Parcel Delivery By Bike

Streetsblog recently posted a request for photos of bikes at work. The result is an exceptional slide show of bikes and people completing a wide assortment of activities from hauling trash and water to delivering packages to cruising to the beach with a surfboard and much more. The photos are from all around the world, which indicates the global appeal and utility of using bicycles to accomplish a wide range of tasks.

Utility Cycling sent in a photo (the header photo in this post) from one of our sister sites – Bike Trailer Blog – of the crew at Bike Trailer Shop picking up trash and recycling for Earth Day in Flagstaff, AZ, in 2008. You can read more about that trash-hauling extravaganza here.

bike-trailer-shop-earth-day-garbage-pickupBicycle Delivery

The Streetsblog slide show inspired me to return to the category of bicycle delivery for our next post. In our first post at Utility Cycling, we began to define utility cycling and all of the different categories of utility cycling practice. Naturally, bicycle delivery is one of the most important categories of utility cycling. Bicycle delivery encompasses a wide range of activities, but most simply, it means using a bicycle to deliver a good. For the most part, bicycle delivery is a wide-open category, and there is a ton of potential for bicycle delivery activities.

The wide range of activities that can be done in the bicycle delivery category are mainly dictated by the types of goods being delivered. Bicycle deliveries can range from important paperwork to small-medium sized parcels to take-out or pizza to large parcels and even furniture. The potential for bicycle delivery is mediated by the equipment being used for the delivery. Paperwork and small packages may only require the delivery person to use a bag, while on the other hand, large parcels might require a bicycle cargo trailer and furniture or large cargo might require a freight bicycle or heavy duty trailer.


This brings me to the subcategory of bicycle delivery – parcel delivery. Parcel delivery, as I am conceptualizing it, mainly refers to delivering small to medium-sized packages by bicycle. For the most part, this type of delivery is done by small courier businesses, which generally operate within a specific geographic area (usually a city and perhaps somewhat beyond). There are businesses like these all over the world, from Dublin, Ireland, to Bend, Oregon, and many places in between. It is quite uncommon, in the U.S., anyways, to hear of a large corporate delivery company using bicycles to make deliveries. That is, until last year, when UPS started doing exactly that.

UPS Bike Delivery

Bicycle delivery is an important form of commercial cycling (i.e. making money by bicycle), which you can learn more about in the book Cycling for a Profit: How to Make a Living With Your Bike by Jim Gregory. When I tend to think of commercial cycling, I tend to think of small businesses and start-up companies. However, my assumptions have been proven wrong – to some degree – by the United Parcel Service (UPS).

In what was largely characterized as a money-saving move, last winter, UPS added a fleet of cyclists throughout Oregon and southwest Washington to deliver small parcels and goods by bike. This video from Pacific Pedaling shares the story from one UPS rider’s perspective.

UPS purchased a fleet of bicycles, trailers, and safety gear and sent a handful of riders on their merry way to deliver packages. Many riders managed to deliver quite a few more packages than the 25-50 packages per day they were expected to be able to deliver. Despite the fact that UPS trucks can deliver nearly 150 packages per day, UPS estimates that the cost savings is somewhere in the realm of $38,000 in fuel and repair costs for every three cyclists. And the response from people receiving the packages was overwhelmingly positive.

Interestingly enough, UPS has its roots in cycling. The company was originally founded by some commercial cyclists in 1907, and many of the initial deliveries were made by foot or bicycle. Nowadays, UPS can generally be spotted by the big, brown trailers that cruise around town, but in some ways, the holiday bicycle delivery is coming full circle. I sure hope to hear about UPS doing this again in 2009 and not just for the holidays. It sounds like the savings incurred by the company were substantial, so why not do it more throughout the year? I would imagine that with a little organization and foresight, a strategic model could be put into place for UPS and other large delivery companies such as FedEx, DHL, and other
s to use bicycles.

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