Working Bike – Life as a Courier

18 01 2013

(This is the first in hopefully what will be a series of articles about Muddy@rsers who have bikes or cycling somehow as part of their job – I’m looking to cover those fortunate (or fit) enough to ride a bike all day for a living, as well those of us who ride our bike to a desk job.  If you have suggestions and would like to write some words, the  get in touch with me (Rich_f) via the forum. Thanks!)

The other day on the forum a Muddy@rser popped up who we hadn’t heard from for a while – Steve (known as Steveonstumpy for his regular Stumpjumper bike).

Steve in MTB mode

The thread was all about looking back and seeing what mileage we all done on our bikes during 2012. As well as confirming that riding bikes is as much about the fun you have than than the mileage, Steve mentioned that he’d been working as a cycle courier for the last year.  Being the nosey type I got in touch and asked if he would mind sharing a few words about his experiences. So – let me handover to Steve to give a fascinating insight into what it is to ride your bike for a living in our capital city. Enjoy! Rich F

And Steve in Courier mode

“I have been working as a cycle courier for just over 14 months now, so whilst I’m hardly a vet I’m not a rookie either… I think!

The Job
Easy to get into hard to get out of is the oft quoted expression.
My hand was forced by redundancy and various personal issues.

Basically self-employed, to pedal. You are given a radio & XDA device for signatures, job details and so you can be tracked!! You are paid per drop, the amount depends on a number of factors (Post Code, deadline, time of day and waiting time). Some small companies pay guaranteed minimums (known as “gara”) but that is very rare.

So no parcels no money or more parcels more money, hence the rushing about!

The best guys can earn @£500pw. That’s by doing 30 drops a day every day for five days. I tend to do @ 20/25 I have managed 30 plus in a day but it’s down to luck ie where the pick ups & drops are.

The Controller
Not usually fat but can be! He is controlling around 30 riders. He knows what they all have on board he knows who his fast/slow riders are he knows all the deadlines. He controls over 500 deliveries a day on average. He also has his favourites!!!

His two aims are to get parcels delivered & make us money, He uses his knowledge of London to string runs together so that we can have more than one delivery on board (not be “one up”) I have had as many as 11 parcels on board!!! Gets your navigation skills focused I can tell you!

The Bikes
Single speed (no hills in London) two brakes for me. The hard core guys ride fixed no brakes. It makes sense on one level (I can wear out a set of brake pads in one wet day & wheel rims are constantly checked on braked bikes) but I could never do it. They get through a tyre a month usually.

The Area
I cover from E14 to W2 NW1 to SE1. If the motobike channel is quiet we can get their work & go further (more money!) I have done E14 to NW8 & I had a run that took me W2 W2 SE1 SE11 E2… Basically a lap of Inner London!
I have been to multi million pound properties (£9,000 a WEEK rent!!!) and s**t hole East London estates where you don’t take your eye off the bike!!!
London is a wonderful, wonderful place as someone once said “A man who is tired of London is tired of life”…. I’ll come back to Mr Pepys later!!!

Right – so I have a delivery for 66. Is this it , or 26? erm…


Health & Safety
It’s dangerous. 2 couriers have died & one has had “life changing injuries” during my time. The old chap that was killed last February was a 20 year vet.
It’s nearly always the left turning truck & buses. If you ever ride in town or fancy a Barclay bike tour get up the very front at the lights or hang back be super aware of your actions at junctions.
Watch for tourists too… they tend to be looking left as they step off the curb straight into you doing 20mph, some of my colleagues will simply get their heads down & “nut” them as the whole thing goes down. Best avoided really.
By common consensus the worst drivers in London from a cycling standpoint are

1) Addison Lee mini cab drivers

2) Black Cabs

3) buses LT or another.

Watch them all


London being as cosmo as it is and given the nature of the work my colleagues are a varied bunch!
Present nationalities represented are Italian, Polish, Brazilian (huge numbers in couriering), Latvian, French, South African and oddly one from Blackpool!!!
Having English as a second (or third!) language does lead to some comedic moments on our dreadful radio! The Polish spelling of Hermione over said crappy radio and the direction to Pepys Street EC3 (told you he’d be back!) from a Brazilian to a Latvian left me struggling to breathe. But I struggle with English too and it’s my only language so I have a lot of respect for these guys it ain’t easy!!

So that’s a bit of an overview hope it gives you a flavour of what I do at the moment, dunno how much longer, but the opening quote holds & the job market isn’t getting any better so who knows.

I’m off to check the winter clothing now all the best





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