Is it possible to earn decent money while delivering on a bike or e-bike for gig companies like Grubhub, Doordash, Uber Eats and others?
On episode 84 of the Deliver on Your Business podcast, we talked with Kevin Ha who operates the Financial Panther website. He does most if not all his delivery work now on an e-Bike and he's been earning upwards of $40 per hour.
I've dabbled with bike deliveries off and on over the past two and a half years. It was half hearted to say the least. I didn't really look at it as a serious earnings opportunity, mostly because I'm horribly slow. Some of it too is a mindset that just says using a car is faster.
Talking with Kevin had me thinking more about that mindset. I've been toying with getting an e-bike, and I decided to pull the trigger.
Let me just say, I've been pleasantly surprised about what it's been like, delivering for Doordash, Uber Eats, and sometimes Grubhub using my e-Bike. I'll get into that more in a bit.
My history with bicycles and delivery
First off, I'm a bike lover. I love tinkering with bikes and doing the occasional restoration of a vintage bike. I'm no expert mechanic by any means, but it's a fun hobby.
In fact that's how I got into my last W2 position. A new bike shop had opened up in my neighborhood, and I found out it was run by a cool nonprofit. It was kinda like a Goodwill for bikes – they sold and worked on used bikes, with the money supporting programs that helped kids get out on bikes.
I started volunteering, and at one point they had a need for help with their business management, so I stepped in for awhile. It was one of my favorite jobs ever.
I'm kind of a rebel against some of the cycling culture out there. There are too many bike shops out there where, if you walk in with the wrong kind of bike or if you don't look the part, you start sensing the judgment in a big way.
Cycling should be fun. It should be enjoyable. The industry needs to make it more accessible and get less exclusive.
But that's me getting up on a soap box.
One of my favorite books out there is one by Grant Peterson, who used to head up the US division of Bridgestone bikes and now runs his own Rivendell bike brand. As I read it, he was preaching to the choir. Here's my affiliate link to that book.
When I started delivering for Grubhub, Uber Eats, Doordash and Postmates, it was a great opportunity to just enjoy my bike a bit more.
Let me start by saying: I'm what they call a Clydesdale in cycling culture. As in, one really big bike rider.
And I'm slow.
But when I saw that there were opportunities to use your bike for delivery, I though that could be fun. It was a chance to make a few dollars doing something I already really enjoyed.
Emphasis on ‘a few.'
Did I mention that I'm slow? Slow as… okay, this is a g rated blog, so I'll leave it at that.
Dispatching for delivering by bike (or e-Bike) was horrible by Grubhub, Uber Eats, Doordash, Postmates… all of them!
Grubhub told me they don't have bike options at all here. They said that the dispatching is different because you have to deal with different distances, you are limited on what you can carry on your bike, and I was told the functionality wasn't built into the app.
Doordash told me pretty much the same. This was two years ago – we'll get into that more in a bit.
Postmates does have the ability to toggle your delivery mode. They were the best set up of anyone for being able to use your bicycle.
The problem was, they weren't very busy in the times I tried delivering.
Uber Eats was the best opportunity in my area. They did tell me I had to create a different account. That was because you sign up for auto delivery, or you sign up for bike delivery. They didn't have the ability to switch back and forth.
However, they supposedly had the ability to dispatch you appropriately for bike deliveries if you were signed up on a bike account.
The emphasis here is on ‘supposedly.'
I quickly learned that they didn't seem to dispatch much differently on my bike account than they were on my car account. I'm not sure it was different at all.
The problem with Uber Eats was that you didn't know where you were going at the time. I had several times I'd pick up an order, see the address was six to ten miles away, and would have to cancel. In fact, I was in danger of being deactivated for all the cancellations on my bike account.
There were days I'd deliver, but the dispatching was just frustrating, so I never really went all in.
Two major changes for bike delivery in my area.
The first change is that Uber Eats has changed how they dispatch. In fact, the information they provide is now maybe the best out there.
But they still suck at dispatching for bikes.
The HUGE development in my area is when Doordash introduced Bicycle mode on their app last summer. It's huge because it actually works. They are much better at limiting the distance when you're in bike mode.
And they're busy enough in my market that I can stay busy.
So I got myself an e-Bike.
Actually I converted my own bike.
I did look into some e-Bikes. I even had worked out a sort of marketing deal with one company several weeks ago. I'm still waiting on the paperwork.
I have been hesitant about a lot of the e-Bikes that are out there. So many of them seem to be one size fits all. That might be great for most people, but those of us on either end of the size spectrum, we often don't fit into that ‘all.' I can tell you that a good fit is important if you're spending much time on a bike.
But I had my trusty Surly Disc Trucker. It's an awesome bike. I love that bike, mainly because I built it from the frame up. It has my own touches.
Did I mention I love that bike?
My e-Bike Conversion.
