Extreme Human-Powered Delivery

Most discussion on transportation alternatives to single-occupant fossil fuel-powered vehicles focuses on moving people from place to place. Options might include electric trains, walking, and bicycling. But also important for functioning cities is moving goods around, and most of the above options would seem to have severe limitations when one considers the variety of things that need to be moved. How does one carry a sheet of plywood across town? Surely not on a crowded subway. But a recent trip to China demonstrated for me that almost anything is possible.

What do you want to move today? Do you have any ideas for moving goods across town without a pickup truck?

Civic transport in modern China is a crazy mix of human and fuel-powered modes. Except on freeways, all habit the same roadspace with chaos being the usual result. I photographed the following examples in March of 2009, predominantly in Shanghai.

Assorted Tools. Interesting that the guy carrying the ladder is not the one wearing the hardhat.
Bottled water delivery is big business in China, where the tap water is often of questionable quality.
It would be interesting to follow the logistics for water delivery.
Besides tools, you also need materials such as piping
All natural urban horticulture
Coming home from Ikea. (there are 7 in China)
Someone adding to his manhole cover collection.
They do windows. Note the bicycle rider helping to stabilize the load.

Do you readers have any impressive examples of pedal-powered delivery?


This video linked in the comments is embed-worthy:

OK, here's one.

Bicycle piano man!


Then there's Cargo cycles


And last but not least The Giant Vagina Bicycle Taxi in Finland


We moved a restaurant on bikes...

Lots of volunteers, lots of cool cargo hauling bikes, lots of trips. It was done as part of our city's "No Car, Low Car, Whoa Car Challenge"

And yep, I'm the guy in the orange shirt :-)

The problem, as suggested, isn't the weight: I've been on regular buses going to the train station that frequently take passengers with heavily weighed down suitcases, it's things that are an inconvenient shape. Due to this, in the past I've walked carrying flat-packed book-cases 4 miles across town for this reason. So it's certainly possible to do some small stuff without cars. (I wouldn't want to try and move a 4 poster bed by human power :-) )

You can buy something similar at Amazon, eg Croozer Designs Cargo Trunk Bicycle Trailer:

I have a croozer. I love it. I can easily get a weeks worth of groceries, including bags of kitty litter and cat food. I also have a kayak trailer. It works well for shorter boats, but gets a bit dicey with my 19 foot canoe.

Two observations, JB:

1. Interesting that the guy with the hard hat is the one smoking the cigarette (and WTF is the "No Trumpet" sign for?)

2. No trash, anywhere! Try to take pictures in a U.S. city without trash in the shot.

On my way to work this week I passed workers (obviously immigrants, status unknown) walking the side of the highway picking up the trash (lots of trash), contracted by the NC Dept. of Highways. I pass them several times a year. It doesn't take long for the litter to return.

Are the Chinese better at picking up their trash, or do they litter less?

(and WTF is the "No Trumpet" sign for?)

I'm going to guess it means no honking your horn... but you knew that ;-)

Ha! Nobody 'round here tooting their horn. We don't need one of those.

Those guys might be trusties -inmates who are very unlikely to run.Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference, as the gaurd/supervisor might not even be in the immediate nieghborhood and the typical orange or pinstriped coveralls are not always used.Road gangs come in different flavors these days.

They could have been employees of the contractor hired to mow the shoulders and median.

I have no doubt I could adapt a nice quiet little Honda generator or tiller ic engine to a really heavy duty tricycle using a few salvaged riding mower parts and deliver a thousand pounds of cargo at ten or fifteen mph on a level road and better than five mph even going up a fairly steep hill.

Such an engine will run for quite a while on a pint of gasoline.

I'm sure they are not trustees or inmates. Contractors of some kind. They are way too motivated, as they cleaned over twenty five miles (both sides) in two days and are well organised. They have two trucks, with lights, signs etc (not Govt trucks) and trailers they park every few miles. Your tax dollars at work! I wonder if they could cover more ground on bikes.

2. No trash, anywhere! Try to take pictures in a U.S. city without trash in the shot

And no graffiti, no drug dealers, no doped out drug users, no street hookers, no homeless street people, no panhandlers, no welfare recipients (no welfare), (oops. Maybe I shouldn't have said that), no obese people & no street crims. Chinese cities are clean and safe. You travel around China and sometimes you wonder which is the so called "advanced culture." Confused?

Streets (and even freeways) are cleaned and swept by low paid contractors and they are meticulous in their jobs. However if you get out of the areas that are contract cleaned there is sometimes substantial trash.

The air pollution from the coal plants is horrendous. Blue skies and sun filled days are rare. Water pollution is a looming ctisis. As is water availability.

They have their problems just like we have ours. A lot of their pollution is really "ours". We exported it to them. Thanks for accepting it.

With 4,000 years of sustainable agricultural history behind it and a per capita consumption of oil 1/10th that of the US I wonder which nation is more likely to survive PO?

