business and then custom built a Enterprise Resource Planning system to help manage practically every aspect of it. Handy it is though for working faster and more accurately, for streamlining the order process, communication, work flow and bookkeeping, to help employees know what we have, what it costs and where it comes from. We looked at dozens of packages but none fit Workcycles strange needs. We’re a small firm yet we do many different things: R&D, import, export, consumer, B2B and dealer sales, assembly, repair, rentals, even occasionally consulting. Several ERP suppliers politely said “No, we can’t do that.” Mega huge SAP told us “Yes, we can do that!”… but at a price more appropriate for a firm twenty times as big as Workcycles. Once satisfied that we’d figured out what we did and didn’t need we set out to build our own system, based on a time-tested database platform. We were willing to make compromises and reconsider how we do some things but changing the nature of WorkCycles was out of the question; We enjoy doing what we do. Though it’s far from easy, it is unique and has earned us a loyal customer base.

This transformation process has been several years in the making and our home-brewed ERP system is only a part of it. Some changes were less fun. Take, for example, dumping the accountant who’d made a mess of our administration, tediously working with our new accounting firm to reorganize and re-file several years of corporate bookkeeping. As if that wasn’t enough of a time waster the Dutch tax service hassled us every step of the way because they now owed us a huge tax refund. They repeatedly demanded the most bizarre evidence to back up the reinstated administration… nonsensical wild goose chases such as all of the purchase invoices above €500 from this and this and this quarter, but only for these and these types of goods. Each time we dutifully supplied the requested hundreds of pages of info they came back with new demands, making it obvious the tax inspector knew and cared nothing about actually running a business. After half a year of this our case got passed to another inspector who looked it over, approved it and got us paid in short order. What a pain in the ass that was. But we got our money back and together with our new accountants and ERP we’ve completely streamlined our administration process. Word of advice for those starting a business: Learn enough about corporate finance and bookkeeping to structure your company appropriately from the beginning. Choose your accounting firm carefully. Yeah, I see your eyes glazing over, that you just want to make bikes or software or do whatever it is you dig doing. Really though, it’ll eventually mean the difference between running a successful business, plodding along between crises and frustration, and going bankrupt.

Dylan "acting" for TV show 5
Here’s Dylan doing business as usual, trying to ignore the attention.

Meanwhile I think we did a pretty good job of keeping these distractions from disturbing our daily business. There wasn’t much time or energy for developing new products in 2011 and 2012 but our sales remained steady and we kept building our bikes as carefully as ever. Our ever improving organization is not only better internally; it’s reflected in how we treat our customers and ultimately that’s the point. There’s much more to come. Amongst many other functions we’re working on keeping the service histories of customers’ bikes in order to signal certain types of maintenance, to keep track of issues, to see problem patterns and so on.

street of banger waste
I dug this old, badly scanned photo of New Year’s residue in the Amsterdam Jordaan streets to show what goes on here. Imagine an entire city setting off so much fireworks that it looks like this everywhere.

That’s enough boring business stuff. Here’s another reason I dislike New Year’s: Spending an entire day hopelessly attempting to calm a crying three year old freaked out by the fireworks. You haven’t experienced New Years in Amsterdam or another European city? The cracking, booming, flashing fireworks begins a day or two early and builds to a deafening war zone in the evening. This is not the organized, pretty fireworks of the American 4th of July. No, this is populist anarchy in explosions being set off everywhere simultaneously. At midnight all hell breaks loose for an hour or so and then it finally begins to subside.

Now that you’ve successfully waded though my holiday rant and exciting tale of business management I can give you the juicy news… New WorkCycles bikes are coming!

vrachtfiets on roof
One of the first Vrachtfiets Cargos at work delivering groceries in Brussels, BE.

First up is the Vrachtfiets, a really big, heavy-duty cargo hauler on four wheels that can do things pretty much no other bike can. It’s tough like a traditional Dutch bakfiets yet thoroughly modern with an ingenious suspension system and industrial strength electric assist. 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”.

At WorkCycles we’d long been considering the possibilities for a big transport bike 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. The first series of production Vrachtfietsen will be available in early 2014 and will 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 perks in exchange. Later they’ll be sold worldwide.

The Vrachtfiets’ electric assist enormously extends the range and capabilities of a bakfiets. It can climb hills and has hydraulic disk brakes on all four wheels to safely descend them too. Four wheels with suspension make Vrachtfiets super stable and easy to ride.

Vrachtfiets-pickup-multi
Vrachtfiets open Pick-Up version.

The Vrachtfiets carries its load behind the rider so it’s much less limited in volume than a classic bakfiets. 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. 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?

Stay tuned. We’ll be putting up more Vrachtfiets info here and on the WorkCycles site in the coming weeks.

sinterklaas-intocht-amsterdam-on-workcycles-bakfietsen 2
I’ve no good photos of finished Kr8′s yet so here’s are some of our R&D staff in action testing a prototype Kr8′s fun factor.

