Faster, smaller, cleaner: data analysis shows why delivering by cargobike makes sense

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Thursday 26th November 2020

The Spokesmen Cycling Podcast

EPISODE 261: Faster, smaller, cleaner: data analysis shows why delivering by cargobike makes sense


HOST: Carlton Reid

GUESTS: Ben Knowles and Nicolas Collignon of Pedal Me, London


Spokesmen interview with Pedal Me’s Ben Knowles in 2018.

Nico’s blogpost


Carlton Reid 0:12
Welcome to Episode 261 of the Spokesmen cycling podcast. This show was recorded on Thursday 26th November 2020.

David Bernstein 0:24
The Spokesmen cycling roundtable podcast is brought to you by Jenson USA, where you’ll always find a great selection of products at amazing prices with unparalleled customer service. For more information, just go to Hey everybody, it’s David from the Fredcast cycling podcast at I’m one of the hosts and producers of the spokesmen cycling roundtable podcast for shownotes links and all sorts of other information please visit our website at And now here are the spokesmen.

Carlton Reid 1:09
Hi there. I’m Carlton Reid and today’s episode is about the significant logistical benefits of last mile delivery by E-cargobike. Joining me from London is Pedal Me boss Ben Knowles and calling in from Copenhagen is Nicolas Collignon who is a Pedal Me rider during the day and the firm’s data scientist at night. Nico knows his stuff. His PhD was in computational cognitive science. And over the next 20 minutes or so, we discuss Nico’s fantastic new blog post that demonstrates with data why dense urban areas are best served with deliveries by wwift, nimble, planet-friendly cargo bikes, cargo bikes that can be loaded up with pretty big payloads. Okay, so this morning or today I have with me two people. Ben Knowles, who’s in where are you saying you’re you’re in London as a market there, Ben, wherever you are?

Ben Knowles 2:15
I’m sitting in Exmouth market, which is one of the very pleasant, low car spaces in London that’s well utilised for commerce. And so you might hear some bikes coming past you might hear some shoppers on their way to COVID-secure buying. So apologies for any of the background noise.

Carlton Reid 2:39
Well, you might hear dogs or a dog in the background of my one as my dog wanders in and out. And also in Copenhagen, which is a fantastic place to be is Nico so it’s Nicolas, I’m gonna murder your name here. Sorry. Is it Nicolas

Unknown Speaker 2:57

Carlton Reid 3:00
Oh, I got it. Right. Actually, I got it. Right. Fantastic. So just to set this up. You’re Nico. You’re a data scientist for Pedal Me? Yes. And you also ride for Pedal Me?

Nico Collignon 3:15
Yeah, that’s correct.

Carlton Reid 3:16
And Pedal Me. Let’s go. Ben, you will last on the show on the spokesmen podcast back in 2018. When you are going for your first round of funding. So just bring us up to speed on where you are and how many riders you have now. That kind of stuff.

Ben Knowles 3:33
Yeah, so I think we were around about 15 staff members then. Today, we’re about 55. Staff members, a lot more advanced in terms of tech and operations. We, we’ve moved to our own system, other than kind of like an A white labelled external system. That’s much better suited for for what we do. We’re doing a lot more large scale logistics. And we’ve done some amazing bits of work, including there’s one project that Nico has written an article about, as well, where we delivered 10,000 packages across Lamberth covering something like 20,000 kilometres I believe it was. So we’ve grown a lot since we last spoke, Carlton.

Carlton Reid 4:26
So you had two funding rounds. Is that right?

Ben Knowles 4:29
Yes, we’ve done to two equity based crowdfunding rounds. And yeah, we’ve put that money into growing our fleet. So we have 56 bikes today improving our tech, which is an incredible amount more advanced today than it was and then the latest features, we have an API, so Companies can plug in directly to our tech system for fulfilment of orders. Also, next next week, we’re starting to move into our first warehouse. So we also do some sort of third party logistics stuff where we hold people stock for them, and then do their deliveries on their behalf as well. Or by bike. Apologies for the beeping in the background. The inconvenience, right because I

Carlton Reid 5:36
yeah, that’s good. That’s my bicycles. Your bicycles don’t have beeping when they when the reverse No,

Ben Knowles 5:42
no, but maybe they should do for the trailers.

