Text: Joachim Geiger
Photos: Ecocarrier, Rewe
Cargo bikes for the last mile are now considered the ultimate in sustainable city logistics. In Cologne, the Rewe delivery service, together with Ecocarrier, relies on the use of vans and cargo bikes. What actually constitutes bicycle logistics? Which bikes are the first choice? And is the bike ultimately faster than a vehicle with a combustion engine?
If you want to make city logistics sustainable, you can hardly get around cargo bikes: for a long time now, it’s not just postmen and parcel delivery people who have been pedalling their transport and cargo bikes for the last mile. With the right equipment on the loading platform, general cargo can be packed onto the cargo bike just as easily as a grocery delivery. The advantages of the cargo bike are that it does not need a combustion engine, requires little space and emits neither pollutants nor noise. The demand from wholesalers and logistics for alternative delivery concepts is high – for example in Cologne, as the Cologne Chamber of Industry and Commerce (IHK) proves in a study published in June 2021 on the topic of loading and delivery in the Cologne IHK district.
The supermarket chain Rewe has also discovered the advantages of muscle power with electric assistance for its delivery service in the cathedral city. “We assume that cargo bikes can have a positive effect on inner-city traffic,” the company says. Together with its cargo bike service provider Ecocarrier (formerly Velocarrier), Rewe has been on the road for more than a year as part of a pilot project in the south of Cologne. To date, the delivery staff have covered more than 40,000 kilometres.
City logistics of the future: more than just cargo bikes?
Success formula: Last-mile drop-off points for cargo bikes
In Cologne, the cargo bike logistics company Ecocarrier relies on a pedelec from the manufacturer Urban Mobility, which was specially developed to transport large volumes and heavy loads. Special heavy-duty wheels roll under the spacious transport box, while the patented tilting technology ensures that the cargo bike can be ridden like a conventional bicycle even with a full load. In addition, an electronic differential supports the driver when cornering.
However, robust bikes and reliable delivery staff are only half the battle: “Successful bike logistics also requires a lot of logistics know-how and intelligent route planning. Above all, it needs inner-city transshipment locations as a contact point for cargo bikes on the last mile,” knows Christian Kühnhold, chairman of the supervisory board of Ecocarrier AG, which currently delivers 8,500 consignments a day with around 85 cargo bikes – among others in Cologne, Stuttgart, Munich, Berlin and Hamburg. The name will probably sound familiar to many logistics experts: Kühnhold is one of the founders of the Smart City Loop, which aims to make underground urban goods delivery possible on the penultimate mile.
Ecocarrier: Full service for the infrastructure of bicycle logistics
The electric cargo bike has heavy-duty wheels under the spacious transport box and a range of up to 80 kilometres.
A technological delicacy is the patented tilting technology, which allows the cargo bike to be ridden like a conventional bicycle even with a full load. The electronic differential supports cornering.
Rewe delivery service: with muscle power and combustion engine
Cold chain: dry ice and gel packs for frozen pizza
The pilot project in Cologne was intended to clarify whether deliveries with cargo bikes offer economic and ecological advantages over conventional vans. In practice, the cargo bikes are not faster on the road than the vans because the route planning system plans the routes regardless of which type of vehicle is used.
Smart City Loop: Is the tube now coming to Cologne?
Where the journey of city logistics in Cologne could go: In the future, perhaps the penultimate mile through the tube underground, the last mile by cargo bike to the customer? In Hamburg, a feasibility study has given the green light for the Smart City Loop. Christian Kühnhold believes it is entirely possible that the concept could also be implemented in the cathedral city: “An underground tube can be realised faster than many conventional infrastructure projects – at the same cost as for traditional goods transport.”