A high-end electric bike can cost thousands of dollars, well of out of the reach of most food delivery workers. Bolt, an e-bike startup with a new bike designed for deliveries, is now offering its bikes through a week-to-week rental instead—on the premise that someone using an e-bike should be able to make more deliveries, spend less on gas, and earn more money than someone stuck in a car.
“It turns out that an e-bike is the best vehicle for last-mile food delivery,” says Mina Nada, CEO and cofounder of the Sydney-based startup, which recently launched in San Francisco and London. Nada previously worked at Deliveroo, a global food delivery company based in London. Couriers on regular bikes struggle with hills and exhaustion after a long shift; mopeds are relatively expensive and have parking restrictions. Cars get stuck in traffic and drivers waste time parking. Electric bikes—which can navigate through congested roads, power up hills, and park on sidewalks—are a better option, but few couriers want to make the investment, which can run into the thousands of dollars (though Bolt has not yet released its pricing for any option beyond its rental program).
“Most of these guys don’t do the job for very long,” Nada says. “The churn is super high in the fleet, and so they’re often not interested in making a purchase because it’s an in-between job . . . they just need a short-term solution. The other thing we found that people who are doing food delivery are not well-off, and even if they want to purchase [a bike], they don’t necessarily have the credit score. They can’t get a credit card, they can’t get loans from the bank. And so we’re providing them with a form of microfinance.”
Instead of only selling its bikes, Bolt offers riders a one-week free trial, and then rents the bike at $39 a week, with the option to rent to own. While $39 is still a steep price for someone earning minimum wage, it’s potentially less than a driver might be spending on gas.
In a study currently underway in Australia, the company is comparing the earnings of couriers using Bolt bikes versus those riding regular bikes or mopeds or driving cars. “I think we’ll be able to show that you’re better off renting from us, and your earnings net of our fees are higher compared to if you were on a bike or in a car,” he says. “You’re faster on an electric bike, and you tend to work more hours, because you’re less tired at the end of the week.”
In the results so far, couriers on the e-bikes have been able to make as much as 30% more an hour than someone in a car because they’re able to make more deliveries because of not being stuck in traffic. (Of course, if gig workers become classified as employees, as will soon happen in California, more companies may decide that they’re willing to provide bikes to their employees themselves—a situation that would be even better financially for the couriers.)
Bolt’s bike is purpose-built for deliveries, with a battery that can hold a charge throughout a day’s work, a motor powerful enough to pull loads up hills, and built-in front and rear lights to improve safety. The company plans to expand to other cities, and will likely also offer other types of electric logistics vehicles in the future.
For companies like UPS, which has tested e-bikes for deliveries in dense urban areas, bikes could also make more sense than larger vehicles. Last year in New York City, FedEx, UPS, FreshDirect, and Peapod racked up more than half a million parking tickets and $27 million in fines, the New York Times reported—and Bolt argues that those companies could have also made deliveries more quickly if they’d used bikes instead of trucks.