Archive for the ‘Cargo trikes / Bakfietsen’ Category

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 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.

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.

Bikes, Trains, Planes and Automobiles

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012


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.

One Day Without Shoes

Thursday, April 12th, 2012

one day without shoes

One Day Without Shoes

Thanks to Odin Heyligen for the photo.

The Bakfiets is Safest. Probably.

Sunday, January 1st, 2012

bakfiets-tour-bloemendaal-aan-zee 20

I had to read this article several times to understand exactly what was going on and what was confusing me. Namely a piece in the Belgian newspaper “Nieuwsblad” (means… “Newspaper) proclaims the bakfiets as the safest type of bike for carrying kids, safer thus than bike trailers or child seats on conventional bikes. Now that’s no great surprise for me and not a finding I have any reason to argue. I carry my own two precious ones in a bakfiets and further earn my salary making and selling them. Workcycles has thousands of bakfietsen on the roads and thus far, knock wood, we’re not aware of any notable injuries. Then again we’ve also sold thousands of conventional type bikes, many of them equipped to carry kids and ridden daily, and I’m not aware of any notable injuries there either. So that’s not a terribly conclusive comparison; It just suggests that carrying kids on bikes is a very safe thing to do.

The Nieuwsblad article refers to a recent test by the German Automobile Club (ADAC). So I searched the ADAC site (geez it’s handy to be able to understand a few languages!) as source but nowhere could I find any mention of a bakfiets, never mind a test comparing the safety of kids carried by bakfiets with anything. I did however find an ADAC test comparing child carrier trailers with child seats on conventional bikes. In this study ADAC compared one top-tested trailer (Burley Cub) against one top-tested rear child seat (Römer, model not specified). Nieuwsblad reported that they simply rammed each rig into a stationary object at 25km/hr but on the ADAC site they show each rig being rammed from the side by a VW Golf and report that the head-on collision was also tested. That covers a broader range of high-danger crash scenarios than Nieuwsblad 25km/hr head-on bike T-bone. Not surprisingly, the trailer tended to remain on two wheels while the much higher mounted child seat on regular bike was consistently knocked over.

Just for background info our German neighbors LOVE testing products and they relish putting a big “Zeer Gut” or “Gut” in red letters on advertisements and products. They’re also renowned for their rigorous testing methods. The bike tests run by German cycling magazines absolutely put to shame the fluff published by the US bikey press. The Dutch bike rags fall somewhere in between but they still bore me to death.

But how then did Nieuwsblad conclude from a test comparing trailer and rear child seat that a bakfiets is the safest?Good question! Well it seems that Roel De Cleen of the Belgian Fietsersbond (Cyclists’ Union) just made that part up. I don’t mean to imply that it’s an unreasonable conclusion. It is actually a very logical extrapolation… but it’s just not supported by the data cited in the article. Moral of the story: Be critical when reading test results, especially when not reading the original source.

Happy New Year everybody!

I hope I’ll have more time to write in 2012 since 2011 was rather sparse.

Road Rage in Holland?

Monday, July 11th, 2011

workcycles-bakfiets-lijnbaansgracht 2

Visitors and readers of Dutch cycling blogs might be getting the impression that the Netherlands is a sort of parallel, heavenly universe where every man, woman and child cycles around safely on perfect bike roads, blithefully tossing their rusty, black omafiets into a five story tall structure packed with thousands of other rusty, black omafietsen. And further that motor vehicle drivers are largely banished to inconvenient, circuitous routes around the cities and when actually allowed to drive near real, vulnerable humans they proceed cautiously and with the utmost courtesy.

That would be nice but alas the Dutch are human too. Like other members of this species they get impatient and angry, they sometimes have crazy opinions, they break rules, they can just be malicious asses for no apparent reason. Cycling really is usually quite fantastic here; The images you see on this blog and Amsterdamize really are representative of our daily travels. The extensive explanations of cycle infrastructure and cultural factors David Hembrow and Mark Wagenbuur write about in A view from the cycle path really are true. Nonetheless, a couple times a year I have an “incident” not entirely unlike the more frequent unpleasant or even dangerous encounters one has cycling in most other places. I’ll describe the most recent examples.