Check out Golden Eagle Bicycle Engines (GEBE) on the web. I installed one of their Robin/Subaru 4 cycle, single cylinder, 34cc gas engine kits on my mid-90's Cannondale mountainbike. It gets approximately 140 miles per gallon. Spokane is very hilly, but with the proper gearing and a bit of legwork, I can cruise at up to 28 mph on level surfaces and 10+ mph uphill.

Bicycle purists may pooh-pooh this setup, but at 62 y.o., and with bum knees, I don't care. It certainly beats all those one passenger cars I see buzzing by me.

I only wish that Spokane had motored bicycle lanes to keep me away from cages (cars).

I also have a dualspot motorcycle that gets better than 60 mph. This works great for longer distance travel. Both of these two wheeled wonders are great for getting to work and going for small scale shopping trips.

Gasoline is not going to disappear overnight. But there certainly are many better ways of using what's left than in the typical automobile used by the majority of Americans.

I don't know China, but what I saw recently in Peru is that there are HEAPS of municipal workers, they sweep the public squares and streets - and every home or shop owner is out at 0700 sweeping the street in front of their place, and picking up rubbish.

As well, remember that these are countries where resources are expensive and labour is cheap, and there is no unemployment benefit. So you'll see people sorting through rubbish for recyclables, then off to sell the materials later on.

In China they have lots of little old people picking up the trash.

As long as you have smooth pavement on level ground and accept low speeds, bicycle-type transportation powered by humans seems feasible to carry light cargo.

One problem is that human calories expended on doing work beyond that which is needed simply to remain healthy can be rather expensive, if I'm not mistaken.

If it were up to me, I would assign one lane on city and suburban streets for installation of a narrow-gauge rail line. The "trains" that operated on them could be ultra light weight, with a locomotive consisting of those who are "professional" pedalers, together with those who wish to combine their morning commute with a trip to the gym.

I can even envision a "Clydesdale" on a treadmill in the front car with the reins attached to the back (and a "mural" of a driver), allowing the horse to lean forward to enable him to exert more force on the moving mat. This allows hay and other grasses to be the "biofuel".

Horse drawn mass transit was quite standard in the 1800's. At first the animals pulled individual busses over the streets. Later it was figured out that if a trolley car was placed on rails, the horses could move it much more easily because of the smoothness of the rails. Starts and stops were also much smoother and easier for both the animals and the passengers. Boys went around the streets with a bag and a shovel or broom and gathered the 'road apples' to sell for fertilizer for a few pennies. There were even horse powered ferries- they ran on the very treadmill idea you suggest.

In the early 1970's while at Carnegie-Mellon Univ in Pittsburgh we did a detailed engineering study on bicycle transportation. Interestingly enough, people who hadn't exercised very much and then start riding (commuting) to work actually ate less (study done over an 11 month period), as apparently the body becomes more efficient with some amount of exercise. Pittsburgh is anything but flat, and all 14 of us who were in the test had commutes of more than 2 miles (minimum, 8 miles was longest) with at least a 200' elevation change along the route.
We looked at the total energy cost including fuel and fertilizer to grow food, and bicycle transportation averaged more then 400 mpg(e) on a total energy basis.

Right on, Hvy. I once played around with the following concept:

light vehicle, hydraulic drive, accumulator, every seat has pump pedals. Passengers get on, do or do not pump, get off charged for total weight, distance, fraction of total energy generated during trip.

light, energetic passengers could make money.

This would of course immediately lead to embellishments such as the clydesdale, racing dogs, IC engines secreted up a pants leg- all the usual sorts of cleverness.

And, of course, an annual pedal bus race, with lots of hoopla, and the rise of a generation of folks with huge thighs, which would then become a sexual selection vector- H sapiens is at last replaced-- with H buspusher, having smaller brain and a lust for muscle, sorta like the present redneck.


One problem is that human calories expended on doing work beyond that which is needed simply to remain healthy can be rather expensive

Calories burnt while biking is related to body size, speed, bike efficiency, weight and hills but most estimates i've seen are 300 - 800 calories per hour. Large male runners/rowers/cross country skiers might be capable of burning 1500 calories per hour, but I think that is not really a typical number. 500 calories per hour is a safe bet for easy biking.

Two cups of cooked rice and beans has about 500 calories. That type of food calorie is usually super cheap. Of course a snickers bar and a can of coke also has 500 calories.

IMO most people carry a comfortable cushion of extra calories. For example even though i am not considered overweight, or even plump, I am 35 lbs heavier than when I was an athlete, and I'm sure that that not muscle mass. That turns into something like 60,000 calories or maybe 3000 hours of free biking.

Nothing too unusual - just everyday ways to haul stuff on a bike:

When I was a youngster in my mid 40s - pulled an 80 lb trailer over the Beartooth Pass (Billings-Red Lodge-Yellowstone):

This is the family vehicle with grocery trailer:

Vacations and daily shopping are two activities that really don't require a 3-4K lb personal vehicle. From a fitness POV, almost any able bodied person can manage a 10 mile shopping trip with the right bike/trike. For many of us, however, the problem is getting home without being motor vehicle road kill.

