Taxi firm Cargobike bans helmets for staff drivers over safety concerns
“The overwhelming majority, our staff suffer injuries off the bike, not on the bike,” says Pedal me co-founder Ben Knowles, who tweeted comments after confirming that the London-based pedal taxi service has long banned its cyclists from wearing bicycle helmets.
“People who take enough risks that they feel the need to wear a helmet are not welcome to work for us,” Knowles tweeted on Feb. 4.
“Instead,” he insisted, “we work systematically to reduce risk.”
On a Zoom call, Knowles said the most common injury reported by his runners was being “slashed” by bungee cord hooks. The company now secures cargo with recycled bicycle inner tubes.
Other common injuries reported by company runners include trips on stairs.
“Or it hurts your back picking things up,” Knowles said.
Since the company was founded in 2017none of its runners reported head injuries on the ground.
“If you have a collision, there’s no question that it’s better to wear a helmet than not,” admitted Knowles, but he added, “our bikes are three meters long; you can’t go over the handlebars.
(Knowles sent Forbes.com a video showing a staff pilot performing an emergency stop that proves this point, he said.)
“We’ve had an incident before where a staff member was attacked with a machete, but that doesn’t mean we’d be equipping all runners with body armor,” Knowles said.
Pedal Me transports people and goods on custom electric cargo bikes. The company has a fleet of 80 vehicles, to which are added 75 others on order from the Dutch manufacturer Urban Arrow.
(based in Amsterdam Urban Arrow sold more than ten thousand cargo bikes in 2019 when it was acquired by Pon Holdings, a Dutch mobility group. Pon.Bike – with its recent purchase of the Cannondale Sports Group – is now one of the biggest high-end bike interests in the world.)
Knowles is a former transportation planner.
“I’ve worked with schools, getting young people to use bikes,” he said.
“I made it a point to make sure I had a great understanding of the risks cyclists face.”
He said the biggest risk to cyclists comes from motorists and that bike helmets offer little or no protection against impacts from cars and trucks.
The firm does not provide helmets to passengers.
“We carry people on the front of our bikes,” Knowles said.
“It’s not practical for us to have helmets on board that can properly fit every head circumference. And I’m not going to wear helmets that don’t fit people well because it’s more dangerous than not wearing a helmet in the first place.
He thinks cyclists who wear helmets may take more risks than cyclists who don’t, a concept known as risk compensation.
“I don’t want our staff to take additional risks because they feel protected, or impose that risk on those around them, including passengers.”
Pedal Me, the official company name of Bike Taxi Limited, employs 70 people and is not part of the ‘gig economy’.
The firm has suffered during the pandemic but is now looking to bounce back. Despite earning $168,000 in November last year — a run rate of $2 million, Knowles said — it remains a loss-making business.
“Startups that are in the growth phase spend more money than they make,” Knowles said.
“We are only five years away; our priority is growth and obtaining the best possible results.
Knowles said Pedal Me will soon be looking to raise $4.8 million from institutional investors. Current shareholders include hundreds of people, many of them prominent cycle advocates in the UK, who have invested through crowdfunding platform Crowdcube.
The first funding round succeeded in 2018 when the young company raised $477,000. Another $570,000 was raised through Crowdcube in 2019, and there was another round last year raising another $776,000.