Interesting Work: Bike Courier

You can’t help but stare as you drive past.  A man is riding in the bike lane bundled up against the December cold.  His legs are pumping ridiculously fast and in one hand he holds a cell phone, in the other a soft drink in a paper cup.  He is desperately trying to hold onto the handlebars with two fingers.  On the back of the bike a giant red bag is strapped precariously to his bike’s rack.  He looks a little bit like a deranged Santa Claus late for Christmas…

…that man (dramatic pause)…that man is me.

Do you remember when being a bike courier was super cool?  Jessica Alba was a bike messenger for crying out loud…OK, yes that was a TV show but still…heroic, dark, anti-establishment hipsters…I thought I could really use some of that mojo!

What Is the Work Like?

It was with these high hopes that I strapped my helmet onto my 46-year-old head and attached my bright yellow paniers to my trusty Bianchi Volpe touring bike.  I had signed up to deliver meals by bike with DoorDash.

It was all a bit mysterious. I gave them some information about myself and they sent me a red insulated bag, a reddish debit card and instructions to download the Dasher app. I got the app downloaded and the debit card activated and signed up for my first shift.  In return I got a short message that said:  Your Dash is about to start…and reminded me to make sure my phone was charged, that I had the debit card and that I had the insulated bag with me.  I felt a bit short on training…

So I stood in the driveway on that cold, late December morning and the clock flipped over to 10:30, the start time for my Dash.  Immediately an alert popped up on my phone.  It said – pickup available at KFC, do you accept? – Well of course I did, so I clicked accept.  The phone directed me to a Kentucky Fried Chicken 1.7 miles away.   I started pedaling like a madman, my breath trailing behind me.  It is strange how an app on your phone can make you feel like you have to ride as fast as you can but there is no denying the urgency I felt to get to KFC.  When I arrived, the app asked me to swipe if I had reached the location.  So I did.  It then told me that the order had not yet been made, and that I would have to place it…and what an order it was.  A large bucket of chicken legs, a large order of chicken wings, a large order of mashed potatoes, a large order of coleslaw, two chicken sandwiches, gravy and one Diet Pepsi.  I looked at my small red bag…

I paid with the debit card I had been given and a bit more than 5 minutes later all the food came out.  I carefully stuffed it into the insulated bag.  I filled the cup with ice and Diet Pepsi.  I had planned to always put the insulated bag into one of the bike bags on the rear rack of my bike.  But there was no way this was going to happen with it being so full.  I took the straps for the panier bag on each side and tied them over the top of the red bag as it sat on the rack.  I googled what do bike couriers do with drinks?  In short it said the simplest method is to carry it in one hand.  I also had to look at the map to get to the customer’s home which I had up to this point been carrying in one hand as well…(I think this will be the solution in the future)… the app asked me if I was on my way to the customer?  So I jumped on, phone in one hand and Pepsi in the other and made a mad dash for the apartment building which was a bit less than a mile away.  Once I arrived the building was locked but the app is really good, it seamlessly integrates calling and texting to the customer so he soon enough came down and happily got his food.

As I walked back to the bike the phone buzzed again.  A pickup at a bar downtown 1.5 miles away, could I be there in 10 minutes…umm yes.  And off I went.  This time it was grilled cheese and fries to be delivered a couple of miles to the parts department of a large car dealer.  The guy was so happy to see me it almost made my day.

As I walked back across the street to my hastily ditched bike the phone buzzed again…a pickup at a Chinese restaurant to a place back on campus.  The restaurant was close but I had to watch for the busy traffic.  Another mile up the hill and I buzzed the apartment door and a man came down quickly to get it.  And then my phone went quiet, I had been delivering for about two hours…my wife happened to be nearby so I went and hung out with her for 30 minutes.  Just as I was ready to call it a day the phone buzzed again.  A sushi restaurant back downtown to be delivered back on campus.  As I made the return trip my phone went dead…using the map for three hours had taken its toll.  I quickly stopped at a public building and charged the phone for five minutes.  As soon as it sprung back to life it rang.  The customer was calling, she had been watching my progress on her app and when my phone had died I disappeared.  A few minutes later I safely dropped off her meal.  It was now 5 minutes until 2, the time I had chosen as the end of my shift.  But the phone buzzed again asking me to pick up another meal.  But with my phone at one percent charge I respectfully declined…

How Do I Get a Bike Delivery Job?

Getting the job seems pretty straightforward.  If you have a bike and the will to try it, you can likely give it a shot.  Where we live there is a local company, Grubhub, DoorDash and Uber all competing in this space.  I think the biggest issue is if they are allowing bicycle delivery in your market.  It is my understanding that it is not available everywhere, which probably makes sense, especially in more rural areas.  I think the DoorDash experience is pretty good – it is pretty amazing how well it all works with just a couple of emails and a good app.  Give it a try by clicking on this link!

Should I Try This?

I wanted to give this a shot because I thought: Is it possible that someone is going to pay me to exercise?  Lets face it, plenty of folks my age spend their entire Saturday mornings out biking just for fun.  And there is no doubt you will get exercise.  Unlike your casual Saturday rides it is a bit more like short sprints.  But I think as you do it more you can time things better.  So as far as getting paid to exercise…a strong yes.

I had lunch with a friend of mine and when I told him I made $23.83 with tips for my four deliveries over three and a half hours he said, “that is terrible.”  He is certainly not wrong in a conventional sense.  That is only about $7 an hour.  I think I could do a bit better with experience but I think $10 is about the most I could hope for by bike.  And at least for me I couldn’t do it everyday, it would be pretty tiring.  The same friend has an electric bike he will let me borrow and I plan to do a separate post outlining that experience.

All that said, my early twenties me, who literally looked for change under couch cushions to buy a box of mac and cheese, and drove cars that often couldn’t make it more than a few miles…would have absolutely loved this.  I loved to bike, I often had free chunks of time during the day and it would have been such an easy way to make money for groceries and social activities in an on demand way.

Job: DoorDash Bicycle Food Delivery 

Fun:  The biking is fun, customers friendly.  Almost like a game trying to keep up with the different times the app sets for you as far as pickup and delivery 

Learning: My first gig economy job.  If you have not done one you will be blown away by how well thought out the app is and how easily it all works...

Pay: $7-$10/hr

Side Benefits: Huge Quads! ;0)

Worth doing: Great for those who need to earn a few bucks during irregular free hours.  You get to brag about having a side hustle! 

Resources:  DoorDash, Uber, Grubhub to name a few



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