Bike shops: plug into the gig-economy

15,000 riders are punishing their bikes. Will it be independent bike shops or chains getting the servicing contracts?
By Carlton Reid,

Food delivery app Deliveroo has 15,000 gig-economy cyclists riding for it. I’m one of them. I do it after my day-job, and it’s for the kicks and the fitness benefits, not the money.

I don’t wear the oversize Deliveroo rucksack, I place it on the back of my Xtracycle extension. I do about nine hours a week on this cargobike; some of the other riders do 11am to 11pm, seven days a week. That’s punishing on the riders, but it’s also punishing on their bikes. Some are on BSOs, but most are on decent bikes. These bikes are getting clobbered. One bike shop showed me the BB prised from the bike of an 84-hours-per-week rider – it had been ridden into the ground and, clearly, needed replacing. Ker-ching! 

No doubt you’ve reached out to your local Deliveroo “on-boarding” rep in order to make sure it’s your shop that gets this regular business. (If not, do it before the company does a national deal with a multi-store player.)

And there are other bike-borne hot-food delivery services, too, such as Uber Eats and Stuart, which also delivers non-food items, just like a standard messenger firm. These services have come out of nowhere, but they are putting lots of riders on the road. And that’s lots of potential customers who – to earn – need their bikes back pronto, and are therefore less likely to be ordering parts online.

It’s a moot point whether these app-driven delivery services can last the distance. Deliveroo, for instance, is eating through £750m of venture capital, and in 2016 its annual losses quadrupled to £129m on sales of £129m. Nevertheless, VC funds seem happy – for now – to keep the business afloat, and it’s likely Deliveroo will continue to expand for at least another couple of years. That means more riders, more mangled bikes, and more business for those bike shops who’ve plugged into the scene. 

(And I mean “plugged” literally – Deliveroo is promoting an e-bike wheel to its riders from Bath-based start-up Pushme which is seeking retail outlets for its “pushpod” battery stations. Install one of these and not only do you get paid, you might also see an influx of Deliveroo riders.)