Cargo Bikes: Andrea of the K4rgo blog explains why bicycles are gaining in popularity for transporting goods in London

Suitable for a wide variety of users, cargo bikes are becoming more visible on London's streets. Andrea Casalotti from Islington looks at why they're gaining in popularity.

Cargo bikes are increasingly seen as solutions to congestion and pollution in London. Both companies and local authorities are realising that a substantial number of van trips can be substituted with these load-carrying two-wheelers, yielding financial and environmental gains.

For instance, one of the main conclusions of the Road Task Force is a recommendation to start a "pilot scheme to shift freight journeys from vans to bicycles". In its response to the above, Transport for London stated that it will "participate in the EU-funded 'last mile logistics' (LaMiLo) project which proposes that goods are delivered to a consolidation centre [at Euston Station] and delivered to their final destinations by less polluting modes of transport including electric vehicles and cycle freight". 

Besides the above LaMiLo, the EU is funding the CycleLogistics project with initiatives across the continent. In the UK, Brentford has launched a free cargo bike hire scheme to promote their use. Similar schemes have also been launched by councils in Lambeth, Camden, Hackney and Redbridge.

There are now more than a thousand cargo bikes in London used by hundreds of families to transport children and groceries – and by businesses in a wide range of activities, for deliveries, as catering vehicles, and for services such as street cleaning, etc.

The increasing popularity has led to the establishment of a number of new businesses that sell and service cargo bikes. Among these, London Green Cycles in Camden has opened a new showroom and service centre, while Carry Me in east London offers test rides to families and businesses.

London, of course, is way behind many European cities, where the convenience, cost savings and fun of using a cargo bike have already convinced tens of thousands of people. For instance, in Copenhagen a quarter of families with two or more children own a tricycle, and the Danish Royal Mail has recently ordered more than one thousand electric cargo bikes (which have been featured on official stamps). 

This is in stark contrast to the UK's Royal Mail which, under the leadership of a North American, has been drastically reducing its fleet of bicycles to be replaced by vans that have a poor reputation for road manners among London's cyclists.

It is therefore satisfying to see courier firm TNT using Pashley cargo bikes for several central London postcodes. London courier companies that have added cargo bikes to their fleet include Creative Couriers and Control Couriers.

In Cambridge and York, cyclelogistic businesses are thriving. For example, in central Cambridge, Outspoken distributes daily hundreds of parcels for TNT, ParcelForce and APC, all by cargobikes. See their presentation at Velocity Venna here.

In London, besides the LaMiLo project above, the Crown Estate, owners of the Haymarket area, is considering a transhipment point with final deliveries made by electric vans and cargobikes. Several other business districts, such as the City, Holborn, Soho/Fitzrovia, etc. would benefit from similar cyclelogistics initiatives.

The bottom line case with cargo bikes for businesses is quick to calculate. For example, Pure, a chain of salad bars with six locations, wouldn’t be able to offer an office delivery service without its fleet of 10 tricycles.

Similarly a holiday letting business, with 15 flats in central London is saving hundreds of pounds a month by switching from van to cargo bike for its laundry logistics.

There are tens of similar stories, from florists to bakers, from plumbers to gardeners: small businesses that can do their jobs better thanks to cargo bikes.

The free-rental schemes offered by the councils mentioned above are converting more people. A gardener who has used one of the Brentford Bikes told us:

"The trike was very useful because it allowed me to fill up 10 sacks or so of garden cuttings and take them directly to the recycling center about 5 miles away.Riding was easy and enjoyable. There is no way I could have moved the garden cuttings by hand or on foot or using public transport and I have no desire to use a van. But the trike did the job nicely. No petrol costs, parking charges or insurance needed!"

In future blog postings, we will look how cargo bikes are used by families, by street food vendors, for promotions, to transport OAPs, for council services and much more.

Andrea Casalotti is the UK agent for Christiania Bikes (a Danish cargo bike manufacturer) and edits the K4RGO blog.


  • By anita at 5:37pm 3 October 2013

I'll consider one of these bikes for carrying books, food and material for recycling, and will contact Islington Council to ask for a rental scheme of these bikes. The idea of goods deliveries from Euston to their final destinations by bike is a very good one.

  • By Michelo at 6:46pm 3 October 2013

Hi Anita that's exactly what I was thinking. I live in Islington also. Are you aware of the clean air summit coming up this month at the town hall? I think that will be the perfect place to raise this idea. You have to book a place in advance tho. See for details.

  • By anita at 9:02am 7 October 2013

I have signed up for the Islingon air summit already. Lots of Valium beforehand is advisable, if this meeting is likely to be in any way similar to all the other meetings I've been to in the last 25 years. Councils having responsibility for public health since April 2013 may help.

