Big Brown's pedal-electric eBike hits Seattle waterfront

Oct. 27, 2018
A hundred-plus years later, UPS comes full circle to bike delivery, 21st Century syle.

In popular urban areas where delivery needs are as constant as the foot traffic you'll find there—places like Seattle's Pike Place Market and the surrounding blocks—the familiar challenges of last-mile logistics are even more pronounced. UPS has drivers pedaling around in electric-assisted bicycle delivery trucks (trikes?) to help as the company tests out new ways to innovate in this sort of space.

The eBike cargo vehicles feature roof protection for the UPS drivers, keeping some of that Seattle rain off their helmets. They've also got modular compartments that hold up to 95 cu. ft./ 400 lbs. of cargo and slide onto the bike's trailer and lock into place, so those compartments can be loaded up ahead of time elsewhere for driver-riders to swing by and swap out.

"The modular boxes and trailer allow us to expand our delivery capabilities and meet the unique needs of our Seattle customers," said Scott Phillippi, senior director of maintenance and engineering for UPS's international operations.

The eBikes have a battery-electric motor to help them travel longer distances with substantial loads and navigating hills and other terrain, which you'll certainly find in this part of Seattle.

Anyone who's ever been there also knows things can get tight for this popular tourist destination. It's packed with stores and shops, and getting typical box trucks in and out for deliveries is part of the daily routine as well as part of the problem.

This new idea from UPS offers a more agile solution for delivery while also carving out emissions belched out onto fish and other edible wares, cutting down on carbon emissions, noise, and traffic. The hope is to reduce congestion in such areas with less truck dwell time, double parking, and other issues.

It also marks a sort of technological full circle for UPS.

"It's exciting to return to our roots—UPS started in Seattle in 1907 as a bicycle messenger company," Phillippi noted. "We're looking forward to being able to offer these customizable urban delivery solutions to other cities nationwide."

These UPS eBikes spring from the Truck Trikes made by Silver Eagle Manufacturing. UPS first put them to use six years ago in Hamburg, Germany, and has pedestrian and bicycle delivery innovations going on in more than 30 major cities worldwide, including Paris, Dublin, Rome, and London.

Big Brown partnered with the Seattle Dept. of Transportation for this new pilot program testing out the eBikes. UPS and the University of Washington's Urban Freight Lab will evaluate the cargo eBike’s reliability, design, and function in Seattle's infrastructure over the next year. 

If the pilot testing goes well, UPS said it plans to expand the route and consider additional cargo eBike deliveries in other areas of the city.

About the Author

Aaron Marsh

Before computerization had fully taken hold and automotive work took someone who speaks engine, Aaron grew up in Upstate New York taking cars apart and fixing and rewiring them, keeping more than a few great jalopies (classics) on the road that probably didn't deserve to be. He spent a decade inside the Beltway covering Congress and the intricacies of the health care system before a stint in local New England news, picking up awards for both pen and camera.

He wrote about you-name-it, from transportation and law and the courts to events of all kinds and telecommunications, and landed in trucking when he joined FleetOwner in July 2015. Long an editorial leader, he was a keeper of knowledge at FleetOwner ready to dive in on the technical and the topical inside and all-around trucking—and still turned a wrench or two. Or three. 

Aaron previously wrote for FleetOwner. 

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