No-car cargo carriers lighten the load in Sheffield

The Heeley Development Trust charity sits at the top of a very steep hill. From here, the trust looks after the local park, and runs a bike recycling and maintenance business, all of which involves the transportation of tools, bike parts and sometimes small trees up and down a 12% gradient.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 25 February, 2016, 10:00
S-Cargo electric cargo bike launch: Harriet Grant from The Log Shop take a test ride as Frank Forman from Recycle Bikes tries to keep up

Of course the trust would like to do this by bike, but how would its staff feel?

“It’s fine,” said lead mechanic Karlos Bingham after riding up the steepest part of the hill with half a dozen bike wheels. “It’s fun. Everyone looks at you and smiles as you’re riding along.”

S-Cargo electric cargo bike launch: Karlos Bingham of Recycle Bikes transporting bike wheels

Cargo bikes were common in Sheffield a few generations ago, when delivery boys would happily use a butcher’s bike the weight of a horse to bring over your groceries or newspapers, until the motorised van arrived on city streets.

So why is Karlos smiling as he cycles several kilograms of bike bits up a 1 in 8 gradient?

“Cargo bikes are great for moving stuff around, but we live in Sheffield,” said Graeme Symington. “Sheffield has lots of hills, so we were looking for an electric solution to give you some assistance to help you get uphill.”

A ‘pedal assist’ electric bike has a big advantage over the traditional Yorkshire cargo bikes featured in Hovis adverts. “If you pedal, the bike will pedal with you and help you get up the hill,” said Graeme.

S-Cargo electric cargo bike launch: Karlos Bingham of Recycle Bikes transporting bike wheels

Graeme works for Heeley Development Trust’s Recycle Bikes social enterprise, which after weeks of trials has now launched a cargo e-bike hire service for other small businesses, with the help of a Sheffield Council cycling start-up grant from the Government’s Local Sustainable Transport Fund.

“It’s about moving small loads that people would normally use a car or van for,” said Recycle Bikes cycling project manager Angela Walker. “We think electric cargo bikes make a lot of sense for short journeys, or for journeys with a lot of drop-offs around town.”

Recycle Bikes bought their ‘Urban Arrow’ bikes from the Netherlands, where parents use cargo bikes for shopping and school runs, and businesses routinely load them up with everything from beer barrels to groceries. Ikea has even trialled a hire scheme to transport your furniture by bike from some Dutch stores.

Families and small businesses can hire the Sheffield bikes for anything from four hours up to several weeks. The power supply will last for 40 miles or so, and can be charged up overnight. At present businesses can even try the bikes out on a free two-day trial. Staff suggest riders allow time to get some advice before riding away into the sunset. Regular cyclists should get the hang of things in 10 minutes, they reckon.

“They’re actually a really nice, smooth ride,” said Frank Forman from Recycle Bikes. “And they’re a real head-turner.

“When you ride down the road you get people smiling and laughing and pointing.”

Angela proudly came up with the cargo bike business name that has been waiting for someone from Sheffield to adopt: ’S-Cargo’.

“Like a snail, slow and steady but gets there in the end,” she said. Mechanic Howard Raven uses the ‘Porter’ lockable cargo box model to transport his bike tools to Dr Bike sessions in the city centre. Howard is a long-standing racing cyclist with a stable of featherweight bicycles, but he still enjoys riding along with 100kg of tools on his cargo bike. “It is horses for courses - you wouldn’t want to go motor racing in an HGV would you?”

Harriet Grant from the Log Shop in Heeley gave the ‘Sheaf’ open-top model a try with a load of logs and firewood. “I think it’s a great idea for shops like ours,” she said. “It’s economic, it’s good for you and I think it would be ideal for us to take our local deliveries in the summer.”

More and more businesses are considering better ways of moving around the city, said Angela Walker. “We all want a healthy and pollution free city, and this is our contribution towards it,” she said. “You can make your deliveries door to door, cargo bikes cost a lot less than a van to buy, and their running costs are virtually nil: there’s no tax and no need to put petrol in every time you use it. To power a cargo bike, you just need a couple of extra buns.”

Visit s-cargo.co.uk or call 0114 399 1100 for details.