Being a writer is great. It means I get to work long shifts as a delivery boy, in a precarious effort to stave off the ever-present threat of financial ruin and starvation. But I’m not kidding; I really do enjoy doing deliveries – curries, in my case. Before you jump to any smutty conclusions, I don’t do the job for the alleged romantic perks (my name’s Ben, not Sven). I love doing deliveries because it means I get to ride my ebike – and get paid for it!
Earlier this year I purchased a second hand ‘Smarta’ ebike from the Electric Transport Shop in Cambridge. Since then I’ve been using it to do local deliveries five evenings a week. The ebike has been an absolute revelation, especially to my car-driving colleagues. I can get around town much quicker than they can, partly because I can weave through the traffic, which is notoriously heavy during the evening rush hour in Cambridge, and partly because I can utilise short-cuts and more direct routes that are only accessible to bicycles and pedestrians. Being on an ebike also enables me to scan house numbers a little bit more easily than a car driver can, and I can park on the pavement directly outside the customer’s front door. So in the time that it would take a driver to locate the house then find a suitable parking space then park in it, I’ve already dropped off the food and left.
And, more often than not, I leave with a tip in my pocket; the customers seem to really appreciate my ebike. Obviously, compared to a car it is more ecologically friendly, less polluting and more community-spirited, all of which helps capture people’s interest, but they’re also just keen to find out more about the ebike itself. I’m always happy to show off its specifications. Smarta ebikes have five power settings, corresponding to increasing levels of assistance when the rider pedals; on number 5, it’s like getting a push from Usain Bolt. In addition, there’s a throttle on the handlebars (like on a motorbike), which provides even more oomph, so I can zip safely away from traffic at the lights. I keep a spare battery back at the kitchen, so when the first one runs out, I swap them over, and charge the original. They last for 25 miles or so, and are easily detachable.
Costing £1110 as new, Smarta ebikes are sturdy, which is important when you’re navigating bumpy streets (that’s a hint, Cambridge County Council), yet stylish, too – mine came in a bright shade of cyan, which really offsets the elegantly curving frame. I frequently notice pedestrians doing a double-take when they see me cruising nonchalantly past; I know they’re thinking, *wow, what is that cool vehicle?*. Naturally, I bask in the reflected glory.
Of course, my boss, too, loves the ebike. He is enthused by its potential to save money as well as time. At the moment, he spends over £1000 a month on transport fuel costs. With a fleet of ebikes instead of cars, using electricity rather than petrol, that figure would drop to about a fiftieth of its current size; yes, you read that right. Our company already employs a handful of cyclists on conventional bikes, for round trips of a few miles or less, but ebikes could extend that cyclable range across the whole of Cambridge. In moving over entirely to bikes or ebikes, we would also extend our pool of potential employees; not everyone has a driving license, especially among the students and artistic ne’er-do-wells like myself for whom causal evening work is attractive.
A further general benefit of using bicycles is that their storage boxes (fixed to the rear racks) can easily be emblazoned with free advertising, which obviously creates a positive impression – apart from when, very rarely, members of the public ring up to complain about the conduct of our cyclists on the road. One guy rang this week to say that when he was in his car one of our company bikes, whose rider was wearing earphones, had “cut him up”. Don’t get me wrong, I never, ever wear earphones when riding, and I don’t think anybody should, but I couldn’t help chuckling when the furious driver said of our cyclist: “he couldn’t even hear me swearing at him”. So I guess earphones do have occasional advantages.
I spoke to the Electric Transport Shop’s co-founder Eddie Kehoe about the appeal of ebikes to delivery companies. ‘There are so many financial pressures on businesses these days’, he explains, ‘everyone is looking for a way to control their outgoings. Ebikes are a simple but powerful way to drive transport costs down’. Or, indeed, to ride them down. Now with stores in five British cities, the Electric Transport Shop has supplied ebikes not just to numerous delivery companies but to other businesses with employees who need to be out and about during office hours. ‘The ebikes industry is taking off’, declares Eddie, pointing to the range of prices, features and models (and also etricycles) now available from the Electric Transport Shop; ‘some of the world’s biggest companies, including Panasonic, Bosch, Yamaha and Shimano are now competing for a share of the market’. It seems strange – indeed, fantastic – to think that they now have a growing role to play in the takeaway food industry too.
Moreover, ebikes seem to be generating not just efficiency but innovation within that industry. One company that Eddie has worked with is rewriting the rules of takeaway food, as recently reported by the BBC (look out for the Smarta ebike in the video!). Founded by Will Shu, ‘Deliveroo’ uses mobile internet technology to connect customers, deliverers and kitchens, thus enabling restaurants – both large and small – to offer a delivery service when they wouldn’t otherwise have done so. ‘In our platform’, Shu explains, ‘all they have to do is cook the food and we take it and bring it to people, which means that a) we can work with a higher class of restaurant, and b) the delivery times are much faster’. Key to the operation is the company’s use of ebikes, with their speed and flexibility. When Deliveroo hired a fleet of Smarta ebikes from the Electric Transport Shop, South East Regional Manager Jeremy Rawlinson was impressed: ‘The Smarta ebikes were very reliable, as was the support we received from the Electric Transport Shop, fitting into what we're doing as a company and helping us provide our top class service’. Deliveroo riders are rapidly become a familiar sight in cities including London, Brighton, Nottingham, Edinburgh and Cambridge.
More and more people, it seems, love ebikes, but none more so than me. It’s not just about the practicalities, although I do particularly enjoy not having the hassle or expense of buying insurance or road tax; ebikes are exempt from both. Above all, what I love most about my Smarta ebike is how exhilaratingly fun it is to ride, and how enjoyable it makes my (proper) job. If you’ve never ridden an ebike, try it. You’ll wonder why you spent so many years stuck in your nose-picking cage of a car, waiting for the traffic to shunt a few metres forwards. And you’ll wonder why you ever waited so long for your takeaway on a Friday night.