“Google Maps Doesn’t Know Shit”: Platforms, Mobility and Appropriation in the New Era of Bicycle Couriers.
“It makes a lot of sense to deliver a burger from Løkka to Tøyen or Grønland, by bike. It makes very little sense to deliver a burger from Storo to Grefsen by bike. It just doesn't make any sense. So a lot of the expansion of the zone is stupid because it doesn't make sense to deliver food on bikes in the suburbs.” (Foodora rider, Oslo).
The platform economy is a trend which has caused radical change in many areas of the service sector, perhaps most in reshaping how bicycle courier work is organised and orchestrated. This article analyses change in the mobile geographies of bicycle couriers as a result of platform economy redevelopment, through comparison to the mobility behaviours which previously characterised the occupation. Drawing from a triangulation of participatory GIS and (auto)ethnographic research in Amsterdam and Oslo, the article analyses developments in the wider urban geography, movement in street space, and the embodiment of cycling for work. Ultimately, a tend towards suburbanisation of courier work alongside diverse interpretations of platform tools are found as a result of platform organisation.
Keywords: bicycle couriers, mobile geography, agency, appropriation, edgework, navigation.
With the growth of start-up companies promising grocery delivery in a matter of minutes, the new structuration of on-demand labour through platforms, the position of the bicycle courier in European urban economies has never been more visible. Within labour struggles, bicycle delivery workers have come to symbolise the urban precariat, a professionalised and corporatized version of a group of workers previously keeping the underbelly of city centre business moving. As a line of work which has relied upon internal and embodied knowledges and experiences for moving through the city, questions can be raised into how platform economy organisation – characterised by the automation and compartmentalisation of tasks via a digital infrastructure (Kenney & Zysman 2020) – has affected how couriers move within cities.
Bicycle couriers remain an under-studied group within transportation geography, instead approached most often from an economic standpoint, considering the business and sustainability potential of bicycle logistics for cities in comparison to motorised transport; or from the perspective of labour relations and conflicts within the gig economy. The focus of this project leans towards the latter, centred on the mobility itself, to assess how the movement involved in courier work has adapted to the new platform-based structure now most common in this line of work. Taking a mobilities-oriented stance can, then, be a normative one, as it is found that cities at varying stages in cycle-planning all lack in planning for the particularities bicycle logistics creates for cycling infrastructure.
Research into changing labour relations have highlighted the appropriation of digital technologies in organising independent workers. Multiple scholars have drawn attention to the use of WhatsApp group connections between freelance meal-delivery couriers across Europe to organise spontaneous direct action against working conditions (Popan 2021;
Briziarelli 2019; Tassinari & Maccarrone 2020) – recreating the same dynamics of strike action but for a digital, decentralised workplace. However, research so far has neglected the prospect of appropriating the platforms themselves through work, transforming infrastructures designed to constrict and direct activity into a predetermined direction into a
benefit to the rider. Simultaneously, there is space to evaluate whether couriers continue to appropriate street space in movement. Spatial and digital appropriation form the conceptual framework to better compare and understand bicycle courier mobility.
Through ethnographic fieldwork in two case study cities, Amsterdam and Oslo, I question how the mobile geographies of bicycle couriers have changed with occupational transition to platform-economy organisation. Mobile geographies themselves are broad in scope, so three scales foregrounded here to give a wider picture while retaining detail: the city, the street, and the body. The two case studies used reflect different stages in creating ‘cycling cities’: cities which seek to better facilitate trips made by bicycle for reasons ranging from sustainability concerns to urban vitality and quality of life (Harms, Bertolini & te Brömmelstroet 2014, Bruntlett & Bruntlett 2018). Bicycle logistics serves to play an increasing role in facilitating plans, such that understanding the issues faced by a key group of the mobile population is essential for managing conflict and growth.
As noted by Drahokoupil & Piasna (2017) successful platforms “have reorganised sectors that were already reliant on some form of self employment” (p. 336). These sectors include services such as cleaning alongside transportation, as in the taxi and delivery realms. Often the platform economy is seen as interchangeable with piecemeal work, however this work recognises a recent trend in European courier work towards offering employment contracts and the accompanying benefits, led in part by the new wave of start-up grocery delivery companies. Indeed, as is discussed later, bicycle couriers have a varied level of distance from their company, and as such, dialectics of control and responsibility inherent in the employer-worker relationship vary across structures while seeing an evolution more broadly.
Mobile labour more generally has been characterised by independence and precarity, while creating challenges for collective organisation due to the dispersed nature of its workers reducing the ability for workplace connections to form (Lenaerts, Kilhoffer & Akgüç (2018).
By using a blend of participatory GIS (PGIS) and (auto)ethnography, I address the wider question of mobile geographies more intimately at these three scales: the city, the street and the body. In reference to earlier literature, I find that change as a result of platform infrastructures and their associated technologies – primarily navigation and communication – have resulted in a diversification in how courier work is orchestrated. Such diversification is present at all scales. In the city, we see a shift of the centre of courier work from the CBD to the inner-suburbs, reflecting the change in consumer base. In addition, while many couriers retain the mobile characteristics of the previous eras, use of these skills become more of a challenge, providing a break in the mundanity of the work rather than a necessity to have.
Despite this, couriers of all types enact degrees of agency in their movement as a result of repeated experience in the same neighbourhoods.
This article is structured as follows. First, a further explanation of the gig- and platform- economies and how they have restructured how bicycle courier work is organised and orchestrated is offered, followed by an analysis of relevant literature which has aided in building a typology of mobile characteristics relevant to courier work. This literature then provides basis from which the theoretical lens is built. Third, the methods and fieldwork considerations are laid out alongside further explanation of the research questions which structure analysis. Then, the findings are explained according to each scale and method used, before bringing them all together to answer the larger question of change in mobile geographies from the three angles.
3. Literature Review
Bicycle courier work has been historically characterised by precarious, piecemeal work that ultimately results in the creation of a distinct subculture that incorporates elements of the job into recreational and social events (Fincham 2007). Prior to platform-economy influence, the job had already undergone multiple shifts, resulting in different mobile geographies. Bicycles have long played a role in postal delivery – the title of ‘messenger’ emerging to describe the delivery of telegram messages (Downey 2002). According to Fincham (2008), the modern bike courier in the UK became established from the 1980s, with bicycle specific firms offering delivery services. The early 2000s brought with it the ‘New’ Economy powered by information and communication developments and characterised by flexibility. The role of messengers changed with it, now restricted to business-to-business delivery of goods unable to be digitised.
