Royal Mail to phase out bikes in 2014

New working practices leave Pashley Mailstars out in the cold

by John Stevenson   December 10, 2013  

Post Office bikes at Wheatley (CC licensed by net_efekt)

One of Britain’s most iconic sights, the bright red Pashley Mailstar Royal Mail delivery bike, is to go the way of the dodo in 2014. And from the comments of many postmen, it won’t be much missed.

Over on the Guardian’s Bike Blog, Laura Laker reports that the Royal Mail has already been slashing its bike fleet. Since 2010, 13,000 to 14,000 bikes have been removed, leaving just 3-4,000. Next year, these will go too.

While health and safety concerns have inevitably been blamed by some, postmen who’ve responded to the article say that the system of vans and trolleys that has largely replaced bikes is easier, faster and more efficient.

PostmanHat writes: “I’m a lifelong cyclist and don’t drive, but push bikes are entirely impracticable for the weight and volume that we now deliver.

“How would like to tow 100-150kg up even the mildest incline? The rounds would take forever. Vans are the best of the options on the table at the moment, though those bikes might suit some rounds.”

A Pashley Mailstar (CC licensed by SallyB2)

It seems the issue is twofold: the Royal Mail now delivers a far greater volume of parcels than in the past, thanks to online shopping, and the previous system of bikes and vans involved bag drops on the postman’s route, which raises concerns for the security of the mail in those bags.

Cycling charity CTC has conducted a campaign to keep posties on bikes, with support from some postmen. The organisation’s campaigns and policy director, Roger Geffen, says: “There are plenty of operators who recognise that bike is an extremely efficient answer, you have just got to find the right bike.

“I cannot see why they think the traditional post bike isn’t appropriate for the loads they’re carrying. When CTC did our Keep Posties Cycling campaign three years ago, at first [Royal Mail] just ignored us, until we arrived with a very large number of letters delivered by post bike.”

Geffen concedes that Royal Mail did look at the alternatives, but needs so many bikes that sourcing enough cargo bikes was a stumbling block.

He said: “They had actually done research into different options: there were bikes that met their needs that couldn’t be produced in large enough volumes and there were bikes that could be produced but they didn’t work well.”

As Geffen says, some operators are using bikes to deliver mail. TNT Post has 1,000 bikes and delivers 95 percent of its mail by bike.

But Mailman57 points out: “At the moment TNT only work in urban areas with delivery areas only a short distance from their delivery office. Further, they do not delivery the volume of mail or parcels that the Royal Mail postman delivers.”

While many postmen are convinced the new system is better, Roger Geffen says others would love to continue to use bikes.

He said: “There are plenty of posties that are totally convinced they could use a light freight bike, that they could find a way of spreading out the parcels. They don’t like the idea that they are going to be cooped up in a van when they could be outdoors.”

“As far as we are concerned this isn’t the end of the story; we understand from Royal Mail their vans have a lifespan of about five years, and if they find they are being undercut by these companies or if they find the health of their work force suffers there is time to have a rethink. What they are doing is reversible.”

Bikes are expected to carry on being used in a few places where a cluster of houses with long driveways makes deliver by trolley very time-consuming.

A refurbished bike in use in Malawi (©Mobal Communications)

And if you’re wondering where the old bikes are going, a telecommunications company called Mobal has been shipping them to Malawi, where they are refurbished and sold as sturdy, practical transport.

So Royal Mail bikes will still be making deliveries in Africa, and in the mansion belts of Surrey and Cheshire.

14 user comments

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Meanwhile, takes over last mile delivery using bikes, and manages to be faster, cheaper and greener.

[ end shameless plug ]


oddbydefault's picture

posted by oddbydefault [86 posts]
10th December 2013 - 16:06

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As a former Royal Mail employees (postman and other things as well) it's worth remembering that the nature of the job has changed. Back in the day we all got essential stuff bills letters etc in the mail to every address everyday. We don't anymore. The gap has been filled by Royal Mail management filling the bags up with direct mail at very low margins. So they could keep the network and the posties delivering to every address but now it is mostly unwanted tat.

If they just delivered the stuff we actually wanted and used to get then it would be horrendously expensive because the network is configured to deal with high volume and to every address.

In the meantime the main expansion has been for small packages parcels arising from the expansion in online shopping. That's not always suited to bikes and it is much more spread out geographically and not on a set route. The big challenge for Royal Mail is to change their whole business model so that they can use their brilliant network but to deliver the higher margin packages and parcels stuff rather than pizza leaflets at break even rates.

They may well use bikes in some areas to do that. Better still there are all kinds of electric bikes and bike trailers that make a lot of sense.

That is unless you want the posties to make a poor living delivering annoying unwanted DM tat at no margin rather than something people want to receive and are willing to pay good rates to have delivered.

