Source and photography: Nieuwsfiets.nu
EDE, THE NETHERLANDS – The cargo bike segment includes more and more models featuring a box made from particle foam. The particle foam engineers at HSV are specialised in this area and engineer, manufacture and assemble shaped particle foam components for many different applications and for diverse markets, including a growing contribution to the bicycle manufacturing industry.
HSV started out as a manufacturer of products, insulating components and packaging materials made from a particle foam known as expanded polystyrene (EPS). The company has broadened its horizons since then, adding new materials; many of its current products are made from expanded polypropylene (EPP).
EPP is robust and adds a more solid structure
The advantage of EPP is that the material is robust and adds a more solid structure. It is also sustainable and offers tough durability. That’s one of the reasons why this material is increasingly used in cargo bikes. ‘That robust solidity is useful in that segment as well,’ says Bjorn Plant, Sales Engineer at HSV. The raw materials in pellet form are injected into a mould, where steam is used to heat them until they melt together into the final product. Particle foam essentially consists of tiny ‘beads’ that expand in the mould, so minimal amounts of raw materials are needed to create a full-sized product. In that sense, particle foams are extremely sustainable. ‘It’s two to three per cent material and the rest is air. It’s incredible how much rigidity you can achieve with that,’ Plant explains.
The material is also used in insulated coolers for last mile delivery providers and in heat reclamation units. ‘Besides cargo bikes, EPP is also increasingly used for other applications in the e-mobility sector.
I expect that we’ll see it used in many more ways in the near future, because particle foams like EPP offer so many advantages. Product designers have so many options because it can be shaped into any form at all, and the material feels pleasantly soft to the touch and is lightweight but very strong.’
Foam replaces wood in cargo bikes
Plant staat er niet van te kijken dat EPP in toenemende mate ook op bakfietsen toegepast wordt. “Veel
Plant is unsurprised that EPP is increasingly being used in cargo bikes as well. ‘Many cargo bikes in the Netherlands currently have a sturdy, well-made wooden crate or box. For many years, foam was not seen as a viable alternative. But now we’re seeing a huge transition being embraced in that segment, especially by consumers. They have realised that it is a solid solution that offers added benefits. It is lighter, more sustainable and feels much softer to the touch. Particle foam gives designers a lot more freedom. The design can take on far more organic shapes than a wooden box, even including undercut sections.’
Some years ago, HSV came into contact with Urban Arrow, leading to a joint development process. ‘It ultimately resulted in the Urban Arrow Shorty, which is less of a family transport bicycle and more geared towards transporting cargo,’ Plant says about HSV’s debut in the bicycle industry. ‘It all took off from there. Our facilities produce bikes for Gazelle, Babboe and Carqon, and it seems that this market will just keep on growing for us. In some sense, these are the SUVs among bicycles. Every company needs a model like this in their product range.’
‘Delivery within six, seven weeks’
Besides its clientele in the Netherlands, HSV also has customers in the bicycle industry in Belgium, Germany and Scandinavia. ‘Demand is high there too. We also see that Urban Arrow is selling well in France. The Shorty is even used as a bicycle ambulance on the Champs-Elysées, precisely because it’s so versatile in moving through traffic.’
Cargo bikes for transport and family use have become increasingly popular in recent years, which could lead to a major surge in demand at HSV. Does HSV have the capacity to meet that growing demand? Plant confirms that it does. ‘There are always limits at some point, but there will always be suitable solutions to explore as well. We always ask our customers to give an indication of their annual demand and whether they have additional preferences. I know that delivery times can be ridiculously long in the bicycle industry, but we have not run into those issues so far.
We have been working with our suppliers for years and purchase constantly growing volumes from them. It allows us to keep our delivery times shorter,’ Plant responds. ‘Another advantage of our approach is that the raw materials we need to manufacture a cargo box for a bicycle can also be used for other products in our range. We have a steady supply of those raw materials. That lets us deliver within six or seven weeks.’
HSV not only manufactures the particle foam components, but can also provide assembly; customers regularly rely on this service. ‘We can handle assembly for our customers wherever possible. It’s not a requirement, but it is a service that we excel at and helps us stand out from the market. As a result, we can deliver a near-finished product. Like the Makki Load cargo box that goes on the Gazelle cargo bikes. All the separate components are assembled here, so the Gazelle team just has to mount the box on the frame.’
Particle foams offer a near-infinite range of possibilities. An example: Plant also has a bicycle helmet in his office. ‘This is from a somewhat older project, but I do see more and more growth potential in that market. I was in Germany recently, and almost everyone there wears a bicycle helmet. I can imagine that helmet use could increase in the Netherlands as well,’ Plant predicts. ‘So we are definitely looking at how we can anticipate that trend. It is absolutely a relevant direction in e-mobility, which is becoming a major and significant topic of discussion. But consumer acceptance is key in that regard.’
‘A whole bike made from foam is not happening’
The bicycle industry is a very interesting sector to work in, Plant admits, since he believes there is so much room for growth there. ‘Partly because of the cargo bikes, but there is also plenty of room for more use of particle foams in e-bikes. A whole bike made from foam is not happening, but I do believe that many parts and accessories could be possible. Like a crate on the back of your bicycle, or a lightweight bicycle basket that you can unhook and take into the supermarket with you. At the same time, there are lots more potential developments involving cargo bikes. I think that there are still many more features that could be integrated. We are already seeing that children’s seatbelts and benches can be integrated into the box. But we could also add drawers to store things in. These types of add-ons are just the beginning.
It all started with a standard box, which is understandable, but we will see more and more complexity added to that basic shape moving forward. Right now it’s either an Urban Arrow Shorty, which is more focused on running errands, or a Gazelle Makki Load, Babboe or Carqon Cruise, which are designed to transport kids. It may also end up being a combination. I can imagine you might have a bench with a compartment underneath to put the shopping in, and then the children sit on top of that. But it could also be used for batteries, of course. The automotive sector has car battery units that incorporate some degree of insulation – and that’s one of the things that particle foam is great for. Battery theft is a growing problem as well. If the battery is hidden away behind an insulating foam panel that is beautifully incorporated into the design, I can imagine that would have some added value.’
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