With the exception of the increasingly common hub-based companies in European cities, bicycle has traditionally been an independent job which lacks a common workplace, particularly with the onset of platform-based organisation. It is surprising, then, when couriers are successful are successful in organising collectively, to negotiate more favourable terms – including, but not limited to: classification as employees rather than contractors, accident insurance, equipment reimbursement and dialogues with the company for renegotiation. Geographically, bicycle couriering has also been traditionally linked to financial centres of older cities. Kidder (2009) noted in regards to messengers: “[bike messengers] work in the downtown cores of major metropolitan areas… Outside of these areas, bicycle couriers are largely unknown” (p. 175).
Finally, a note on terminology. Various terms are used to describe cyclists who conduct commercially activity independently or as contracted to by a business. Some are more specific, such as bike messengers who tend to deliver non-food, on-demand goods between businesses. Some authors use the umbrella term commercial cyclists to include messengers, traditional delivery workers and food-delivery cyclists. A distinction between these terms is important, as their purpose for travel has connotations for the way they move through cities. Here, messenger is used with explicit reference to couriers who operate primarily business to business deliveries, while others are used to describe the broader group.
3.1. Platform Economy & Bicycle Delivery
‘Platform economy’ can be described as encompassing a variety of services, unified under the common use of an accessible online digital infrastructure which enable human services (Kenney & Zysman 2016; Casilli & Posada 2019). Economic conditions associated with the 2008 financial crisis prompted a mass flexibilization of low-level work. Enabled by the transformation of IT services, the use of computable algorithms to organise tasks and activities make such an infrastructure function with minimal human overhead costs.
Importantly, these factors result in a shift in the economic geography of services, where multinational platforms are able to operate in multiple countries and regions while being headquartered and directed from great distance. As will be discussed later, digital courier platforms often fail to adapt for local conditions, creating particular challenges in the mobile relationship between worker, platform and physical space.
Within the last decade, bicycle courier work has expanded and diversified alongside associated platform infrastructures, particularly within on-demand meal delivery. In European cities of various sizes, third party delivery companies – Deliveroo, Uber Eats, Just Eat and Foodora, alongside a number of regional competitors – assemble restaurant services within a single online platform, such that a customer is able to make a purchase through the
service, produced by a contracted restaurant, then have it delivered by a courier associated with the third-party (Timko & van Melik 2021).
Contemporary bicycle delivery work is intimately connected to the developments of the platform economy. Courier work, already characterised by piecemeal payment structure and flexible, independent labour, provided fertile ground for redevelopment. Simultaneously, widespread adoption of personal digital communication and navigation technologies have potential to lower the bar for what is necessary to be a bicycle courier. As noted, bicycle messenger work has been characterised by a particular mobile and navigational skillset that gave rise to its own subculture in large financial centres (Fincham 2007, 2008). This combination of factors has created a seemingly perfect breeding ground for platform- organised delivery work.
Each platform incorporates a similar organisational structure. Human planning is far removed and more often centralised in a national or regional operations, with much of the process being algorithmically orchestrated. For example, while tasks of messenger companies are assigned directly by a central dispatcher, tasks through a platform are divided algorithmically based on factors such as the courier’s GPS location. In this latter case, human intervention is only introduced once problems are detected, or the courier seeks help through the platform.
The result in practice is a hands-off approach and, coupled with the tendency towards categorising workers as contractors rather than employees, creates opportunity for rapid expansion. Indeed, this is the case in Europe, where hyper outsourcing allows companies to be active in many cities with no local overhead costs or physical presence. While human supervision is minimal, algorithmic supervision which measures the geographic position of the courier in comparison to the expected stage in task completion, is often intense. Multiple authors have recognised means of appropriating this pattern within the collective labour struggles of platform workers. Popan (2021) and Briziarelli (2019), amongst others, observe how gaps in the algorithm are exploited in cases of wildcat strikes which recreate the same structure found in workplace strikes but on an urban scale. Digital appropriation also occurs during the workday Heiland (2021) looks at means of resistance where space is digitally produced within delivery apps, undermining and reinterpreting strategies of control.
3.2. Dissecting Mobility Patterns
Evaluating change requires building an understanding of pre-platform courier work. One useful means of structuring an analysis of mobility patterns and behaviours is through Kidder’s (2009, 2011) distinction between macro- and micro-routing. Macro-routing incorporates ways of moving recognisable to any cyclist: decisions made in navigating from A-to-B, including which streets to use or which order to complete drops in. Movement for work distinguishes itself from other types of bicycle travel on the basis of autonomy, dictated by economic necessity (Fincham 2006). On the other hand, bike messengers are known for exploiting informal, creative or illegal means of making their way, such as cycling the wrong way down one-way streets or finding shortcuts through areas not designed for through-travel of cyclists – alleys, building sites, car parks or across private property. Such decisions require at least basic spatial knowledge: the ability to visualise an effective order or route, and anticipate the risks associated with exploiting shortcuts. A lack of knowledge can result in reaching a dead end, wasting time and energy.
Micro-routing is where messengering skills become more overt and distinct from the rest of the cycling population, as it considers tacit, cognitive choices in positioning on the street.
Such decisions can have large impacts in how quickly a task is completed, how much risk is
taken, and how much entertainment can be extracted. Micro-routing decisions can involve where one positions oneself in traffic. Kidder describes this knowledge as largely affective:
something implicit which can be sensed. These choices are those which have given bike couriers a controversial reputation. Lee et al. (2016) observe how behaviour interpreted as lawless and disruptors of order is used to legitimise heavy policing and stigmatisation of food delivery cyclists in NYC, resulting in heavy fines and even confiscation of expensive electric bicycles from a precarious population. Messengers interviewed view their behaviour on opposing terms, instead emphasising their ability to move and anticipate the movement of others around them as a result of experience and sensory, calculated decision-making (Kidder 2011: 78).
Indeed, the platform economy has clear potential to affect macro- and micro-routing for bicycle couriers. In cases where each step of the delivery process is digitally demarcated, the potential for couriers to decide the order or drops and the planning of routes may be designed out, or otherwise dictated by an algorithm. However, differences in levels of control between platforms create differences in how agency of movement
3.3. Movement, Risk & Play
Messenger work in its most recognisable form is, according to Kidder (2006), a reaction against organisational changes which would later come to structure the platform economy.
