The manufacturer Douze Cycles has been delivering its first range of longtail bikes, the LTs, for a few weeks. For a decade now, the French brand has managed to make a comfortable place for itself on the cargo bike market in France (and elsewhere in Europe); an opportunity for us to look back on the company’s journey, through an interview with its founder, Thomas Coulbeaut.
Twelve Cycles, the golden ratio?
Don’t try to find a mathematical reason for the brand name. No golden number or constant of Néper to arrive at this figure twelve. Moreover, it has nothing to do with cycling; and Thomas is not originally from Aveyron either. This denomination was chosen quite simply because he registered his company on the twelfth month of the year 2012. The name was found. For fun, the very first website, Douze-Cycles.com, was launched on 12/12/2012 at 12:12 p.m. Numerology aficionados…
Before being at the head of a company employing 35 people on the site of Ladoix-Serrigny, a French town located in Côte-d’Or (21 is a twelve upside down, coincidence?), Thomas was a designer industrial. Its specialization: all types of vehicles. Through his own studio, VRC Design, he designs elements for the automotive industry, such as car seats for example. “I never really liked it” he tells us with a smirk. He has also imagined planes, microlights, airbag jackets (for Helite) and even interior furniture.
Expat in Japan
In the early 2000s, he moved to Japan to work at Yamaha. He designs for them the design of musical instruments (the core business of the Japanese firm, before it also became interested in two-wheelers and then in bicycles). “It was super interesting and ultimately enriching for the rest of my career; a musical instrument with technical constraints similar to a bicycle“.
Precisely, parallel to his activity, he began to design the chassis of different types of bicycle. In 2005, he imagined a recumbent tricycle, the Curve (photos below), which remained as a prototype. In 2009, Thomas won first prize in a design competition in Copenhagen with his MyLoop project (photo above). It was a question of imagining a self-service bicycle (we were talking about it in this article).
From folding bike to cargo bike
Then Thomas will be interested in the folding bike market. He will design the design of a compact folding bike. In the meantime, he returns to Europe. He settled in Liège in Belgium. He will devote himself to this project for six months, carrying out a market study and then building a first prototype. But there is a lack of funds and the competition is fierce. English Brompton talk a lot about him. And the French Decathlon unveils the Btwin TILT (we had it in test).
It was at this time – 2011 – that Thomas Coulbeaut began to take an interest in the cargo bike market. “At that time, it was a less mature market and also less difficult than that of the folding bike.” he admits to us. He visits players in this segment such as Urban Arrow in the Netherlands or Larry vs. Harry in Copenhagen. The now famous Bullitt is at that time a small artisanal production. Thomas appreciates the design of the Danish jetliner, but also finds some technical faults.
A different proposal
Inspired by the latter, he will imagine a two-carrier cargo bike with a different proposal. A frame that can be separated in two. A common rear cycle part, and a modular front part, with different chainring lengths. The rest, you know it. He registered his company in December 2012 to start marketing a first version of the Douze biporteur.
“He did not expect such success. In six months, he will make nearly 70 bikes”
At that time, Thomas wanted to stay on a craft project, not mass production. With small means, he begins to make himself known via social networks and a website in English. But he didn’t expect such success. In six months, he will make nearly 70 bikes and ship them to England, the Netherlands and even Germany. Welding, painting, assembly… for two years, the man did everything himself and left a few liters of sweat and many sleepless nights.
2014, a breath of fresh air in Burgundy
In 2014, Thomas wants to structure himself. Associates arrive to bring some fresh air (humanly and financially). It was then that he settled in Burgundy, in Ladoix-Serrigny. The company Douze Factory SAS was born on April 1, 2014 (and it’s not a fish).
In the meantime, Thomas had started to work on an evolution of his biporter. A second version arrives with two main modifications: the chassis is still separable, but this time more easily, via two quick anchor points (compared to five screws previously). Another novelty: exit the steering rod. Thomas designed cable steering. System which has since been very widely copied in the world of biporters (Yuba, Carqon, Riese & Müller…).
