Cycle Couriers vs. Van Couriers: Pros and Cons of a cargo bike

If Last Mile Leeds are to make cargo bikes the delivery method of choice for Leeds city centre deliveries we must reinvent the cycle courier as a realistic alternative to the van courier.

To this end, I spent two days with a van courier for one of the big international courier firms this week. It was a great insight into the challenges of their job, and the constraints they work under and has helped me to identify the advantages (and some disadvantages) a cycle courier riding a large capacity cargo bike would have over the driver of a traditional transit van.

Advantages of Cargo Bikes

  • The large majority of deliveries we completed could have been carried easily in a cargo bike. Indeed I would suggest that our cargo bikes could have carried 80% of the deliveries we made at one time.
  • Delivery deadlines and pickups which cannot be made before a certain time, mean that delivery routes must double back and couriers may on occasion visit the same customer twice in a single day. Bikes are better able to negotiate the leeds city centre, against the clockwise traffic flow of the city centre loop.
  • The pedestrian precinct is off-limits to motor vehicles between 10.30am and 4.30pm. Not so for bikes which can be wheeled to any premises, even within the covered quarters.
  • Parking. Even when access is straightforward, vans must spend time parking, maneuvering and turning and they often park some distance from the reception or delivery entrance. Bikes are able to pull up right outside, and pull away just as quickly without obstructing clients or customers.
  • In Leeds city centre deliveries were rarely further than ½ a mile apart. Vans offered no advantages in terms of shorter journey times, even when traffic or one-way streets allowed.
  • Cargo bikes can operate efficiently from city centre locations. If our cargo bikes must return to our depot to pick up additional deliveries (either newly arrived or beyond their capacity) this is a short trip – all the shorter for a bike. Vans are typically away from the depot for the duration of the day.

Disadvantages of Cargo Bikes

  • About 20% of our deliveries or collections were either beyond the capacity of a cargo bike, or if carried would limit the ability of the bike to carry other deliveries.
  • Customers (even regular customers) are not predictable. One day they may have a single envelope and the next 20 large boxes— the former easily delivered by bike the latter would require a van.  This means that where this unpredictability exists, a bike can only supplement a van, rather than replace it.
  • This is particularly the case when collecting from customers, as such pickups rarely give an indication of volume. Therefore the ability of a bike to collect may not be confirmed until actually in front of the customer.

Cargo bikes clearly have their place, but are limited by their capacity. Large capacity cargo trikes, such as the Cycle Maximus, do exist that would accommodate loads equal to a small van, but these would lose some of the maneuverability of a two-wheeler and are usually required to operate as part of a mixed fleet. Such bikes are on our horizon, but as yet are not an imminent purchase.

Bullitt Cargo bikes, 3 years on « Buffalo Bill’s Bicycle Blog

Here is an interesting review of the Bullitt having been used for the heavy lifting of commercial cycle courier work, for 3 years. It does suggest that Last Mile Leeds has bought the right bike for the job, though may need to address the design of our cargo boxes sooner rather than later. Look out for us in Leeds, delivering documents and small packets on behalf of a large international courier, as part of a pilot project beginning next week.

Bullitt Cargo bikes, 3 years on « Buffalo Bill’s Bicycle Blog.

Leeds Cycle Couriers or Leeds Cycle Delivery

Lets face it Cycle Couriers don’t have the best of reputations…

They are all Gung-ho, red-light jumping, thrill-seekers with a death-wish and no thought for other road users, right?

Certainly not the sort of person you want to entrust your deliveries to…unless it’s an emergency. So that is when cycle couriers get called – in an emergency. When something has to get from your office to someone elses office NOW, then you can put up with the bad rap for the sake of speed.

Obviously not all cycle couriers are like that. There are cycle couriers in Leeds and to the best of my knowledge, none of them have dreadlocks and all of them wear helmets. Although Last Mile Leeds can can offer rapid point-to-point collections and deliveries, and we probably are the quickest way to get your urgent item across the city,  we want to change the perception of cycle logistics, and are aiming for Last Mile Leeds to become the delivery method of choice for all inner city deliveries. That is why we have deliberately chosen to promote ourselves as Leeds Cycle Delivery rather than Leeds Cycle Couriers.

Our cargo (or freight) bikes allow us to deliver virtually anything that could be delivered by a man with a van and we soon expect to be running regular routes at set times for a number of our customers. This is not dissimilar to the myriad of other courier firms operating vans within the city, who (with the exception of the proverbial ‘white-van-man’ ) don’t have the same negative associations. Rather than contributing to the traffic problem and infuriating other road users, by choosing our services you are helping to alleviate some of the congestion in our city.

So next time you think of ‘Leeds Cycle Couriers’, instead think ‘Leeds Cycle Delivery’ and give Last Mile Leeds a call.



Leeds City Council Business Starter Taster Workshop

I attended the first in a series of business start-up taster workshops run by Leeds City council on Monday. The meeting offered 6 speakers, with support and information for those interested in starting up their own business. I found that I had already passed through this stage as most of the information provided I had already learned, but the speaker from HMRC was quite helpful.

The most interesting thing I learned was that an employee benefits from their employer paying National Insurance contributions of 13.8% when they earn £144.01/week  but the employer does not have to pay National Insurance contributions (at 12%) until they earn £146.01/week. Therefore there is a sweet spot of earning £145/week when the employee gets the contributions from their employer, but doesn’t pay them themself. I’m not sure whether the amount of NIS contributions really makes any difference at all in the light of the recent announcment of a fixed rate state pension.

Here is the agenda for these meetings…with a link below:

    1. An overview of business support within Leeds –  Leeds City Council
    2. How to access, Business and Patent Information Services  – Library Business Services
    3. Business advice and guidance  – Leeds Chamber
    4. Making Tax & Book keeping less painful  – HMRC – Business Education & Support Team
    5. Maximising your marketing ability  – Chartered Institute of Marketing
    6. Are you eligible for the  Enterprise Allowance scheme? – Job Centre Plus
    7. Networking (between speakers and attendees)