Safety First! Hong Kong Style

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

Workcycles rider Matt Ransford sent this photo from Hong Kong. He added that there aren’t many bikes to be seen in Hong Kong but those you see look like they’ve been around for a long time and they all have rod operated brakes. Thanks for passing that along Matt!

I seem to recall Hong Kong being David Byrne’s pick for World’s Worst Cycling City.

This delivery bike, with its big basket type front carrier affixed to the frame is just like old English delivery bikes. This, of course, was way back when it was still commonplace for tradespeople and delivery boys in the UK to move their goods about by bicycle. This connection is no great surprise given that Hong Kong was a British colony until recently.

Inspirations and Hypocrites

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

the bird machine poster

The other day Tom called me from our Veemarkt shop to ask about paying the import duty for a mysterious package. It was a tube marked from “The Bird Machine” and clearly addressed to Workcycles. I also knew nothing about it so I asked Tom to have the TNT hold it until we could figure out what it was. A quick search found the website of, no great surprise… The Bird Machine. And right there on the home page was the above poster (called “Portable”) of a bakfiets with a tree in the bak. OK, we might not know anything about it but it’s clearly intended for us, and it’s most probably not a letter bomb or anthrax from a Bullitt or Metrofiet owner still angry about Josh’s Guest Post or some of the 154 following comments.

Sinterklaas, the Zwarte Pieten and their Workcycles Transport Bikes

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

sinterklaas intocht amsterdam 2010 7

The Sinterklaas “Intocht” (arrival parade) needs no introduction for the locals who began chasing Sinterklaas and his many “Zwarte Pieten”along the Amstel river and through the streets of Amsterdam as toddlers. It goes approximately as follows:

Sinterklaas is the Dutch equivalent of Santa Claus. While they’re both apparently Saint Nicholas only Sint’s white beard bears any resemblance to the fat “Ho Ho Ho!” fellow in the red snowsuit who flies his reindeer driven sleigh from the North Pole. Sinterklaas is tall, skinny, serious and righteous. He comes not from the north, but by ship from Spain. Sint himself is not actually Spanish; he’s Turkish. I suppose it’s all really a lot less weird than flying a reindeer powered sleigh from the North Pole.

Stretch Limo Bakfiets Ride

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

pascal rides in the big bakfiets
Pascal the little prince in his cool ride.

Last night I loaded our freshly refinished (in RAL 2004 “pure orange”) dinner table into one of our big, classic rental bakfietsen in order to bring it home. This morning I was then faced with the dilemma of how to both return the bakfiets to the shop AND bring Pascal to his “creche” (daycare center), both about a kilometer or two from home. Do I dare let an almost two year old sit in the 190 x 85cm box untethered, unhelmeted, unpadded, unrollcaged…? After some deliberation with Mama-en-meer we decided that it should be OK, particularly since Pascal has logged enough thousands of cycling kilometers to not have much urge to do anything stupid and terrible-twos-toddler-like. Besides, we figured, the bakfiets has a top speed of about 10km/hr and everybody (even taxis!) gives it a nice, wiiiiiiide berth.

Fietsfabriek Colleagues Bankrupt

Friday, June 11th, 2010

Last Week of May
Photo by Marc of Amsterdamize

Some industry insiders, myself included, were at least suspecting things weren’t going smoothly at Amsterdam’s populair transport bike producer De Fietsfabriek. Yesterday their filing for bankruptcy got leaked and now the press is all over it like flies on poop. That’s not really surprising considering the uncanny knack those guys had for keeping the media’s attention. It is (or was) indeed a very charismatic story about a temperamental and driven Kurdish immigrant’s success with that most Dutch of products; the bicycle. I have to admit that it sounds far more exciting than “Highly educated industrial designer and ex bike industry guy from New York makes conservative, high quality bikes in Holland”. But I suppose the downside of celebrity status is that you’re even more newsworthy when things go wrong.