Try before you buy

This article was published in 2021, in Magazine 151.

We find out more about the new e-cargo bike scheme for business.

Last year, Cambridge was one of 18 English local authorities which secured funding from the £2 million e-Cargo Bike Grant Fund. Outspoken Cycles was appointed by Cambridgeshire County Council to deliver a Try Before You Buy (TBYB) e-cargo bike scheme in Cambridge and the surrounding area. The scheme offers four different bikes and trikes for businesses to trial at minimal cost over 4-8 weeks. The hope is that this will offer enough time to test different approaches to using the cycle for business operations.

The business bikes are a broad mix to accommodate the wide range of needs of businesses, with a Raleigh Pro Bike, Raleigh Pro XL Trike, an Urban Arrow Cargo Large with box and a very large Urban Arrow Tender with large box. Participants can try one bike and then switch if they need to test another, allowing for comparison.

Pictures of Stir's bread delivery bike
Stir’s Judith Harrison receiving the trial bike from Rob Turner of Outspoken. They’ve now been able to deliver more of their bread by cycle rather than van.

Though the scheme has been on hold as a result of Covid-19, Outspoken Cycles has been conducting a test case working with Stir Bakery on Chesterton Road in Cambridge. The bakery previously used a non-electric cargo bike and trialled one of the e-cargo bikes (a large Raleigh Pro XL Trike) to make their bread deliveries. Here’s what business owner Judith Harrison has to say about their experience so far:

‘We opened our bakery in April 2017 and not long after, decided to offer a bread delivery service by cargo bike. Unfortunately, the bike we had was slow and cumbersome. We carried on with the deliveries but slowly! During lockdown and up to a month or so ago, with the large number of online orders we received, we needed to deliver the majority of the orders by van. However, having now started to use the Raleigh trike, we are able to transfer more of the usual van delivery orders over to the bike route as well as adding the local wholesale deliveries, too.

‘The bike is faster and therefore can deliver to addresses beyond our original catchment. It can, on many occasions, travel across the city with a lot more ease compared to the van and this new capability can only be of enormous benefit as our business continues to grow.’

If you’d like to trial an e-cargo bike for your business, contact Outspoken Cycles on 01223 789606 or drop an email to team@outspokencycles.co.uk

Despite being a cycling city, uptake of cargo bikes among local businesses is still relatively low in Cambridge. Mark from Outspoken Cycles breaks down some of the most common barriers.

I can use a bike for this?!

Many businesses don’t realise an e-cargo bike can be a viable alternative to a van – particularly if they don’t cycle already – which means they don’t even consider it as an alternative.

Aren’t they hard to ride?

There’s an assumption that e-cargo bikes are heavy and hard to ride, when in reality the motors make them surprisingly manoeuvrable.

I didn’t realise all the benefits it would bring

Crucially, many businesses aren’t aware of the potential savings and operational gains that come with an e-cargo bike: no costly van, very low running costs, the ability to widen their recruitment pool to non-drivers and those who might be difficult to insure on a van, and finally the ability to store and park the bike in smaller (and cheaper) spaces. One customer told us that compared to a van, the reduced cost, ease of training and lower running costs associated with switching to an e-cargo bike had enabled him to make the difficult jump from a sole trader to a team of two – which he wouldn’t otherwise have dared to do.

It’s a big upfront cost

Another barrier is the cost of e-bikes, taking the plunge and purchasing one when only brief test rides are available. Commercial e-cargo bikes may be £3,000-12,000; so there’s a significant initial outlay. This is the great benefit of the try-before-you-buy scheme.