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Utility Cycling Want to haul groceries, beer, maybe even your kids? You don't have to live car free to put your bike to use as a workhorse. Here's the place to share and learn about the bicycle as a utility vehicle.

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Old 01-13-12, 09:45 AM   #1
nubcake
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Utility Bike business'

I am sure there are a few of you out there who make money with your cargo bikes/trailers and was just seeking a little input from those who have been where I am.

I like most people keep looking for ways to earn a living doing something I enjoy. I also am "training" for some ultra mountain bike races so saddle time is always a good thing. I just came back from a small trip to Boulder yesterday and was blown away with how accepting the city is of bicycles, there is even a real estate company called "Pedal to Properties". I have scoured the interwebz and have now found a delivery service that uses bicycles as its only means, not really looking for bike messenger type deliver, more so hauling bulkier items for local companies and people with something like a Surly Bill trailer.

I have read the bikes at work articles and they are helpful although dated, but the optimist inside makes me think them being dated is an advantage because of rising fuel costs. Looking at some big box stores delivery charges they are charging around $70 for some simpler deliveries for things like TV's and ovens, loads that although heavy would be doable by bike, I saw where bikes at work even hauled a refrigerator and said it wasn't so bad. I am comfortable with heavy loads and trailers, actually, I really enjoy pulling them so that makes this even more tempting.

My question, is it actually possible to pay your bills with something like this? How much do you normally charge for deliveries (I am thinking $10ish for simple deliveries?) I am sure the city would be receptive of such a business once I make myself known considering how many people use bikes to commute and how focused on being "green" that they are. I read where a city planners said his hopes for the town 20-30 years down the road would be only pedestrians and bicycles and maybe the occasional electric car, so the city is proud of this for sure.

My wife is also an artist who does henna and makes jewelry and where there are college kids there are people who love henna, she has made around $150 after tip at some henna gigs in Denver and it seems there would be more people in Boulder interested in henna as well.

Thanks if you made it this far. Let me know if I am crazy to think of trying this, I will not take offense if you think so. I am pretty comfortable with gear selection btw, more so curious about the logistic side of the business and how long it has taken most people to start making any money off it. I live a very modest life style and love that so I am not hoping to get rich, just get by with maybe a little extra.
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Old 01-13-12, 11:27 AM   #2
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I posted the following in another thread. They are just my thoughts about the subject. I do think it would be very difficult to make an adequate living doing this. Maybe if you were a very efficient route planner, had numerous customers in proximity, and your deliveries weren't long trips (say, less than 3 to 5 miles total each). I know when I have very heavy loads (anything near or above 300 pounds), I'm slowed down to ~8 mph even on a flat grade, so a 5 mile total delivery might take an hour or more, depending on loading.

You might also think about insurance if you're going to be pulling expensive, new items (ie, appliances, furniture, etc.).


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Fantastic! I told my wife when I retire, I may start my own utility cycling business. Unfortunately, that's a long way off in the future...

Let me just throw out some ideas I've been tossing around in my head, in case someone's looking to start a cargo/delivery business.

1- some people may need some assistance shopping. I'm thinking about elderly or handicapped people. One could add a shopping component to the delivery business and charge by the bin/time/pound/mile/etc.
2- often people have scrap metal to recycle. In my area, a scrap washer and dryer bring about $30 in scrap. At the current rates, iron/steel brings about $.10/lb and bare copper $3.30/lb. Other metals (brass, sheathed or dirty copper, etc.) bring somewhere in between.
3- most appliance stores offer delivery at a charge. Years ago I worked at Circuit City and they charged $30 for a delivery. An enterprising utility cyclist could under-cut that charge. I bet matress stores offer delivery for a charge as well...
4- in my area, glass and some plastics can't be picked up curbside. Yet, my family generates these to be recycled. One could charge a fee per bin/pound/amount of glass or other recycles to be picked up. This could save some families the hassle of having to make the monthly or bi-monthly trip to the recycle center.
5- I also change my own oil in my car (gasp! yes, I do still drive a car), which means every few months I have to take the used oil in for recycling. Yet another item that could be picked up for me.
6- I make frequent trips (~1x/month) to Goodwill/Value Village/Second Hand Store. One could offer pick up of these as well.
7- Many areas have recycling programs for electronics and batteries. Many people don't know what to do with the junk printer, broken TV, ancient PC, or plug-in floppy drive. Sure, if they work the Second Hand Store may take them, but if they don't they need to be disposed of responsibly. The utility cyclist entrepreneur could pick them up and make sure they get recycled appropriately.
8- You might be able to get $.03/pound recycling cardboard. Depending on your source and where you have to go to recycle it, cardboard could be worthwhile. I'm not sure the volume of 300 pounds of cardboard, so perhaps that wouldn't be feasible.
9- what do appliance stores/places that sell appliances (Lowes, Home Depot, Sears, etc) do with their old appliances? Often, they offer delivery and removal of the old item. What do they do with the old item? Perhaps they would give it to you and you could recycle it. Keep in mind that some appliances (refrigerators and freezers have little, if any scrap value), so they may actually cost you to get rid of them.
10- used/dead car batteries are worth $8 in my area. Sure, most people recycle their battery when they buy a new one, but many don't or didn't in years past. Now they don't know what to do with their old car battery. You could do the world a favor and recycle it properly for them, and make $8/battery in the process.