Repurposing the term ‘edgework’ from Lyng (2005), he situates it within trends towards rationalisation, which disconnects workers from the control and personal, emotional value of labour. This, in turn, places greater emphasis on the role of leisure in creating an authentic sense of self. Courier work bucks such a trend in that it requires individual spontaneity and skills in problem solving to complete tasks effectively. It also imbues labour with the same characteristics of edgework, requiring management of self-made risks in the field.
Lachappelle et al. (2021) note that the profession is distinct from forms of industrial labour as a result of being situated within public street space, subject to constant change, making the environment unpredictable in terms of risk. More static risks include those connected to infrastructure that are encountered through movement, such as poor street surfacing. Others come as a result of the constant flow of other people through city streets. The behaviour of drivers, pedestrians and other cyclists can often be difficult to predict, requiring commercial cyclists to be constantly in tune to their surroundings, able to make split-second decisions to avoid danger.
Platform economy scholars have argued that the precarity of piecemeal work in the new meal-delivery sector encourages, or even forces, riders to move in reckless ways outside the boundaries of the law. In New York, food delivery cyclists are characterised as a threat to public safety, hazards to pedestrians due to their unpredictable nature (Lee et al. 2016). This interpretation of deviant behaviour combines with the often co-occurring marginal characteristics which cause exclusion from the labour market. In the New York case, such a stigma has resulted in crackdowns and over-policing of couriers, including the confiscation of e-bikes essential for work. According to messengers interviewed by Kidder (2011), movement which appears reckless is in reality the result of careful calculation about time, the courier’s position in traffic and the demands of the task. He notes that certain “rush jobs”
would be impossible to complete within the bounds of the law, requiring creative action to succeed at work.
It’s this inherent informality and the act of making the unpredictable predictable which have characterised bike courier movement. Platforms have the potential to alter this paradigm through algorithmically designed control over all stages of the process. However, the nature
of working in street space may still necessitate creativity and agency within movement.
Evaluating this idea in the context of cities which present contrasting challenges for bicycle movement, then, offers insight into how couriers react to mobile puzzles to make their way.
3.4. The Case of Platform Delivery in Amsterdam and Oslo
In Oslo, influence from the platform economy has been reportedly marginal (Oppegaard 2020) in comparison to other European cities. While Uber has infiltrated the taxi market, it remains heavily regulated along the same lines as traditional taxi services. The same can be said for bicycle courier services. Foodora was the first “new delivery”, platform-based multinational meal-delivery service to enter the market, unusually offering employment contracts with base hourly wages rather than typical piecemeal contractor positions (Frederiksen & Kvitstein 2018; Ilsøe & Jesnes 2020). With this, comes the right to collective negotiation and action, which occurred in 2019 with support from the larger Norwegian federation of trade unions (Jesnes, Ilsøe & Hotvedt 2019). Over the last few years, other players such as Wolt – with an exclusively piecemeal structure – have entered the market, while logistics companies such as DHL have experimented with cargo bike delivery.
Traditional messengers do remain, particularly those under contract with postal service Bring, and smaller, independent messenger companies. Some companies have adopted use of electric cargo bikes with success, benefitting from reflexivity in cities dense areas, though winter remains a challenge (Ørving et al. 2020)
The picture is different in the Netherlands. As a nation famed for quality of cycling infrastructure, the Netherlands has long been a forerunner in bicycle logistics. Within large cities where car travel faces restrictions, for many goods, delivery by bicycle is a faster and more efficient choice. In all areas, bicycle logistics is more developed and diverse. Since the mid-2010s, multiple meal-delivery third party services have been active. More recently, an explosion of flitsbezorger firms promising on-demand delivery of supermarket goods in mere minutes has caused from residents who live in the vicinity of hubs. At the start of 2022, the municipality of Amsterdam, alongside other Dutch cities, put a stop to the opening of new hubs – or ‘dark supermarkets’ – until regulation can be put in place (NOS 2022). Plans are currently emerging to ban such stores from residential neighbourhoods altogether (Roele 2022). These companies, in a break from earlier meal-delivery patterns, offer waged work contracts, and use of company e-bikes. While in the UK, this has been a goal of independent unions representing couriers such as the IWGB, other issues have emerged prompting new union activity geared towards flitsbezorger workers.
Bicycle courier work has undoubtedly undergone a series of major shifts in response to wider economic, technological and cultural developments. Each shift has had implications on how the working environment is visualised and interpreted (Heiland 2021). The platforms used by deliveries, then, have the potential draw space and movement in their own image.
From this literature, I conclude that the intrinsic link between mobility and labour is one worth expanding on. As an independent, active, marginal and decentralised labour force, these characteristics within courier work have been mutually constitutive. A common thread between all eras of courier work is the management of risk inherent to moving through street space for work. Change can be seen in a diversification of the types of tasks completed by couriers – more so in certain cities than others – and a diversification in the structures of companies offering such services. These companies utilise platforms for organisation, supervision and control, in many cases remotely managing thousands of workers across regions and continents. In Amsterdam, but to a smaller extent in Oslo, equipment has
diversified to account for larger goods being delivered by bike, more often utilising electric cargo bikes. All of these developments have the potential to affect mobile geographies workers utilise to manage risk.
Given the breadth of the research focus in assessing change in overall mobile geographies, I sought to triangulate methods across three interpretations visible in cycling studies, such that the results are distinct but overlap and provide parts of a whole. Participatory GIS (PGIS) was deemed most suitable for a spatial and distinctly visual answer to the question of wider urban geography, while (auto)ethnographic method in the form of semi-directed interviews and personal fieldnotes provides insight into mobility with deeper, more personal description. All participants were granted anonymity and were, at the time of participation, working in commercial cycling role within Amsterdam or Oslo. In this section I outline and explain the choice and execution of this project’s methodologies, while discussing some challenges and limitations.
Three key research questions approach three scales at which mobility is experienced, each corresponding to a section of the methodology: (1) How has the wider urban geography of bicycle courier work changed with platform-based work? (2) Is the agency inherent to earlier bicycle courier work consistent within new forms? (3) How much variation of embodied and affective experience is created amongst different kinds of platform bicycle courier work?
4.1. Participatory Mapping
Participatory Mapping is an increasingly used method of data collection within the social sciences as a means for a population to visually represent interpretations of space. Often, these are deeply personal and relate to affect, placing the map maker as central in representations of space (Pánek 2016).