Electric Bikes and trailers are on their way and an awful lot of posties will cheer.

Cycling is like a church - many attend, but few understand.

posted by oozaveared [364 posts]
10th December 2013 - 16:25

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oddbydefault wrote:
Meanwhile, takes over last mile delivery using bikes, and manages to be faster, cheaper and greener.

[ end shameless plug ]

Isn't that a bit disingenuous? Do you mean greener and faster if you don't count the bit RM have already done?

posted by Chuck [300 posts]
10th December 2013 - 17:02

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Glad to see the phased out ones are being put to a great use

posted by jarredscycling [436 posts]
10th December 2013 - 17:06

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For the quantity the Royal Mail would buy, I'm sure that there are companies that would design and build a purpose built electrically assessed light weight cargo bike that would fit the criteria perfectly.
Its not good for the environment to keep stop/starting the vans hundreds of times a day. Or they could at least go for electric vans which would reduce pollution.

posted by Mart [86 posts]
10th December 2013 - 19:02

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Mart wrote:
Its not good for the environment to keep stop/starting the vans hundreds of times a day.

They don't stop/start, neither manual nor automatic. The postie just leaves the engine running while they walk up and down the drives Sad I wish I was in the next village, where a postie still uses a bike, albeit much of it is scooting along the pavement between houses on the A road, rather than on the road, but few people walk there anyway noe.

posted by a.jumper [657 posts]
10th December 2013 - 19:09

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"While health and safety concerns have inevitably been blamed"
Yep says it all H&S nanny state rules yet again.

posted by Guyz2010 [278 posts]
10th December 2013 - 21:56

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I can't remember the last time I saw a Royal Mail postie on a bike, there have been swarms of TNT riders around here recently though.

thegibdog's picture

posted by thegibdog [62 posts]
10th December 2013 - 22:18

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All posties in my village and neighbouring ones still deliver by bike. I say keep the bikes.

Ah! Condor

posted by Bedfordshire Clanger [304 posts]
11th December 2013 - 0:07

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Chuck wrote:
oddbydefault wrote:
Meanwhile, takes over last mile delivery using bikes, and manages to be faster, cheaper and greener.

[ end shameless plug ]

Isn't that a bit disingenuous? Do you mean greener and faster if you don't count the bit RM have already done?

Nope. Currently we handle all post entirely end to end, so perhaps 'last mile delivery' is a misnomer in this sense. We collect mail directly from local businesses, so their post doesn't touch the Royal Mail system. We also handle large volumes of mail from our parent company, who print bills and documents for hundreds of big name businesses and councils. These are delivered daily to our sites (<20 miles away) using our own electric car. This is undeniably greener than sending council tax bills through Royal Mail.


oddbydefault's picture

posted by oddbydefault [86 posts]
11th December 2013 - 0:28

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I was in Copenhagen recently and Danish Post seem to manage using bikes still, great big electric assist cargo bikes like these:

posted by pjt201 [96 posts]
11th December 2013 - 10:14

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TNT have just started delivering by Bikes In manchester,
Although having seen the type of bikes they have to ride (or push which they seem to do most of the time) it might be worth them getting vans.

posted by Denzilwood [23 posts]
11th December 2013 - 10:36

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The electric "assisted bicycles" used by Danish and German postal services have a motor of at least 500W continuous rated output, that would be classified as an electric moped - and rightly so IMHO. A healthy human pedaller's continuous rated output is only about 200W, so the main propulsion in that case is electric. The fact that this power is controlled by turning pedals (rather than twisting a handgrip) becomes somewhat incidental, but this nevertheless seems a good way of keeping the driver healthy and alert.

Note that Deutsche Post's recent investment in electric so-called assisted bicycles, is to replace petrol mopeds - with a vehicle of similar performance but smaller carbon footprint. As an environmentally concerned person I would welcome the adoption of similar vehicles by the British Post Office. But as a cyclist I would want them to be treated as the mopeds they are and NOT like the pedal cycles they are not.

We, as cyclists, need to defend the dividing line between pedal cycles and motor-cycles. 250W and 25kmph of motorised power and speed is enough already, to enable a less able person to ride like a reasonbly fit one. Should we welcome these higher-powered virtual mopeds into cycling's friendly fold, we are likely to find that we've admitted a trojan horse, that comes loaded with inconvenient moped-style legislation.


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posted by Crankwinder [16 posts]
11th December 2013 - 15:48

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Boo! Another good thing disappears, a victim of modern bloody life and all the crap that goes along with it. It might seem tiny, but this represents another chip away at the soul of our nation.


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posted by Ghedebrav [822 posts]
11th December 2013 - 21:46

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