Twelve, a reflection Made in Taiwan
It was at this time that he forged a strong relationship with Taiwan and its bicycle companies with recognized know-how. On the design side, Thomas will notably work in the offices of Pacific Cycles and its “Zero Section”. It is a research and development center for brands.
The folding bike IF MoveCarryMe or even the famous Birdy by Riese & Müller come out of the offices of Section Zero (see our post dating from February 2009!). On site, Thomas sources the components and will also find the supplier for the aluminum frame of the Douze V2 (company with which the French company still collaborates today).
Logistics: the cargo bike to decarbonize cities
Period 2015-2016; we are beginning to understand the interest of the cargo bike to decarbonize cities and in particular for the delivery of last mile. This is the beginning of bicycle logistics platforms (or velogistics). The Douze V2 biporteur proves to be a perfect vehicle for this use; capable enough but also very agile in town. Only, it remains an à la carte bike. This logic does not quite meet the needs of logisticians, who invest in fleets of cargo bikes.
So in 2017 appears the Douze G4 cargo bike (see our test of the Home version). It is still a twin-carrier, but this time it is mass-produced. This facilitates its industrialization and marketing (sourcing of components, painting, assembly, delivery, etc.). Again it is a success. Even today, the G4 represents 70% of Douze Cycles’ sales, as much on the private market.
The arrival of the longtail bike at Douze
Between all these important entrepreneurial steps, Thomas finds the time to do what he loves above all: designing bicycles. He begins to floor on a longtail bike. “For me, it’s a less interesting bike to create from an industrial design point of view, but easier to produce than a cargo bike.“he admits to us.
However, monopolized by the operational needs of the company, Thomas is slow to finalize the development of this bike. It is at this time – 2019 – that a great opportunity will present itself. The Île-de-France Mobilités union has just launched Veligo, its long-term rental electric bike offer. They want to enrich their offer with cargo bikes; a two-carrier and a longtail. The opportunity is ideal. The biporteur will be the G4 (modified with rear wheel motor) and Douze will offer the longtail bike model they were working on.
Douze LT, a new longtail bike on the market
The Veligo operation will further delay the arrival of Douze in the longtail bike segment. The Douze LT is an evolution of the longtail Veligo, adapted to the needs of the particular market. In December 2021, the Côte-d’Orienne company is launching its new range of Twelve LT longtail bikes.
Based on the same aluminum frame, the Douze LT longtail bike is available in four versions: The LT-M is a muscular longtail bike (without electric assistance); the LT1 is motorized at the hub of the rear wheel (motor similar to the Veligo); the LT2B features a Bafang crankset motor; finally, at the very top of the range, we find the LT2S, integrating a Shimano EP8 crankset motor. We currently have the LT2B in hand, test to be published soon.
The next steps at Douze?
With the biporteur, Douze V1, then V2 then G4 and the launch of this new longtail bike range, the Douze manufacturer’s catalog has been enriched. The galaxy of cargo bike accessories has also expanded, both for individuals and professionals. In the meantime, the management of the company has been changed again. Associates have left, another has arrived; and not the least, since it is Geoffroy Roux de Bezieux. The president of MEDEF invests in mobility via his Notus investment fund.
What’s next for Twelve Cycles? In particular, we had the opportunity to come back to their partnership with the car manufacturer Toyota (cf. This article). You have already seen in our columns the brand’s future cargo bike, the Douze H. This new cargo bike represents a new important step; particularly because the chassis will be made in France, via a recycled aluminum injection process.
Since 2020, Douze has indeed carried out an eco-design study around this new model, in partnership with Ademe (relocation, carbon footprint, etc.). We will have the opportunity together to return to this subject at greater length shortly. But before talking to you about eco-design, we can’t wait to give you a feedback on our kilometers pedaling on this Douze H. Our little finger makes us think that you are like us, impatient to have a feedback. Wait, we’re coming.
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Douze Cycles, a key player in the cargo bike landscape
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