The web app used for input was created by Jirka Pánek for the explicit purpose of mapping affect across urban spaces (Pánek & Benediktsson 2017). In contrast to creating paper maps, this allowed users to input data anytime and anywhere, allowing data collection in both cities at once. It also allowed the app to be shared easily in local courier message boards, where most participants were recruited from. Participants were able to input data in the form of points, lines and polygons, across a rubric of “Negative”, “Mixed”, or “Positive”
feelings associated with places and spaces. The addition of “Mixed Feelings” was offered with the assumption that feelings associated with some places are dependent. However, this data was later disregarded during processing, as the nuances are difficult to represent cartographically.
Participants were also able to attach a comment to each piece of data plotted in order to explain their choice. Comments stored in the attribute tables of each data type were exported into a spreadsheet for coding. Participants were given the option to write in Norwegian, Dutch or English, and while most were in English, some were in Dutch and none were in Norwegian. Prior to submitting, participants could also give their demographic information, including the company/companies they work for and the type of bike they use for work.
For some participants, they were being asked to consider preferences that they hadn’t consciously considered before, while others were able to immediately think of examples of places they had strong feelings about in connection with their job. In many cases, the participatory mapping section was discussed and completed directly following interview as the participant had a better understanding after discussing their experiences. However, this
also meant that it is difficult to know exactly how many users completed it. Data collection was limited by the size of bicycle couriers as a population. This method has typically been used with larger, more general groups such as commuter cyclists. In addition, potential participants often felt overwhelmed by the abstractness and openness of mapping feelings, which led to a failure to complete for some. In future, this could be combatted with more specific headings such as “danger” or “efficient”, however this would yield more directed results rather than information about preferences.
Input data was able to be downloaded into geoJSON format and processed in ArcGIS Pro with the aim of spatially visualising areas of repeated, common experience. More data would be required for any meaningful statistical analysis and to function as a standalone method, though this may prove difficult when involving couriers, unless more specific parameters are introduced.
4.2. Semi-structured Interviewing
Interviews with bicycle couriers were conducted in both cities. All interviews were conducted in English. A list of questions covering topics of job experience, spatial preferences, navigation, decision making, use of digital infrastructures, risk and behaviour in traffic.
Interviewees were encouraged to speak freely and informally with intervention if the conversation deviated away from courier work. Interviews lasted on average one hour.
Where possible, interviews were consciously planned within a day of the last time the courier worked. This allowed the participants to recall and be specific about actual experiences, including reference to identifiable geographic and emotional information. In some cases, this meant that interviews were held via Zoom, which also allowed for audio-visual recording. In all cases, interviews were audio recorded and transcribed for coding.
In previous (auto)ethnographic work on the subject of commercial cycling, researchers have been able to build a picture of the profession based on repetitive experience, capturing minute detail that emerges to be influential. Often, researchers have entered the job as students or people otherwise in need of paid work, prompted to systematically study the subject based on personal experience.
Autoethnographic method offers an internal viewpoint on the phenomena of interest, particularly embodied aspects of movement which are difficult to probe in interviews (Larsen 2014). In interviews, participants often found it difficult to talk freely about these aspects, so having an established language and vocabulary based in academic literature was useful in dissecting and analysing experiences. The autoethnographic method aided the other elements of the ethnography not only in the generation of data directly, but also in being able to relate to others’ experiences and form better lines of inquiry. Hypotheses generated through repetition in personal experience could be used to structure discussions an form rapport in semi-structured interviewing, confirming or disconfirming personal experiences as common.
In this case, I draw from experience working in three bicycle courier roles in the two case study cities to approach the question of micro-routing and embodied movement. Data was recorded over a year in the form of field notes written during and directly following shifts. In some cases, voice notes were taken while riding which were later transcribed into the same format.
In total, 256 pieces of geodata were input across the two cities, with most pieces also containing an accompanying comment. 9 interviews with couriers were conducted in each city. In Oslo, all couriers interviewed worked for Foodora, while two also held jobs with smaller, independent courier companies. In Amsterdam, participants were more diverse in terms of profession, reflecting the variation in courier work. The demographics in part reflect the jobs I took during the project: meal delivery (Foodora) in Oslo, while in Amsterdam I worked in a flitsbezorger grocery-delivery start-up (Flink) then later as a cargo bike courier fetching and delivering post, packages and business goods (Cycloon). This meant that most participants were recruited as colleagues or members of the same union (Foodoraklubben in Oslo, Radical Riders in Amsterdam).
5.1. Changing Domains of Bicycle Work
Bike messengering has traditionally centred around the central business districts of financial centres (Kidder 2011), serving clients in congested areas where the benefits of skilled bicycle delivery are most acute. The new wave of bicycle courier work has extended to provide services directly to consumers by connecting them with businesses via a third-party platform, a practice which has altered the wider geography of the work. While dense areas still represent the ideal environment, bicycle couriers now inhabit residential areas of various distance from city centres, carrying food, medicines and other consumer goods from neighbourhood centres to individual residential addresses.
Through involvement in participatory mapping, riders were able to visually demarcate their area preferences. Personal, emotional judgements of large areas were typically done using the shape tool, with borders demarcated by key roads. In particular, Amsterdam’s A10 ring
Figure 1. Representation of bicycle couriers' "Negative Feelings" about areas of Oslo.
road and Oslo’s third, outer ring road forms the border of ‘positive’ emotional response. The outer suburbs – Oslo’s Nordre Aker and the outer eastern boroughs, and Amsterdam’s Zuid- Oost and Nieuw-West – were deemed undesirable places to work for similar but slightly different reasons. The inner city is also viewed negatively in both cases, but dissatisfaction is represented differently.
In Amsterdam, the entire De Wallen area is apparently viewed negatively – participants cite busyness and issues with working around pedestrian crowds – particularly amongst couriers that use large cargo bikes: “crazy amounts of tourists on bikes, hard to navigate” (Figure 2).
