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Starting a Bike Delivery Service with Christina Bikes’ Model P

A bicycle delivery business can be founded relatively easily, and has advantages over conventional, automobile-based delivery. By recognizing these benefits (for both the client and the company) the business can become profitable relatively quickly. Christina Bikes’ Model P, equipped with a post box, available from Agency, is an ideal cargo bike for such a purpose because it offers all the benefits of bicycle travel and the ability to transport a lot of inventory.

In urban settings, bicycles offer distinct advantages over cars and trucks. Bikes are able to weave through slowed and stopped traffic, and are able to park anywhere, allowing bicycle couriers to transport a letter or package from door to door just as fast as, or faster than, motorized vehicle drivers. They also require less overhead. Bicycles are significantly cheaper to purchase and maintain than automobiles, and don’t require licensure, registration, or fuel costs. This means a bicycle delivery service can offer its clients the same (or better) service at the industry’s standard rate and keep a higher percentage of the fee as profits. Marketing the bike company as the more ecologically friendly option may be enough to convert many socially-conscious companies into clients.

Most bicycle delivery companies are started by a single entrepreneur and their bike. Dashed, a food delivery company based in Boston, was started this way by Phil Dumontet shortly after he graduated college. He noticed there was a need for quick food delivery after a large local delivery company shut down amid complaints of slow delivery times. His company has since spread to half a dozen cities and is worth $4.6 million. Even after significant expansion, Dashed still maintains 25% of it’s fleet on bikes and scooters because they are more nimble and easier to park.

By beginning as a one-person delivery company, you can keep the initial investment relatively low. All you really need is a bike and a cell phone so you can take orders. As demand grows you may eventually need multiple couriers, which will necessitate a centralized office with a dispatcher, and all of the phones and computers and other office equipment a small business requires, but that can wait until you have a roster of repeat customers and a reliable revenue stream.

An important first step is to find out if a courier license is required. If so, they are usually easy to procure, but not having one could result in hefty fines, or even having your business shut down. You’ll also want to consider forming the business as a separate legal entity and setting up business accounting through a separate business bank account. The idea is to separate the business’ revenue from your personal assets so if the company were to be sued your personal savings would be safe from seizure. If the business is just you, you may only need to register as a sole proprietorship. If you have partners an LLC may be better. Business insurance is also highly recommended, especially if you will be delivering anything of great value, and worker’s compensation insurance may be required if you hire employees.

Once your business is in order, you need to find clients. Of course you have a network of friends and family that can help spread the word, and social media makes it easier than ever to potentially reach a wide audience of potential clients, but nothing will ever come close to being as effective as reaching out to local businesses. There are several types of businesses that require frequent local delivers made quickly and reliably. One common category is food delivery. Some food vendors have their own delivery staff, and recent app-based delivery services have partnered with a lot of other restaurants to manage their outgoing orders, but it may still be possible to find local restaurants in your area that have so far avoided the headache of figuring out how to expand their sales beyond dine in and take out. Finding these eateries not only creates regular business for you, but can help the restaurant as well. Dashed found that some of the businesses they delivered for saw a 10 to 16 percent increase in sales.

Despite the proliferation of electronic mail, there are some companies that will always require physical goods or paperwork to be delivered. Law firms are a good prospect because they need signed documents delivered to other law firms, to clients, or filed with the court, often multiple times a day. Design and marketing firms, architects, and printing companies may also require the delivery of physical documents faster than national systems like the post office can offer. One service email will never be able to replace, of course, is the delivery of physical goods. Florists are a great potential client. You could also check with your local pharmacy about delivering prescriptions to it’s less mobile clients.

In order to maximize delivery efficiency, you’ll need to be able to carry a lot of letters and packages. The greater your carrying capacity, the less often you’ll need to travel back to reload. The Model P by Christiania Bikes is a great option. Available via Agency, the Model P can be equipped with either an event box or, more applicable to a delivery service, a post box. The post box can carry 322 Liters of cargo. The lid opens easily with the aid of 2 internally fitted gas springs for access to large packages, and also has a side flap for access to smaller letter and packages. The box is lockable, and the frame lock can be connected to other accessories to increase the safety of the bike and it’s packages while making a delivery. A 250 watt hub motor is available for pedal assistance if the weight of the cargo limits the mobility of the cyclist.

While growing in popularity, cargo bikes are still a rare sight in most cities. As such, the Model P itself can be an effective marketing tool. Putting your company logo and contact info on the sides of the Model P;s post box is sure to get attention. It would also be a good idea to invest in branded shirts, helmets, and rain gear.

Starting a bicycle delivery service doesn’t require a lot of initial investment and offers great potential for growth if you get the right equipment and are willing to put in the foot (and pedal) work.

The History of the Cargo Bike

Though some claim the earliest sketch of a bicycle can be attributed to Gian Giacomo Caprotti, a pupil of Leonardo da Vinci, in around 1500, the sketch has been deemed a purposeful fraud by professor of physics, museum curator, and author of Bicycle Design: An Illustrated History, Hans-Erhard Lessing. The first practically used bicycle was the velocipede developed by German Baron Karl von Drais in 1817, perhaps as an alternative to owning a horse after many horses starved due to a crop failure the year before. Although two-wheeled and steerable, the Laufmaschine (German for "running machine") was propelled by pushing with alternating legs. Rotary cranks and pedals were added to the front-wheel hub by a French metalworker around 1863.

