The Velove Armadillo e-cargobike -why is it designed the way it is?
The Velove Armadillo e-cargobike certainly does not look like a normal bike. It even looks quite different from most other heavy e-cargobikes on the market today. Why is this?
We wanted it to fit in the bike infrastructure without becoming a problem for other cyclists. At the same time, we wanted it to have high cargo capacity, great ergonomics and be really easy, safe and fun to ride. Could all of these criteria be met in one bike?
Not being in the way for cyclists -staying below 90 cm width
Cycling is a major answer to the climate crisis, and cycling for mobility is more important than cycling for logistics. Cars are generally a bigger problem than vans, both for CO2 emissions and city liveability. So we have to make sure that we do not make the situation for regular cyclists worse, by introducing vehicles on the bike infrastructure that are simply too big. Making cycling less attractive in general by introducing very wide cargobikes in the bike infrastructure would be to suboptimize.
A regular bike is around 60-70 centimeters wide. Add some margin for swaying on a balancing bike and you need around 90 cm to be safe and comfortable on a bike lane. When you have a multitrack bike, i.e. a bike with more than two wheels, that does not require balancing, you need less margin for swaying and can make the bike closer to 90 cm wide.
Even if the quality of bike infrastructure varies a lot, this is what most bike lanes are designed for.
In the cargobike capital of the world, Copenhagen, you find thousands of three wheeled family cargobikes of many different classic Danish brands like Christiania, Nihola, Sorte Jernhest, Butchers and Bicycles etc. They do all have one thing in common however -they are not wider than 90 cm. Wider than that, they would start becoming a real nuisance for all of the other Copenhagen cyclists.
In the early days, we did years of riding on a Nihola cargobike and also wider bike trailers in different cities and could see for ourselves that 90 cm really is the practical and safe limit. Any wider, and you start having to be really careful not to put other cyclists at risk if you are on a bikelane. You have to slow down and move to the side if you meet someone on a two-way bike lane.
So we wanted to stay on or below these 90 centimeters and still have a lot of cargo capacity. And after many prototypes and pre-series bikes and a lot of real life testing we managed to pull it off -the Velove Armadillo e-cargobike is only 86 centimeters wide -less wide than the family cargobikes of Copenhagen! It is also low enough so at least adult cyclists can see over it and keep a lot of their traffic overview.
The low width also has accessibility advantages -the Armadillo can squeeze between bollards and get through most bike re-routing on road works.
How to design a narrow bike with high cargo capacity, enough stability and good ergonomics?
So how is it done? A narrow bike with high cargo capacity, great suspension and a cargo area that is high enough not to break the riders back when handling heavy parcels. How can you combine all this and still get enough stability to be able to do high speed cornering?
First, we have four wheels. Four wheels are a lot more stable than three wheels, especially in dynamic situations like when braking hard and turning at the same time.
Secondly, we place the cargo ABOVE the 20 inch wheels, not BETWEEN them. This is the way you get high cargo capacity on a narrow bike. Maximum cargo width, minimum vehicle width, just like a heavy truck. Also, this is a way to get good ergonomics when handling parcels, not having to bend your back every time you search for and lift a parcel.
Thirdly, we put the rider in a comfortable seat, at the same height as in a car. In addition to being a comfortable and relaxed way of riding a bike, this lowers the center of gravity and increases stability in cornering massively, allowing us to both make the bike narrow and have a great suspension on the bike.
Advanced suspension for a smooth ride and higher accessibility
The double wishbone suspension (same principle as in many high performance and F1 cars), with all wheels individually suspended, not only gives a smooth, comfortable ride for both rider and cargo. It also enables us to sometimes ride in ways you would not consider on an unsuspended heavy cargobike, e.g. down quite high curbs and going full speed over tram tracks.
Open riding to keep the advantages of riding a bike
We are sometimes asked about weather protection for the delivery rider. When this first came up, we were a bit surprised. We, and our first customers, came from a cycling culture, riding our bikes all year around with proper clothing and spiked tyres. Not from a car or van culture. Yes, cycling has the disadvantage that you sometimes have to ride in rain or snowfall, but also the huge advantage of riding in the open.
All cyclists know the great feeling of open air riding and all the sensations it gives, feeling the sun and the air, smelling the smells, hearing the birds, enjoying the silence of a well maintained bike and being able to socially interact with other people. Not sitting in a metal and glass cage, shielded from others.
We actually tried a few different weather protection designs with windshields, but soon realized that the drawbacks were bigger than the gains. Customers that were offered prototype weather protection chose not to use it -their riders preferred open air riding. As a delivery rider you spend a significant portion of your work shift outside of the bike, on foot delivering, so you need rain gear anyway to stay comfortable on rainy days.
What happens when you introduce a windscreen, even if you keep the sides open, is that your senses and possibility for social interaction is cut off to a large degree. We already know it is much harder to make eye contact with someone in a car than someone on a bike. The same goes for a bike with a windscreen. Eye contact improves safety and interaction in traffic -and it’s nice and friendly!
Also, even if it would seem that you would still hear well with open sides, this is not the case in real life. Even with a silent transmission, the bike still makes enough noise to be a problem when a roof and windscreen is introduced. You actually have to lean out to be able to hear what other people say.
There are also safety related issues, especially as vision is reduced. On a fair weather day in daylight, a windscreen is no problem. But in darkness and rain, it is another story. We found early on that windscreen wipers are absolutely necessary if you shall be able to ride in rain and darkness at all, as you otherwise get blinded by car headlights. But even with wipers, vision is worse than riding without a windscreen.
Detachable cargo container
One of the most striking design choices of the Velove Armadillo e-cargobike is the detachable container.
For some applications and customers, a containerised logistics process has advantages. The goods are sorted in a high capacity sorting terminal outside of the city center and the transfer to the bike is fast and secure in a space efficient neighborhood hub.
As the container is weatherproof it can be transported openly, for example on barges when there are waterways available for the middle mile.
A detachable container also makes maintenance and repairs easier and gives more opportunities for space efficient parking of the bike. It also gives great opportunities for racing and making donuts once in a while!
Bumper doubling as a handle
The bumper reduces the consequences if we should hit someone or something and is a good place for the lights and indicators. It also doubles as a handle to stow the bike around in tight places.
Nothing is so good that it can’t be improved
That is the story of why the Velove Armadillo e-cargobike looks the way it looks! We are very proud of it but also have a passion for continuous improvements, so if you have any good ideas, let us know!