EcoCaddy is certainly not a traditional bicycle business. But at merely four years old, this company will be employing up to 60 people this summer, pedalling their unique machines.
EcoCaddy was founded by Adelaide resident Daniels Langeberg, in total contrast to the career that he’d planned for himself.
“I come from an urban design background,” Daniels explained. “I received first class honours in Urban and Regional Planning from Uni SA then a Graduate Diploma in Urban Design from Melbourne University.”
Daniels then moved to China where he was based in Shanghai for about two years as an urban designer with a keen focus upon sustainable transport systems, liveability and how design can minimise climate change.
“I thought that was going to be my career,” he recalled. “But I also started to get involved in start-up businesses because my housemate at that time started a bike manufacturing company called Factory 5. He specialised in fixed gear bikes. I started to race these around China which got me connected with the bike industry.
“I got to meet both westerners and locals who had started bicycle stores in China. I met manufacturers of rims, frames and eventually the company that builds the trike that we use, the EcoCaddy.
“I was captivated by that product. This was the thing that I was looking for, although I didn’t really know it at the time.
“I realised it had the power to transform and the reason I got into urban design was to make cities better. But I was disenchanted by the bureaucracy of urban planning.”
Daniels returned to his home in Adelaide, wondering what to do next. In late 2013 he decided that Adelaide could be a place where EcoCaddy’s could be used every day.
“EcoCaddy is a micro mobility service,” he explained. “At the core of our offering we use these hybrid electric vehicles. They’re pedicabs made out of steam-pressed bamboo and space grade aluminium with off the shelf components including an electric motor.
“We employ staff to move people and goods around the city. We either do that from A to B or we do tours for international, interstate and local visitors.
“We use advertising as the basis of our revenue stream. It enables us to be competitive and enter into markets that would otherwise be difficult because of their small margins, such as deliveries. We have built up a brand which is trusted in the community.”
Like almost every marketplace, there were already competitors operating in Adelaide when EcoCaddy entered the market.
“Initially I had two vehicles, then I scaled up to seven,” Daniels recalled. “The competitors left the market. You could say that we were undercutting them because our business model was different, aimed at getting repeat business. We were offering a low cost public transport service while our competitors were banking on the fact that it was a novel experience and charging a premium.
“We are in mobility as a service. We’re a last mile delivery company. We’re a short trip transport micro mobility company. We are a tourism service. We’re an advertising service and we’re looking to do a lot more as well.
“Our bikes are too expensive for the everyday person to consider them as a substitute for a second car. Car companies are looking at ride share. We’re the same. We’re like a taxi service.
“Our bikes are built in Shanghai China, disassembled and shipped over here and then heavily retrofitted with on our own parts. They cost over $20,000 per vehicle including all of the technology added. We’ve converted a dumb piece of equipment into smart trike in terms of GPS, cameras and so on to provide a safer platform to the staff and passengers.”
The bikes are limited to 25 kph. They conform to the European pedalec standard EN15194 and have a motor that’s highly torqued but it still only 250 watts. Despite their high cost, the machines that Daniels chose almost sent him broke before he was able to resolve mechanical issues.
“At first they required a lot of service,” he said. “They were lemons! I almost lost the company because there were fundamental flaws in the design.
“We were spending upwards of 50 hours per week maintaining just seven vehicles. Now we’re spending around six hours per week maintaining 22 vehicles. It has been an exponential improvement. The first bikes just weren’t built to withstand our potholes and the torque loads.
For now, Daniels is focussed on the Adelaide market, but longer term he would like to gain a foothold in the eastern state capitals.
“We’ve rolled out into Melbourne on an intermittent basis,” he revealed. “Melbourne’s a sizeable market compared to Adelaide. There are many opportunities for us.”
Daniels has some overlap with the traditional Australian bicycle market, as well as another new player. He continued, “We have wholesale accounts in Australia but we also get specialised components direct from the manufacturers.
“We’re starting to work with Ride Australia. It’s the only e-scooter company founded and operated by an Australian. Last time I counted there were over 60 e-scooter companies worldwide. Ride operate in the same space as EcoCaddy, last and first mile solutions.
“We’re using an EcoCaddy articulated trailer and platform to rebalance (move scooters to where they’re needed) and battery swap. That’s a world first. All the other scooters require the scooter to be taken somewhere to be charged.
“Ride approached us and said, ‘We’d love to work with you.’ They hadn’t got the permit yet, so we helped with the process. Ride was founded in Melbourne but mainly operates in Adelaide so far.”
Between doing sponsor funded activations at major events, transporting commuters, joy rides for tourists, rebalancing and battery swapping scooters and last mile freight delivery, EcoCaddy has a wide variety of work to keep them busy.
The day The Latz Report visited was a cold, wet, winter’s weekday late afternoon and only one vehicle was out on the road. But the workload varies greatly through the week and depending upon the weather. The bikes are equipped with lights and can work well into the evenings.
“We currently have 25 riders,” said Daniels. “This will balloon to 60 riders in peak season which is the first summer that we’ll have 22 EcoCaddy’s on the road. It takes a lot of people to fill the shifts!”