Business by bike

This article was published in 2020, in Magazine 148.

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Meet the local business people saying goodbye to the van

The Pedalling Painter

Kevin Sampson

Why do you cycle in Cambridge?

I used to have a van before I lived in Cambridge. Being a builder who lives on a narrowboat, the problems are moving the van around, parking and keeping it secure. I just got fed up with it, the whole running a van idea, the cost, sitting in traffic, everything to do with it. I moved to Cambridge and found that the quickest way to get around town was by bike. Not polluting, no damage to anyone and I just enjoy it. You get to see a lot more on your bike than you do when you’re stuck driving in the van. The other day I picked some plums, and made jam.

How does cycling help your business?

There’s no outlay, I work locally, it suits me. I like working in Cambridge, I don’t have to pay for parking, there’s no problem with parking restrictions and it just makes me feel better. I go home smiling, and I get to keep more of my money because I’m not paying out for a van.

What would you improve about cycling in Cambridge?

The other week I was working on a street down Grantchester way and the speed bumps down there are absolutely awful. I actually pinged a spoke in the back wheel going over the speed bumps. When the bike is loaded up it’s quite heavy and the speed bumps are something that could be better, along with the potholes.

On some of the routes you could also do with better identification of where you’re meant to cycle and where you’re meant to walk.

There’s always safety issues around roads and drivers. Drivers just aren’t aware of the cycles. Everyone’s in too much of a rush.

Can you tell us about your business?

I’m a painter and decorator for 37 years and self-employed. I’m mainly contracting with one guy; he sometimes drops off the ladders for me. I like working locally in the centre of Cambridge, decorating interior and exterior, painting boats. I do a lot of work for Queens’ College and some of the others. I’m not after the big contracts anymore, just smaller jobs. Some customers I know like to hire me because of the bike: they don’t have to worry about finding a place to put the van.

Have you got any tips for other builders or business owners thinking to use cycling for more of their work?

Get a bike that can really hold your stuff. Make sure everything fits on it. Big strong box, good strong bike and give it a go. Don’t worry about what you won’t be able to do, think about what you can do. You get a bike and worry that you can’t carry this or that, but you can, there’s always ways around it and if you’re good then people will want to use you. The van becomes such an issue for building: parking, pollution and just general cost. You can do more on a bike. Every supplier delivers straight to the site. You really don’t need a big van anymore.

Getting around by bike is better for you, better for the environment and you don’t have the burden of a van. Don’t worry about what you can’t do: you’ll be amazed at what you can do

You can get around on the bike. It’s better for you, better for the environment and you’ll be happier without the burden of the van.

I debated about it for years before I finally got rid of the van completely two years ago and it’s the best thing I’ve ever done for work. Gives you freedom. Don’t worry about what you can’t do: get a bike and you’ll be amazed at what you can do.

  • Contact Kevin about your next decorating project on 07546 074109

The Wheeling Washers


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E-cargo bikes are the future! Compared to traditional commercial laundries, Oxwash operates a completely new hyper-local business model. We place our laundries close to our individual and SME customers. Unlike the traditional model in which vans and lorries collect vast quantities of laundry before driving it hundreds of miles to be processed, we collect relatively small quantities of laundry from lots of different places. Our bikes ensure that we can get to them on time every time without the issues encountered by vans (we can access city centres easily and we don’t get stuck in traffic or have difficulty parking). Reliability is key but our bikes also make our logistics sustainable: all our bikes are charged from the solar array on the roof of our business premises. All our riders are full-time employees and we believe that being out on a bike all day, come rain or shine, is brilliant for mental health.

Our customers also value our sustainability credentials and the positive association that having our bikes parked outside brings to their businesses. We are big and blue and people know who we are in Oxford, so we find the mutually beneficial publicity great. We hope to be the household name for all laundry, dry cleaning, and ironing in Cambridge within no time!

We believe people are choosing Oxwash because we are the easier, ecofriendly, and hygienic alternative. Many individuals are unaware how polluting a traditional washing machine is. It has become a habit to use domestic washers and dryers regularly without considering the environmental impact of the machines. By using Oxwash rather than their own washers and dryers, our customers can reduce their yearly CO2 emissions, as well as reducing microplastic waste into the water systems. For many of our hospitality customers, swapping to using Oxwash satisfies internal environmental and social goals around reducing carbon emissions, using local suppliers and the qualification of a service that employs all of its team on or above the national living wage. In this way if you run a hotel chain you can immediately change from ‘don’t wash this towel to save the planet’ to ‘wash the towel as much as you want, we use Oxwash!’

Bike-based challenges

Alongside all the positives, there are some challenges associated with being a bike-based business. The weather is one, so all of our riders are bombproof with the best outdoor gear to keep them dry (we can wash and dry their clothes as soon as they get back to the laundry); however, on some occasions the weather gets the better of us. The main problems are snow and strong wind, which can affect the stability of our two-wheeled e-cargo bikes – in which case we take out the bigger, but slower, tricycles. Other road users can also be problematic, but we have a comprehensive induction process to ensure the riders are trained in non-confrontational riding techniques.

Distance is another key factor: our riders often average 30+ miles a day, but we are unable to serve areas far outside the city centre. We are looking to add electric vans to our fleet to expand our reach and offer a hub-and-spoke logistics model to serve key areas (business parks etc.) outside our main urban hubs.

Of course, cycle infrastructure improvements are always welcome and we can’t wait to use the Chisholm Trail once the bridge is opened. That was a key reason for siting our laundry in Ronald Rolph Court, to enable us to get to both North and South Cambridge along the new cycle superhighway. Cambridge is far ahead of Oxford when it comes to cycle infrastructure and we have been feeding back to the Oxford council on lessons they can learn from Cambridge. We would like to see legal changes to give cyclists priority and improved infrastructure for e-cargo bikes such as widened, segregated paths and fewer tight corners which make turning big bikes difficult. Charging points would also be great – especially outside our riders’ favourite caf├ęs…