Motorcycles

Review: EsCargo electric cargo bike is one heck of a strange ride

Review: EsCargo electric cargo...
The EsCargo is an electric cargo bike for city and suburban deliveries
The EsCargo is an electric cargo bike for city and suburban deliveries
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The EsCargo is an electric cargo bike for city and suburban deliveries
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The EsCargo is an electric cargo bike for city and suburban deliveries
The EsCargo features front double-knuckle steering that is activated via a pulley using Dyneema sailing ropes
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The EsCargo features front double-knuckle steering that is activated via a pulley using Dyneema sailing ropes
EsCargo inventor Oscar Fehlberg
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EsCargo inventor Oscar Fehlberg
EsCargo: 150kg/175 litre cargo carrying capacity
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EsCargo: 150kg/175 litre cargo carrying capacity
EsCargo front view
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EsCargo front view
EsCargo rear view
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EsCargo rear view
EsCargo dual shock rear suspension
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EsCargo dual shock rear suspension
EsCargo: dummy dash could be replaced with navigation friendly touch screen
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EsCargo: dummy dash could be replaced with navigation friendly touch screen
EsCargo: unique double knuckle steering system works a bit like a hub steering unit
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EsCargo: unique double knuckle steering system works a bit like a hub steering unit
EsCargo: unique double knuckle steering system works a bit like a hub steering unit
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EsCargo: unique double knuckle steering system works a bit like a hub steering unit
EsCargo: only a small electric motor in this prototype, but there's plenty of room to put something much larger in.
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EsCargo: only a small electric motor in this prototype, but there's plenty of room to put something much larger in.
EsCargo: disc brakes front and rear
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EsCargo: disc brakes front and rear
Oscar Fehlberg: "There were people when I was trying to source parts, like from wreckers and talking to the sailing guys - you’d show up with the plan and be like “I just need to get the steering system sorted, what do you recommend, or I need to get a part…” They’d be like “It’s just not gonna work.” I was like, “uh, it’s not up to you to decide whether it works or not, I just need this part.”
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Oscar Fehlberg: "There were people when I was trying to source parts, like from wreckers and talking to the sailing guys - you’d show up with the plan and be like “I just need to get the steering system sorted, what do you recommend, or I need to get a part…” They’d be like “It’s just not gonna work.” I was like, “uh, it’s not up to you to decide whether it works or not, I just need this part.”
EsCargo: 1kWh battery pack is enough for the prototype, but there's plenty of room in the underslung battery compartment for much greater capacity or removable batteries if required
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EsCargo: 1kWh battery pack is enough for the prototype, but there's plenty of room in the underslung battery compartment for much greater capacity or removable batteries if required
Gizmag's Loz Blain quietly soiling himself trying to understand the odd handling of the EsCargo
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Gizmag's Loz Blain quietly soiling himself trying to understand the odd handling of the EsCargo
Gizmag's Loz Blain rides the EsCargo
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Gizmag's Loz Blain rides the EsCargo
The EsCargo is an electric cargo bike for city and suburban deliveries
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The EsCargo is an electric cargo bike for city and suburban deliveries
Gizmag's Scott collie find flat-footing the EsCargo the safest way to go on his first run
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Gizmag's Scott collie find flat-footing the EsCargo the safest way to go on his first run
Gizmag's Scott Collie looking deeply uncomfortable aboard the EsCargo
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Gizmag's Scott Collie looking deeply uncomfortable aboard the EsCargo
Gizmag's Loz Blain discusses the EsCargo with inventor Oscar Fehlberg
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Gizmag's Loz Blain discusses the EsCargo with inventor Oscar Fehlberg
The lovely ladies of Melbourne Fashion Week can't get enough of the EsCargo
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The lovely ladies of Melbourne Fashion Week can't get enough of the EsCargo
Oscar Fehlberg demonstrates the handling of the EsCargo
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Oscar Fehlberg demonstrates the handling of the EsCargo
A fully loaded EsCargo will carry up to 150kg or 175 litres of cargo.
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A fully loaded EsCargo will carry up to 150kg or 175 litres of cargo.
EsCargo: all-electric city and suburban delivery machine
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EsCargo: all-electric city and suburban delivery machine
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I've tested some strange and wonderful vehicles over the last year or two, but this has to be one of the weirdest experiences I've had in a long time. It turns everything I know about handling a motorcycle on its head. The EsCargo is a cargo-carrying electric delivery bike prototype with a unique double-knuckle front suspension and steering system the puts the front wheel more than a meter (3.3 ft) in front of you, giving it some very odd steering dynamics and thoroughly confusing my motorcycling brain. We caught up with inventor Oscar Fehlberg in Melbourne, Australia.

