Better by Bike

This article was published in 2020, in Magazine 147.

We’ll celebrate businesses and groups who support cycling and encourage more to do so

Flit Bike

Dave Henderson

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Developed in Cambridge, the FLIT bike is a new generation of folding electric bike. Founders Dave Henderson and Alex Murray were inspired by their time zipping between lectures on e-bikes. They are driven by their love of the way that cycling gives us freedom and makes our cities more human and connected.

In 2012, I left my job as an automotive engineer at Jaguar Land Rover and moved to Beijing to pursue a Master’s degree. It was there that I met my co-founder, Alex, a former management consultant who had also left his job to study for a Master’s at the same university. Things were changing quickly in Beijing and we often found ourselves discussing the future of transport in cities. We both felt that e-bikes were going to have a big part to play and, being keen cyclists ourselves, we jumped at the chance to get stuck in by designing our own bike. Where best to design a bike? The cycling capital of the UK: Cambridge, of course! So we relocated here to begin the FLIT story. We had no idea what we were letting ourselves in for. Five years on and we have our first product, the FLIT-16, in production. It’s a great start to what we hope will be an e-bike brand that people come to love.

A bike that works in the city needs to work for those living in apartments and those who use the subway or train. We figured that an electric folding bike could be the perfect city bike if it was small, light and stylish. We wanted a simple, contemporary aesthetic. We liked the idea of having a single tube stretching from front to back that would contain the battery. Early versions of this ended up looking like a deformed baseball bat, but after a lot of refinement, we established the S-shape frame that you see on our current FLIT-16.

We came up with a nifty design for the fold that meant we didn’t have to break up this nice continuous shape with a hinge on the top tube (a common feature on most folders) and this also allowed us to integrate the battery and electronics into the frame. Around this time, we were fortunate enough to be awarded a grant from the Department for Transport. This funded our first prototype which we built with a very skilled toolmaker in Essex. We’ve been really lucky to have such a great support network locally: being such a cycle centric city and having an amazing start-up community, Cambridge has been the perfect place to design our e-bike.

When we looked at going beyond prototyping into the scary world of mass manufacture, we found we needed a vast supply chain with experience of building bikes in aluminium alloy – TIG welding, hydroforming, heat treatment, alignment, CNC machining, anodising, fixture and tooling design, injection moulding, painting … the list goes on! While some of our parts are made in the UK it wasn’t feasible for us to manufacture the whole bike here; so we started looking for factories in Asia and in due course teamed up with a company in Taiwan who specialise in building ‘unusual’ bikes.

Five further prototypes were made in Taiwan before we were ready to go into production. One of the key challenges was changing the original design to improve manufacturability whilst staying true to the original look and feel of our design. The best part of the whole process was going to shows across the UK to do test rides. When people get up close with the bikes and take them for a spin they come back beaming, wanting to know more. That’s an incredible feeling.

After hundreds of test rides up and down the UK, we launched the FLIT-16 to the world on Kickstarter last summer. This was a huge moment for us. We smashed our target within just a few minutes of launching, which was pretty amazing. Since the initial launch campaign, our focus has switched to manufacture as we build our first batch of FLIT-16s, which we’ll be delivering to customers in September this year.

We’ve learnt a huge amount during the last few years and we are now buzzing with ideas for the future. Our focus is still the same: making e-bikes that are lightweight, clean looking and, of course, fun to ride.

Orchard Park Shared Cargo Trike

Frances Wright

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The Orchard Park Shared Electric Cargo Trike, funded by the South Cambridgeshire District Council’s Zero Carbon Communities Fund, was ordered when the funds arrived and five weeks later was shipped for assembly by Outspoken Cycles. The trike then sat in the shop while we worked out what to do next. Covid-19 had intervened and our plans for roll-out and engagement were no longer viable; sharing anything felt difficult.

In May Cambridge Cohousing, which is organising the project, decided to bring the trike to the community in Marmalade Lane and allow those who wanted to start using it to do so. We had always intended a short soft launch first within the community to iron out the practicalities of using the shared trike within Orchard Park as a whole, but with Covid-19 there is more to work out then before about how to share the trike more widely.

We were still struggling with insurance so for a couple of weeks the trike was stored inside the Common House and not left unattended anywhere else. Finally, insurers Yellow Jersey came to the rescue and so we were properly ready to go with the soft launch. We have 17 households and 27 people as paid members so far, whose subscriptions enable us to insure the trike and cover the running costs.

Our community engagement activity is still really challenged by Covid-19. We were going to ask the local school and scouts to produce artwork ideas so we could decorate the cargo box on the trike with images and messages about the climate emergency and the importance of walking and cycling more and reducing car use. We have invited artwork ideas by posting on Orchard Park’s Facebook page and on Nextdoor – without great success – in order to take forward the decoration of the cargo boxes. The rest of the community engagement activities will have to wait or be modified for the current times, although of course, the key messages of walk and cycle more have been helpfully brought to the fore with Covid-19.

The trike can carry four children or a load of 100 kilos. Initial impressions – the trike is great fun to ride, fast, and immensely practical. The aim of the project is to give people in Orchard Park access on a shared basis to an electric cargo trike to help reduce car usage and promote the use of alternative electric bikes.

Photography by Bike

Lucinda Price

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I’m a photographer and often, sadly, this means the car is used to get me to shoots far out of Cambridge, on rainy days (to protect my kit) or days when I have to bring a mobile studio; however the best shoots are usually those that I go to using my bike.

There is nothing quite like the ride along the river and across Midsummer Common dodging cows to get me in the right mindset to meet and photograph my clients.

I often meet clients in the city centre and living on Milton Road this means a quick ride into the centre, easy bike parking and free too! If I cycle I know exactly when I’ll get there rather than having to leave extra time for traffic jams. It’s amazing what I can fit on my trusty Dutch bike: little steps, toys to get children’s attention, my camera bag in the basket when my shoulders are tired, plus my tripod and umbrella. If I could I’d bike to all my shoots!

The best rides are on a summer’s day when I’m riding across the riverside commons and not carrying kilos of camera kit – bliss!