Cargo Cycling and Swobbee: collaborate to innovate
Written by Tom Parr – Co-Organiser of the International Cargo Bike Festival
When two of the most innovative businesses in cycle logistics join forces to collaborate, it draws attention from across the industry. Although Cargo Cycling only launched in April 2020, the brand boasts a fully-formed range of cargo bikes, including models for seemingly every possible use case. Meanwhile, Berlin-based Swobbee are blazing an innovation trail with their smart batteries and charging infrastructure.
Could this be a marriage made in heaven for Fleet Managers?
We sat down with Luuk Nijland, Head of Product Development at Cargo Cycling, and Thomas Duscha, CEO and Co-Founder of Swobbee, to find out how their visions for cycle logistics intersect, and how this has led them to closely collaborate with each other.
Thomas, tell us a little about the company Swobbee. How did things begin and how did you get to where you are today?
Thomas Duscha (TD): “Where it all started for us was with the battery. We visited a lot of logistics depots to see how they operated and what we saw was, well actually a lot of chaos! Different batteries, chargers and cables everywhere – a really unmanageable situation which made us think; we can fix this.
“We realised that what the cargo bike market needed was simpler, more durable and swappable batteries, which had more capacity. So first we developed the Greenpack battery. Once we had done this our next thought was, why not back that up with the right infrastructure. If you need to manage dozens or hundreds batteries, you need to be in control of the charging process. And that’s where Swobbee was born.”
And Luuk, over at Cargo Cycling you’ve wasted no time setting up a really wide range of bikes. What’s the background of the company and how have you managed this feat in such a short time?
Luuk Nijland (LN): “Cargo Cycling is a brand of Nijland Cycling, which is a family business here in the Netherlands which has been going for over 30 years. Nijland are best known for our range of accessible bikes for people with mobility challenges, such as disabled and elderly people, but we also manufacture several styles of utility bikes for other brands. We saw how cycle logistics was growing and decided to build a new brand for cargo bikes for the B2B market.”
Is Cargo Cycling a traditional bike manufacturer? Or are you actually more of a cycle logistics consultant who also sells the solution, of which Swobbee is very often an integral part?
LN: “Of course we do build bikes, but I believe that if you really want to help a customer, it doesn’t make sense to simply sell them a bike. You need to know what their needs are and charging in a proper and safe way is one of them. We could have developed a battery ourselves and made a better profit margin, but then I wouldn’t be helping our customers. Our way is to provide a complete solution, and then when customers have that, they will be happy and will come back to us. The long-term relationship is way more important than short term sales for us.”
OK, so what does that mean in practice, day to day, for your customers?
“For Cargo Cycling, we focus on maximum uptime, so durability is really key. We think of a bike failure as basically not an option – broken bikes mean high costs for businesses; not just in maintenance but also in packages not delivered and ultimately in reputation; unhappy customers. It has a domino effect on businesses.
“On the other hand we also keep total cost of ownership in mind too – this has to be really low. So for example we designed the bikes to be really simple to maintain. We don’t route cables through the frame. And we use sensors where necessary too – for example with chain tension – if this gets too low, the service partner gets a notification and can replace the chain before it’s too late. All of that feeds back into the maximum uptime too.”
TD: [laughs] “Without a chain, no supply chain! But seriously, if you think about it, the product is actually a service. At the end of the day it is a tool to get done what needs to be done. That’s also our philosophy at Swobbee; often the real work only begins for us post-sale. We want to keep maintenance costs low for customers, but it’s also less work for us. Thinking ahead and solving issues in advance avoids a lot of hassle all round.”
Let’s go back to basics for a moment. How does the Swobbee system work?
TD: “From the outside, the Swobbee unit looks like a parcel locker. It’s really easy to use; open a door, swap a charged battery for your empty one, and close the door again. In each of those compartments we have highly intelligent chargers equipped with hundreds of sensors. The chargers are not only charging, but also constantly collecting data from the batteries, so we have a clear overview of how the batteries are performing day-to-day and also over time. Our sensors help us to gather data from our stations so we are in the position to monitor and control the charging process remotely.
“There’s also – importantly – a safety system that prevents and extinguishes fires. And it’s IP55 rated; it’s designed to be tough enough for outdoors use. Maintenance-wise it’s modular, meaning compartments can be exchanged easily in less than a minute.
“We offer BaaS (Battery as a Service) where the customer can rent out batteries from us and CaaS (Charging as a Service) where we offer safe charging services of customer owned batteries. In Germany you can already use our public station. We plan our expansion to European countries where our customers need us. The Netherlands, the UK and the Nordics are all very promising markets due to the positive traction in micromobility and sustainable first and last mile logistics.
“We advise customers in advance on how to handle their batteries. For example, eight bikes does not equal eight extra swappable batteries. Our first question is: what is the usage profile? For different use cases, we know exactly how many batteries they need to keep operations running. This helps them optimise fleet operations – which saves them pure money. Of course, I could use the old business model and sell 50 batteries to them, but maybe they only need 30, so this is a better way to work with clients, to give them honest feedback.”
Tell us a bit about the relationship between your two companies – is it exaggerating to call it a symbiotic relationship?
TD: “We see cooperation as the route to success. After all, we are targeting the same groups. Luuk’s customers are my customers and the other way around.”
LN: “Agreed. At Cargo Cycling, our one-liner is “Together, We Deliver”. They need a bike – we need a battery. We also keep each other sharp – they tell us when there’s an issue so we can make better bikes, and likewise we help them to make better batteries. In fact we are constantly searching for partners with great solutions who can help us to provide even better maintenance, or a better bike, or a better fleet, with sensors, monitoring and measurement.”
We at the International Cargo Bike Festival have declared the 2020s the Decade of the Cargo Bike. What are your visions for the future?
LN: “Cities are becoming more and more dense and there is a need for everybody to become greener. Not only from a government perspective, but also from big companies who need to make big changes. Younger generations will choose companies which are green, that’s going to be the main driver. Cargo bikes are just one part of that.
“I also see connectivity as a key to understanding the world of our customers – data is king! It helps us provide better and better solutions, reduce costs and do things like increasing the happiness of the people who actually ride our bikes.”
TD: “The era of oil is drawing to a close, but until it is dead, we want to bring the old economy and this new economy of cycle logistics together. We’ve cooperated with petrol stations, to turned part of their property into micro-hubs. We can also bring different players together like this, to combine micromobility in a hub together with logistics. That’s pretty cool because, for example, DPD is now operating out of one.
“We also want to give something back to the city. So for example when we do set up a public Swobbee station, we could then set up a bike repair station next to it.”
“I’ve been to a lot of cargo bike factories and I know a lot of products, but the amount and pace of innovation in our partnership with Cargo Cycling is, for me, something extraordinary. I’m wondering if these guys are from outer space or something?!”
LN: “Well we’re not from outer space! Reliability and innovation are both in our DNA – and these principles are a great fit for the B2B market. Swobbee is a perfect partner in this – they are a total solution for managing a fleet.”