Carlton Reid 5:47
Nico is this a wild stab in the dark thinking you might be in Copenhagen because of the bikes you ride with?

Nico Collignon 5:56
knows that my my I grew up in Copenhagen. So I’m visiting my family for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic, so

Carlton Reid 6:06
Okay, but you’re French?

Nico Collignon 6:07
Yeah, I’m

Nico Collignon 6:07
French, but grew up in Copenhagen.

Carlton Reid 6:10
Interesting, Nico, how come you’re working for Benjamin there? How come you’re working for Pedal Me?

Nico Collignon 6:18
So I finished my PhD in February. from Edinburgh. I did my PhD in computational cognitive science. And I wanted to take a bit of a break from academia and use my skills on a project with impact. And I believe that cargo bicycles have this potential to change things for the better in cities. So I wrote to Ben and then he replied very quickly, and then I jumped on the bike a couple of days later,

Carlton Reid 6:51
So, Nico, you are riding as well as being the data scientist, is that right? So you’re like, you could be on call. You could be going out like everybody else in the team.

Nico Collignon 7:00
Yeah, exactly. Exactly.

Carlton Reid 7:03
So Ben, I don’t know how much of this will be talking to you. Because obviously, Nico is the data scientist, and he’s the one who’s put some of this data up. But obviously, pitch in whenever you think you need to, but let’s go to Nico because this this, this blog posting and Twitter thread that was put up has gone viral. It’s fascinating because well, you can tell me why. But basically, it’s showing the incredible efficiency of, of cargo bikes, and we’re gonna say this is like London, is this London during the pandemic is that all the data has been captured in that period.

Nico Collignon 7:44
So the data we’re looking at here was just for the month of September. So that was outside of any lockdowns. And I think that the traffic was actually quite, quite high in September.

Carlton Reid 7:58
So first of all, tell me the speeds. So that’s that’s how fast as a normal van or car motor vehicle go in London, and how fast do you guys go?

Nico Collignon 8:09
Sure. So the so one of the problems with this study, so I wanted to do a van versus cargo bike comparison is that I don’t we don’t actually have access to van data. But to the best numbers I could find were from a report from Transport for London, from 2018. That said, the traffic speed in central London was 11.4 kilometres per hour. And in inner London, so a bit outside of Central that was 18.7 kilometres per hour. And that’s between seven in the morning to seven in the evening.

Carlton Reid 8:48
And what are you guys doing? What are the what are the cargo bikes doing?

Nico Collignon 8:51
Sure, so he speeds that I found looking at 19,000 kilometres from 37 of our bikes were 15 kilometres per hour in central London. So that’s 3.6 kilometres per hour faster than the vans and then in inner London, it’s 16.4. So that’s a bit slower, but it’s like it’s averages for two quite big zones. So I think what it really shows is that the more dense area we’re in the faster the faster the bikes and then yeah, I think that if you’re within three or five miles of the centre of London, then the cargo bikes have a definite advantage. And then

Carlton Reid 9:34
you’ve got to factor in for a van driver, you’ve got to factor in somewhere to park Yeah, to then make your delivery whereas you can well what do you do? How do you avoid parking spots?

Nico Collignon 9:46
Well, it’s not that we’re avoiding the parking spots we also have to park but like the bikes are, I don’t know if five times smaller than a than a van. We can also like move a lot more freely. So is just something that’s not not a concern when I’m out and about on the bike doing deliveries.

Carlton Reid 10:07
So this this data that you’ve captured at Ben and Nico, this is all with the new IT system that you have. So this is all logged on riders phones, where’s where’s the data log?

Ben Knowles 10:22
So we’ve got a couple of sources of data. So yes, we have tracking through the riders phones, actually, through a couple of systems that we use. One for the one for our radios, and another for running the running jobs directly through an app. But we also have ways of track we have trackers on the bikes. And I believe that that’s where Nico pulled this data from.

