How delivery companies can solve their intracity delivery problems by using ebikes

December 4, 2019
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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.

Here is a sketch of my proposed delivery ebike that can hold 800lbs and 6 cubic meters of cargo (click to enlarge)

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.

There is a lot of features here, so click on the image to increase the size if you’re having a hard time reading my chicken scrawl

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
City streets have become staging areas for Amazon deliveries, when will the madness end?

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.

If the three of us can build an ebike that is 5 meters wide and 5 meters long and carries a 250lb puppet as well as 4 people, then we can build a cargo bike that can carry as much

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).

There are so many problems with this ebike design I don’t even know where to start, 2/3 of the total space is for the rider when it should be more like 1/8 of the space

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).

This ebike is getting better, but the driver should be far more upright and cargo space should still be tripled

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.

Ride On.

Amazon you could do so much better than this, build an ebike that has 6x this much storage and start focusing on same-day delivery

Karl Gesslein is a degenerate hooligan of the highest caliber living in upstate NY. His passion for e-bikes and all things sustainable causes him to be obsessed with climate change and finding solutions that will keep humanity from becoming extinct from our own hubris. His personal blogs include electricbike-blog.com, awaken-spirit.org & chestnutparadise.com.


12 Comments

  1. Streets are like the veins/arteries of life. The internet is like the nerve system. And the cloud is the brain. I think we can learn much from how the human body solves similar challenges (although not try to use it as a direct blueprint).

    We can also look to nature for ideas/inspiration, as air and water circulate in ways that people and goods mimic.

    Most of all, we need to recognize that we, as humans, are incredibly dumb/slow. It wasn’t that long ago that we used “bloodletting” as a medical technique. We should assume that what we’re currently doing (and even what we’re currently planning) is very wrong.

    A few thoughts:

    1) Use all physical space. Above and below street level, not just street level. There can be vertical lanes/tracks/channels as well as horizontal.

    2) For people, make traveling by mass transit more comfortable, more convenient, more private and more secure than traveling by personal vehicles. Only then will people opt for mass transit, the far more efficient alternative. There are times and places when the concept of one motor person/one vehicle per person still needs to apply, but those should be minimized.

    3) For goods, I think robotic/autonomous delivery is the way to go. Goods/packages can figure out where they need to go / deliver themselves much better than humans can, if we embed the goods with the necessary data/intelligence. It’s actually a waste of human brainpower (and body power) to dedicate it to a relatively static/predictable chore like package delivery. It basically relegates a human to being programmed/controlled, and we maximize our potential when we use our facilities for less mundane activities.

  2. I see a few problems in your design but overall the idea is a good one. 3 wheels & 1200 lbs. do not go well together under ideal conditions let alone under severe driving/riding conditions. Windage from the front or either side on a 43 sq. ft. flat surface would be a concern for maintaining control & not being blown over going downhill. Solar Panels on the sides of the body would be lucky to last one season of inner city damage & I would think prove pretty useless during the Winter months. Operating that electric roll up door during winter freezing rain or slushy conditions could prove a challenge too but your idea for the driver to just ‘abandon ship’ during an unavoidable accident is what strikes me as not well thought out especially if his egress is right in the path of a passing bus…..or Fedex Truck. Staying within regulated vehicle requirements is what needs to change since these would not come close to being legal road vehicles in most parts of the world. Can you imagine trying to power these with 250 watt motors? In some countries that do not have the influence of the auto manufacturing sector protection racket going on, 4 wheel low speed vehicles are readily & easily available without the need of over bearing Government Nanny Regulators. You can operate these low powered vehicles without a licence from the age of 14 if memory serves me right so why most of the free world insists on the instability & limitations of using 3 wheels is what needs to change. DHL has the right idea with pre-loaded delivery containers just swapped out when empty ready for the next round of deliveries. No package sorting in the middle of the street. Notice it is a solid 4 wheel platform.
    UPS is already investing heavily in alternative delivery vehicles. – https://www.canadianshipper.com/transportation-and-logistics/ups-increases-range-of-electric-delivery-vehicles-in-uk/1003381255/

    • Yeah, you’re right having a 4 wheel vehicle would be a lot safer in every respect. Amazon is using giant trailers that are 3 wheeled and just pulling them behind normal ebikes which seems even more dangerous to me than my design.

  3. I am not a big city guy. But this came out this morning, the same day as your article. Let’s hope for the positive and continue the electric revolution.
    https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/04/nyregion/nyc-cargo-bikes-delivery.html

    • Yeah I saw that and was bummed that I didn’t beat them to the punch. Glad it is getting out there.

  4. Very interesting and thoughtful design idea, but could you clarify a couple of the bullet points:
    5th point down “There are two 750W nominal motors that are freewheeled …………”
    last point “Regenerative braking, the motors do not freewheel”

    I am thinking that no freewheels should be involved so that you get the regen, reversing and left/right modulation to aid in tight turns similar to power wheelchair controls.

  5. Good article, although I think you may mean Intracity.

  6. Good article, but why did you not show any pictures of UPS’s bike? You mentioned other companies bikes which are prototype and are not used mainstream yet. UPS was the 1st to market here, and has been delivering with bikes for a year and a half. I suppose it is probably because your sketches and design appear to copy the bike UPS has been using for over a year….

  7. Karl you might think that bike at the bottom is a piece of shit but it’s an Urban Arrow.

    I have an Urban Arrow (had it for three years) and I ping my kids around in it all the time. Know how many times it’s gone wrong? NEVER. It’s super efficeint and long range too.

    I have an FEB I built myself with the usual BBSHD (after my 02 died blah blah). Know how many times it’s gone wrong? ALL THE FUCKING TIME.

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