I have just received the following two answers by the Mayor to questions by Darren Johnson:


Please see below for the Mayor’s responses to formal questions tabled by Darren Johnson AM at the September session of Mayor’s Question Time on cargo bikes.
Encouraging use of cargo bikes - incentive scheme
Question No: 3308 / 2013
Darren Johnson
Increasing the usage of cargo bikes in London would go some way to reducing the estimated £2 billion city businesses lose annually due to congestion whilst reducing carbon emissions. Will you therefore give serious thought to creating an incentive scheme to encourage the major delivery companies to utilise cargo bikes rather than diesel vans for the delivery of small and medium sized packages?
Written response from the Mayor
Cargo bikes, or more generally, cycle freight, may have a role to play in alleviating congestion, and improve delivery timings, where they can demonstrably reduce congestion by replacing larger, more polluting vehicles. Cargo bikes currently available can carry a maximum payload of between 150-200kgs, around a tenth of that which can be carried in a small van. They are likely to be most useful in areas with a high density of workplaces or residences for the delivery of small consumable items such as stationary or items typically carried by mail.
TfL funded a cargo bike and electric van trial based in the City of London in 2009 delivering stationery for Office Depot. The trial achieved a 62 per cent reduction in COin comparison to previous operations using diesel vans. As a result, all of Office Depot’s parcels are now delivered by cargo bikes in EC1 to EC4 including businesses in the eastern edge of Holborn within Camden.
TfL can offer help, support and guidance to companies wishing to substitute vans for cargo bikes and we are working with boroughs on European projects, to develop and promote cleaner last mile deliveries in London.  The potential role of such initiatives will be considered as part of our future work to improve the efficiency of freight and servicing in London and through initiatives such as the implementation of an Ultra-Low Emission Zone.
Encouraging greater use of cargo bikes - municipal services
Question No: 3309 / 2013
Darren Johnson
A variety of municipal services - for example litter picking and green space maintenance - can be delivered cost effectively and cleanly using cargo bikes. Will you encourage the inner London boroughs to implement trials using cargo bikes to deliver these services?
Written response from the Mayor
TfL would welcome a discussion with any borough wishing to implement a cargo bike scheme to carry out municipal services.
TfL funded a cargo bike and electric van trial based in the City of London in 2009 delivering stationery for Office Depot. The trial achieved a 62 per cent reduction in COin comparison to previous operations using diesel vans. As a result, all of Office Depot’s parcels are now delivered by cargo bikes in EC14 including businesses in the eastern edge of Holborn within Camden.
Whilst there is no specific programme to encourage inner London boroughs to implement trials, there are a number of funding streams which may available to boroughs to trial a cargo bike initiative, including the Borough Cycling Programme, Local Implementation Funding and other small scale grants such as the Community Cycling Fund for London.
  • By Michelo at 9:24pm 9 October 2013

Thanks Anita I've put in for a repeat prescription from my GP. I'm hoping the public health duty will help. Also we have a new leader for the Council and elections looming so worth a try. See you there.

Thanks Andrea will mention at the summit given a chance.

  • By anita at 2:36pm 16 October 2013

Thanks Andrea Casalotti for the mayor's reply to Darren Johnson on use of cargo bikes for deliveries and municipal uses. I've asked the new leader of Islington council, Richard Watts, whether he'd be prepared to adopt cargo bikes for municipal services, and have forwarded the mayor's reply on the subject. That will come up at the air quality meeting (Islington and Camden) on 17/10/2013 no doubt: in the sense that two of us at least will bring it up. I'm seeing more cargo bikes around of various sorts now, probably having read about it.

  • By Dave H at 3:56am 12 December 2014

A couple of details that the Mayor's advisers seem to have missed but are very relevant

The excellent and comprehensive Bicycle Blueprint for New York City had a chapter of freight - noting that the Worksman bicycle company of Ozone City NY was approaching their 100th birthday and had outlasted brands like Schwinn with continuous production. One of Worksman's key clients in NYC is UPS who continue to use Worksman cargo trikes for deliveries in the city centre, another major client is Boeing who have their plan builders moving around the site with trikes rather than vans - thay can get closer to the planes they work on with their tools and crashes between trikes and planes are bith less common and less damaging then those between trucks and planes.

One key detail was taken from the delivery data of parcels delivery operators - 90% of the packages delivered in the city weigh under 30Kg - the sort of weight that can be deliverd on foot (with a sack truck) or by cycle, as Andrea proved with a 1-day demonstration around the Seven Dials area of Covent Garden - every delivery including a fridge and a shipment of shoes was delivered by bike - whar Boris ignores is that many of the vans with the capacity to carry up to 1 Ton and 3 people at up to 70mph are grinding around Londion averaging less than 5mph with the stopping and finding places to park, carrying 1 person and often less than 100Kg of payload. To pay for the van it has to keep making successful deliveries, and even then margins are tight. On the other hand the cycle based service has been proven to collect or deliver a round in half the time taken by a van, and the low vehicle costs mean that it can sit idle occasionally.  An added benefit is that most of the bike riders will be local, and with that local knowledge - not common with van drivers who are more likely to be from out of the area - the cycle delivery team will know when to make deliveries to particular addresses, resulting in fewer aborted (and not paid for) jobs.

The other key detail for cycle logistics is that you don't need a driving licence or major academic qualifications to start working, an immediate employment opportunity for many young people to break that no job -no references no references - no job stalemate. I started in cycle logistics aged 12 and by 15 I was managing a small local hub with 12 rounds, and dealing with the wholesalers dropping the material for the deliveries, so a key way to enageg and find that new blood which will be urgently needed as the age profile of current logistics workers - especially drivers - approaches a cliff edge of older staff and replacements not coming through at a high enough rate.  

My suggestion though is to get the local cycle logistics operations set up with some secondhand armed services personnel, available through retirement or redundancy. Far more important than ordnance and weaponry to a successful military operation is its logistics - without the right supplies in the right place at the right time your campaign is well stuffed. No surprise then that the success of the retored TfL Freight team for London 2012 was founded on employing ex military logistics experts. Lets repeat the exercise for local cycle logistics.    

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