Nico Collignon 10:54
Yeah, that’s correct.

Carlton Reid 10:56
Okay, so you’re using, you’re putting this data through into open street mapping, to show that the bike base trips are actually shorter than the equivalent for a van, is that right?

Nico Collignon 11:08
So yeah, so for this, I looked at the data for more jobs suggest the pickup locations and the drop off locations. And then I looked at the routes that openstreetmaps would give us for bike routes, and then for comparative to car routes. And any and what I what I found is that the bike trips are consistently significantly shorter.

Carlton Reid 11:37
is the reason for that shorter distance that bikes can use bike paths and shortcuts. What’s what what do you put it down to?

Nico Collignon 11:45
I mean, yeah, maybe you can you can? Um, well, yeah, one of the reasons is that, yeah, we have shortcuts with bike paths. But there’s also like, there’s bus lanes, and then cars are sometimes allowed on single way. Roads, too. There’s a Yeah, there’s a bunch of reasons.

Carlton Reid 12:09
And then they’re just that the amount you can carry on a on a bike. I mean, that’s, that’s obviously something that you you push on social media. Yeah. That, but you can’t carry what a truck can carry. So where are the advantages for a client to using you if they’ve got tonnes of stuff to cart around?

Nico Collignon 12:30
Sure was one of the main goals for writing this piece was that it’s, it’s clear that there are misconceptions about cargo bikes, and one of them is how much cargo bikes can carry. So our bikes can carry up to hundred 50 kilos. And if you add the trailer, it’s 150 kilos more. And, yeah, that’s quite a lot. And the thing is that we can ride these bikes at at full speeds. So which is significantly faster than vans in central London. But then the second thing that is maybe not so intuitive, is that the fact that we can’t carry as much means that we can be more efficient in terms of logistics, because the loads are spread between more vehicles. And that can lead to more efficient routes.

Carlton Reid 13:22
So that I’m looking at the the data science here on the pedal me with this the blog, basically, or the article that was written. So this is using, like routing, you know, analysts analysis of like nodes and and different routes that you’ve, you’ve used, and you’re basically showing that cargo bikes are just incredibly more efficient than vans. Is that is that what you’re showing here with all of these different graphics? Which fabulous.

Nico Collignon 13:58
Yeah, so yeah, basically, is trying to give an intuition to what the last mile delivery looks like, which is a lot of drops quite densely distributed in the city. And the Yeah, the point is that, because they’re quite spread out around the city, if you were just to have all your drugs in one van and trying to link them all up, your route might be longer than if you were instead dividing it by let’s say, three vehicles, and then sending a vehicle to each of the patches. Does that make sense? Hmm. So it’s really trying to give an intuition using data and from clients that we work with for what last mile delivery looks like the last mile logistics.

Carlton Reid 14:46
So on here, it’s talking about a pedal a cargo bike can carry up to 36 packages, that’s like or 70 drops in a day. Yeah. So is that also just much more than ever van would normally do?

Nico Collignon 15:02
So I think you’re the point again is to Well, I mean, the bikes can’t really carry more than the navan. But the point is that in for last mile delivery, you’re limited by the time of the driver, you’re probably not going to be driving more than eight or nine hours in a day. And that limits the numbers of drops that you can do. And that means that most of the time your your van will be running or driving itself capacity because you like you don’t have enough time to fill up the van with deliveries, if that makes sense. And I was reading this study that was done in, in Delft in the Netherlands, where they analysed or they looked at the content of all vans coming in and out of the city in a day. And they they found that only 10% or less of vans would have been needed for the trip because like they’re just rarely used it for capacity.

Ben Knowles 16:03
And then, and that backs up some slightly older deep data from London that TfL had, which indicated that something like 67% of all fan trips were the vam is running at 25% capacity or less. So we’ve we’ve used that two thirds figure as an estimate of what logistics we can feasibly do within London. So we think that you know, like two thirds of the logistics that’s going on now would be more efficiently done by cargo bike.

