Those Crazy Messengers
Hideousewhitenoise #56, 2003
By Mr Forehead
“Those damn couriers always getting in my way. Hey that little fucker
just cut me off. Why do they let those idiots ride like that? Nice Ass!
What smells? I wish I could ride my bike outside on a day like this. I
am glad I am not riding my bike outside today. Wonder what the weather
is outside, maybe I will ask this soaking wet bike messenger.”
Messengers have been around longer then highways. A famous messenger
who brought word of failure in battle was put to death. Hence the term,
“Don’t kill the messenger.” Modern day still exists on the messenger to
get their stuff delivered. The modern Bike Messenger has been around
longer then automobiles.
The first messenger came quickly after the invention of the modern day
bicycle. This would be around 1890. Even rich people who could only
afford bikes were making deliveries on their boneshakers. Bikes have
been used to deliver all sorts of sundries of every day life.
Prescriptions, meat, organs, sperm samples, couches, you name it and it
has probably been delivered on a bike.
In the thirties,
Toronto bike messengers use to hang their bikes up at Temperance and
Bay and smoke cigarettes. Now a day they can be found at Temperance and
Yonge, hanging out and smoking. Some things never change.
But the bike messenger has. From the nattily dressed messenger kid for
Western Union, to the tattooed stoner kid, the fashions, events and
legal problems continue to change and grow.
With the advent of the automobile, bicycle messengers like most
cyclists disappeared into the cultural landscape. It was not until the
seventies that people started to take the bicycle seriously again as
form of transportation. The Bike Messengers were at the forefront of
By the late eighties, 1980’s that is, it was hip to be a daredevil bike
messenger dashing through traffic like a leopard. Not a care in the
world. Making sweating a cool pass time, Messengers love to hang out
with other messengers. They are family. And there is no sight better
then a pack of messengers moving through traffic like sharks in the
It wasn’t long before these fit young people started to race and that
was when the action really started. AlleyCat
racing had been around for a long time, but the modern version came
out of Toronto in the late eighties. It wasn’t long before it spread to
the rest of the messenger world.
In what now seems like a logical transition messengers from other
cities started to race against each other. It was a camaraderie thing,
race, hang out, and drink beer. The first World Championships were held
in Berlin in 1993. Messengers from around the world showed up to race.
Then came the European Championships, the North American Championships,
the Australian Championships and the Dunhill AlleyCat scramble. Being a
messenger was the balm.
But being a messenger is not all about racing, drinking, and having
fun. A book called, “The World’s Most Dangerous Places,” ranks being a
Bike Messenger number 6 in the top ten dangerous jobs. This is between
a Smoke Jumper and a Goon.
Not only is the job increasingly dangerous, the pay gets shittier and
shittier every year. While police, who didn’t make the list, are paid a
huge amount of money to drive around in relative safety, Bike
Messengers are continually ripped off and underpaid. The average pay of
a Bike Messenger has dropped. From a nice average of $500.00 a week,
the pay has toileted from $200-300.00 a week. It is the only business,
besides sweat shops, that where a profit is made, but the average
salary continues to drop.
But crappy pay is the least of a bike messengers problems. There is the
constant danger of getting run down by a homicidal driver. Ask any bike
messenger about drivers and you are sure to get a story.
Chris Robertson, while riding in a friends wake, was killed by truck
driver Reuben Espinoza. At the time, Chris was riding in a friends
wake. The truck driver became incensed when many cyclists took the
lane, in a light traffic part of town. He hurled a wooden bloke at the
riders. Words were exchanged and he ran Chris down. Cyclists detained
the driver until police showed. The drivers abstract showed a history
of aggressive driving. The truck driver’s own attorney thought he
should go to jail. The verdict, innocent.
Thomas McBride was riding his bike in the 5300 block of West Washington
Boulevard, Chicago when he had a near collision with a motorist. Words
were exchanged. The driver ran him down and then fled the scene of the
crime. He later turned himself in to police. The verdict, guilty. The
driver was sentenced to 45 years in jail. Justice, in this case, was
served. But it still will not ping back Thomas McBride.
Bike Messengers face death on a constant basis. And what do they
receive in return. Harassment, ridicule and getting ripped off and this
is from the companies they work for. Bike Messengers are paid by the
amount of packages they can pick up and drop off in a given day. This
is why they usually look like a rat on crack. All jittery and looking
Rates have been dropping faster then the .com industry. Companies
continually look for ways to under cut other companies by giving deals.
Most company owners will tell you that they don’t make money on bike
messengers. These are the same owners that drive porsches and have
In Canada there is a federal law
that says messengers cannot deliver packages for less then $2.31. This
law is constantly contravened by 99% of courier companies. Yes there
are a few good companies. Couriers deliver packages for less then the
cost of a stamp. Of that they receive 60%. Of that 60%, they have to
pay radio fees. There is not much left for rent, food and an occasional
beer. Not to mention bike repairs, clothing and those other necessities
So why be a bike messenger? Freedom, exercise, camaraderie and of
course the racing. Messengers have a worldwide circuit. There is of
course the Alley Cats and world championships and now it would appear
the Japanese have announced a messenger championship of their own.
Being a Bike Messenger is like going to war. You will meet friends that
you will keep for the rest of your life, you will be swapping stories
of near misses and stupid mailroom people and you will keep the world a
better place for one and all. Being a bike messenger may have gone out
of vogue, but it is still the best job in the world
Ride to live, live to ride!