I called it my Delivery Truck. Here's the bike pre-conversion.
I had rigged a cheap wooden basket that I picked up from Walmart onto a large front rack. It was big enough to put a delivery bag in and free me from using a big less secure back pack. The bottle opener is a fun touch (though I've never used it yet on deliveries).
My biggest concern was hauling drinks. Being out on a bike, there's no air conditioning and no protection from the sun. I picked up this BV cooler for my back rack. Then I'll chuck a freshly frozen re-useable ice pack into the cooler which stays cold for several hours for me.
I did a mid-range conversion with Electric Bike Outfitters
I do not have any relationship with Electric Bike Outfitters. Admittedly, I wish I did. After my experience, I can easily recommend them.
EBO is based here in Denver, but they supply electric bike conversion kits to bike shops across the country.
There are some brand new e-Bikes that are cheaper than the conversion kits. I know a lot of people who love some of those bikes. However, I made the decision because I knew my bike, it fit well, and it works well for me. I could do a conversion and have a known quantity.
Here's the bike now.
At first glance you can't see much difference. The major differences you see aren't really related to the e-Bike part of it.
Lately I've been using a backpack instead of the front basket. I may add the basket back as there are times I can load the food faster and keep it more secure. There are advantages both ways.
The frame bag in the middle has been a godsend. I had this made for me for a bike tour a few years ago by a friend of mine. If you want a custom frame bag for your bike, check out JPaks. You might have to wait a bit, Joe is in high demand, and the bags aren't cheap. But it's been worth every penny for me. (I do not have any referral relationship with JPaks).
I don't use the frame bag that much for delivery itself. But it's awesome for storage. Between tools, water bottles for myself, and being able to store an extra bag as a backup it's been awesome.
EBO did what is called a mid range conversion.
Basically what they did was replaced the crankset with a motor assisted unit. You can see the part added at the bottom.
Here's bascially how it works on an e-Bike. You're installing a big battery and an electric motor. The motor can either do all the work for you, where you engage the throttle and the engine turns, or it can do pedal assist. The motor can sense when you're pedaling and the more effort you have to put into pedaling (such as going up hill) the more the motor kicks in.
There are three ways you can do it. You can have the motor in the front wheel, the rear wheel, or at the crank (mid range). I chose to do a mid range system because it allowed me to keep most of my bike ‘intact' and it feels like a more natural ride.
The battery is installed as part of the rear rack.
Let me just say, these batteries are heavy.
There are typically two ways you can mount the battery. They'll usually be installed inside the frame, usually on the dowtube (the part of your bike frame that slopes from where your front wheel is attached down towards your pedals/cranks) or they can mount it over your back wheel as part of a rear rack.
Some control features are added on the handlebars.
A little LCD screen is mounted to the handlebars, which allows me to see things like my speed, how much battery I have, and what power level I have. There are five settings (if you include ‘power off' as a setting, each adding an extra level of assistance.
I also have a throttle that I can press with my thumb which will engage the motor if I'm just feeling too lazy to ride. The last thing they did was replace my brake handles with handles that have a cutoff switch. If I depress the brake, the motor will stop.
That's kind of an important feature.
How has it worked for me?
I've been pleasantly surprised.
Overall I'm averaging right at $27 per hour when on bike deliveries. That's right up there with what I'm making via car.
This last Sunday for instance, I went out for a few hours during the football games. I think every single delivery was from one of two Chipotle restaurants close to one another. But the food was ready, the deliveries were short. I was able to complete 4-1/4 deliveries per hour during that time.
That's a lot of Chipotle's. Normally I'd avoid those, but because I could do so many deliveries so quickly it paid off at $32 per hour.
And oh, by the way, using my eBike costs far less than using my car.
My observations since diving more into bike delivery
Here are a few thoughts I've had since doing more deliveries:
Doordash is a completely different option for me when I'm on my bike.
Because they do such a good job focusing on deliveries that can be accomplished on a bike, the deliveries I'm getting offered are much more efficient. My acceptance rate with Doordash is much much higher when I'm in bike mode.
The offer amount is nearly irrelevant.
I pay a lot less attention to the dollar amount when I'm on my bike. It's all about what can be done quickly. I'll still pass on those $3 offers. However, the $5 Chipotle deliveries that only take 10 minutes are quite profitable.
A good phone mount is worth its weight in gold.
When I first started out after the conversion, I was losing a lot of money because of the challenge of using your phone. Once upon a time in the past I'd used a phone mount on my handlebar that clamped the phone into place. After a handful of times of my phone flying off when I hit a bump, nearly having it run over, that was the end of that.
The problem then becomes, now what do you do? I keep it in a bag or in a pocket. The key to doing well on a bike, as Kevin mentioned in episode 84, is getting a lot of orders done. Being able to see and respond to delivery offers is critical.
