Choose a job you love, and you’ll never do a day’s work in your life, as Confucius never said. So how about cycling for a living? I’m a delivery cyclist for Deliveroo, which right now is bringing some restaurant food to a house near you. I work part-time, four evenings a week in York, one of 30-odd cyclists and half-a-dozen motorcyclists.
In a typical five-hour evening shift, I’ll cycle about 25-35 miles (40-55km), I’ll do 8–12 deliveries, and earn about £40-£45 including (rare) tips. Good sunny weather increases the likelihood of tips; freezing cold, dark rainy nights yield the fewest.
- Gliding along the riverside cycle path on a warm summer evening
- Restaurants that give you coffee while you await a pickup
- Muster-point banter
- Arriving home satisfyingly tired
- Students who lie about their address (because their hall is two miles beyond the university reception, which is the limit of our delivery area)
- Unnumbered houses down dark lanes
- Customers who aren’t in and don’t answer their phone for 10 minutes
- Potholes. Cobbles
- Lairy stag and hen groups
Some like it hot
We’re all ‘professional cyclists’, but of course I wouldn’t equate us with Peter Sagan or Lizzie Armitstead. No. We’re better than them. Anyone can cycle fast, but few know how to avoid spilling your bowl of Wagamama soup on Fossgate’s cobbles. Google Maps? Pah! We have the local knowledge, the unmapped shortcuts that avoid the lights and rush-hour traffic so that your curry arrives hot.
So what’s it like, being a pro cyclist, even if only the sort that transports fish and chips? Well, I like exploring York by bike, I enjoy route finding, and I get paid for doing it. There’s no handling of money, decision-making or multi-tasking, and no office politics. (There’s no office.) An app tells you what to do and where to go: restaurant, customer, restaurant, customer… but otherwise you’re on your own, on the bike, your own boss. I love it.
Your tool for the job
The bike gets plenty of hammer, particularly on those cobbles. Brake pads last a few weeks instead of a few months. In the puddled streets, things quickly clog up, jam and loosen. Which reminds me, I must get the dentist to check my fillings.
For work I use my town bike, a battered but well-maintained Specialized Crossroads hybrid. To deter thieves it looks old, cheap and tatty, but in fact is reliable, smooth and efficient. It weighs a ton, especially with mudguards (essential for a place as wet as York), rack and double-leg kickstand, toeclips, and heavy-duty 36-spoke Mavic 700c wheels.
Tyres are chunky 38mm stabproof Specialized Armadillos: a puncture on a cold rainy night would not only be a pain to fix, but someone’s burger would get very cold. It has a bell too, a traditional loud jangly one, that nevertheless seems inaudible to iPod listeners and pub-crawlers.
My machine’s unusual. Most of the ’Roos ride mid-range road bikes, fixies or singlespeeds, cleats and all, and haul their loads in a backpack; I prefer a rack-mounted box.
’Roo goes there?
Deliveroo operates in 34 towns and cities in the UK, employing 3,500 cyclists; the global totals are 65 and 5,000. It also has motorbike, scooter and car drivers, but 60 per cent of its workforce are cyclists.
If York’s anything to go by, quite a few ’Roos are students, earning a few quid while they finish their degree or PhD. There are several university-of-life graduates, who don’t want suit-and-tie roles. Our backgrounds include catering, law, libraries, drama, media, the forces, and woodwork. The age range is mostly 20s–30s, with the oldest 55; the male: female ratio is about 80:20.
We’re self-employed, which means we shoulder all the risk (no sick pay or paid holiday), but at least bike expenses are tax-deductible. So, be smart and, like billionaire oligarchs, you can avoid paying any tax, for opposite reasons.
Bikes and banter
Many of us are keen cyclists outside of work. There’s even a Facebook group through which we organise long-distance leisure rides. There’s plenty of bike and other banter between deliveries – and if a machine needs tweaking on the hoof, there’s always someone with tools and spares. Unlike most workplaces, the more hectic business is, the less time we spend together, so personality clashes are never a problem.
Evening shifts can be hectic, and there’s always pressure to do more, quicker. But that goes for all gig-economy jobs these days. I’d rather be on a bike, controlling my own workspace, than in a frantic bar-restaurant, noisy factory, or unvisited retail store.
Bad weather is usually the only challenge. But weekend nights can be a bit of a zoo in York, with stag and hen parties, and rowdy drinkers. Most heckling is good-natured, but occasionally things get nasty. I’ve been spat on, shaving-foamed, and had to dodge drunken kicks and lunges. At least the customers are always pleased to see us, and curious and mildly impressed too. (Though rarely impressed enough to tip.)