Window cleaners, milk deliverers, beer purveyors, plumbers and DJs are all getting on their bikes as UK government incentives and new infrastructure kick off a two- and three-wheel revolution.
About 2,000 cargo bikes were sold in the UK for commercial use last year, according to the Bicycle Association, and a similar number were sold for use by families and individuals. Sales of the bikes, which can carry heavy or bulky loads, are expected to jump by up to 60% in the UK in the year ahead, according to the association, boosted by various initiatives at local and national level to reduce carbon emissions and congestion.
Raleigh, one of the world’s biggest bike brands, launched its first electric cargo bikes this week, and the company’s UK managing director, Lee Kidger, predicts that the UK market for these cycle workhorses will soar to 15 times its current level within five years. The Nottingham-based firm only began selling cargo bikes a few years ago but sales spiked 75% last year.
Kidger points to Germany, where about 100,000 cargo bikes are sold every year, and France, where 50,000 are sold a year, as examples of their potential in the UK.
“The last 16 months has changed people’s habits and life forever. We are at a crossroads and if we act now we can really support change for a more sustainable future,” Kidger said.
The company has teamed up with London dairy Jones Bros, which has used the Raleigh bikes to trial deliveries to its city centre clients, and the National Trust, which is using the bikes to transport supplies and staff around 11 large sites. Raleigh is going up against established cargo bike specialists including Christiania, Tern and Babboe, which is owned by Raleigh’s parent company, Accell Group.
Perhaps one of the biggest and most visible shifts towards cargo bikes, however, could come in grocery delivery. James FitzGerald, co-founder of specialist logistics group E-cargobikes, says the company, which currently operates about 50 bikes in London carrying out several thousand deliveries a week for the Co-op and others, expects to have more than 1,500 bikes by April 2023.
The company has worked with more than one major supermarket to develop its own cargo bike, the first of which will be produced in the UK later this year. In the future, it aims to replace electric vans for home deliveries of groceries.
“It’s faster, easier and cheaper,” he says. “The opportunity is massive.”
Development is gathering pace partly thanks to the government’s £250m investment in walking and cycling infrastructure. The Energy Saving Trust’s £2m fund in England last year, and more loans and grants in Scotland to help businesses and local authorities purchase cargo bikes, are being backed up by a variety of local grants and incentives in towns and cities, such as Nottingham, Coventry and Cambridge.
In an effort to combat congestion and pollution, London and other cities are creating local delivery hubs, where vans can drop large amounts of goods that can then be picked up and delivered by bike. Demand for lower-carbon deliveries from both consumers and businesses with environmental targets to hit is also driving the market.
Amazon has already teamed up with the City of London to create an e-bike hub, while Henry Jones from Jones Bros says the company is planning to take on up to four cargo bikes that it hopes to use to deliver its products from hubs at the edge of the city.
“We are going back to what we did 100 years ago,” said Jones. “One of the big benefits is that a lot of our delivery fleet can’t get inside the M25 [because of pollution or congestion charges]. Cargo bikes can and customers get a better service.”
Will Norman, London’s walking and cycling commissioner, says research for Transport for London found that up to 14% of small van journeys could be made with bikes instead, particularly in congested parts of the city.
Transport for London has been working on trials with construction companies including Sir Robert McAlpine, Morgan Sindall and FM Conway to use cargo bikes instead of vans to deliver some tools and smaller equipment into major projects such as Crossrail and HS2.
“It feels like we are on the cusp of a revolution. It saves time and money and it is better for the environment,” Norman said.