With more people in cities buying more things online there's going to be an increasing demand for quick, efficient delivery systems in the next 20 years. And while there are numerous efforts underway to bring flying drones into the delivery mix, courier style delivery is clearly here to stay in the medium term. All the better if they use zero-emission electric vehicles.

That's the thinking behind the EsCargo, the honours project of Melbourne industrial design graduate Oscar Fehlberg. Inspired by Dutch style cargo bikes like the Bullitt, the Cetma and the Urban Arrow, the EsCargo is designed for mid-range trips slightly longer than a bicycle design would be good for, and for loads up to 150 kg (331 lb), or 175 liters (46 US gal) in capacity.

A fully loaded EsCargo will carry up to 150kg or 175 litres of cargo.
A fully loaded EsCargo will carry up to 150kg or 175 litres of cargo.

It's driven by an electric motor - on the prototype we rode it's just a 5-kilowatt continuous, 15 kW burst motor, but that was more than enough power to test the concept. And boy, is it a wacky one to ride.

The front wheel is little over a meter (3.3 ft) out in front of the handlebar, for starters, on a very odd suspension system, while the front axle is steered through a set of Dyneema sailing ropes and pulleys, actuating a pull/pull pair of cables. The axle is held between two articulating arms that can move to accommodate an impressive degree of axle tilt.

"[The steering system] doesn't really have a name," Fehlberg told us. "I found a few examples of it in some DIY cargo bicycles. In the workshop we called it double-knuckle steering because of the two pivot points on each arm. It's similar to hub steering in a way, except it doesn't pivot inside the hub, it uses a standard scooter wheel."

Still, a steering system that uses ropes? It turns out, these Dyneema sailing ropes are designed for some pretty extreme performance. "Those ropes are stronger than the steel cable, and have less stretch," says Fehlberg.

The lovely ladies of Melbourne Fashion Week can't get enough of the EsCargo
The lovely ladies of Melbourne Fashion Week can't get enough of the EsCargo

Either way, it's one of the freakiest things I've ever tried to ride. I say "tried," because for the first five minutes on the EsCargo I was paddling around with my feet down, utterly confused. Everything I did with the steering was wrong, the bike seemed to veer off in strange directions and that distant front end didn't want to come back.

Here's why. At the sub-20 km/h (12 mph) speeds I was riding at, the EsCargo doesn't countersteer like a motorcycle. It steers positively, like some sort of leaning quad bike. Eventually I worked out the way to turn it is to lean your body in to prepare for the turn, then haul the front end into the turn by steering positively. Oh, and correct in the opposite direction to what you'd do on a motorcycle. It's a bit like those fairground bikes where the controls are reversed.

With 10 minutes of riding under my belt, I'd started to get the hang of it – and the process itself was a real laugh. Just don't expect to jump on this thing and ride it like a scooter! Sadly, we didn't shoot any video of ourselves wobbling along getting our heads around this thing.

"It's a really unique experience I guess, being so far back, sitting pretty much dead over the rear wheel," says Fehlberg. "Seeing the front wheel so far in front of you, and it feels like it moves before you move. With the cargo bike, I didn't think they'd be able to be as maneuverable as they are. But I did a day of shadowing with a guy who couriers every day on the Bullitt bikes and he was lanesplitting, and weaving between lanes, it was freaking me out a bit how much control he had. But he's been riding it for five years now, so he's really got to grips with it."

But why design the bike like this in the first place, with the seat and steering right at the back? "The load's on the front and in between the axles," Fehlberg tells us. "It's obviously good for your center of gravity and stability to have it between the wheels and as low as possible. The batteries are at the lowest point. All your cargo's in front of you, you can see it, you know that it's all intact, and it helps for stability as well."