You are correct, sir. I live in Kansas City and I would love to bike to work and for groceries but I am not suicidal. This is not a bike friendly city.

Hi Improbus,

All of us who would like to use bicycles for utility purposes should take every opportunity to promote the "Complete Streets" idea:


However, due to the extreme car culture in the US, we are not likely to see a lot of progress with this idea - with a few notable exceptions aside.

I just returned from a conference at Los Angeles Metro called "Walking into the Future City." What a refreshing gathering of experts on "complete streets," place making, walking, and bicycles too. I knew the region once had a network of street cars but did not know that in 1911 it had the largest interurban rail system in the world. Also worth mention was a fabulous presentation by Mark Fenton. There's hope for L.A. (not so sure about O.C.)

Largest rail system: see Pacific Electric. And oh, the irony: an archetypal creator of an early version of what is now denigrated as urban sprawl. From the (slightly incoherent) link:

Early suburban development thrived in proximity to the railway which "connected all the dots on the map and was a leading player itself in developing all the real estate that lay in between the dots". This, of course, had been Huntington's intention. Large profits from land development were generated by the Pacific Electric Land Company which was linked to the railway. A place name like "Huntington Beach", in then-distant Orange County, says it all.

Other developments were gauged on streetcar access. The first improvements offered when Harry Chandler, Hobart Johnstone Whitley, Moses Sherman and others bought the entire southern San Fernando Valley in 1910 were an electric railway and matching "$500,000" boulevard across the San Fernando Valley, connecting the 3 townsites they were selling, Van Nuys in 1911, Marion (now Reseda), and Owensmouth (now Canoga Park) in 1912. This trainway, and hedging their bets, this boulevard, called Sherman Way, (and in parts Chandler Bl and Van Nuys Bl), confirms that streetcars could sell land in the far reaches of the Los Angeles suburbs.

The land profits were one reason many Angelenos danced on the grave of the Pacific Electric when it finally went under, and why their descendants have often resisted such things. After all, once it was gone (and automobiles came in), they were finally free to choose where they would live, rather than living where Huntington and company told them to and profited from.

Would-be social engineers (abundant in these parts) would do well to take this sort of thing as a cautionary tale as they formulate their Big Plans. If a substantial swath of the public figures (rightly or wrongly) they're mostly feathering their own nests or peddling arbitrary pet ideologies, they may find said plans failing to carry much social or political weight, except possibly as empty talking-points. (Is Al Gore listening?)

"...once it was gone (and automobiles came in), they were finally free to choose where they would live..."

I think that's the point, though, isn't it? If automobiles aren't widely available due to fuel shortages, then in the absence of an established public transportation system (eg, railroads) nobody will have a choice where to live - it'll be a giant concrete inner city apartment block, or nothing.

"...once it was gone (and automobiles came in), they were finally free to choose where they would live..."

Yes. Not by accident.

General Motors killed off electric rail public transport all over the US including LA & Pacific Electric http://www.lovearth.net/gmdeliberatelydestroyed.htm

This one move sealed the difference between European styled and American styled cities of the 20th century. And will strand most citizens of American cities & suburbs in decaying wastelands as PO bites.

In years to come this one corporate highjack could go down as the biggest corporate con job of the "Free Enterprise" economy. At least right up there with "Fiat Currency" & "Fractional Reserve Banking" (& Rick Wagoner's $20 million pension. What a deal.)

OMG. What have we done? Enron. Bernie Madoff. Lehman Bros. Deepwater Horizon. (Oh Sorry. It was a faulty BOP). Greece. Goldman Sachs - Surely not.

I guess Laissez Faire really means Keep your hands off us so we can really screw you.

Perhaps it was one set of corporate hijackers outfoxing the previous set of land barons, as cars displaced streetcars.

Here even today, there are heavy political undercurrents to where bridges and highway exits are located, and the arguments continue until the landed gentry somehow end up owning where it lands.

One town nearby was started by a millionaire spring-water entrepreneur. Not only did he build the town, streetcar, and railroad, but he plotted land and sold houses. But the land wasn't sold - it had a 100 year lease, so his heirs would have a revenue stream as well.


The Pedouins came through Portland recently so I looked up their web site. Two adults and three small children biking from Kentucky to Alaska on a 5 seater with a trailer behind. I thought it was pretty amazing when I saw them on the evening news.

I haven't figured out how to insert a picture but there are plenty on their site. Maybe someone could post a picture.

Linda Hug

For an even more colorful and impressive array of what can be carried on a motor bike in Vietnam, Google "Bikes of Burden". It is a wonderful coffee table book, and there are plenty of images on the Web. Our visit to Hanoi a couple of years ago was eye-opening and most enjoyable.

OK they are motor bikes, but there were plenty (albeit a declining number) of human-powered bikes too.