Some also mark the entire canal district area negatively too – “Confusing, hard to find a specific address. Really busy with tourists and drunk people walking in the road too” – along the same points of concern. In Oslo, users leaned more towards using the point & line tools (see Figure 4.) to label issues in the centre, showing a high density of negative ‘points’
plotted in the Sentrum/Kvadraturen area. In the coordinating comments, participants cite environmental issues with particular streets and intersections (“Cobbles”, “lots of tram lines”, plus areas of considerable conflict with car traffic: “have to watch out for cars at every corner”, but do not feel negatively about the area as a whole enough to dismiss it entirely as an undesirable place to work. Comments attached to points in the suburbs also shed light on the issues delivering to outer neighbourhoods: “very steep, like a wall. very little money for effort.”, “why do you send us up here when there is almost a 100% chance of getting sent back to citycentre and then out again?”, “always redispatch for car, because bike is too far”
(Figure 1). The necessity of riding amongst tram tracks to reach certain destinations was a consistent point of concern in the city centre, a problem not mentioned by Amsterdam couriers. In most cases, tram lines in Amsterdam are flanked by bike lanes and areas that lack space restrict cycling from the street. One example is Amsterdam’s Leidsestraat – previously an essential North-South corridor where trams, cyclists and pedestrians would mix (Zacharias 1999) – which since 1960 forbids cycling traffic.
Figure 2. Representation of bicycle couriers' "Negative Feelings" about areas in Amsterdam.
Figures 3 & 4: Point & line data plotted shows the differences in how couriers across the two cities used the tools to plot their experiences.
While more data would be necessary to make statistical comparisons, a pattern emerges that is consistent across both cities. Overall, platform couriers in both cities typically prefer working in inner suburban neighbourhoods where there is a high density of businesses and population – such as Grunerløkka and Majorstuen in Oslo, and Oost (East) in Amsterdam – areas where there is a higher perceived likelihood that deliveries will be short and frequent, increasing earning potential and lowering energy expenditure. The two main food delivery companies that use cyclists in Oslo – Foodora and Wolt – incorporate piecemeal wage structures (though Foodora employees are paid hourly, there is an additional per-delivery payment, while Wolt and freelance Foodora workers are purely paid per-delivery), encouraging faster delivery. Foodora employees interviewed did not feel this structure encouraged reckless behaviour, as the additional payment is small in comparison to the hourly wage.
Patterns observed here concerning the wider urban geography of courier work raise questions as to the extent to which bicycle logistics can succeed outside of the inner city. In recent years, Foodora in Oslo has increased their delivery zone while introducing an increasing number of couriers using cars. The reasons for this can be inferred from the data.
Bicycle couriers try to avoid deliveries which take them further out of the easiest and most profitable areas, particularly the suburbs outside Ring 3. In addition, the difficulty and danger of working on a bike only increases during the winter. This is consistent with case study research into electric cargo bike distribution in Norwegian cities, where the most valuable use is found in a) dense areas where there are short and frequent stops, b) where traffic delays for motor vehicles are high and c) where motor vehicle routes are less direct (Ørving
Figure 5. Representation of bicycle couriers' "Positive Feelings" about areas of Amsterdam.
et al. 2020). Winter increases difficulty and risk to couriers and presents challenges to battery capacity. However, similar challenges present with goods delivery by van.
Unlike Oslo, goods delivery by bicycle in Amsterdam has seen a suburbanising trend entirely mobilised by platform companies. While meal delivery platforms such as Uber Eats and Deliveroo have been present in these spaces for several years, new dark supermarket hubs with brick and mortar hubs have established in several outer neighbourhoods. Within the A10 ring road, the saturation of such companies is most acute, with areas of Amsterdam Oost and West being offered 10-minute delivery by four companies, while only one company, Flink, offers delivery services in the most distant suburbs in Zuidoost and Nieuw West (Tapp 2022). Amsterdam’s recent restrictions on new dark stores now limits the expansion of all such companies, such that no expansion is possible for at least the near future.
5.2. Changing Mobile Behaviours of Bicycle Couriers
This section focuses on the presence of mobile and spatial skills characteristic of earlier bicycle courier work prior to the ‘platform revolution’, evaluating the degree to which these are still present amongst bicycle couriers interviewed in Oslo and Amsterdam. Critically, I find that the skills characteristic to earlier bicycle messengers do not translate evenly to the work as influenced by the platform economy. A key element of this skillset is the ability to find informal, creative solutions to challenges encountered in street space, often by means of spatial appropriation. For bike messengers, this has allowed tasks to be completed which
Figure 6. Representation of bicycle couriers' "Positive Feelings" about areas of Oslo.
would be impossible within the bounds of traffic law, while adding elements of play and challenge. The presence of this in platform courier work is variable, in part due to the differences designed into the platforms themselves, but otherwise dependent on how each rider relates to the work itself.
Commercial cycling of all kinds, by virtue of taking place in the streetscape, is a matter of constant problem solving of the immediate and anticipated environment. Knowledge of the cities streets and topography is perceived to be correlated to experience in the job. For many interviewees, the knowledge they had was perceived to be implicit, resulting in seemingly automatic bodily responses to opportunities and dangers. Conversely, all riders expressed that being in the mobile environment involves constant attention to a multitude of factors relating to the body, the load, the equipment and the external environment
While spatial appropriation does not prove necessary in the completion of many platform delivery tasks themselves, it remains heavily in improving the courier’s experience of what is highly controlled and structured work. For many, breaking traffic rules aid in finding shortcuts and increasing efficiency, while others, the reflexivity of finding informal ways through adds elements of play in an otherwise mundane job. In response to platform control, we also see the emergence of digital appropriation within work itself, a reaction against designed control, automation and supervision. While control is elicited through platforms’ algorithms, GPS tracking and by integrating navigation software, riders make choices of how much they have their mobile behaviour administered by technology. In some cases they appropriate the platforms themselves and their associated (mapping) apps, learning the process through experience to find exploitable gaps, or basing behaviour on speculations of how the algorithm and platform functions internally.
5.2.1. Platforms & Macro-Routing
Utilisation of navigation apps – principally Google Maps – to navigate while on shift was present in both cities, but differences were apparent in the level and consistency of use between the cases. In Oslo, couriers, particularly those with several years of experience, place value on their ability to navigate using their own knowledge of the city. Several couriers stated that they only look at the map for fine-grained detail when in the direct vicinity of the address, relying on their knowledge to travel between neighbourhoods more generally.
These couriers tend value their cognitive spatial knowledge as more reliable as it is gained through consistent and repetitive travel, adapting to alterations in access quicker than navigation apps. In the case of Foodora, a small map of the immediate area around the address is contained within the app, negating the need for redirecting to additional platforms:
“If it's inside Ring 2, then I pretty much know all the names of the roads, but I don't know the numbers so I typically look at the little map like when I get closer” (Foodora & cargo bike rider, Oslo).
