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Colne Valley, England: “Head-turning” local delivery in a rural area.

In towns and cities, more and more cargo bikes are making everyday life more enjoyable. But what about in rural areas? European local authorities are gradually starting to expand their mobility services. Duncan Sime from Darkwoods Coffee tells us in an interview how a cargo bike is already helping him to deliver locally in rural areas.

© Steve Lovatt

Hey, Duncan! You work as an Event Manager for Darkwoods Coffee. As you yourself own a Load 60, could you tell us how the Load 60 helps your business?
Darkwoods Coffee is an enterprising specialty coffee roaster, Barista school, and pop-up café nestling on the edge of the West Yorkshire Pennine Hills in northern England. We roast our coffee by hand on a 1950's German Probat drum roaster in a beautifully refurbished Victorian textile mill beside the Huddersfield Canal. We source and roast some of the world’s most wonderful coffees, supplying independent coffee shops, restaurants, and farm shops around the UK. We are rooted in our community, in the Colne Valley in Yorkshire.
We use our Load 60 alongside our electric van to increase our delivery coverage, at the same time helping to reduce our carbon footprint as a business, and reduce vehicle traffic on local roads. Owning a Load also means that more of our team members get out and about locally.

What is your approach to sustainability?
We are committed to reducing our environmental impact. The coffee industry, globally, has not always had a great environmental track record, so we are very aware of our responsibility to society and the planet to do what we can to minimise our footprint. We are a certified B Corporation. We are switching the bulk of our packaging to compostable, plastic-free materials and replacing our old gas heating with an air source heat pump. We are investigating sustainable energy generation at our roastery, through solar PV, hydroelectric generation (using the river behind the roastery) and, potentially, generating biogas from micro-scale anaerobic digestion. We measure our annual carbon footprint and have implemented a carbon reduction and sequestration programme. Our Load 60 and electric delivery van are important elements of this approach.

© Steve Lovatt

The Load 60 sits alongside your all-electric delivery van. How is your cargo bike traditionally used?
The Load 60 enables us to make small deliveries to our very local customers quickly, freeing up the van for longer delivery journeys carrying heavier loads. It allows more of our team members to get out and about delivering to local customers, because only a few of them are able, and insured, to drive the van. But we can all ride the Load: it is so adaptable, it fits all our shapes, sizes, and fitness levels. Most of all, it’s fun to ride and makes us smile when we are out and about.
You also use the Load privately. How many of your car journeys does the Load replace overall?
When the Load is not being used for work, our team can borrow it to use it privately for their commute or in their free time. We also use it to get food for team lunches from the neighbouring villages as we have a couple of great chip shops nearby! We save at least 4 or 5 car journeys each week, which is great, and hopefully we can start doing more local deliveries on the bike.
Do you remember your first ride on the Load? What were your first impressions?
We absolutely loved our first ride, but it was a steep learning curve – in every sense. We collected the Load 60 from Saddleworth e-bikes in Greenfield. It is not far from our roastery; only about 15 km, but there is a very big, very steep hill halfway. This was the first time we had ridden a belt-drive bike with the Vario adjustment rather than derailleur, chain, and gears. Once we had familiarised ourselves with it and become used to its unladen weight and turning circle (compared to a normal bike), the Load was so easy to ride, and so much fun. Cycling up a steep road and passing a cyclist in their lycra on their lightweight road bike did generate mixed feelings plus an apology, as they puffed and panted.

And how do people react to the Load when they see it for the first time?
The Load is a real head-turner when we are out on the road. Passengers in vehicles and pedestrians all look on incredulously, trying to work out what it is. Parking up, people ask us about the Load; younger people think it looks cool and want to know its technical details. Older people are reminded of the “good old days” when they would see delivery bikes on the roads in every town and village. We keep the Load on view in a prime position right by the main door of the roastery. It attracts a lot attention from visitors and creates a great topic of conversation, especially leading up to the environmental reasons behind our initial purchase of it.

How would you describe the cycling infrastructure in the Colne Valley area?
We are located in a semi-rural area, halfway between the major cities of Manchester and Leeds in the north of England. Most of the strategic plans to increase cycling opportunities are targeted at urban areas, which means that there are few plans for outlying areas like ours. That said, we do not have the traffic congestion and air pollution that town and cities experience daily.
We have reasonably safe, uncongested roads, although this also results in motorists driving faster. We have a few cycle lanes on busy roads, but they are simply narrow lanes marked with paint on the side of the road, and so there is no physical barrier between the motorists and cyclists.
Our area has a network of old canals, which were used in the 19th century to transport materials to and from factories. The canal paths now provide wonderfully safe routes for walking and cycling, away from busy roads. They are also reasonably flat compared to the steep hills that our local roads cross.

© Tom Kahler

Does your local authority have any plans to improve the infrastructure?
There are no schemes in place locally that encourage commuters to leave their cars at home. The cities have roadside bike and e-bike hire; we don’t have them in our semi-rural area. The local authority has a strategy to encourage “Active Travel”; this is designed to make it more attractive for local people to combine public transport with walking and cycling. In practice, there is not much evidence of this resulting in improvements on the ground. The local authority has a small-grant scheme to encourage businesses to become “bike-friendly businesses”. They sometimes have funding available that a business can use to improve facilities for staff who want to cycle – like covered bike shelters or showers in the workplace. It can also be used to buy bikes for staff to borrow.


Thanks for the chat, Duncan!

“As we travel, our thinking evolves.”