Beautiful examples of cargo solutions by bike ;)

Unfortunately not in English

Hi Janos73,

Unfortunately not in English

I used the Google "translate" button and it did an excellent job of converting the page to English!

Nice trailers.

And not a Fattie amongst them.

Hi Billy T,

That is one really cool video!

Not to start a debate, but notice that most were wearing both a helmet and a smile!

We always think that a bicycle has to travel to be useful.

Actually, it's the bicycle MECHANISM that can be put to work--like for pumping water to a village so that it doesn't have to be carried there by women in jars balanced on their heads. Alternatively, it can be pumped from the wells to the fields for irrigation projects.


Short (30s) Youtube video "Masters of Logistics"


As a regular visitor to Southen China over the last decade, it never fails to amaze me the resourcefullness of the Chinese in running their industrial economy with very basic technology.

I have attended very hi-tech electronics factories, internally fitted with German robotic production equipment, whilst outside, a factory of some 1500 employees will have one factory car and possibly a light truck.

The load carrying tricycle is truly fascinating. A standard "work trike" sells for about US$40 - and is available in any colour - as long as it's blue.

These trikes are fitted with load carrying boxes, which are often extended with simple frames to allow bulky, but low density loads - such as bales of waste cardboard to be more easily carried.

Work trikes are also used as portable market stalls, for selling farm produce or fitted with charcoal cooking braziers selling hot food in the street.

I once saw a peasant woman on a work trike, with two standard 200 litre plastic chemical drums on the back - she was collecting the waste oil and grease from the hotels and restaurants.

Recycling is very prolific in China. Many of the lower classes of society, rely entirely on recycling materials from the factory waste stream in order to make a subsistence living. Paper, card, metal scrap, and numerous other materials - some to the Westerner would appear completely without monetary value, are painstakingly sorted and sifted and collected, and sold for a few cents back into the manufacturing chain.

In recent years, the electric bicycle has become very prominent amongst the younger generation. These sell locally for about US$100, and give the youngsters the geographic freedom, that Europeans enjoyed in the 50s and 60s with motor scooters.

Electric conversion kits are cheaply available, and I have witnessed the conversion of an old work trike with an electric upgrade by fitting motor, chain drive, speed controller and batteries. All this work was done in the street with basic tools.

Larger electic trikes are also available - selling for about US$200. These are more substantially built, with a stronger frame and a larger load carrying box on the back. It would be possible to move about 250kg (500lbs) of payload with one of these.

China is fascinating from an industrial point of view. They tend not to hide their industry away in industrial zones, but it is happening all around for the curious onlooker to witness. There are a lot of "cottage industries" visible in the main streets. Many small, family run workshops turn out all sorts of manufactured goods and services, and supply components to the larger modern factories. These small shops use simple hand tools and basic machine tools - what the tools lack in sophistication is made up with resourcefullness and ingenuity.

A walk through any industrial town street, illustrates the quantity of specialist goods available. Many individual hardware stores specialising in different products. More choice and more volume, at vastly reduced cost compared to what you might find in "Home Depot" or any of the big-box stores we have grown accustommed to.

Hi 2020Vision,

I hear and read conflicting reports about bicycles in China. It seems pretty clear that bicycles were the dominant form of personal transportation for many years. Is this still true? I've seen pictures that suggest that the bicycle, in large measure, is being replaced by motor vehicles in many of the newer and larger cities.

What is your impression of the encroachment of motor vehicles on bicycles for personal transportation?


It is true that there has been vast increases in the car population in the last 10 years.

One of the most common vehicles is a VW Jetta - that's a kind of 1980's VW Rabbit but fitted with a trunk. A VW factory was established in Shanghai, building models no longer produced in Europe.In the Shenzhen area, almost every taxi is a VW.

Other car manufacturers have sold their old assembly lines and press tools to the Chinese, including GM, and what was Rover, from the UK. Buick MPVs are very popular as "factory cars".

I heard that in 2007, that 500 new cars were sold each day in Shenzhen - a population of some 14 million.

However, new cars are still beyond the means of the average worker. A factory worker makes about US$300 per month and a white collar office worker about $900 a month.

China now has minimum wage legislation, set on a regional basis. In Shenzhen the minimum wage is set at 1000RMB or US$146 per month


Bicycles are still very common amongst the lower, rural classes. The factory workers still cycle, but many now ride electric bikes and scooters. I have seen bicycles compete with heavy trucks and cars on turnpike roads. It is common to see bikes travelling the "wrong way" along the edge of the carriageway. The Chinese are relatively new drivers, and their traffic laws are widely disobeyed or not understood. If there is a shortcut to be had cycling the wrong way down a carriageway - they will take it. To the Westerner, this is an accident waiting to happen - but it is seen to be normal and tolerated by local drivers.

Whilst the communist system was supposed to dispense with the class system, there is clearly several orders of magnitude difference in the earnings between the richest and the poorest. For example the chairman of the hotel group drives a $250,000 Bentley, whilst the peasant lady who empties the restaurant grease traps and recycles the waste oil rides a $25 tricycle.