Alternatively, some used real-time navigation aids more passively, trusting their own instincts to a degree, but preferring to have it running in the background as a reassurance:
“Well, it's… it's taken me a year now to get a mental map of Oslo. So now most of the time I know where I'm going, but I still like to have the, the verbal directions coming through my headphones so that you know if I do get a bit lost in thought sometimes then like, oh turn right, OK, I'll turn right, so yeah I do. I initially relied on it a lot, now it's kind of background as a safety kind of thing, just in case I do get a bit side-tracked.” (Foodora rider, Oslo).
By virtue of working in urban environments, bicycle couriers are forced to be responsive to alterations in the street network caused by construction or roadworks. In Oslo, a residential
construction boom on the eastern side, particularly in Ulven, Løren & Ensjø, has created new spaces for courier work, but remain difficult for bicycle delivery. The topography and enclosed structure of these blocks makes addresses difficult to find for couriers without expending a significant amount of energy, so using navigation aids where house numbers are shown is particularly valuable in this last stage of travel – though some developments are newer than the maps themselves. In addition, couriers who use electric bicycles were conscious of the power used in climbing steep gradients, resulting in requesting redispatching of orders judged inappropriate for couriers on bikes. Both forms of energy are recognised as a finite resource over the course of a shift, a constant point of consideration for the tasks or routes undertaken. A reflexive attitude to changes in access was similar in Amsterdam, though couriers were more open to taking a longer route around obstructions rather than attempting to find a way through, as there was a lower cost of travel in terms of time and energy expenditure.
In Amsterdam, adherence to mapping apps was more prevalent, but this was primarily amongst flash delivery riders, where the delivery process, including integration of Google Maps, is highly streamlined within the platform:
“You see the customers name you see their number and you see their address and then when you click on navigation it takes you to Google Maps, which takes you to the bike thing and then that does it… but like, I'm quite happy to cycle over like pedestrian crossings or something, especially if like there's no one there.” (Flink rider, Amsterdam).
Even then, all riders remained reflexive to failures in the apps’ cycling directions, and were able to pinpoint particular places or routes where they would deviate to an alternate route.
Couriers who had moved through multiple delivery jobs with varying degrees of platform control were more open to trusting instinctive or cognitive knowledge of the street network, even to the degree of avoiding navigational aids as a point of challenge within the mundanity of the work. Cargo bike couriers most of all expressed orientation as a necessary skill for their work, as much of the reflexivity associated with cycling is lost from the size and encumbrance of the load and equipment. These interviewees, employed mainly with Cycloon, laid much weight on anticipating the process of a route, making use of a feature within the platform that redirects to sets of 10 stops routed within Google Maps. For delivery routes, the stops are pre-planned with a route automated then checked and edited by a planner with experience on the road, as failures can result in difficult situations:
“You have some streets where the planner sends you against the traffic and then you're stuck. I actually had to uncouple my Carla [brand of large bicycle trailer] once because we were stuck. Right, the guy in front was angry, we were yelling at each other. Which happens a lot.” (Cycloon rider, Amsterdam).
Figure 3. Routes considered navigable by bicycle in Google Maps. (L = Oslo, R = Amsterdam). Urban steps are common in Oslo, while chicanes in Amsterdam neighbourhoods restrict entry to non-standard bicycles.
5.2.2. Spatial Appropriation
This next section builds on this sentiment in approaching a characteristic associated with bicycle couriers that has been a point of public contention. Bicycles have the exploitable benefit of existing in a legal and moral grey area when occupying street space. The diversity of bicycles used for delivery across the two cases adds a variable element to this conception. For example, while couriers riding regular bicycles exploit the size and nimbleness of their total unit to occupy small spaces – on pavements, between cars, between pedestrians – cargo bike couriers are prompted to find alternative means of positioning in response to the challenges of managing a larger total unit. All types of courier were found to share a similar desire in maintaining momentum and flow, often by means of appropriation.
Couriers in both cities shared consistent views about their adherence to traffic laws, viewed as subject to personal interpretation rather than rigid. In Oslo, this was mainly attributed to safety, where being a passive actor around cars carries risks, but tactics of being visible break the law:
“I don't always follow laws because I feel it's safer to do it that way, like to be ahead of the traffic or to be visible… I've heard of things like the Idaho stop and like, if there's no traffic and like if you, if you, as long as you're like, you're considerate, you shouldn't have to wait for like every single light or every single thing (Foodora & cargo bike rider, Oslo).
Others viewed street space as more open as a means of doing the job more effectively, choosing equipment which enabled reflexivity to move between different domains:
“I use a gravel bike, which is really good for, for working as a courier I think because I can jump around up and down sidewalks (Foodora rider, Oslo).
In Amsterdam, speed and efficiency was the most common justification for rule breaking among couriers, with the exception of cargo bikes. One cargo bike courier recalled an instance of being fined by a police officer for running a red light:
“I asked him if he lived in Amsterdam. He didn't and I talked about how you know, we bend the rules a little bit here, because otherwise it's, it's not, it doesn't work. So I told him I'm a bike messenger, I know what I'm doing right? Also, I had the trailer behind me, so that's a lot of weight, so if I stop and I have to get the whole thing going again, right?” (Cycloon rider, Amsterdam).
Here, the challenges of manoeuvring heavy loads in heavy bicycle traffic is seen as justification for bending the rules and relying on a personal sense of appropriateness, something which non-couriers sharing the space interpret as lawless or reckless. In both cases, importance of maintaining momentum and flow prompts the courier to look for ways to keep moving. Momentum is an important resource for cyclists, as continuous stopping and starting takes effort, especially when challenges of topography, time and cargo are introduced.
5.2.3. Digital Appropriation
Differentiation in levels of control and supervision results in subsequent differentiation in how tasks can be completed. In the cargo-bike package delivery case, riders are given a window of time to complete their route, and an order of delivery is predetermined by the planner.
However, this is not concrete as in the on-demand cases, where multiple orders have their order ensured through the app not revealing subsequent addresses until the previous is completed. There exists a differentiation in the types of supervision across types of courier
work. Decentralised food delivery work such as Foodora, Wolt, Uber Eats or Deliveroo are relatively unsupervised until a discrepancy is determined by the algorithm.
Algorithmic measurement and supervision opens exploitable gaps in the digital infrastructure, described as digital appropriation. While digital appropriation has previously been discussed in relation to collective action, I bring the concept here to highlight how platforms are exploited by workers in completion of the tasks themselves.
