Cycle couriers were once a familiar sight in Oxford, pedalling between the colleges carrying large sides of beef, fruit and vegetables from the market.
The advent of mass catering saw the disappearance of all but one or two cargo bikes, but a revival is underway, fuelled by traffic congestion and concern for the environment.
In Oxford, G&D ice cream shops are among the businesses underlining their green credentials by using bicycle deliveries, saving carbon emissions and money. The phenomenon even has a name – cycle logistics – and a European Cycle Logistics Federation, with more than 140 members.
Now bicycle tour guide Steve Reynolds, 58, has set up Mercury Cycle Messengers with the aim of helping Oxford businesses looking for an alternative to using vans for short distance deliveries.
He said: “I want to be my own boss, doing something that’s eco-friendly. Friends in London have cargo bikes and I thought I could do something for people who want small parcels delivered, rather than using delivery vans.
His website says he has ‘security credentials’ – and he revealed his previous 30-year career was as a police officer.
Super-fit Mr Reynolds hopes to sandwich his bike deliveries in between his cycling commute from Carterton to Oxford and back.
He said: “I used to cycle to work in Oxford from Standlake, so I was doing about 30 miles a day. I retired three years ago and now I work as a tour guide for Bainton Bikes. I have cycled all my life.”
After research on the internet he discovered a Danish company was making the Bullitt Cargo Bicycle.
He said: “I saw it when I went to a bike show in London and took it out for a spin.
“I took to it straight away, found a shop that was importing them and that was it.”
Mr Reynolds has been encouraged by the example of Nijmegen, in the Netherlands, which is spending £40m developing ‘fast cycling routes’ allowing nearly 20km of unbroken journeys by bike, and developing electric cargo bikes to allow large-scale deliveries.
He said: “You can see photographs of people using it to transport flat-pack furniture or even moving sofas.
“They are very popular in European cities in Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands – Paris, Amsterdam, Leiden.
“It can carry up to 80kg. I have a waterproof, locked front box so I can deliver important documents if necessary.”