In 2007, there were stated to be 310,000 $1 million earning households in China, and 106, dollar-billionaires.


Where else in the world would you see 4 or 5 orders of magnitude difference in earnings?

I am not sure how effective the minimum wage legislation has been - I am sure that it is widely abused, and I am conviced that many of the population are living in extreme poverty, as an underclass - virtually unwaged with a lifestyle based on scavenging, and subsistence agriculture. Perhaps they have to register for work, and the peasant classes are migrants from the poorer agricultural areas.

Whilst Shenzhen might appear to be a gleaming 21st century city, you only have to go a few miles to see the poverty stricken shanty towns, built on the outskirts of the industrial areas that surround Shenzhen.

I tavel back to Shenzhen next week, I will make further enquiries of my translator friend.


2020, thank you for the info and best wishes on your trip back to Shenzhen.

I'll expand on bicycle dave's question - I seem to remember repeatedly hearing news stories about bicycle bans on key streets in various coastal cities, particularly Shanghai.

2020 has certainly logged more hours there than I.

But my impression last year was that the number of bicycles decreased as one went south from Shanghai towards Guangzhou. The latter has certainly banned bicycles on many routes (and motorbikes as well). Shanghai banned bikes from major roads in 2003.

Cars and bikes are certainly an uneasy mix, and cars are the future (for now) whereas bikes are the past.

"...cars are the future (for now) whereas bikes are the past."

Which reminds me of bans in some African cities not so much for safety, but to make areas visited by foreigners appear less 'backward'.

I regularly use two of these on both sides of the rear luggage rack for my weekly shopping tour.

When both (size 33*24*33) are filled + put something on top gives the bike a somewhat "Indian" flair, but they can provide a small family with food for a week.

Greetings Everyone,

This is VivekAnand from www.squareandc.net

As some of (actually many of) you have visited my Deepwater Spill Solution site and probably read, AND C is what I call an In Dust Real Design company and one of my contentions is:

The bicycle is the WORST designed form of human transport. Even modern bicycles are stuck in an old old paradigm and stem from a fundamentally misunderstood biomechanical schema.

We do not understand the body, how can we design for it?

I would be delighted for folks from a community like this to be part of AND C's development and testing efforts. Our design's bust paradigms in the Automotive/Aeronautic/Human power/civil Infrastructue/Power generation etc. etc. sectors.

You name it, we'll bust the dominant paradigm.

If you have skills (design/prototyping etc.) or the desire to be involved in any way, please e-mail me from the link on the site specifically stating your interest. I will send you an overview of what AND C is all about. We can take it from there.

Please do not consider this a pitch of any sort. For the kind of change we are looking at in the face, it will take a community (global) not a small design firm in Bangalore to make something happen.

I'm sure the bike slam got some of your goats.

Well... write in.

Warm regards and please do interact/involve on the deepwater horizon initiative. I've written to the EPA/BP etc. and awaiting a response.

Here is to Oilternative Engineering!


I'll write-in here, I think.

Sure, your claim gets my goat a bit, particularly after the keypost, comments and my own experiences testify to how well people have been using bikes, with great variety and success. A lightweight, simple and often cheap technology that has carried it's basic design on for over a century and still remains popular.

I'm sure there are many ways to improve or even radically alter the basic bike setup to some better effect, but you haven't really offered anything but a blanket criticism and some promises..

"The worst designed form of human transport.. ??" This makes you come off as a crank. How do you mean that statement? I'm very happy to hear 'back to square one' revisions of an idea.. but the layout of a bike has been tested and adjusted for many generations (of bikes) now, and seems to have proven itself pretty well.. not that this excludes alternates in any way.. except why make a better mousetrap when the one you have serves your needs already?

What's wrong with them?


What's wrong with them?

Obviously the crank mechanism. Any number of alternatives should in theory allow greater propulsion power from the same effort input. Also the typical rider position. Recumbent with hips braced should allow for less effort for the same propulsion force.

What's really interesting to me is how tenacious present design is. With all the new ideas developed, tested and demonstrated somehow still the old verticle rider pedal crank design is still the only popular configuration, even for the likes of Tour France competitors with unlimited budgets. Does the TF have rules inhibiting alternatives?

Does the TF have rules inhibiting alternatives?

Yes they do. The Union Cycliste Internationale (Cycling's central ruling body) has comprehensive regulations on what kind of bicycles can be used in international competition. They require a standard diamond frame. The Human Powered Vehicle Association holds races for alternative bicycles.

Edit: Didn't see Bicycle Dave's comment down below. Mine just adds in the part about the HPVA.

Bingo Len. As just one of the issues.

And it is precisely the rule-making bodies that always re-enforce the dominant paradigm.

To add to what I posted below, another terrible development was the pedal strap and now those magnetic shoes. Took away all concept of contract/relax. Now you could push down and pull up, round and round.

Nothing in nature goes round and round to get ahead.

