The Rise, Decline, and Return of the Bicycle Courier
The delivery market can provide exciting new opportunities for self-employed courier jobs. If you’re fit and healthy, why not become a bicycle courier?
You might have noticed a lot of cyclists lately, zipping through the streets of the urban landscape. Look closely and you'll see they're not usual commuters or recreational riders, but cyclists carrying parcels and small cargo on the backs of their bikes. Whether it’s a legal contract, a new pair of shoes, or a pizza, there are more and more bicycle couriers being used to deliver small items. The delivery market is expanding and diversifying, providing exciting new opportunities for self-employed courier jobs. If you’re looking to break into the courier industry and you're fit and enthusiastic, you might want to consider becoming a bicycle courier.
Bicycles Couriers: The Past
Since the invention and popularisation of the bicycle in 19th-century France, this two-wheeled machine has been used to conduct commerce, as well as for recreation. Bicycles were the workhorses of mail carriers, messengers, and couriers - the perfect vehicle for delivering missives and small parcels.
However, in the early 20th century the automobile began to dominate cities. Cyclists were increasingly edged out by their faster, motorised counterparts, and it seemed as though the days of the bicycle courier were coming to an end. But then the trend seemed to reverse. As more and more cars jammed the city streets, congestion slowed the pace of traffic to an often-agonising crawl. Today, for example, in gridlocked central London, the average speed of traffic is between 8 and 9 mph – about the speed of a horse-drawn carriage.
With the surge in congestion, bicycle couriers came into their own again. Given their size, they are extremely effective in urban areas, and capable of weaving through traffic and navigating narrow streets or alleyways. Many town centres across the UK, such as historic central Cambridge, are closed to cars or vans, making bicycles the only efficient way to make deliveries.
The bicycle courier industry took another hit with the introduction of the Internet, email, and fax machine. With these methods of communication on the rise, bicycle couriers were increasingly obsolete. However, true to their tenacity, they have not disappeared – instead, they have diversified and are on the rise once more.
Bicycle Couriers: The Present
In June 2015, the Guardian reported the rise of cargo bikes – a version of the conventional bicycle that allows the transport of a more significant load. There are various types of cargo bikes: some are as long as a tandem bicycle, with the load either carried between the saddle and back wheel, or between the handlebars and front wheel; some are essentially conventional bikes with a large box mounted on the rack over the back wheel; and others are capable of carrying loads of up to 200kg, often with the aid of small electric motor to help the rider in hilly areas. With an increasingly diverse range of bicycles available, the opportunities for different kinds of self-employed courier jobs are expanding. No longer used just for telegrams and memos, today’s courier and cargo bikes can handle some surprisingly large loads.
The popularity of cargo bikes can be directly attributed to the increase in online retail, and therefore the increase in the demand for home delivery. While the Internet may have reduced the bike courier trade for documents and messages, it has also benefited couriers by increasing retail and delivery traffic. Bicycle couriers today deliver everything from Amazon parcels to takeaway food.
Becoming a Bicycle Courier
If you’re considering becoming a bicycle courier, there are a few things to keep in mind. Firstly, most contracts are for self-employed courier jobs - that is, even if you’re delivering for Amazon or Deliveroo, you’re still classed as self-employed and need to register as such with your governing authority.
Secondly, you should have a good bike that you'll be comfortable on for hours at a time. Even more importantly, you should be able to maintain the bike yourself, or you can risk costly mechanical repairs.
If you don’t already know your way around the urban area you want to work in, becoming a bicycle courier is the perfect way to get better acquainted with it! Because you'll work within a smaller radius than a car or van driver, it’s likely you’ll get to know the streets like the back of your hand before too long.
Diversify to Pedal Power
If you want to make a career undertaking self-employed courier jobs, it’s important to keep in mind the breadth and depth of the industry. Whether your mode of transport is a car, van, train, or bike, and whether you're delivering Indian food or legal briefs, the courier industry has a place for you.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Norman Dulwich is a correspondent for Courier Exchange, the world's largest neutral trading hub for same day self employed courier jobs in the express freight exchange industry. Over 4,000 transport exchange businesses are networked together through their website, trading jobs and capacity in a safe 'wholesale' environment.