As discussed in the previous section, some deliveries are more desirable than others, but freedom of choice when accepting tasks varies greatly by company. In Oslo, meal delivery workers have options when a delivery is considered more suitable to driving couriers beyond Ring 3: “More than 3 and a half kilometer with like, just climbing I go ‘fuck it’… if I get like deliveries to Gaustad or Kjelsås I might ask to have it redispatched, but usually it's fine.”
(Foodora rider, Oslo).
Such tasks are reliant on a lack of human supervision, exploitable in ways such as taking the opportunity to rest before marking an order as complete, sometimes waiting until the algorithm was about to initiate human intervention. Other examples from Oslo included ways to mitigate the physical challenge. If an assigned order was to an undesirable area, the rider could instead request a short break to avoid the penalty of a low acceptance rate and scolding message within the app. Riders even used breaks to cycle back to more preferable, central areas, if they were being assigned orders that took them increasingly further out.
As the inner workings of the algorithms involved are unknown to workers, many tended to base their behaviour based on speculation. One Foodora courier posited that being faster would lead to them being assigned longer deliveries. While this was recognised as having no empirical base, the possibility was enough to prompt a change in behaviour.
The same is similar for freelance meal delivery workers in Amsterdam, who expressed that the would turn down orders based on distance and the fee offered. For meal and flash delivery couriers in Amsterdam were paid by a wage structure, no means of avoiding undesirable orders was reported, but differences between deliveries were smaller than in Oslo which negates the need for appropriating tactics.
5.2.4. Summary: Platform Intervention & Appropriation
In summary, platform bike couriers make use of their digital infrastructures in different ways.
The assemblage of platforms and associated communication and transportation technologies allows courier work to exist on the scale and diversity seen in cities today.
Real-time personal navigation aids and electric bicycles lower the barrier for entry to courier work, negating many of the skills previously existing as essential characteristics and means for doing the work. While this is the case for some, particularly those in more casual roles, more experienced couriers still view such spatial skills as essential for completing the work in an efficient or even enjoyable way. Incorporating elements of active mobile decision making not only provides challenge as a source of professional pride, but also takes away from the inherent mundanity of the tasks.
Part of this involves spatial appropriation – the means of using urban space to achieve goals in ways it was not designed or intended for. In Oslo, the challenges of climate and topography lead couriers to find efficient routes beyond the bounds of the digital or the legal.
In Amsterdam, couriers who are less attached to their role as a professional identity and face less pressure to complete orders within a tight timeframe are less inclined to deviate from their algorithmically determined routes, and, in some cases face pressure from supervisors to remain in a more predictable mobility pattern. However, couriers who face additional
challenges associated with cargo bikes find that appropriating space is often necessary but misunderstood by those outside the profession. In essence, spatial appropriation by bike couriers has become more dependent than the situation described amongst bike messengers by Kidder (2009).
However, as a direct result of platform intervention into courier work, we see the appropriation of the platforms themselves within the working process itself, depending on the situations that necessitate deviation. Often behavioural adaptations are made based on a shared, but still speculative, understanding of how algorithms function in the assignment and jurisdiction of tasks based on repeated experience. Some decisions are purely pragmatic, based on safety and earning potential, while others simply make the work more enjoyable.
5.3. Changing Embodiment of Courier Mobility
Cycling itself is a deeply embodied experience. A calculated balance between the body, mind and the physical materiality found within the external environment and the equipment that travels alongside the cyclist. One’s equipment and cargo alters the way one interacts with the surrounding environment, while the environment itself becomes etched on the body, different physical challenges putting pressures on the body, ones that are then anticipated through repeated experience of moving through a space. This section builds on ethnographic understanding on the smallest scale at which movement is enacted, in order to better understand the situation within street space, also termed ‘micro-routing’ choices (Kidder 2011).
The platforms themselves and the metrics they record about performance affected how I made decisions about movement and the work itself. While working as a flash delivery rider, pressure was added from being constantly tracked and supervised to ensure delivery within the advertised timeframe. However, this often led to micro-management of movement by supervisors who would interrogate my choices and progress with the delivery. Ironically, this would cause further delays: having to stop and answer questions when deviating from the expected route or timeframe. However, the delivery only forms one half of each journey, with considerably less pressure on movement in the process of returning to the hub. This is consistent with findings of Heiland (2021), who notes a difference in the control exerted onto freelancers versus employees, the latter of whom were instructed about their position rather than simply advised.
Foodora, as an example of a classic meal delivery platform, offered certain freedoms in relation to movement, but consequently made shifts unpredictable. Based on advice from other riders, I adapted my starting location within the log-in zone in an effort to have preferable, more central deliveries. After some experimentation, I chose Bislett plass as a
‘gateway’ to the western, inner suburbs around Frogner and Majorstuen: areas with many restaurants and more manageable gradients. Riding a non-electric bike, I built an embodied cognitive map based on my own ability, knowing which gradients would be most exhausting, or even those where I would have to dismount and push my bike. Being in the saddle for several hours, pacing in this way was essential for completing the shift itself.
I also found myself altering my behaviour and bodily position based on the cargo itself:
“Have had several McDonalds orders that contained open fountain drinks which have leaked, so now every time I do a McDonalds order, I am more careful with how I position my back, standing up in the seat more often on uneven surfaces, in order to absorb more of the vibrations through my legs.” (Fieldnotes, Oslo, 19.09.2021).
“Had a half hour wait in a sushi restaurant in Majorstuen, which was a welcome break from the cold (-15 degrees tonight!). Sushi is my favourite thing to deliver in this weather, I can take it easy since it’s already cold” (Fieldnotes, Oslo 03.01.2022).
Predictability and anticipation, features emphasised in interviews as essential skills for this work, feature heavily on the subject of embodiment and materiality. In Oslo, working in winter involved relearning cycling based on reacting to snow and ice:
“The easiest snows are the absolute freshest, with a consistent texture that doesn't risk throwing your wheels off course and is more akin to cycling through shallow water. Ploughed, compacted snow with gravel added is best to ride on, but takes time to appear in most corners of the city, typically several days after the snowfall.
Brown, slushy snow that characterises a main road is relatively easy, as your wheel makes contact with the asphalt, but sprays freezing, dirty water back up on you. The worst is the thick, icy snow which knocks your wheels off balance.” (Fieldnotes, Oslo, 08.01.2022).