Western design and engineering is at a tipping point. The bicycle is a fractal reflection of everything that is wrong with it. As is deepwater horizon.

I can stand by my words.

Row bikes have been developed.




They have not become commercially successful. It is not easy to balance, steer and look where you are going whilst performing such manoeuvres. Recumbents are successful in Europe, where road design makes the conflict between car and bike less of an issue.

If there was a any easy, cheap design of human powered transport that was significantly better than a standard bike, I would have ridden it by now...

If they would use what they, want they would end up using something like this


One other great Dutch invention ;)

:-) Awesome!


His website design is vintage 1994. He's just trying to get attention. Move along.


Greetings Joules,

Apologies for butting into your post. And yes, my web-design skills lag my industrial design skills by a mile and a bit. If you were an engineering shaman, with little interest in commercial activity, had a eureka moment about the biggest threat facing the world today, by a mile, wanted to get the idea right to the top of a clearly noisy environment, with hundreds of claims pouring in regarding ideas to do this and that, what would you do Joules? Call BP? Call FEMA? Hey, I'm from bangalore, an engineering and design shaman and I have the answer. Doesn't work that way, so my circa 1994 web-site. An attempt at meme generation. And a good meme needs CONtractors and DEtractors, so your detraction is absolutely welcome.

To answer what is wrong with current bicycle design?

Simple: And please understand, I'm talking about a revisionist view of human biomechanics here.

The problem with most/all design today is that it puts the human body in it's most disadvantageous position for the efficient application/transfer of force. With your derrière on a seat, both the top and bottom half of your body have ZERO leverage to do any useful work. Remember, true leverage needs a fulcrum. And strong leverage needs a fixed fulcrum. Can you push or pull anything firmly while seated in the classic western legs hanging position?

So, if you really want to push, you have to stand. Lock your feet or your hands and then do useful work.

I of course have a fully designed solution for the above, but let me point one more defect, of many.

Our legs were not designed to do the circular motion that the crank makes us go through. It is bad for the hips. And no, I'm not saying the crank should be elleptic somehow or any such thing.

Our legs were designed, from the feet up or the hips down for a forward and back motion, where the feet, if seen sideways would form a figure of eight for one full cycle. Not circular but elleptic. All peds, bi/quadri etc., who have to push against something (earth/other surface) to propel themselves forward, have the same joint structure.

The elleptic also gives the involved musculature the correct sequence of contract/relax, contract/relax.

Food for thought? Be happy to go deeper if anyone feels so called.

Let me end by saying that there is a very specific body-type for whom the bicycle is ideal, especially the current western bicycle design. That is why for most folks, bicycling is a struggle.

I've lived in Marin county CA for years, it is a famous road and mt. biking territory and have discussed these ideas with semi-pro and pro riders.

There is a flash of appreciation before the dominant paradigm kicks right back it.

I look forward to your comments.

Or Joules, I'll happily leave your thread.

Funny, someone up there called me a crank. Hope the pun was intended! :-)

Regards all around,


OK, I was a bit harsh.

But you can't just show up and make claims about solving the world's design problems (bicycles to spewing oil wells) without giving a better impression of your skills. I'm generally open to against-the-grain approaches, but there are so many to choose from that I don't have time to dig very deep before deciding to move on.
document (or file) some patent claims and then show your stuff. Don't disappoint people when they do come and look, though.

Regarding bicycles, one design feature of a more vertical stance is heightened (!) visibility. Very important in an urban area, both to see and be seen.

Thanks Joules.

As you can imagine, someone like me comes up against huge resistance when I make my claims. And believe it or not, I come up against even huger resistance when I've shown people my work. It goes so against the grain of accepted engineering practices that people feel threatened.

And I'm speaking of the highest up in mega billion dollar corporations. I've even shown them how my designs can be seamlessly fed into the design chain, no disruption. But it is not an easy place for most people to stand and discuss what I'm saying. It threatens the very basis(comfort) on which their lives have been built.

And again, I ask that you make a stretch and put yourself in my shoes. Should I play small to get heard? that would destroy the very unforgiving honesty and self-examination that has brought me this new pair of eyes.

So communication is an issue. Here in India, where we borrow all our designs, even harder.

So, I'm trying to dribble things out, hints about this and that (also, insights such as mine if splashed across a forum even such as this will be diluted by derision, and there is no point denying that, because mother culture if I may quote Ishmael, is a powerful drug).

And patents, even in the US are quite fraudelant. I was a part of the silicon valley in it's boom days and filed a patent for what I called Zero Latency Commerce. The USPTO cashed my cheque and that is the last I have heard or could get out of them. There is no record of it's submission and I can tell you that the patent I had written underlies a vast amount, either directly or through improvement upon, commerce and communication as it runs on the web today. As an immigrant, getting through to them proved even harder. Did someone pay to bury it? I wonder. Couldn't care anyways.

For a changemaker like me, it's hard to hide (feel compelled to share) and hard to share (most often misunderstood).

