I remember searching for ‘Amazon women’ on the internet 25 years ago because I was young and randy. I came across the Amazon.com website that was selling books and snickered to myself. After looking at the website pretty extensively I could see that they were going to go places, as they were one of the first online stores that were set up intelligently. I’m not even going to go into how incredibly unsustainable Amazon has become by moving more and more people toward prime and next day delivery. The congestion of delivery vehicles in large cities is now reaching insane proportions with absolutely no end in sight. This article is about how Amazon, FedEx, USPS, UPS, and all the other delivery companies could actually start being green instead of just falsely claiming to be green and solve most of their intercity delivery problems at the same time.
Before you start thinking I’m not a hypocrite let me be perfectly clear, I have purchased plenty of stuff from Amazon in the last several years and I’ve been extremely happy with the products that I’ve gotten, and the stuff that I haven’t been happy with I just sent back. That being said, there is a lot of room for improvement with Amazon’s delivery services. I also feel like Amazon could completely destroy normal retail stores by giving Prime members an option to get their products delivered slower and then discounting the products the difference between next day shipping and standard ground. This is the first way they could start focusing on being more green, by rewarding people for not having to get their stuff overnight or 2-day delivery.
Let me tell you some of the features of my dream cargo bike that I’m never going to build
- Lightweight Steel frame
- Rear-wheel axles are on either side and do not run through the cargo area
- The box and body panels are all carbon fiber
- Solar panels on both sides and the top
- The front wheel is steered by handlebars located on either side of the seat which has the throttles and brakes for the rear wheels
- There are two 750W nominal motors that are attached to the wheels using oversized gates carbon belts with a 30:1 reduction or more (not freewheeled)
- The top speed of this beast is 15mph fully loaded, 20mph when empty
- It can carry 6 cubic meters of boxes and no more than 800 lbs
- The whole bike weighs in at <200lbs
- The front wheel has a giant 300mm crank with a freewheel on it like a unicycle, the driver can choose to pedal or not pedal if they prefer
- There are separate hydraulic handbrakes for both rear wheels and the front wheel with massive 400mm rotors
- The seat has an auto-parking lock function that locks the rear wheels when there is no pressure on the seat
- The rear aluminum rolling door is electrically activated with a keyfob
- There is a built-in alarm system if the bikes are moved or messed with and the keyfob is more than 20 feet away
- LED turn signals and brake lights
- There are 3 traffic cams, one for each side and one for directly behind as well as a built-in GPS
- Lexan screen protects the driver from some weather and still allows easy egress and remounting
- This ebike would technically be legal anywhere in the US that bicycles are allowed
- The entire drive system is completely redundant, if one battery goes dead, the vehicle can be powered with the remaining motor and battery
- If both batteries die, then the driver can still pedal the bike home, although he probably wouldn’t be happy about it
- No suspension on the bike, but runs with 20-inch 4″ fat tires inflated to 20psi
- The lightweight shelves in the back would flip up to the walls and take up almost no space when they do to allow for larger boxes
- Ebike is 1 meter wide, 2.5 meters tall and 3 meters long and will fit easily in any bike lane
- If there is a potential accident that is unavoidable the driver can easily leap from the seat to get out of the way of the accident, automatically activating the brakes on the ebike
- The ebike is geared to be able to climb a 15-degree grade fully loaded, but not doing it very fast
- The total cost of the ebike should be less than $8000 when mass-produced
- Two 25Ah 52v nominal batteries for a total of 50Ah of power
- Regenerative braking, the motors do not freewheel
Is everything I listed in the above bullets doable? Absolutely. My best friend Doug built a giant art unicorn ebike named Sparky that weighs almost 1000lbs when fully loaded with 3 people and it’s powered by a single 3000W cyclone running at 2500W peak. I’ve test-driven Sparky down up and down a 15-degree grade, and it’s a little scary, but it can be done. We also built a 30′ tall walking puppet named Karl that carried 4 people and weighed over 1000lbs fully loaded and powered it with 2 BBSHD 1000W motors. I think that a carbon-fiber cargo bike that weighs 1200lbs fully loaded with rider and cargo is completely doable. The important parts of the ebike are that there is no gearing, just a tiny, powerful, lightweight electric motor like an Astro turning very fast and geared way down.
So I hope someone from these cargo companies reads this blog post and starts rethinking how they deliver their packages in intercities. If you don’t believe me about how bad it is getting, read this NY Times article about all the issues that trying to deliver 1.5 million packages a day in NYC is causing. Just 4 companies racked up 515,000 summonses for parking violations in 2018, totaling $27 million in fines. 27 million will buy a hell of a lot of $8000 delivery ebikes. I realize that 6 cubic meters of cargo space is not a whole lot, but I could envision these ebikes being used for the last mile or two of delivery in the intercity. With independent rear motors and brakes, they would be able to maneuver in very tight spaces and even jump off the curbs when they needed to (although they would not be able to jump UP the curb).
While we are rethinking the entire package delivery system we might just as well deal with the fact that 90,000 packages get stolen every day in NYC. In Denmark when you get packages delivered, they are delivered to a supermarket and you have to go pick them up there with ID. It’s slightly more inconvenient, but most people in the US go to the grocery store 1.6 times a week (lord knows I do, the Kurious Kitten Kings must get fed).
The biggest job right now in the US is truck/delivery driver. Can you imagine how awesome that would be if the #1 intercity job in the US was ebike delivery driver? That would be something to see. The package delivery business is one of the most competitive markets out there, and I predict the first company to start standardizing on using cargo ebikes is going to dominate the market within a few years.