Considerations of micro- and macro-routing
adapt based on weather conditions. Following days of consistent refreezing, it became safer to travel on roads more frequented by cars, as their tyres create deep ‘paths’ through consistent compaction and turnover. Bike lanes often proved unusable until ploughing, forcing a micro-routing decision to use the road (Figure 1.). In November, it was essential to switch to studded tyres, provoking a sensory response which changed as snow set in.
Beforehand, the sound of the studs hitting asphalt was a constant reminder of the increased rolling resistance making it more difficult to move, but this sound became reassuring later on, as a reassurance that the studs were making contact with solid ground.
In Amsterdam, there are fewer environmental considerations: a benefit enabled largely through design. Instead, experience gained through working involved how to move through and with other cyclists using the same infrastructure while managing the challenge of time pressures and heavy loads (depending on the type of courier work).
Unlike Oslo, the main challenge of moving through Amsterdam as a working cyclist lies in managing interaction with others occupying the space. The occupants of bike paths are constantly shifting, behaving in often unpredictable ways. Here, the goal remains in anticipation of conflict, and subsequent mitigation. With a larger cargo bicycle and the addition of a trailer, as I often used for package collection and delivery, there is an added affective requirement, as much of the length and space taken up by the bike is behind and not visible.
Figure 4. Bike lane after snowfall (Oslo)..
In this type of work, making space to be stationary is as much a challenge as making space in movement. Making frequent stops requires
finding spaces to park the bike while allowing traffic to still flow freely. In the small, dense streets of Amsterdam this is a challenge which requires making decisions about using space which weigh the risks:
“I stopped to make a delivery, as far to the side as I could be so that cars could still pass by, and a driver became very irate before realising he could still pass with a bit of extra care. There was no space to park on the pavement, but if I parked further from each address, I would never complete every stop in the time allotted. How can I win?” (Fieldnotes, Amsterdam, 10.02.2022).
Making space to be stationary, then, became as essential to avoiding conflict as the decisions made while moving. Appropriation of common street features became essential to this, finding space not designed for parking but serving the purpose: gaps made in diagonal car parking space (Figure 3.) or utilising the extra space at the top of T-junction based on a prediction of how traffic will flow.
The mobile geographies of bicycle couriers positioned under the banner of the platform economy have radical altered from those described by their predecessors. In short, the shifting urban geography of bicycle work to more suburban, residential domains would not be possible without the organisational, navigational and transportation developments of the past decade, but appears to still remain limited in how far its domain can extend. Since personal navigational software and the new availability of electric bicycles successfully lowers the bar for entry into courier work, while the work platforms themselves use a hands- off approach which allows operation in larger areas with lower overhead costs.
Theories used to disentangle mobile behaviours of an earlier era of bike messengers remain relevant to platform workers, though the diversity of how such work is orchestrated requires additional attention and updating. When considering the characteristics of edgework, it remains the case that platform bicycle courier work has certain inherent risks to completing it, but the key difference with messenger work is the involuntary nature of it (Lyng 2005, Kidder 2006). Platform couriers of all types reported a resistance to putting themselves at risk for the sake of the job, in comparison to messengers who derive joy and fulfilment from the job via risk taking. A similar level of detachment is visible in riders’ responses to performance reviews, especially in Amsterdam where there has been a huge demand for couriers in various roles in recent years. For these couriers, their work does not transcend shift hours into an emotionally involved lifestyle (Kidder 2006). The same sentiment is present in macro-routing knowledge. Couriers with less attachment to their role are likelier to adhere to the platform system of conducting work. Making creative, reflexive, mobile decisions & building a cognitive map of one’s working environment takes additional work, while it remains possible to interpret space largely through real-time navigation software.
Figure 5. Making space for a cargo bike (Amsterdam).
Occupational attachment and professional price, then, have implications for how space is interpreted and moved through for work, with platform associated developments creating an infrastructure which permits courier work to be completed while the worker is able to retain ambivalence about their labour (Sennett 1998).
This lowered bar for entry has enabled use of bicycles in an increasing diversity of deliveries, in turn creating new problems which prompt adaptation. It is these adaptations where similarity is found with earlier messenger characteristics, many of which are geographically and temporally contingent. Though in response to the question “what kind of skills do you need to do your job?”, bike couriers in many cases humorously replied “none!”, in all cases they went on to describe various learned behaviours which increase safety, efficiency or enjoyment of the job. Many of these were small or implicit examples of micro-routing decisions, while others were clear responses to spatial puzzles or those created through relying on platforms to effectively organise and orchestrate the delivery process. Indeed, while platform organisation has increased the predictability of the process itself, the unpredictability inherent to moving through public space necessitates skilled reflexivity.
Critically, the introduction of GPS localisation as an element of some courier platforms has particular implications for the control of movement. Without tracking, couriers are mostly autonomous, with their performance based on the ability to complete the assigned task within an appropriate time frame. By virtue of being location tracked, the courier’s ability to make macro-routing decisions is constantly compared to automated macro-routing decisions. In the case of hands-off platforms such as Foodora in Oslo, human intervention is triggered only following a deviation that results in a delivery which differs significantly from the algorithm. In other cases where supervision is consistently supervised, such as flash delivery in Amsterdam, tight temporal margins prompt intervention and interrogation about their performance, though how couriers interpret this criticism varies. Some platforms do without tracking entirely, allowing couriers to use their own skills complete given multiple tasks within a time frame, similar to the freedoms enjoyed by earlier messengers.
It's important to note that this work does not seek to generalise the mobile experiences of bicycle couriers, rather, it aims to emphasise the diversification of new courier mobility by offering a vignette into two case studies. Outside of Europe, where courier work and velomobility in general is experiencing a boom, other means of adapting to physical and digital environments have the potential to produce different results.
From a normative standpoint, foregrounding two cities at different stages in becoming
‘cycling cities’ highlights deficiencies in cycle planning for working cyclists. Critically, bicycle couriers move in different ways to the cyclists consulted and considered in planning practice.
Understanding the informal techniques couriers use to maintain momentum and continue moving has the potential to improve existing efforts made by cycling cities in Amsterdam to minimise stopping points for cyclists, removing choke points for non-standard bicycles.
Finally, while this article focuses on movement, many points were raised in interviews illustrate further differences between couriers of different periods, particularly in the diverse ways labour unions and social connections are used. Ben Fincham’s (2007, 2008) work offers a deep understanding of the position courier work played as a subculture which united working cyclists based on a shared understanding of their livelihood. However, since courier work in the last decade has become exponentially more diverse and, in many areas, more fragmented, a comparison of change from this angle would be a welcome addition.