Thanks for the oil drum and you and the rest of the intelligent folks here to give room to debate things that matter.

Regards all around,


Squarely back to bicycles for a moment though.

I'll preface this part by saying that as a people, we have become far too complacent about "collateral damage".

If we take the number of injuries/deaths for bicycle riders worldwide, can we still say they are the best form of human transport ever developed?

I tried researching the same for a number but only came up with this one interesting looking page:


And also:


But here in India, I need no statistics. People on bicycles are maimed or killed everyday by the hundreds on a bicycle.

And helmets (in general) but specifically for bikes are a joke and do not work in tropical countries anyways.

So, why aren't bikes designed for safety? I say that is a big issue with bikes. And it is not hard to make that change. In fact, I have it, done.

Of course if we include the bastard stepchild of the humble bicycle, the motorcycle/motorscooter, which only compounded all the poor design features of the bike, now only heavier, faster and even more unsafe, the figures go stratospheric.

But back to bikes. Ever seen a peloton at the tour de France crash? Ouch! Even the best of the best have no chance, tied as they are to their beasts by their foot magnetic shoe binder things.

Also, Why should the inherent stability of a transport medium be so dependent on surface? A wafer thin contact patch on unsure surfaces and poorly understood mechanics to begin with makes for a potent brew.

Look at us, or animals, we are inherently stable and able to stabilize when surface changes occur. So should our designs be such.

A trike you say? Hard to ride. Very hard to control. Very very strange behaviour. I'm Indian, have driven and riddden rickshaws. The trike is also not the answer to either safety or control.

Hmmmm..... lots more to say.......

Recumbents have several features that make them inherently safer. Less far to fall, no chance of going over the handlebars, and if you do collide with a vehicle, it is feet first!

Traditional trikes are tricky, especially small wheeled ones, but recumbent trikes (especially tadpole designs) are remarkable stable once you get used to them, due to the very low centre of gravity.

This is my favourite vehicle:


It has three wheels but handles a bit like a two wheeler, leaning into corners. Once you master the handling, it is extremely manouverable, and softens the blows even over rough ground. Motor traffic takes one look and drives very carefully around you.

Not for beginners...

Greetings Ralph,

All of the problems you mention re. recumbents (difficult to master being the primary one) and trikes are precisely the I am getting at.

Why do most things we make/design require mastery or rather, even more broadly, need us to bend to their will, instead of being tune-able and flexible in design and inherently safe and stable?

Such designs are possible, but not in the current context of what passes as design.

We are stuck in an old old rut! Metaphorically, literally and figuratively.

Hi Ralph,

recumbent trikes (especially tadpole designs) are remarkable stable once you get used to them, due to the very low centre of gravity

I think the average person has little awareness of how trikes have evolved over the last 10 years or so. We regularly approach 40 mph going down a hill from our daily coffee/shopping run. The trike is completely stable and requires almost no prior skill to master. Wife and I ride a Greenspeed similar to this:

And, this is one of my favorite single trikes (might even own one someday :-)):


I think most tadpole (2 wheels in the front) trikes can be ridden easily by almost anyone with basic mobility. However, I strongly suggest highly visible flags.

Are people killed because of accidents with cars or bike - bike accidents?

I have been to India and people drive like crazy ;)

Please do not hold that against the bike, hold it against the car...

Hi Janos,

Actually if you follow the links to accident stats above, in the US, deaths per mile for bikes are higher than for cars.

And yes, agree re. crazy Indian traffic, but I'm basically trying to point out the inherent design flaws in bike design. From a Zen, not this, not this perspective.

Bikes are inherently unstable (cannot stand still on their own two tires), stability during movement is SOLELY due to gyroscopic action of wheels.

Does a bike design reflect the fact that it is a human astride twin gyros? Absolutely not.

The big advantage from a human is that he comes well designed and has two quick acting stabilizers as standardized part of the design.

Part of the problems with biking (and I can imagine specially in the US) people (in cars) are not used to them. So when they are going to buy a bottle of milk taking their 2500 kg SUV they do not take into consideration there might me somebody doing shopping on a 15 kg bike taking 20 kg of groceries in a trailer.

Of course after they hit your trailer they will complain to you that you are taking their space on the road ;)

BTW if you feel uncomfortable on a two wheel bike take a three wheel one like the one from bicycle Dave, i'm sure people on bikes will not laugh at you and most probably ask you about the gearing and ask if they can take a ride.

Hi JoulesBurn,

feature of a more vertical stance is heightened (!) visibility

At this stage in my life (back, neck, wrists issues), I can only ride longer distances on a recumbent bike/trike. However, for shopping trips under 10 miles I have a cheap mountain bike that I use to pull a trailer. A five mile ride to the shopping center with a rest before returning home does not cause any real physical problems. But, getting run over by a car would definitely be a "physical" problem! When riding into most shopping centers, I find the upright bike to be an advantage for just the reason you suggest.

The bicycle, in all its variations, is the BEST designed form of human transport.

lengould: It is my understanding that the TF does not allow recumbent bikes.

