“Is that difficult?”
Cycling, training, and riding cargo bikes for a living
Not a lot of people appreciate that cycling is a much more social experience than using any other type of vehicle. You are very much outdoors, in the moment, and able to see better and hear better than anyone in a motor vehicle. And so it goes that being a Pedal Me rider you get a lot of questions from other people on the street.
Most common among them: “Is that difficult?”, especially if you happen to be pushing around 150kg of goods, well secured with recycled inner tubes. How a rider will usually answer this will be; “Yes, it’s difficult, but I’ve had some training”, or “it’s not too bad, when you’ve been trained”.
This blog looks at some of the reasons why training has a place in cycling, and particularly when it comes to riding a cargo bike professionally.
Cycling is easy?
Cycling is easy: When you know how. Anyone who rides with confidence today has probably forgotten the sometimes frustrating time they spent learning how to ride. Adults who learn to ride often have it worst; with fear of falling being one of the biggest obstacles to progress.
Advice from well meaning friends usually boils down to “you just sort of do it, yeah?” Most people learn to ride at an age and in a way that is instinctive and doesn’t rely on critical thinking. (Luckily today, most councils in the UK offer free cycle skills training for all who request it).
Cycling is a broad church, and everyone’s experience is different. And most people riding bikes today will have certain skills that they are more / less confident about than others.
Why is this important to remember? Because from our experience as cycling instructors, teaching adults and children, many people find cycling in and of itself difficult (or something they struggle to consider themselves doing), and cargo bikes are not “just” bicycles.
Different (pedal) strokes
Cargo bikes are different in quite a few ways, and can be quite challenging to ride depending on individual experience and how they are designed and for what purpose. Some obviously are easier to ride than others.
However, risk and challenge scales with weight and volume. Most, if not all cargo bikes can be especially challenging when you are expected to operate them at the limit of their capacity, which can be up to 150kg of payload. This is a likely expectation if you are expecting to ride a cargo bike for a living.
For vocational riders, you also have to add the knowledge, experience, and confidence necessary to ride and self navigate in London traffic (not necessarily where there will be any cycling infrastructure to offer support). This can make for a potentially intimidating proposition.
Training as insurance
This is why Pedal Me put so much emphasis on training. We are (of course) insured conventionally and comprehensively, but our training is how we recruit, and our first line of protection. Not just for us, but our clients, our passengers, and beyond that the general public’s acceptance of cargo bikes as a realistic option for moving things (and people) around in urban areas.
We developed our training approach from the ground up over 4 years, considering what was required from the perspective of a business. Namely, the issues, the risks, the techniques needed to ensure a rider can minimise the possibility of tips and spillages and to ensure Pedal Me riders interact with other road users with clarity, understanding and assertiveness.
Our cities are increasingly restricting vehicle movements as we move to a low carbon economy and this is pushing businesses to consider ways to stay competitive that they will not have considered previously. Pedal Me’s contribution to this goal is to demonstrate how to shift loads that would otherwise be put in the back of a van. And to this end we are keen to also see that vocational training approaches for cargo bike riding are accepted as good practice. This is crucial to help build business trust in new ways of doing logistics.
For our own purposes, we are offering something “of professional standard”, in order to give our clients and riders confidence. But we also considered the question of who do businesses trust that we can ask to help to make that statement on our behalf? We thought immediately of vocational training experts City & Guilds. After scrutinising our training approach, and accompanying syllabus, since April 2019 they have been happy to endorse us as members of their ‘Assured’ training programme. That’s a mark of a quality you simply cannot get elsewhere in this burgeoning industry.
Empowering business to use cargo bikes on their terms
We are now rolling out our training offer to those companies looking to take on board the clear advantages of cargo bikes by investing in their own fleets to replace journeys otherwise completed by van (or often put in the back of a minicab as an urgent last minute delivery). This is the key to why training is the centre of our approach to logistics.
It’s crucial to be able to deliver cost savings through comparable efficiency and payload in order to compete with motor vehicles, otherwise, from a purely business perspective, what’s the point? Vocational training empowering confident riders to get the best from a bike is the foundation of being able to deliver cost savings and efficiencies.
Our training sets risk minimal standards, teaches understanding and anticipation of where the challenges will lie and as a result boosts confidence. This ensures that cargo bike riders that complete our ‘pass or fail’ course have demonstrated they are of the necessary quality, and can demonstrate excellent roadcraft and a professionalism that employers and clients can trust.
For the more sceptical, a parliamentary bill on pedicab regulation in London is on the horizon. It intends to provide standards for responsible operators covering both passenger and cargo movements by bike. We hope the bill will reassure those who are still nervous about cargo bikes.
Don’t stop learning
So, riding a cargo bike; “is it difficult?”. Well, having read this blog, reflect first on the things about cycling you may find difficult and consider what experience you think is likely necessary to ride a cargo bike for a living. And if you do happen to see a Pedal Me rider out in London on a job, ask them their opinion, or just watch how they ride and interact with others on the road around them.
We trust they should make it look easy, but that’s the value of training.
If you’re interested in how we can help your business decarbonise its urban logistics and switch to cargo bikes through staff training and access to bike loans and sales, read more here.
If this article has given you cause to consider what training is available for cycling, speak to your local council or Transport for London about ‘Cycle Skills’ training that is available in your area. It’s usually free and appropriate for riders of any age.