E-bikes sped to the Covid frontline

E-bikes sped to the Covid frontline
Chris Coyle
Growing up in a deprived area of Coventry, Chris Coyle was introduced to cycling through an inner-City Council initiative. Ebikebrum Cycle Shop and Café opened in 2018.
It provides a range of services from information about healthy lifestyle choices to full cycling activity programmes, specialising in electric bikes. All members of the community are welcomed. Projects included working in partnership with West Midlands Police in terms of youth diversion projects and violence reduction.
The team also took older people out. “e-bikes are incredibly popular for that group because they create that independence and mobility that might be restricted with a normal bicycle.” And for all age groups, they run introductory cycling sessions: “We give free e-bike hire to members of the community to have an hour out in the park and then come back for a coffee. It’s really to try and introduce cycling to as many community members as possible.

In its first year, Chris worked to finalise his overall business plan, which centred on projects that ran from the café. Key Fund gave an £83k grant/loan mix in February 2020 to fund equipment, stock, and working capital to expand the café’s activities. A month later, the first national lockdown came into force. “We were really just about to start everything off just as lockdown hit. We had our plan to drive everything forward, and then we had to close the café. From that respect it was a real change.” Chris found himself in a Catch-22. The investment was to help buy stock to help create more sales, and add sustainability to the business plan, but bike stock dried up overnight as the market for bikes exploded. “Because of lockdown, we never got the chance to fulfil the business plan objectives. Stock was incredibly hard to come by. What we had to do was pre-orders, and we needed capital to put those pre-orders forward to secure stock. We have to compete with big private businesses. It was quite difficult to watch their sales grow exponentially, and we’re unable to get the stock in.”

Chris Coyle

The closure of the café, left their small collection of community e-bikes unused.

“What we first did was think okay, we can’t run our normal cycling projects from the café. We can’t bring people to meet. So, we had a thought that we could provide our e-bikes to NHS staff in the first lockdown so they could safely get to and from work. We had a small bank of community e-bikes and we decided to donate those to the NHS.”

Securing Covid funding led to a partnership with an NHS Trust, and the number of donated bikes rose to 40.

“Through lockdown, we looked more closely at how we would push that community focus forward. It was always a very big drive for us, Covid made us focus and drive it at a faster pace.”

The team created a virtual cycling platform indoors for schools, encouraging engagement with cycling through a gaming platform.

“We had to think quickly and creatively on how we kept the organisation going. It allowed us to focus on what we really wanted to achieve, that maybe the café would have taken time away from.”

Financially, small grants, a bounce back loan, and Key Fund helped get them through.

“We’ve been received so positively in our community, we do think the future is quite strong for the organisation, but without Key Fund help we would have struggled to do anything.”

Prior to Ebikebrum, Chris ran a medical communications agency. People in parts of the West Midlands are twice as likely to be admitted to hospital due to obesity.

“The health and well-being side has always been a cross over with my passion for cycling. Health is in people’s minds to minimise the risk of Covid in the future, and cycling and active travel is such an easy and obvious answer. So, we’re also developing that narrative and educational platform.”

Chris said: “The burden of Type 2 Diabetes on the NHS is £10m a year, that can be significantly reduced by people engaging with activity. If 10% more of 11–25-year-olds get involved with regular physical activity, it saves £8bn for that group across their lifetime in terms of health interventions. That’s just one example.”

“Then there’s the reduction in anti-social behaviour, the mental health boost of getting closer to nature – the benefits are huge.”

In their first year, Chris estimates they reached 200 people. “Given the organisations we’re working with now, I can safely say that will this figure will increase significantly in the future.”

New initiatives include working with schools to incentivise young people to cycle to school, offering free activities if they do. They’ve partnered with another community group that delivers football sessions: “We introduced them to our e-mountain biking activities; that’s hundreds of young people that then get to use those facilities.”

“The funding safeguarded the two jobs at Ebikebrum. “We’re now moving at a pace that was quicker than expected. We have a group of volunteers and we are also working on a youth unemployment programme. We think they’ll be new job opportunities developed. It’s been challenging, but we can see the huge benefits in the long term.” “If we hadn’t had Key Fund support, we’d have had to basically sit still. They understood it would be really sad not to see the organisation gain traction through the explosion of interest in cycling. Key Fund have really been supporting the step forward that we needed to take.”
“Now the question,” Chris said, “is how far can we take it?”