Article 3 – Authorised types of Bicycles
(art.1.3.001 à 1.3.025)
Only standard bicycles are allowed on in-line (road) stages.
The use of specialised bicycles is allowed for time trial stages, as long as they comply
with the provisions of articles 1.3.001 to 1.3.025 of UCI general regulations.

UCI is Union Cycliste Internationale.

The articles 1.3.... appear to be an extremely detailed set of regulations - number of spokes, etc. I don't really know much about this. However, it is obvious that the regulations have changed many times to allow things like carbon fiber frames, aero bars, spoke types, etc. But, it seems that it still comes down to what us common folks would consider to be a standard upright type of bike.

Nothing as interesting as the vagina bike
http://urbanvelo.org/giant-vagina-bike-taxi/ (where do you sit). But the Xtracycle is now Open Source, so you can fabricate yourself, and distribute to friends and customers.
The attachment seems genuinely useful, some amazingly heavy loads can be carted.

Rickshaws in Old Dhaka, Bangladesh

Loudspeaker rickshaw

n lanes of rickshaws

Hi Matt,

Unfortunately, in many parts of the world (I saw this in India) the bicycle rickshaw has been largely replaced with motorized "auto rickshaws"


The original bicycle was the Dandy Horse.

My understanding is that it was a poor man's horse, and so emulated the position of a man on a horse.
Astride and upright.
This is the worst possible position from an aerodynamic point of view.
And when you only have 200 watts Scource then resistance of any sort is a biggie.

This is why I am waiting for someone to produce a chainless muscle/electric recumbent.

man, a short trip down a bumpy cart truck and aerodynamics are going to be the last thing on his mind.

Let's get serious.
A decent suspension system.
They have them on French cars like the Citroen.
You Americans should try them.
They float across irregularities.

bikesatwork.org has lots of heavy duty bike trailers that can be configured in quite a few ways;

And then there are dedicated workbikes, as others have noted above;

Of course, there are much more extreme examples, which may seem funny now, but which will become more commonplace throughout the world;

Hi all,

if you want to see what CAN be transported with a bike, check out these amazing pics:


or just google "Lords of logistics" for more :)

Where there's a willie, there's a way.

When I was crossing the Nullarbor in Australia three years ago I passed a young woman pedaling a heavily laden bicycle (perhaps 200 pounds, mainly in packs each side of the rear wheel. If I recall correctly, it was east of Balladonia, and she had about a hundred miles to the next food or water. The temperature at the time was about 90F.

Another picture I have in my memory demonstrated the possibilities for muscle-powered (but not human-powered) transport. It was in 1979, I think, in Karachi, Pakistan. The vehicle was originally a truck, probably designed for about a five ton load, with the cab, engine and transmission removed, leaving the flat-top tray and four wheels. Two long shafts, which appeared to be metal tubing, extended out the front, with some kind of linkage to the steering mechanism. The power unit was a single camel. When I saw it, this vehicle was travelling along a main road at about 10-15mph, carrying a load of twenty foot long rebar, probably about five tons. The road was level and smooth.

Omg, those people are really extreme, bike delivery was awesome and ecologic, so cool , man thanks for great video and photos, interesting thing, but in my local place, we use only cars, to deliver, really so cool,and how much it cost?? :) great service by the way...

Amanda VoIP

Japan at one time had "human powered railways". I don't personally see them as being efficient, but they were certainly interesting!

We live in a Mexican village where some people we know do not have cars but use horses (farming, dairy enterprises). Perhaps 100 horses/day pass by on these cobblestone streets.

I grew up raising/training horses (barrels, reining) in Montana, won prizes on them, but was put off by methods of force - not only dangerous, but one has no true working bond with an animal constrained by force.

A year ago we bought two horses, and due to an injury of my hand, learned about liberty training - one trains the horse on the ground first, no rope, no tack - by calling on their herd instincts and mimicking the way horses maintain their own remarkable societies in the wild.

After going through endless websites, buying too many books/DVDs on the subject, I can share some links here to show the results of the new movement in "natural horsemanship" (a lot of which is actually just different methods of force such as round penning).

Due to an injury of my hand, I spent four months with a young horse at liberty - one uses food to influence behavior together with body language and - shocker - just hanging out with the horse, asking nothing of him, and gently getting acquainted. I could have him circle me, back up alongside me, back up when I stood behind him, send him to jump something or circle a tree, and all kinds of things. Once I recovered, I was astonished to find that my communication with him on the ground at total liberty resulted in a horse that "knew" how to rein when I mounted him.

I realize horses are not for everyone, and certainly not urban society, but if the oil spill has you down, these video links of two of my favorites might lift your spirits:




Then there's always the ever popular "Beer Bike"


The Viet Cong used modified bycicles on the ho chi minh trail extensively. If you take a look here;


and scroll down to the 5th photo you can see a group of modified pushbikes with loads attached.


Very much in use in Berlin.

Couple of hundred kilos no problems.