Life as an Outspoken cycle courier

This article was published in 2014, in Newsletter 113.

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Cycling is frequently mentioned and discussed in the media. Questions around safety, etiquette and battles between motorists and cyclists are filling the news feeds. Cycle couriers are often cited as some of the worst culprits for flouting traffic laws, and tales of red-light running are commonplace on the streets of London and New York where couriers weave in and out of traffic, risking their lives and angering motorists, pedestrians and cyclists alike.

We are here to find out about a new breed of cycle courier and to find out why they think they have the best job in the world. Outspoken Delivery have been operating in Cambridge for over seven years and pride themselves on producing fit, friendly and impeccably-trained road cyclists. So what is it like on the streets of Cambridge as an Outspoken cycle courier?


Gail Smith, courier for 6 months.

Fuel: Coffee, porridge or eggs first thing, snacks and fruit, enough biscuits to sink a small battleship, and whatever Outspoken’s lovely food-based customers treat her to.

Average miles a day: 50.

Average speed: 15mph (claims she can hit 25mph!)

Likes: Cycling around Cambridge on a bright sunny day, best place to be is on a bike!

Dislikes: Wet, cold and wind combined mean a tough day of cycling. Strangest item ever delivered: Heart valves from an organ donor rushed to Addenbrooke’s main theatres.

View on Cambridge traffic: Gail like all our couriers is Bikeability-trained. As long as you cycle confidently and sensibly, stick to the rules of the road, are courteous and communicate with other road users, it is very rare you encounter any problems, and you more often than not get a thumbs up from a bus or taxi driver.

Average day

8.15 A local TNT lorry arrives with the day’s load of consignments from the Wellingborough depot; Gail starts by helping with the unloading and sorting of these parcels.

Check the bike over, wrap up warm and head off to pick a bikeload of mail and documents to deliver before 9.30am to places like the city council, KPMG and local law firms. It is always satisfying to cruise past the morning traffic on a bike. Then it is down Cherry Hinton Road to pick up 15 or so packages from national courier APC for their ‘Last Mile’ delivery later that day.

Next it is the newspaper run to an elderly couple living near Addenbrooke’s along with any collections from the hospital.

Back to the office for tea and Hobbit-style ‘Second Breakfast,’ but not before delivering tasty Fitzbillies cakes to local cafĂ©, Hot Numbers (she might be lucky and get a Chelsea bun for her labours).

10.40 Up to the Science Park to pick up antibodies from international reagent supplier Abcam. On the way she might pick up sushi or sandwiches for various hungry companies. She delivers packages all round the Science Park area and takes items back to the depot for sorting.

12.45 After a tasty lunch she is off again to Histon on her speedy racer to do regular sub-contracted work for TNT. Then back on a freight bike and to the city council to sort and deliver their internal mail to departments throughout the Guildhall.

16.00 To finish her day, Gail collects cakes from local baker Afternoon Tease for the Folk Museum and finally heads to Sainsbury’s to pick up all their unwanted food, a complimentary job for local charity Foodcycle.

Finally home for a hot meal and a shower. A great day’s cycling, happy in the knowledge that it has been a healthy day for her and helped to clear some of Cambridge’s traffic off the roads.

This is just one of Outspoken’s many couriers traversing the city (and in and out of London) throughout the day delivering anything from local magazines to cheese, cakes, laptops and much much more.

So, we asked her why be a cycle courier? Gail: ‘I feel great and get loads of exercise (not to mention I can eat what I want). I get to meet all kinds of different people and see the city in all seasons and occasions from a unique perspective. Plus, of course, I just love riding my bike.’

Outspoken endeavour to be the best advocates for good cycling and to build positive relationships with all road users. In the last year the Outspoken team of cycle couriers cycled over 58,000 miles doing deliveries, which equates to over 1,000 gallons of fuel and 14 tonnes of CO2 saved per year.

Mark Nash