If I was the enterprising, entrepreneurial utility cyclist, I would charge items based on the Rubbermaid bin (my BAW 64A can handle 8 comfortably). They're ubiquitous, relatively cheap, and designed to fit on my trailer. I'd charge specific fees for pick up of most things (a fixed rate per bin, perhaps $5 to $8), possibly with discounts if I was going to make money on them. For example, if I was picking up a washer and dryer, I may charge less than an old-school big-screen TV for recycling, since I'd be making money on the washer/dryer. I may charge more to recycle a refrigerator because it would cost me to get rid of it (locally for me I think the fee is $5 per appliance, so I'd add a $5 surcharge to the refrigerator).

I'd probably also charge one-time pick-ups more than for regular pick-ups. And, time and/or mileage and/or weight might also be factors.

Last edited by hopperja; 01-13-12 at 11:36 AM.
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Old 01-13-12, 12:02 PM   #3
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Hooperja, some good thoughts, many of which I had been thinking along similar lines. If I went through with it I did plan to use rubbermaid bins but never thought of charging per bin, that would simplify things greatly.

I also thought about scrapping of appliances and the ones that are actually worth some money like a washer/dryer I would offer free pick up and just use the money from the scrap as my profits, but charge for things that actually cost to get rid of like you pointed out.

Insurance was another thing I was going to have to look into if I was going to try and undercut the delivery services offered by electronics stores. Not sure if it would end up being cheaper or more costly than using a truck to deliver but I will just have to make some calls and find out.

One advantage to Boulder is that the city itself is really not that big and fairly flat but dense so I doubt trips would ever get to be much more than 5 miles. I think the hardest thing would be to come up with pricing on different services, I have a tendency to under charge because I like to help people out. My wife is the same way with her henna but has had many 100% tips so I do think it can balance out.

Thanks for your thoughts
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Old 01-13-12, 12:53 PM   #4
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Take a look at some of the qmsdc15 (now banned) posts in what utility rides thread (in the stickies) He used a trailer and hauled a lot of volume items. I think techicall he workd for a messenger service but it seems that messenger busines is not all documents in the messenger bag.

My guess is to make a go of it you will need a certain about of population density in order to have enough business and for it to be practical to deliver. 50 mile round trip deliveries would not be practical.

My first business at 14 was a bike delivery business. I took a loan out ($125) to buy a Schwinn 3 wheeler. My target market was LOL (Little Old Ladies in pre texting speak), picking up groceries, drugstore runs etc. it was in a small town in Montana where people would call a store and say Jim is going to pick up. I charged $.50 a delivery. Broke even....paid off the bike, but was not a huge money maker.
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Old 01-13-12, 06:09 PM   #5
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in boulder you do not get flat until you are east of 28th street. as soon as you get west of 28th it starts climbing. folks don't notice it in a car. boulder is snugged against the foothills.
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Old 01-13-12, 10:03 PM   #6
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in boulder you do not get flat until you are east of 28th street. as soon as you get west of 28th it starts climbing. folks don't notice it in a car. boulder is snugged against the foothills.
This is true, although it looked like everything would be doable with all but the heaviest loads.

The one thing that really worries me is the extremely high cost of living, even cities just outside of boulder like Lafayette seem to be pricey. Moving to Boulder or surrounding cities looks like it would almost double what I am paying for rent in the springs. Guess I can blame the trustifarians...
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Old 01-14-12, 10:04 PM   #7
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Do a quick figuring of, let's say, $30 per hour. To make that you have include loading and unloading. Take a bike trip to different parts of the city and time it and figure out how much to charge per mile.
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Old 01-19-12, 12:03 AM   #8
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Take a look at some of the qmsdc15 (now banned) .....
He's banned? What?
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