Delivery – And It's By Bike!

In our first post, we identified the category of delivery as a major component of utility cycling. In terms of bicycle deliveries, these subcategories initially came to our attention:

  • Couriers/ Messengers: Many cycling enthusiasts are somewhat enthralled with the elusive bicycle messenger, who zips through traffic bearing important documents, photos, objects, and anything else that cannot be sent digitally. Bicycle messengers are iconic symbols of bicycling culture in many places, but also play a very important role for many businesses. Bicycle couriers can also be seen carting bike trailers or riding long-tail bikes full of various goods from recycling to packages.
  • Food/ Pizza Delivery: Bicycles are a great way to deliver food or set up mobile eateries, especially in crowded urban environments, where car deliveries can be time consuming, expensive, or infeasible.
  • Mail Delivery: Although not as common as it used to be, delivering mail by bicycle can be efficient in places where a mail truck can’t easily find parking or pull up next to buildings.
  • Parcel Delivery: Though this may be a less obvious (or perhaps more remarkable) category of utility cycling, it is important to note that the bicycle is a great way to deliver mail and packages.
  • Freight Delivery: Believe it or not, you can even use a bicycle to move an entire household. This sort of operation would likely be much easier with freight bicycles, however
  • Factory/ Parts Delivery: Bicycles can be used to transport parts within large industrial or commercial environments such as factories, where they are useful as are often safer than motorized delivery methods, or even within large resorts and hotels, where they can be used to transport dirty dishes and linens to central cleaning areas.

Bicycle delivery is one of the richest categories of utility cycling, and there are loads of different aspects of bicycle delivery about which we plan to write. But before we do so, we want to look at the category of bicycle delivery broadly. Specifically, we want to look at some of the benefits of bicycle delivery, the history of bicycle delivery, the practice of bicycle delivery today, and the future of bicycle delivery.

Bicycle Delivery Benefits

Bicycle delivery is a much more commonplace method of delivery than many people think. However, human-powered methods of delivery – like bicycle delivery – are much more common in the developing world, than they are in the developed world, where motorized delivery is more common. However, bicycle delivery is often underestimated, and it has a number of important advantages over motorized delivery. First, in urban environments, bicycle delivery reduces congestion by removing the number of cargo trucks or vans on city streets, and it also opens up parking spaces. Second, bicycle delivery reduces air pollution and other negative environmental impacts associated with the operation of motorized vehicles. Third, bicycle delivery is significantly cheaper than operating a fleet of motorized vehicles, both in terms of vehicle maintenance costs and fuel costs. Forth, bicycle delivery doesn’t have to be limited to delivering goods, it can also be a great way to deliver the kids to school, for example.

However, there are some limitations to bicycle delivery, as well. First, the range (ie. the distance that can be covered in a reasonable amount of time) of a human-powered vehicle – like a bicycle – is obviously much shorter than that of a motorized vehicle. Second, bicycles don’t have a motor (other than the one provided by the rider’s body), so they are significantly less powerful than motorized vehicles, which means that they can’t go as far or as fast or as long. Nor can they carry as large a load as a motorized vehicle. Nonetheless, in many cases, delivery bicycles may be more effective than motorized vehicles. And indeed, the most sustainable form of delivery could efficiently couple motorized and non-motorized methods to optimize the practice of delivery.

The History of Bicycle Delivery

I would like to do more in-depth research into the history of cargo bikes, as I have been disappointed with the lack of resources on the Internet. I did find some useful time-lines about cargo bikes and Long Johns, and if you have more info, please let me know about it! However, for now, suffice it to say that bicycle delivery has long been a useful practice for a wide variety of delivery purposes. Cargo bikes were more common than automobiles on many streets throughout Europe and the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and they were used to make deliveries of varying sorts. But with the introduction of the automobile, bicycle delivery – much like the bicycle itself – was mostly phased out, at least in most industrialized countries. In the more economically developed world today, the most common form of bicycle delivery is probably that done by bicycle messengers who often ride traditional two-wheeled bikes with fixed gear hubs instead of three-wheeled tricycles or long-frame cargo bikes. However, in the developing world, bicycles are used for a wide variety of purposes from hauling loads to serving as pedicabs and much more.

The Practice of Bicycle Delivery

Today, the practice of bicycle delivery varies significantly by place and is often dictated by the cultural practices of that place. For example, bicycle messengers are common in large cities like New York City, Boston, or San Francisco in the United States, where they also have a strong cultural presence, but they are rare in rural areas, suburbs, and most small to mid-size cities. In Europe, cities such as Copenhagen and Amsterdam have very strong cycling cultures, where bicycle d
elivery, cargo bikes, and work bikes are the norm. Meanwhile, in other cities, entrepreneurs have created bicycle courier services for local deliveries of items from groceries to recycling to parcels.

In the developing world, where bicycle delivery is much more commonplace, organizations like WorldBike are working to design and introduce more suitable bikes that can be used to haul goods and people more efficiently. Despite the fact that bicycles are often the lifeblood of many people in poor countries, the bicycles that are available are often bikes designed for recreation, not work, hence the mission of WorldBike and other organizations is to bring more suitable delivery bicycles to poor countries.

The Future of Bicycle Delivery

There is a lot of potential for bicycle delivery to burgeon into a sustainable and lucrative practice throughout the entire world in the next century as concerns about the environment, the economy, and more start to change the way people view and practice transportation. Bicycle delivery should not be a practice limited to poor countries, as there is plenty of opportunity for it to be extremely useful in the world’s richer countries as well. Cargo bikes are certainly becoming more popular as of late, and I recommend that you check out this post from Bike Hugger to learn more about the different kinds of cargo bikes.

In future bicycle delivery posts, we plan to look at each of the different sub-categories we have identified above in-depth. If you would like to suggest more subcategories or have suggestions about post ideas, we gladly welcome your comments.

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