29 March 2023

E-cargo bikes: Potential for rural innovation

To introduce the e-cargo bike innovation portal module, NICRE innovation associate Steven Morrison Cairns from Food and Drink North East (FADNE), who is passionate about transitioning logistics and supply chain activities within the food and drink sector to low carbon solutions, explains the background and how e-cargo bikes could be used in rural areas.   


Cargo bikes first came onto the scene nearly two decades ago when Rob King (co-founder of Zedify) launched the UK’s first commercial cargo bike service - Outspoken Deliveries - in Cambridge in 2005, a city that has been synonymous with the humble bicycle for generations.

Fast forward to 2017/2018 and two companies emerge onto the e-cargo bike playing field - PedalMe and Zedify - offering last-mile delivery solutions in London and Cambridge. Up until the Covid-19 pandemic hit our shores in 2020, the e-cargo logistics businesses throughout the UK only operated in our densely populated cities. That was until a group of mountain bikers in rural Yorkshire decided to set up a delivery service in Calderdale using bikes with trailers and e-cargo bikes – Cargodale was born and you can find out more about them in this module. This disruptive business showed the logistics world that our rural areas have a place for e-cargo bikes too, and their operation is expanding.

My e-cargo bike journey started in mid-2019 with ZMOVE in and around Newcastle-upon-Tyne. It wasn’t until the late spring of 2020 that I started looking at our rural towns in Northumberland, with the aim of following Cargodale on the rural logistics journey, an interest that has been spurred on by my role at NICRE.

Current landscape

The adoption of e-cargo bikes is proving difficult on many fronts: Why?

  1. Once Covid restrictions started to ease, the effects of Brexit started to hit home and have a significant impact on the supply chain and the willingness of European manufacturers to ship to the UK.
  2. Coming out of the pandemic has been topsy-turvy for many sectors and this is making businesses reluctant to adopt or change how they move their goods, and the willingness to embrace the efficiencies that the e-cargo bike is able to offer in both our urban and rural communities.
  3. The cost of e-cargo bikes is prohibitive to many businesses and until the funding landscape changes, this will be a barrier.
  4. Finally, the lack of understanding in many of our local authorities and lack of cross-departmental working is putting the brakes on, and holding back the large-scale uptake of first and last mile e-cargo bike solutions.

Interest in e-cargo bikes

Over the last few years my engagement with local town councils, businesses and communities on the adoption and promotion of e-cargo bikes has largely been well received. Interest in trialling delivery services in some of our rural towns has started to gain more traction since the start of 2022, and as part of FADNE’s partnership with NICRE, we’re working towards offering a local delivery service in Hexham. This adoption will be made easier if some of the barriers stated in the section above, have been reduced or removed entirely.


As our rural towns have become more congested with vehicles and areas taken over for parking, deliveries for Business-to-Consumer (B2C) and Business-to-Business (B2B) customers are proving more challenging and time consuming, as well as adding to air pollution. E-cargo bikes have proved with multiple data and evidence studies that they’re even more efficient, versatile, and much less carbon intensive, thus helping on the journey to net zero. The cargo bike is nothing new, just reimagined with a motor, the mapping technology and the integrated ordering facilities that make the customer journey so much easier. The cargo bikes and integrated technology are constantly evolving.

Transition to net zero

For the movement of goods, first and last mile, the e-cargo bike is a solution that we already have (not a technology that is years down the line) that can reduce businesses' carbon footprint drastically NOW. This reduction is achieved by removing the use of vehicles with heat engines, which produce harmful particle pollution from tail pipe emissions, tyre wear and braking.

Finally, the cost benefits of buying an e-cargo bike versus a van are around a 65% saving, plus there’s the health and wellbeing benefits attributed to using an e-cargo bike.

This module showcases the businesses operating in this ever-expanding field and if you’d like to discuss opportunities in rural areas or find out more about NICRE’s work, please don’t hesitate to get in touch at steven@fadne.org