Wired Wheels of Commerce
By this autumn, there’ll be more than 30 electrically-assisted cargo bikes plying the trade of 26 local businesses in Sheffield, thanks to the council winning the UK’s largest e-bike award from the Energy Savings Trust.
Local organisations were invited to bid for a bike to help reduce pollution and congestion and to make local business trips more efficiently. The grant provides 90% of the bike’s cost, with businesses paying for the remainder and peripherals like servicing.
With the Sheffield clean air zone (or city congestion charge, as some call it) due to arrive next year, this is how the future for Sheffield city centre traders will look, say many of the city‘s new power pedalled traders.
The clean air zone will add another cost to van journeys in the city centre, so a £2–5,000 e-cargo bike soon makes economic sense.
“It’s going to be quite a hark back to how it used to be,” said knife maker Michael May. “Especially if I’ve got my name marked on the bike panniers!”
Michael is a modern little mester, based in a workshop at Portland Works, off London Road. Generations ago, he says, the youngest lad in the workshop would be told to jump on the company bike and make the local deliveries and pick ups, because time was money for the more experienced workers. Just as it is now.
“Any driving in the town centre is not a good use of time, because there’s nowhere to park,” he said. “Having a cargo bike will speed me up, so I have more time in my workshop,” he said.
“I’ll be using it every day, carrying tools or part made knives or taking deliveries to the post office, and my commute will be ten minutes instead of the half an hour it takes me now by car. And I’ll not have to worry about where to park, because I can just wheel it into the workshop.
“I think this is how it should be. Less cars and more bikes will make everyone’s life a lot easier.”
An electric cargo bike is a practical business vehicle, said Bex Atkinson from the Unwrapped shop in Crookes.
“It will allow us to pick up fresh produce daily from local suppliers and help us to deliver our products to customers in a way that is emission free, as well as zero waste,” she said.
“It’s very important to us to help keep Sheffield’s air clean and to operate in as low carbon a way as possible. Transport that includes electric cargo bikes is the future for Sheffield’s innovative and vibrant business sector, because these bikes are a practical solution too. The visibility of 32 extra e-cargo bikes will help bring more onto Sheffield’s roads. We just need a little more help in terms of things like bike storage in all areas of the city.”
Moya Sketchley from Barra Organics has already trialled e-cargo bikes loaned from the A Different Gear bike shop. She said an-e powered bike was ‘democratising’ for her fruit and veg businesses since it allowed older people to take bags of spuds up the steep hills of Sharrowvale and Greystones, just as it opened up delivery rounds for younger people excluded by expensive van insurance.
“There’s been a surge in demand for our veg box deliveries since the coronavirus lockdown, and having the bike proved invaluable for delivering to very local customers, as not all our workers drive,” says Moya.
Angela Walker from A Different Gear has been loaning e-cargo bikes through the S-Cargo scheme for several years, and says they make sense to both businesses and families, since a bike with a motor allows people to ditch their cars and transport kids for shorter journeys just as easily as bags of potatoes.
“People know they shouldn’t really be making those short order trips by car, but they said up to now there’s been no alternative. Well now there is — you can do it by cargo bike instead.”
Matt Cottrill from the Steam Yard cafe said: “E-cargo bikes seemed a good fit for us in terms of striving to be as sustainable as possible. There is a limit to the distance and capacity of a bike, but if we can continue to work with as many local suppliers as possible, and replace as many journeys as we can with a bike, this is a huge impact over weeks, months and years.”
Russell Cutts of Russell’s Bicycle Shed is planning an e-powered cargo bike delivery service within the clean air zone.
“The council worked closely with local businesses to put together a great bid that will see more produce and goods moved in Sheffield by clean, quiet and environmentally friendly means,” he said.
“Normally investment in cargo bikes on this scale would be impossible for a small business without support, and we’re grateful to the council and the Energy Saving Trust to be able to benefit from this scheme. It’s a great boost to our business in times like these.”
Along with several of her colleagues, Dr Jo Maher already rides an e-bike to her job at Wincobank Medical Centre, but other staff found the local geography a barrier to journeys by bike. A company e cargo bike for trips with medical equipment will enable more staff to make work journeys and patient visits by bike, she said.
“We have the Cote de Wincobank Hill (aka Jenkin Road) in our practice area, where elite bike riders from around the world came to participate in the 2014 Tour de France. No wonder normal people see bike riding as something that’s not possible for them!
“We hope having the e-bike will give staff who hadn’t tried one before an experience which changes their mind about cycling in Sheffield. The practice is involved in the National Greener Practice Initiative for GP services to reduce their carbon footprint, and this is one way to do so.
“We see one of our roles in serving the health needs of our community as leading by example. There is a lower engagement in active travel in the north east of Sheffield, despite having the Transpennine Trail and cycle routes along the canal on our doorstep, and cycling is not as popular as it could be. We hope our normalising cycling as a mode of travel will encourage others to consider it as something they could do too,” she said.
“We’re delighted at plans for the government to invest in active travel around the city, and hope there is now a cultural shift in the perception of walking and riding,” she said. “The e-bike couldn’t have arrived at a better time.”