The connected cargo bike
07 FEB 2021
Cycle logistics is a complex business. But as the number of cargo bikes in commercial fleets explodes, how can organisations keep up?
Two companies have decided that close cooperation between them is the key. We sat down with Luuk Nijland of Cargo Cycling and Andrej Sobotkiewicz of Paztir to find out how data can streamline cycle logistics for the benefit of riders, fleet managers and clients alike.
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“Meten is weten”, says Luuk Nijland when I ask him why Cargo Cycling work with Paztir. It’s Dutch for “to measure is to know” – perhaps not a surprising answer from the man in charge of product development at the brand which, since launching in 2020, has gone from strength to strength. “Total integration is needed to provide a total solution”, he adds. It’s a principle which, as you’ll see, informs almost everything they do.
And why Paztir work with Cargo Cycling? “Firstly, they make excellent cargo bikes. But on top of that, they understand the benefits of total integration with our systems”, enthuses CEO Andrej Sobotkiewicz. “No trailing wires, no aftermarket adaptation – although that’s possible of course – but well-designed, internal integration from the word ‘go’. And that’s why our teams work closely together on development.”
On the face of it, Cargo Cycling and Paztir have a lot in common. Both are based in the east of the Netherlands and their user-clients are organisations that use cargo bikes, mostly in fleets. Also present in both companies is a heavy emphasis on innovation. Where they differ is their areas of expertise: Cargo Cycling build cargo bikes, and Paztir develop and manufacture the systems that keep cargo bikes connected. Plenty of reasons then, to collaborate.
When we sit down on a misty December morning at Cargo Cycling’s HQ (Sobotkiewicz joins us via a video link), conversation quickly turns to the pain-points that cargo bike fleet managers deal with every day and how these can be solved.
“Overall, convenience is the issue”, elaborates Nijland, “It’s all about how to make fleet managers’ lives easier. It’s important to say up front that user friendliness is a success factor in itself. And then you can think about the daily reality of having a fleet of bikes on the streets of a city: where are they all? Who is riding which bike? How long will it take to make the rounds? Things which have previously been left to guesswork. Data takes the mystery away, which translates into a smoother-running organisation.”
“Maintenance is another big one” adds Sobotkiewicz. “Via apps, fleet managers often know how far riders have ridden, but not the bikes they ride! While that’s quite important detail. How can you properly plan maintenance if you don’t know that? That’s ignoring the bike, which more often than not is an expensive mistake! With a van or a truck, the Total Cost of Ownership is all laid out already: after x number of kilometres, this is the maintenance that needs to be done. But with cargo bikes, we’re not there yet. By simply adding an odometer (which counts distance travelled) we can begin to help them with that.”
“An interesting one in that area is tyre pressure.” Sobotkiewicz goes on, “It sounds quite obscure but tyre pressure is really important on a cargo bike. It’s often the only suspension a bike has”. Paztir developed a tyre pressure sensor with SKS Germany that sends email or smartphone notifications to riders, fleet managers or mechanics when pressure falls below a certain level. The tyre can then be re-inflated – before it causes more complicated maintenance issues.
“The chain tension sensor is a similar one” says Nijland. “If you can prevent a chain snapping out in the field, that solves a lot of headaches. Data can cut through that and show fleet managers; yes, there was a mechanical issue, or no, it was something else – rider behaviour, the weather, etc”
“That’s a really good example of where data can assist people in their working relationships” Explains Sobotkiewicz. “When the data is clear there’s no disputing it. Colleagues can focus less on trivial matters and more on communicating what is really important to each other. Good for them and good for their clients, who get more attention rather than whether the tyres on this or that bike are running too low.”
Nijland returns to the theme of user friendliness: “It’s also really important to make riders’ lives easier. They spend their working lives on our bikes. With things like the keyfob proximity sensor, they spend less time locking and unlocking the box. That’s a little change that makes a lot of difference over the course of a day. Time-saving and also money-saving.”
“Yes, and that also links back into key assignment for the fleet manager,” interjects Sobotkiewicz. “Knowing which key accessed which box and when. Similarly, the Automatic Park Brake. It effectively immobilises the vehicle at the press of a button – they are all extra levels of security that are good for everyone.”
I comment that it sounds quite complicated, these bikes covered in sensors. “Yes and no”, reflects Nijland. “By making it simple for our customers, we make it complicated for ourselves – but that is all behind the scenes!”
Sobotkiewicz, perhaps unsurprisingly, agrees: “The Internet of Things (IoT) opens up a whole new world for cycle logistics. We’re here to harness that potential and make the bikes run safely, securely and efficiently in the real world. We can make existing tasks easier, yes, but there are also new tasks – things which are only possible now that the IoT exists.”
And what can we expect of cycle logistics in the future? Sobotkiewicz: “From our side the future is in better evaluation of the data. This will help fleet managers to better determine the TCO of each bike and achieve predictive maintenance. We also want to open up data flow towards bike producers, so they know what their vehicles are going through in real life, and can use that data to design better bikes”
“For us, it’s about the triangle of bike, rider and service partner” says Nijland. “Cooperation between these three is essential and IoT is the key that unlocks that. There’s so much potential out there, so you’ve just got to go all-in on connectivity.”