E-cargo bike reduces city fleets’ carbon emissions

Welcome back from the holiday break. Today we begin with a transportation innovation out of Madison, Wisconsin.

[vc_row vc_row_background=””][vc_column][vc_column_text]Bike infrastructure company Saris is developing a pedal-assist, battery-electric cargo bike specifically designed for municipal fleet use. I spoke with Mike Basarich, director of Saris Infrastructure, about the device, which he says fills an unmet decarbonization need in city fleets. Read more about the two product prototype pilot programs and moving the device toward commercialization, after today’s headlines.

Today’s headlines:

💧 HYDROGEN: Detroit-based General Motors announced a deal today in which it would sell hydrogen fuel cell technology to Phoenix electric vehicle startup Nikolareports The New York Times. The agreement’s scope is narrower than what was first announced in September; GM no longer will produce an electric pickup truck for Nikola and it will not take a $2 billion stake in the startup.

📈 MERGER: Northern Genesis Acquisition Corp. in Kansas City, Missouri, is merging with Canadian electric vehicle manufacturer Lion Electric and the new entity plans to go public on the New York Stock Exchange.

📜 POLICY: Utility Dive highlights Rep. Sean Casten’s (D-Illinois) rise to clean energy “nerd” status in Congress and putting science before politics. Casten discusses priorities including the role of innovation in climate policy and federal government investment in research and development for decarbonization technologies.

💰 FUNDING:University of Michigan hydrokinetic energy harvesting project is one of 11 to receive a collective $35 million in U.S. Department of Energy funding to develop more cost-competitive hydrokinetic turbines to harness tidal and river currents.

💻 EVENT: The 2021 National Biodiesel Conference & Expo will take place virtually Jan. 18-21. Topics include the pandemic’s impact on the clean energy sector and whether biodiesel and electric vehicles can effectively coexist.

🗺️ JUST OUTSIDE THE MIDWEST: Climate innovation accelerator Third Derivative (D3) launched in Boulder, Colorado, today. The inaugural cohort includes more than 50 climate tech startups across sectors including electricity, transportation, and agriculture.


Now, more on Saris’ e-cargo bikes for municipal fleets. They recently completed a pilot in Madison, and the second pilot is about to launch in Portland, Oregon. The team wanted to design a bike cargo area that is able to accommodate a variety of city tasks. “That product doesn’t really exist right now,” Basarich said.

The technology: The e-cargo cycle has two trailer wheels in front under the cargo holder and one bicycle wheel in back. The pedal-assist feature gives users an extra power boost that can be adjusted based on the weight of the load and the type of terrain.

  • The pedal-assist function is powered by two 500-watt rechargeable batteries that last an average of 30 to 50 miles.
  • The device can support more than 250 pounds of cargo in addition to the rider.
  • Bike batteries charge through standard electrical outlets and no additional infrastructure is needed. However, Madison has a solar-powered electric charger for its municipal fleet that furthers the eco-friendly benefits.
  • Saris partnered with Bosch and cargo bike manufacturer Urban Arrow for certain components.

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Impact: The device helps cities reach their sustainability and climate action goals by reducing single-occupant vehicle trips and transportation emissions. The cargo bikes are also more cost-effective than cars. Plus, the bike proves to be faster and easier transportation than a car in some applications. After more testing, “we hope to put a dollar value to the efficiency gains,” Basarich said.

The pilot: Twenty city of Madison employees in five departments tested the prototype for hauling cargo such as landscaping equipment, trimmed brush, or even entire trees to be planted.

Saris crunched data gathered during the test period and found the e-cargo bike benefits employees of all ages, fitness levels, and cycling abilities. It also improves equity because employees who do not drive outside of work are not required to front the cost and time to obtain a driver’s license.

Saris found that city employees could benefit from additional training about how to use the e-cargo bike and why.

“At first they didn’t fully understand the significance of how much CO2 they’re offsetting,” Basarich said. “It’s really about having more messaging internally within the workforce.”

What’s next: The Portland pilot is set to begin and Saris will examine the data to determine areas for tweaking the e-cargo bike and its use. Production and sales are expected to begin in February. Basarich notes that although the device was designed to accommodate municipal fleets, it can also be used for other applications, including commercial deliveries.