But wait, there’s more! After three years in the works the WorkCycles Kr8 bakfietsen are finally coming! There are actually two Kr8′s:
1. A highly evolved two wheeled version of the Cargobike/Long John type with a box the same length as our current Cargobike Long.
2. A linkage steered three-wheeler (wheels turn, box doesn’t) with really easy, stable handling. It’s a trike that’s actually pleasant to ride.

Typical WorkCycles, the frames and parts are modular. Both models use the same rear end. It’s borrowed from the Fr8 & Gr8, complete with Adaptive Seat Tube (great ergonomics for everybody) and Escape Hatch (easy tire change). Two-part frames mean that Kr8′s can be packed and shipped more cheaply and with less chance of damage.

The front frames, boxes and parking stands are all new. The boxes are unique, combining a tubular aluminium frame with lightweight wooden panels. They look great, are tough and repairable, and even flat-pack for shipping.

The Kr8 two-wheeler is all done and the first examples will be delivered in February. The three-wheeler will follow a few months later. They retain all the goodness of our current Cargobike yet with improvements throughout:

- The Kr8′s are remarkably light. The two-wheeler is almost 20% lighter than our current Cargobike. The trike is only a little heavier – very light for a three-wheeler.
- The sitting ergonomics, steering geometry and very low center of gravity make them easy and sporty to ride.
- Kr8 two-wheeler can be boxed for transport throughout the world. Soon the trike will be as well.
- They look great and can be readily customized with special colors and features.

Needless to say we’re really proud of our new babies. They’re each a couple solid evolutionary steps beyond anything else on the market and suitable for a broader range of situations than our current bikes.

Oh wait, I almost forgot that stupid thing about New Year’s “resolutions”. Which genius came up with the idea that suddenly, ten days after the winter solstice, you’re supposed to start doing something you didn’t previously do? My humble opinion: If it’s worth doing wouldn’t you already be doing it already?

The Latest Dutch Bike Innovations

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

A couple weeks ago I wrote about a pedal powered snow plow from the USA. Now I’ll make it clear that, as stodgy as they can be, the Dutch will not be outdone in the area of bike innovation.

Let’s begin with the Monsterfiets. That’s “Monsterbike” for those of you who haven’t yet noticed that “fiets” = “bike” in Dutch and that the Dutch have absolutely no problem with appropriating words from other languages, especially mighty, media-friendly Engels.

Now I’ll be the first to admit that every Burning Man and Kinetic Sculpture race features two dozen “bikes” more amazing than this one. However the Monsterfiets seems to have piqued the interest of the Dutch and the above YouTube video has been watched almost a million times. I suppose, a la South Park, builder Wouter van den Bosch must be headed to Canada to collect his You Tube popularity paycheck.

I suppose the most remarkable thing about the video is that nobody seems to find the Monsterbike remarkable. “Sure, whatever. I see a billion bikes every day. So what if yours looks like a kid’s tricycle with a bigger front wheel.” I guess we call that “nonplussed”.
(more…)

Espresso en Bakfietsen

Friday, May 14th, 2010
p5rn7vb

espresso-bakfiets 2 on-your-trike

Coffee is good. Bakfietsen are good. So why not combine them into mobile coffee vending trikes? It’s a business with a very low barrier to entry, catchy and probably fun too. Great idea and though you write us weekly to build such a beast… you’re actually not the first one to think of it. You might have first seen it on TV.
(more…)

Bakfiets on the bakfiets ambulance

Monday, October 19th, 2009

bakfiets op een bakfiets

A while back I wrote about how some goon stole the rear wheel of Doede’s antique bakfiets. After some measurements we determined that this bike was quite strange in that the rear hub axle and crank axle were narrower than usual. Consequently the chain line is much closer to the center of the bike meaning that even if we widened the frame (40mm!) to fit one of our wheels the rear cog wouldn’t line up with the chainring in front anyway. It was decided to bring the bakfiets to the WorkCycles shop for further investigation and repair.

So how does one transport a non-functional bakfiets? On another bakfiets of course! Here Mette van der Linden (brother of web genius and maker of these photos Doede) rides the bakfiets ambulance across Amsterdam. Mind you, an old bakfiets is not exactly something you can just toss in your car, even if you happen to have one; This particular example is over 300cm long, 130cm wide and weighs probably 130kg… OK somewhat less since it’s missing it’s almost 10kg rear wheel thanks to some knuckle-dragging cretin.

bakfiets op een bakfiets 4

bakfiets op een bakfiets 3

bakfiets op een bakfiets 2

bakfiets op een bakfiets 1

The Dump Tramp

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

A man travels with his home-built home on a bicycle. That’s all I know about this one. Thanks to artist friend Abner Preis for the tip but don’t go searching for his website – it seems to have been hacked into a porno site, I assume NOT Abner’s doing.

Speaking of houses on bikes I’d forgotten about this fantastic camper bike from Kevin Cyr:

kvincyr-5_camperbikeride2

UPDATE: Jason Moore in the first comment below reminds me of another bicycle camper/motorhome, this one traveled with and lived in full-time by Brian Campbell. His bike, which has gone through several iterations is ingenious. Brian’s situation though isn’t one to be envied; I’m under the impression he doesn’t live in his bicycle entirely by choice. You can read about Brian on Bike Portland, and also the sites of many others who’ve met Brian during his travels. Photos by Jonathan Maus of Bike Portland.