There's no doubt that it's a proven platform in the cycling world, so there's every chance it'll be just as successful a platform as an EV.

EsCargo: unique double knuckle steering system works a bit like a hub steering unit
EsCargo: unique double knuckle steering system works a bit like a hub steering unit

With a small, 1 kWh battery pack in it, this prototype weighs in at a very svelte 95 kg (209 lb). That's not including the bits and pieces you'd need for road registration, like lights, a working dash, indicators, mudguards, chain guards and the rest. The mock-up dash on the prototype suggests a touch screen with navigation capabilities, which would make sense on a delivery machine. Likewise, there's plenty of room in the underslung battery compartment for a lot more battery capacity. And the cargo floor comes off so easily it's not hard to imagine a swappable battery pack to keep the EsCargo on the road while spare batteries charge back at HQ.

Fehlberg is hoping to find development and manufacturing partnerships to help move the EsCargo to the next level.

Personally, I think the thing is so interesting to ride, he should build another three of them, stick some crash bars on, and get some EsCargo races happening at a go-kart track. Sign me up!

More information: EsCargo

View gallery - 24 images
10 comments
Imran Sheikh
Good Design specially steering.. but tectonically it is a reverse-scooter on which rides sits on front tire facing backwards..
Jugen
That steering system is complex and high maintenance, plus if it fails the results could be fatal. A normal fork with a chain coupling would reduce a lot of risk.
Deres
It seems very complex for something that could be done simply, easily and cheaply by using a trolley behind a scooter.
Mel Tisdale
I think you would have to make sure that your truss is properly fitted before trying to lift a fully laden one onto its stand.
Nik
escargot = snail in french! Perhaps the name needs to be reconsidered if it is envisaged marketing it in France. This machine is literally 'putting the cart before the horse,' and I would imagine that the steering characteristics would change significantly with variations in loads. What the steering might be like in wet or slippery conditions, with no load, could be frightening, with little or nearly zero contact pressure between front tire and road surface. Its an interesting concept, but I have doubts on its practicality.
Bob Stuart
Just what holds it up under direct steering? The Hand of God? More likely, it needs the reflexes of a long wheelbase recumbent bicycle, has lousy geometry for low-speed stability (Contrast a track bike to a Dutch cruiser for slow riding ease - it's huge) and the cables introduce some looseness to the system, a very difficult adjustment for the rider, given the reflexes needed to balance.
Alexander Lowe
The steering mechanism is a variation on the 'duplex' system used by OEC for their motorcycles, in the 1930s. The U.S. inventor and independent motorcycle developer, Robert Horn, has built a similar system (but whithout cable steering) for racing: http://rohorn.blogspot.co.uk/
Jay Finke
Better make sure the load is secure, if not, and it shifts during a turn, pavement is on the drivers lunch schedule.
Paul Gracey
I see a number of things wrong with this design, though I do commend the use of the Dyneema over steel cable, remote steering of a two wheeled vehicle by any means has problems that will trouble it no matter what. We in the recumbent bike field know this well. First, as the author says, it has no self steering in its geometry, meaning it has very little or no trail for the castor effect. The steering line it does have varies with the suspension, and that means the handling does also. Although it is difficult to actually make an unrideable bike, the number of riders capable of mastering one is small. Not good for business. And here I come to the real kicker. It is a cargo bike. It must perform well either loaded or unloaded. I suspect this one is a real handful without that box in the middle.
martinkopplow
I own a danish cargo bike, with similar concept regarding load the distribution, though it is even a bit longer. Me and my family ride it for shopping and neighborhood transport. It takes a short time getting to grips with it, but then it's just fine. Adding an electric drive really makes it a good means of inner city transportation. Most people commenting here have obviously never ridden one, so what they don't know it that these bikes handle quite well with a load on them. That's why they are made this way. It is a proven concept since the 1920'ies, and I have been carrying all sorts of things from washing machines and fridges to furniture and up to 8 crates of german beer on it. A few years ago I made an attempt on building a 'double knuckle' type steering system. It has it's own set of issues, sure, though it definitely can be done without the use of dyneema ropes. That part may need a bit of refinement here, but is certainliy a valid option when it comes to providing a low build envelope for the front wheel assembly.
Go on, I want one!