The Victorian family-run business Dutch Cargo Bikes started a decade ago and to generate interest, hosted cargo-bike gatherings and picnics. They stock all of the big cargo and functional bike brands (Nihola, Bakfiets, Larry vs Harry, Riese & Müller and Tern) in a range of styles and sizes to serve almost any bike transportation need; taking the toddlers to kindergarten, picking up the groceries or running a mobile ‘bike powered’ business.
As the names suggest, Emmy and Jürgen Heikamp are from the Netherlands. When they settled in Australia, there were almost no functional bikes available so this became the mission with Dutch Cargo Bikes. Jürgen took some time with Christopher Jones of Bicycles Network Australia to provide an insight into the business and the burgeoning market for functional bikes, cargo bikes and an e-bike powered future.
Christopher Jones : Dutch Cargo Bike is a family business, can you share how and why the business was founded and what it looks like today?
Jürgen Heikamp : We started 10 years ago as sole trader with the importation of a couple Dutch Cargo Bikes by Bakfiets.nl to see if we could market them here in Australia. Emmy has worked relentlessly in promoting the business with myself in the support role since the beginning. It’s a family affair, our kids vacuum the shop and office every Saturday morning! About a year ago I decided it was time to end my corporate role at Dutch multinational in favour of building up our own business.
Today, we are the leading importer/distributor/retailer of e-cargo bikes in Australia. Representing a selected range of premium brands such as Riese and Muller, Tern, and Urban Arrow. Of course, we still represent our founding partners Bakfiets.nl and Nihola. Business is set to take off further we believe in the years ahead.
Christopher Jones : Bikes for transportation have long been a part of both Asian and European cycling culture. Cargo bikes in particular have been booming in Europe as a healthy and sustainable alternative for families in regional and urban areas. Is Australia on the way to adopting ‘functional bikes’? What are the biggest hurdles limiting acceptance of functional cycle transport?
Jürgen Heikamp : Australia is huge, but the space in the cities is limited like anywhere else in the world. People demand better and more efficient transport options. The car is not a future proof option, not even electric as the space these vehicles take up is too large. Why use 2000kg of steel/glass/plastic to move one person?
The biggest obstacle is the government that needs to allocate road space to more user groups including pedestrians and cyclist. Policies need to be updated to improve liveability in the denser parts of Australia.
Christopher Jones : The utility bike segment is broader than most people expect, can you outline the different types of cargo and utility bikes that are available today.
Jürgen Heikamp : Correct, the range has grown a lot. There are front loading cargo bikes and rear loading cargo bikes in various sizes with premium Bosch or Shimano electric drive trains. Some bikes have fully automated gearing, all you need to do is pedal!
The majority of our sales is going to families who want a change in lifestyle. The vast majority are e-bikes. Roughly 50% of the people are interested in front loading Cargo Bikes like Bakfiets.nl / Urban Arrow and Riese & Muller. The other half are looking at rear loading Cargo Bikes such as the Tern GSD and it’s little brother the HSD. We also specialise in e-bikes that fold and normal commuter bikes.
Christopher Jones : Selling the second family car and adopting a cargo bike is considered a romantic notion, but in Europe this has proven particular popular among city dwellers and young families. Does this concept translate to Australia at all and what does it take for a family to actually take this step?
Jürgen Heikamp : Well, this is the big opportunity. The one that will make a huge impact. With more people working from home and the economy in crisis due to Corona, this will possibly prompt more people to sell their second car, cash in and buy a quality electric urban bike I think. Especially since public spaces and transport remain off limits. Parents are getting tense with the kids in the house, riding a Cargo Bike with the kids unwinds the family and can turn boring chores into fun adventures!
Christopher Jones : In a recent conversation we had, you mentioned to me that a majority of your cargo bikes are e-bikes, which is a vast difference to ten years ago. Are the electric Cargo Bikes the missing link that make these viable for families or people in a ‘bike based’ business.
Jürgen Heikamp : Absolutely, the sequence is that e-bikes need to be normal before e-cargo bikes take off as well. E-bikes are quickly becoming the new normal in Australia, like they have in Europe. Today the innovators and some early adaptors are already getting on board. Once the market is ready, it will take off.
Christopher Jones : Some of your utility bikes lend themself to mobile businesses from service providers to street-food and transportation. What are the trends for businesses and small businesses in bike transportation in Australia?
Jürgen Heikamp : We are seeing some young companies and innovators starting to use E-Cargo Bikes for deliveries and services. These are the first on the street and making use of special funding for small businesses to “go green”. Apart from that they save hundreds of dollars a month in parking fees and fines. We are talking to several large companies about Last Mile Delivery. I am sure we will see more e-bikes in business use in Australia in 2020 and beyond.
Christopher Jones : Originally Dutch Cargo Bikes was selling directly to customers and offered test rides in most majors cities in Australia and have been building a dealer network of bike shops. What is the vision for Dutch Cargo Bikes in 2030?
Jürgen Heikamp : By 2030, car usage in the large metropoles will be down by 50% I think. People are finally recognising how good life and business in the cities can be if more people were walking and cycling.
Our plan is to continue to do what we are doing today and that is to help customers from the right bike for their purpose and needs. We are working closely with our partner-shops and looking to expand our dealership network across the country. There is still a lot of room for growth.