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Confessions of a Deliveroo rider: get fit by delivering fast food

Deliveroo claims it’s possible for a rider to earn £120 a day.
Deliveroo claims it’s possible for a rider to earn £120 a day. Photograph: Carlton Reid

There’s a way to get healthy from fast food: the trick is to deliver it, not eat it. I’m 52, but am now fitter than I was at 22. As a gig-economy food delivery rider I’m getting paid to melt my middle-age spread. I started in November, but have lost 5kg. Although I only do a few evening hours per week, I have already banked enough cash to pay for a trip to see the Giro d’Italia in May.

I get paid £4.25 for every drop, and the faster I pedal, the more drops I can fit in. Students are the mainstay of the food delivery business, and on a good night – when the students are flush – I can pocket £20 an hour. Not bad for time I’d otherwise waste trawling Twitter.

My wife is a hospital doctor and works weird hours. Most nights we don’t sit down to eat until 11pm, and by delivering gourmet burgers between 7 and 10pm I can squeeze in exercise when otherwise I wouldn’t have done a jot. I don’t mind riding at night. In fact, I love it. There are fewer cars about, and those that remain can’t, I hope, fail to notice the reflective slab on my oversize food delivery bag.

As a freelance journalist I’ve interviewed former cycle messengers, and have long been glum I’d never had a chance to do what they did, usually in the 1980s. Back in the day, messengers raced around with shoulder bags delivering legal documents and artwork from design agencies; now it’s steaming-hot pizzas delivered in insulated backpacks.

The packages are different, but the riding buzz is the same. And while bike messengers used to work mostly during office hours, food delivery riders work mostly at night. Some cities now experience a night-time surge in cyclists thanks to restaurant-to-home delivery services such as Deliveroo, Stuart and Uber Eats. The John Dobson Street protected cycleway in the centre of my home city of Newcastle teems at night with delivery riders – it’s one of the key thoroughfares for getting to and from the student-dense areas of Heaton and Jesmond.

“It’s a symptom of rampant capitalism,” a fellow rider told me the other night, as he rolled a cigarette and I helped him fix his puncture. “The food doesn’t cost any more when you order it from Deliveroo so it’s a no-brainer.”

He’s right – I’ve delivered plenty of hot meals to students living 200 metres from restaurants they’ve ordered from. Deliveroo riders love these quick drops, but I want to ride harder – 200m sprints don’t cut the mustard.

I’m not alone in coming to couriering relatively late in life. Rory Turner, a retired fashion institute director, turned to Deliveroo at the age of 65 to prepare for a Land’s End to John O’Groats ride. He told his local newspaper: “My kids think I’m stupid, but I guess it’s a way of keeping me fit.

“It’s also great because you can work your own hours. Though when it’s raining it’s not too nice.”

But that’s where we differ. I like the rain. And when it snowed recently I booked extra delivery hours just so I could grip the black ice with my spike-tyres.

Food delivery riders work mostly at night.
Food delivery riders work mostly at night. Photograph: Carlton Reid

Deliveroo claims it’s possible for a rider to earn £120 a day, but not every moment is spent earning. Plenty of restaurants take their own sweet time to make up orders and there are slack periods, including when the students are out of town. But because I can choose when to work, including at the last minute, I can get in the miles that I never seem to get the time for usually. I’ve always worked from home so can’t get my fix from cycle commuting. And somehow riding in the cold, dark and wet is fine when I’m getting paid for it.

As I’ve been self-employed for more than 30 years it’s no skin off my nose to fit in with Deliveroo’s payment model. Anyway, it’s losing belly fat that’s most appealing about my three-times-a-week “job”. When I get home we’ll probably eat quiche and salad, and I – almost – worry about walking-averse students pigging out on 1,000-calorie burgers washed down with 500-calorie milkshakes. But that’s capitalism for you.

This article titled "Confessions of a Deliveroo rider: get fit by delivering fast food" was written by Carlton Reid, for theguardian.com on Monday 8 January 2018 12.28pm

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