Carlton Reid 16:48
Now an awful lot of cities will be looking at making their their fleets that they use into electric, in which case, you know that the pollution that you’re you’re not creating. But But yes, standard internal combustion engine vans and cars are using, you know, that’s an advantage now, but in say two years, three years whenever when all cargo fleets are electric, you lose that that advantage. So is your advantage, mainly going forward going to be efficiency? Is that? Is that where you’re pitching this? Because in the future, you can’t really pitch pollution as something that is going to be in your favour.

Nico Collignon 17:37
Yeah. So I mean, I’m talking here from Copenhagen work and see bikes from my window. And I think that one of the things that is not so obvious for people that live in a city like London, is the is the damages of car culture or motorised vehicle culture. And I think, yeah, it goes beyond just the pollution. So I tried to put together all the all the facts, but yeah, the one of the points was about the the sheer amount of space that that vehicles take the and then the dangers of having vans on the roads. And these are things that are not going to go away just because you have electric vehicles instead of combustion engines.

Carlton Reid 18:24
And that question for sorry, Ben, for you. You’re still London. And everybody always asked, I’ve certainly asked, and they’re just saying, Look, when are you coming to a city near me? So what’s what’s your expansion plans with this incredible efficiency, it can be done in other cities. So when could you expand?

Ben Knowles 18:46
Well, I guess that’s a question for me. Real realistically, we need to get to a scale where we’ve got the tech operating really efficiently. And we have we start to grow this network of quite sizable business partners that operate in multiple cities, that will make it very easy for us to go and tackle other cities. I guess, for me if things went well. And we got the right funding, and we start to come out of this pandemic period, which has been really quite disruptive because the type of work has been changing all the time, and we’ve had to be have a lot of organisational capacity on coping with those changes. If we can come out of this period, then something and then like the next year to 18 months, we can be coming to other cities. But to be honest, there’s also there’s so much work for us here in London. I don’t want to lose sight of that, because we think that there’s a billion pounds worth of work every year for us here in London. And we’re doing, you know, at the minute, we’re doing about a million pounds of work a year. So we were lucky left less than a 10th at like a 10th of a percent of the capacity of the market here, as well. So I don’t want to lose sight of the potential for expansion right here in London either,

Carlton Reid 20:34
Yeah. Good point. So this this blog posting by by Nico, this this fantastic information on how efficient these bicycles these cargo bikes are, that is going elsewhere than just on social media. This is something to be sent fleet managers, what are you doing with this information? How are you? How are you going to tell people about this?

Nico Collignon 21:01
Hmm. So we’ve we’ve been in touch with people in academia last week to see how we could push that forward. There. But yeah, otherwise? I think we’re people have been reaching out, but it’s Yeah, we don’t have a set plan. Apart from that, I think.

Ben Knowles 21:22
Yeah, I mean, I think, in general, as a company, what we try and do is, you know, we’re thinking beyond, just like the commerce, we’re not just thinking about our place in society as a business, but also where we can add value. So yeah, the company wasn’t just set up to be a money making machine, but it was also set up to deliver a public goods. And this information being in the public domain, even if we don’t directly profit from it, although I suspect they will bring interesting leads our way and interesting opportunities. That will still be, it will still deliver value in a wider sense. If that makes sense to you.

Carlton Reid 22:10
Yes. I mean, I’m just looking at the the, the tweet that I read originally did this so that I mean, it’s at 735 likes it said, 304 retweets. I know a lot of the people who I follow on Twitter, have been retweeting it and and bigging it up, because it is something that’s really, really important to get a certain class of motorcar and van off the road and for bicycle to take over.

Ben Knowles 22:39
Sure, I mean, I just in in general, I feel that the use of motor vehicles in cities is just so screamingly stupid. It’s such a waste of everyone’s time, that anything that helps people understand that and understand why that is, will help push, push the conversation and allowed more dramatic changes to our cities that will help make those more viable and more practical alternatives, easier. cycle tracks, local ship, low traffic neighbourhoods, more road user charging for, for those that do use motor vehicles in the city. And we, as a company were set up to help push that conversation along and help those changes to happen.

