Cycle delivery in London: Is it for you?

This article was first published on my LinkedIn account with some small edits.
Returning to full-time study was hugely rewarding in many senses, but not in the personally financial. When planning my part time employment options, I decided to give the life of a delivery cyclist a crack. My own dad had worked as a cycle courier in London in the 90s for a spell, and app-based platforms would make it possible to have a highly flexible work schedule on my own terms, doing what I love, cycling. Delivering for apps has some amazing upsides, and I hope this short article will let you in on what life is like for the riders and maybe help you make a decision on whether to join the mob!

After an ‘on-boarding’ session, self-employed couriers like me are accredited as suppliers to a platform which you’ve probably seen in the window of the takeaways and restaurants in the high street. After that, you’re invited to install an app which lets you ‘go online’ and take orders assigned by the platform’s algorithm. The platforms typically give you a choice of London zones to ‘go online’ in, such as MMS (Mayfair), DUL (Dulwich) or SKC (South Kensington). Get to the zone, hit the ‘go online’ button, and you’re off to the races. Your phone will alert you to a delivery contract, and should you choose to accept it, directions to the supplier, most commonly a restaurant or takeaway but sometimes a pharmacist or other business, and the end recipient. You pick up the order, deliver it to the client, and are usually paid weekly, though one platform now lets you ‘cash out’ more or less instantly, minus a small processing fee.
The upsides to the job are considerable. Firstly, the pay, while variable, is in my experience well above the wage I expected. I average around £12/hour in normal conditions, and in foul weather and ‘peak times’, this goes up to around £16/hour, or even higher. Secondly, the flexibility is second to none. I have no manager to negotiate hours with, there is no stress of finding someone to ‘cover’ if I have a sudden change of plans, the algorithms fit around the change in labour supply to make sure everything is taken care of. Lastly, and most importantly for me, it’s a very stress free and enjoyable job. I love cycling and I’m confident riding around town, and it is a lot of fun delivering to people who are (normally) very pleased to see you.

Even in bad weather, so long as you are kitted up right and cycling cautiously, it’s a blast. The worst problem I normally have is keeping myself fed enough to manage a full day’s work. When I can, a dash run to a supermarket on the way into town will get enough snacks to fuel the tank. And if there’s any unwanted food at a supplier, it isn’t unknown for it to be sympathetically given away to delivery cyclists.
It isn’t exclusively food either – in my ‘career’ I’ve delivered medical products to a Harley street clinic, coffee pods to businesses, and on one occasion a same-day-delivery phone charger to a flat of someone who’d clearly lost theirs.
There are downsides as you’d probably expect; firstly, sickness will totally kill your income and I could see this leading to a grave situation for a rider living invoice to invoice. For myself I caught a bug which laid me low in bed for 4 days this year, and left me weak and debilitated for another week. There is no kind of sick pay for a poorly rider in the gig world.
Also, the hours are quite unsociable. The most in-demand time for a delivery cyclist is in the party evening hours on Friday-Sunday and especially on bank holidays. This isn’t a bad thing all the time, as it can help keep your own spending under control! It just means you may find yourself making cost-benefit decisions on whether you can strictly afford to miss a ‘rush session’ to go to and socialise. This would be even harder with a family.
To sum up, the delivery app life has a lot going for it. If you like riding a bike, and want to make your hobby help pay the bills, you could do a lot worse than give the gig a go. Keep it rubber side down!

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