Early bicycle designs were given derisive nicknames like hobby-horse or dandy horse and seen as luxury toys for foppish men. Increasing numbers of crashes resulted in many cities banning or fining their use on paved pathways. Bicycles of various designs were developed throughout the 1800s. It wasn’t until the Bessemer process reduced the price of steel and the invention of the pneumatic tire in 1888, however, that the modern style, which was known as the “safety bicycle” (or simply “safety”) because it was marketed as a safer alternative to the penny-farthing it made obsolete, emerged and propagated.

            Once bicycles were established as reliable movers of individuals, the natural progression was to increase the amount of cargo that could be transported. The earliest designs contained heavy-duty frames to handle the increased weight, and a sturdy rack or box attached to the front of the frame. Sometimes the front wheel was smaller to accommodate an especially large storage box. This design came to be known as the Butcher’s Bike or Baker’s Bike in the UK due to its ubiquity in these and similar industries which, at the time, had a business model that required frequent deliveries of perishable goods. Often a sign advertising the business would be mounted in the main triangle of the bike frame.

            The need to increase and specialize the carrying capacity led to further innovations. The Long John Bicycle had a cargo platform or box that was mounted low to the ground in front of the driver but behind the front wheel, which was extended forward. Placement of the cargo load in this location not only increased the size and weight that could be carried, but the low center of gravity also made this design safe enough to transport small children.

            Adding a third wheel, either in the back or the front, increased both the carrying capacity and the stability of cargo bikes, especially while loading freight on a parked tricycle. These designed relied on the chain drive and linkage steering to position the driver and payload in a balanced position while still maintaining mobility and steerability.  Eventually the amount of freight that could be transported was limited not by the design of the bike, but by the strength of the driver. Power assist motors, often electric hub motors, are sometimes added to reduce the mechanical energy required to propel the bike, which is especially helpful when going uphill or starting the bike from a complete stop.

            During the Industrial Revolution cargo bikes became a useful addition or replacement for carts pulled by hand, horse, or dog. Their cargo boxes can be specialized for any industry and used to transport mail, tools, food, people, or anything you can imagine. Because they a do not create air pollution they can be used in enclosed buildings like warehouses and factories. They are also quiet and safer to operate in densely populated areas. With the proliferation of the internal combustion engine after World War II they became unpopular in industrialized nations.

            In recent decades, however, ecologically-minded developers and small-scale manufacturers have begun to recognize the benefits of human-powered cargo transportation. Many cities are adapting their infrastructure to once again accommodate bicycle travel. This is best exemplified by Freetown Christiania in the Danish capital city of Copenhagen.

            Christiania consists of the former military barracks of Bådsmandsstræde and parts of the city ramparts, which were abandoned in the late 1960s. Due to a lack of affordable housing in the city, the area became a self-proclaimed free town inhabited by hippies, squatters, artists, and anarchists. Despite attempts to remove the community from the government owned land, the commune developed its own set of rules, which included the allowance of cannabis and the forbiddance of stealing, violence, and, most notably in this case, cars. Road block robots at both entrances to Freetown Christiania prohibit any personal vehicles in the area. This forces the residents to use alternative methods of transportation to traverse its 19 acres.

            In 1984, Christiania blacksmith Lars Engstrom built a cargo bike as a birthday present for his girlfriend, Annie Lerche. Though she had asked for a ten-speed, Lars custom built a practical bike that had room for her kids. The design is a tricycle with two front wheels on either side of a large cargo box. As soon as Annie and her kids took the bike out on the street, neighbors began requesting their own. Each new bike built included minor improvements, though the basic design remains the same. The steel frame is stronger than stainless steel and can accommodate riders over 100 kg (220 lbs). The cargo box is made of 9mm plywood protected from the weather by the same water-resistant varnish used on boats. Rain covers are available to further protect from the elements. The wheels have reinforced aluminum rims and bearings, and puncture-resistant kevlar tires. Electric assist motors are available customization is available for transporting wheelchair users, bike taxis, event bikes, and bicycles for tradespeople.

            The Christiania Bikes gained notoriety first within Freetown Christiania itself, then within greater Copenhagen, and are now exported to over 20 countries. In the mid 1990s demand surpassed what the Christiania forge could handle and production was relocated to a larger premise on the island of Bornholm in the Baltic Sea. The bikes are still handmade to incredibly high standards. Lars is still in charge of production and Annie handles the calls and emails. In 2010 Christiania Bikes won the coveted "Classic Designs Award" from the esteemed Danish Design Center for their robust design, fantastic concept, and contribution to green and innovative transport.

            Though historically used by tradespeople and customizable enough to be used to serve food, it is estimated that 90% of the freight bicycles sold in Amsterdam are used primarily to carry children. In fact “two kids and a week’s worth of groceries” seems to be the industry standard for determining cargo box size. This allows some couples to remain car-free even after growing family demands increase the amount they need to haul.

As a low contact form of cardio exercise, cycling has been shown to not only promote weight loss, build muscle, and improve lung health, but also strengthen the immune system, improve handling and spacial awareness, decrease heart disease and cancer risk, and improve mental well-being. There are financial benefits as well. The cost of purchase and maintenance of a bicycle is significantly less than an automobile, and cyclists are spared the costs of fuel and parking. Storage is a factor that ought to be considered more than it is, seeing that vehicles spend 95% of the time parked.