Carlton Reid 23:33
Let’s talk about low traffic neighbourhoods. You mentioned it there. So one of the things that people say is, Oh, I can’t get my deliveries. You know, the van can’t get through. You’re having no problems. I’m as human with low traffic neighbourhoods you can get through.

Ben Knowles 23:49
Yeah, so we did have a problem yesterday, when we were carrying a two seater sofa on the front of one of our bikes. And that did make getting through some of the the filters a bit challenging. But in, in general, yeah, the low traffic neighbourhoods, I mean, we can get straight through even with the trailers. And it it’s one of those things that it also makes working a lot more pleasant. Because you’re extricated from being stuck in traffic. You know, motor vehicles are the main thing that slows down. And so allowing us to move on routes that are parallel to the motor vehicles, and to enjoy pollution free spaces while we’re at work. It makes working a lot more pleasant and a lot more fun. As and, and also it saves us time because we’re not, we’re not entangled with the motors, when when they’re sitting there taking up all their space not going anywhere. We’re just extricated from all those problems, right.

Carlton Reid 25:00
Well, thank you to you both for for talking me today. And let me know. I mean, I will put in the show notes. I’ll put the link to the to the blog posting but Ben just just tell me where that website is and tell me any social media connected and I’ll ask the same question from Nico.

Ben Knowles 25:19
Cool. Sorry, what would you want from us in

Carlton Reid 25:22
Your website. So just Just give me a website and and and your Twitter handle that kind of stuff.

Ben Knowles 25:27
Okay, great. Yeah. So people can find us at And on Twitter or Instagram, on at pedal me at PDLME ATP.

Carlton Reid 25:44
Okay, and Nico, do you have somewhere where people can get hold of you on social media?

Nico Collignon 25:49
Yeah, sure. I’m on Twitter as well. I’m @nccollignon. But also through the Pedal Me Twitter.

Carlton Reid 25:56
And I haven’t been on there. That’s right. I do not follow you. But I’ll go check on you in a minute. And do you talk about cycle stuff on there? Or is this what do you do on your Twitter?

Nico Collignon 26:06
Yeah, quite a lot about cycling, then. Yeah. Then Oh, yeah.

Carlton Reid 26:13
It makes sense. I’ll definitely go and follow you then if you if you talk about cycling. Cool. And well, thank you so much, guys, for for talking to me today. And you’re very, very different locations. Thank you to Ben Knowles of Pedal Me and to Nicolas Collignon, also of Pedal Me and, and his fantastic PhD from Edinburgh University there. And let me just go across to my colleague, David before I wrap up the show.

David Bernstein 26:41
Hey, Carlton, thanks so much. And it’s it’s always my pleasure to talk about our advertiser. This is a long time loyal advertiser, you all know who I’m talking about? It’s JensonUSA at Jenson I’ve been telling you for years now years, that Jenson is the place where you can get a great selection of every kind of product that you need for your cycling lifestyle at amazing prices and what really sets them apart? Because of course, there’s lots of online retailers out there. But what really sets them apart is their unbelievable support. When you call them you’ve got a question about something, you’ll end up talking to one of their gear advisors and these are cyclists. I’ve been there I’ve seen it. These are folks who who ride their bikes to and from work. These are folks who ride at lunch who go out on group rides after work because they just enjoy cycling so much. And and so you know that when you call, you’ll be talking to somebody who has knowledge of the products that you’re calling about. If you’re looking for a new bike, whether it’s a mountain bike, a road bike, a gravel bike, a fat bike, what are you looking for? Go ahead and check them out. JensonUSA, they are the place where you will find everything you need for your cycling lifestyle. It’s We thank them so much for their support. And we thank you for supporting JensonUSA. All right, Carlton, let’s get back to the show.

Carlton Reid 28:07
Thanks, David. And thanks, of course to you for listening to Episode 261 of the spokesmen podcast, show notes and more, including links to Pedal Me’s website and Nico’s Twitter account and it can be found at Our website also has all of the subscribe details you could ever eat and details on the previous 260 shows. But meanwhile, get out there and ride …

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