The training Pedal Me needed didn't exist – so it designed its own from scratch

All riders for the bike courier company must pass its bespoke City & Guilds qualification before being offered a role

The training Pedal Me needed didn't exist – so it designed its own from scratch

They were once a rare site on the UK’s roads and used mainly for the school run by environmentally-conscious families. But, thanks to a greater awareness of the climate crisis, cargo bikes have seen a boom in recent months. They’re also being used more by businesses – with total UK sales for 2021 expected to eclipse last year’s 4,000 by more than 60 per cent, there is now roughly a 50/50 split between their personal and commercial use, according to the Bicycle Association of Great Britain. With the government also offering grants of up to 40 per cent of the cost of electric cargo bikes to support greener transport, all kinds of organisations are now taking to two wheels.

One business that was ahead of the curve is Pedal Me, a London-based courier company that uses electric cargo bikes to transport goods and passengers across the city, and whose bright-pink livery is a frequent sight on the streets of the capital. Founded in 2017 by Ben Knowles and Chris Dixon, who previously delivered cycle training for a local authority, the company crowdfunded a round of investment in 2018, hitting its target of £150k before the campaign’s launch party had even happened, and is now close to employing 100 people.

But with such rapid growth comes a whole host of people issues. General manager Piab Flowers (pictured right), who previously worked as a rider and dispatcher back when the company had just 16 employees, and is now responsible for most of its HR, explains that punctuality and sickness absence were the firm’s two biggest people problems when he took up his role earlier in 2021. The organisation recently enlisted an HR consultancy to teach Flowers and his team the fundamentals, which deduced there was not enough focus on performance management. “We were too busy to keep an eye on [sickness and punctuality], but we also couldn’t afford to lose anyone,” Flowers says. “But now we have policies and proper tracking, so we can start with a welfare meeting if we notice any worrying patterns.”

And with riders out and about across the city alone for hours at a time with only a two-way radio connecting them to their colleagues, it can be easy for wellbeing issues like mental health to go unnoticed, says Flowers. Uncommonly for the industry, Pedal Me’s staff are all fully employed and receive benefits including sick pay (“from the very start, we wanted to make sure people were looked after,” he explains). The company has also made sure there are “multiple avenues” available for anyone experiencing difficulties, as well as appointing a dedicated rider rep and organising regular in-person social events. “Managing people is hard, and always will be, but we want to make sure we’re offering as much support as possible,” says Flowers. “It would be horrendous if we ever had to let someone go because of their mental health.”

And although staff retention has always been “tricky”, because of the nature of the work and the fact that some people “just can’t hack it”, explains senior strategic operations officer Elouise Kjellstad (pictured left), until Covid hit, the company never needed to undertake any formal recruitment drives. “It was always just through word of mouth and our riders acting as adverts,” they explain. 

However, an increase in demand for its services during the lockdowns led to Pedal Me needing to up its hiring ante, and it has also noticed a drop in applications in recent months. Kjellstad has plans to tap into more diverse talent pools, including people granted asylum and ex-offenders and, adds Flowers, the company also hopes to be able to improve remuneration and offer the London Living Wage as base pay; currently, staff are paid national minimum wage plus commission, which the company tops up to the London Living Wage if their weekly total is below that rate. Introducing regular check-ins during new riders’ first few months has also helped to curtail the drop-off in fresh recruits leaving.

One difficulty, explains Kjellstad, is getting new starters into roles fast enough – all applicants have to pass Pedal Me’s rigorous training programme, which can take more than 10 hours to complete. The programme – which leads to a City & Guilds-recognised qualification – is the first of its kind and bespoke to the organisation, with the company’s founders having designed it from scratch when they found there was no existing training specifically for cargo bikes. 

Riders are trained in bike handling away from roads before taking to the streets and having their navigation skills tested, as well as being assessed riding a bike loaded with bulky boxes or heavy sandbags. Once complete, they can progress to undertake additional training in transporting up to 150kg of passengers, and using a trailer that takes the bikes’ maximum cargo capacity from 150kg to 300kg. The company now sells its rider training programme to other organisations that are looking to accredit cargo bike riders.

“Our training is what sets us apart from other cargo bike companies – we won’t put a rider on the road unless they’re 100 per cent,” explains Flowers, adding that it gives Pedal Me “bragging rights” with customers, as well as encouraging similar organisations to also invest in training their staff. To try to offset the drop in applications it saw, the firm is now also offering a completion bonus of London Living Wage for all hours spent undertaking the course for those who pass.

“Knowing our riders are City & Guilds-trained means passengers feel safer, and companies feel more confident in letting us carry high-value items,” he says. “If your riders are trained well, they’re less likely to get injured or damage goods: as to why we’d do it, it’s a no-brainer.”