I found this holder by Quadlock. It's a case mounted holder and it's fantastic. It costs more because you have to buy the phone case that goes with it. You just twist the case onto the mount and it is secure. I can see the offers as they come in now, and that's increased my earnings pretty substantially. And, I'm not afraid of it falling off.
In fact I liked it so much I bought their car mount as well. I can use the same case with my car as I do on my bike. Unfortunately I can't find their car mount on Amazon.
These are examples of options available. You can see more through the Quad Lock Amazon Store
I'm still a bit nervous about bike security.
Bike theft is a big deal in Denver. There are portions of the homeless community that have figured out they can make money stealing and selling bikes.
If anything slows me down, it's locking my bike up when I'm going to be inside a restaurant or have to go into an apartment building. I use a folding lock which works fairly well. I'd love to find a bike lock with a key fob that's quick unlocking and locking. I know there are smart locks that link to your phone but I've hard that most of them often have trouble connecting.
One bad connection on a smart lock will more than offset the time savings all the other times.
Location makes a difference
There are only two zones in the Denver area that you can log into in e-Bike mode on Doordash. And honestly, it makes sense.
Downtown is slightly better for bike deliveries in my area. There are areas right off downtown that are still pretty good because traffic is heavy enough that you can get through it quicker on a bike.
But if you're in a suburban or rural area where distances are longer, or where you can drive significantly faster consistently than you can ride, using an e-Bike is a bit of a disadvantage.
I live fairly close to one of those zone. It's about five miles from my house to where the first cluster of restaurants that's good for bike delivery. So I can ride my bike all the way in, or I can transport it with my car. Both options can kill some time and that's something to take into account.
The amount of time you can be out on delivery can be more limited.
A typical range for an e-Bike is 20-40 miles, depending on what level of assist you use.
I've been pretty happy. I've had a couple of 25 mile days where my battery indicator says I still have half my battery. (I do kinda suspect it's like my gas guage on my car though where half way really means about 1/3).
Typically I go mostly with pedal assist. I keep it on a lower power setting when I'm between deliveries, but once I get something I'm bumping up to the higher setting so I can get done faster.
I'm not sure I'd be able to do more than five or six hours at a time, at least not at the level I use it. For a lot of people, that's not an issue. I think my bigger concern with that is, I want to be able to use the throttle more to get me home at the end of the day.
Finding a good way to carry food is critical.
The thing is, you want to protect the food and get it there in good condition.
I mentioned the cooler – I've had a lot of people pleasantly surprised when they see me pull their drinks out of the cooler – it's really awesome with cans and bottles because you can feel how cold everything is.
I have an awesome backpack but I can't find one available any more. Way back when I got started, Uber Eats had their online store and sold it for $40, unfortunately they no longer have it available. The beautiful thing about it is there's a little zippered pouch at the bottom that will extend out big enough for a large 16 to 18 inch pizza. I've had a couple pizza places look a bit nervous when I pulled up on my bike but they were impressed by the backpack.
I do think people get a bit nervous when they see their food coming in on a bike. Is the food going to be hot? Will the drinks be cold? Will their food have been shaken up?
Those are legitimate questions. Finding good ways to take care of the food is pretty important.
And then there's the weather.
I'm fortunate. Denver has an amazing climate. Even in the winter (I expected quite the opposite). That means more days I can deliver.
But there are days when weather happens. Getting caught in the rain (or worse, snow!) can be no fun.
My overall thoughts delivering for Grubhub, Doordash, Uber Eats and Postmates on an e-Bike.
I've really been enjoying it.
I also think it's been good for me. While it's not as much demand on an e-Bike as when I was doing standard delivery, there's a lot more involved than riding around in my car. There's still some cardio going on.
The main thing is that I'm not pushing as hard getting up the hills. That's where the motor really becomes a beautiful thing. And, I can get around faster because of the assist. I think the battery lasts longer than I thought because I'm still doing a lot of the work. But now I can do it longer.
And the bottom line is, so far, I'm doing just about as well off the e-Bike as in my car. I'm not hitting the $40 per hour that Kevin was hitting – I'm not sure if I ever will.
The vast majority of deliveries have been with Doordash. Few of them have been more than $8, but that's okay. I can get them done quickly because tehy're short distance.
Uber Eats is horrible with their dispatching but once they do send one in that is shorter distance, it usually pays a lot better than Doordash.
I'll turn the Grubhub app on. Like I mentioned, they're not set up for bike delivery. That said, their distances aren't much worse than the ones Uber Eats has been sending. I think overall I've done one Grubhub delivery.
Which is more than I've done for Postmates. But that's because I've essentially fired them as my customer.
Today's the first day of fall. That's making me a little sad because I feel like I waited too long, getting my bike converted and doing the e-bike deliveries for Grubhub, Doordash and Uber Eats. I can see myself shifting more and more to e-Bike delivery, depending on the weather of course.