Brian and his motorhome bike-1

Brian and his motorhome bike-2

But then I begin to google camper bikes further and find that a whole new world has opened to me: bicyclists not content to merely travel by bicycle but who also insist upon sleeping in or on their bicycle. Take these Midget Bicycle Campers from Australia for example:

midget camper

And then there’s this one by Paul Welkins, as seen on the Design Boom site:

burning man trailer

Check out Welkin’s site for an amazing array of self-built, efficient vehicles and other random stuff.

Even the sober “doe maar normaal” Dutch are at it. Check out “Met een bakfiets op vakantie“.

camper bakfietsen

And a family from Zeeland (as in the original Zeeland that New Zealand is the new version of in the same way that New York is the new version of Amsterdam… or something like that) who used to ride their old bakfiets as a camper, kids riding alongside on their own little bikes.

zeeland-camper-bakfiets

A few years ago there was an Italian firm called “Tasso Italia” that offered (though probably didn’t ever sell) a copy of the Main Street Pedicabs trike with a pop-out camper tent on the bed but they seem to have disappeared into the ether.

Of course that’s all good fun but we shouldn’t ignore the countless rickshaw drivers in Indonesia, India and elsewhere who sleep in their bikes out of necessity and not for kicks. It’s about as easy to forget as the fact that a great number (a majority even?) of transportation cyclists in the US are neither “cycle chic” nor “cycling enthusiast”. In fact they’re people who cannot drive; they’ve either lost their licenses or are too poor to own a car, and their accident statistics are so appalling that they skew US bicycling safety stats markedly toward the danger direction.

The ash-tray bike!

Friday, July 17th, 2009


The ash-tray bike!, originally uploaded by Iam sterdam.

WorkCycles didn’t make this one and I haven’t seen it yet myself. The Amsterdam city District “de Baarsjes” is using this brilliant “Asbakfiets” to promote smoke free and butt free surroundings. They’re giving out little cigarette and gum wallet/baggies to hold the nasties until a suitable trash container can be found.

A little background:
Ashtray = asbak
Cargo trike = bakfiets

The “bak” part of the words is the same: means “tray”, “box”, or “bin”. I suppose “bucket” probably also comes from the same origin.

Here’s more (humorous) bakfiets etymology

Thanks Iam sterdam for the great photo!

A Couple Early WorkCycles Pics

Saturday, May 16th, 2009

veemarkt construction

Just browsing through the old photos here, and I came across some nice oldies: January 2004, WorkCycles‘ first shop in the Veemarkt in Amsterdam under construction. We’d cleaned it up from it’s former (extremely dirty) life as a truck garage and installed the platform that’s still in place.

The large beams were purchased new but the rest of the wood was second hand. I bought an entire truckload of used “betonplex” which is an extremely tough and water resistant coated plywood. It’s a very expensive material and I scored it cheaply but… it was covered in concrete molding residue and had thousands of (bend and broken) screws to be removed. It took a friend and I a couple weeks to clean these boards but to this day almost all of the flooring and shelving in the shop is from this purchase.

A few bikes are visible: Gustav Transport trike on the right and on the left a handful of Monarks including a Long John. Except for those big beams, the Gustav transported practically everything needed to build this shop. Sometimes it was loaded with 250+ kg of materials. That bike remained in rental service until 2008 when Melissa Halley purchased it. I’ll tell that story in a following post.

veemarkt early filming

June 2004, WorkCycles Veemarkt shop is open for business. It wasn’t busy yet and here artist friends Sietske Tjallingii and Eric Staller are using it as HQ for a film shoot nearby. I was happy to participate, especially considering the attractive women involved. Kyoko and I didn’t meet until a couple years later.

gustav and conference bike

June 2004, Gustav Transport cargo trike in service as a rolling film platform… for the Conference Bike. That’s me pedaling. They filmed this movie about the CoBi.

A Slice Of Friday

Meeting Henry of Workcycles

Above a couple more recent pics of the WorkCycles Veemarkt shop from Marc of Amsterdamize fame.

Just chatting away on the mobile phone…

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009

elyse-sewell-china-styrofoam1

…while hauling about a million styrofoam boxes on a cargo trike. All in a day’s work in China. Photo by Elyse Sewell, a fashion model living in China (I think). Her copious posts are sarcastic and insightful, filled with photos of the absurdities of her daily life as a “ladyposer” and all the weird things she comes across. Such as a guy talking on the phone while cycling with about 40 cubic meters of styrofoam. We don’t even see that in Amsterdam.

Thanks to Sally Applin for the tip.

Chinese Family Trike

Monday, January 19th, 2009


Chinese Family Trike, originally uploaded by henry in a’dam.

WorkCycles mechanic Tom Resink has been traveling through China and Tibet and snapped this photo of a family on their cargo trike in Chengdu.