me and Boris organised the biggest messenger race ever but never quite managed to get a ride ourselves. We decided to take a team over the pond to get a taste of our own medicine in Toronto at
by Buffalo Bill
Moving Target, Spring 1995, vol. 4, #3
In the departure lounge with 15 minutes to takeoff Boris turns to me as we are leaving the duty free and says: 'yeah, I've got a phobia about flying. It’s a recognised sky-divers syndrome: fear of getting into an aircraft without a parachute on.
Great. I'm flying trans atlantic with a free-fall burn out who's a white-knuckle flyer. For the next 7 hours Boris keeps the whole of the smoking section of BA093 entertained with every single plane-crash anecdote he can think of; I now know that statistically the mot dangerous time in any flight is takeoff because Boris told me as we were taxing out of the terminal towards the main runway.
Then there was the game of "I spy" at 25,000 feet Boris: I spy with my eye something beginning with... F BB: Fog? Boris: Nah. BB: Flight Attendant? Boris: Nah. BB: Give up. Boris: FIRE ON THE STARBOARD WING!
It has to be said that Bo's suggestion that the in flight movie should be changed to 'Alive', a real life story detailing the experiences of plane crash survivors who are forced to eat the corpses of fellow-passengers in order to sustain themselves was slightly less than well-received. By the end of the flight I was the one with the phobia.
Pearson International Airport, Toronto
Canadian Immigration don't like the look of Boris. I don't blame them; I don't like the look of him either. However, Boris slips some geezer a fiver &I end up pulled aside instead of him. Luckily, the uniform behind the desk is a cyclist as well and gives me the stamp whilst telling me about his cycling holidays in Britain. Surely nobbling your own team captain is not in the best interests of the team, I think as I search the carousel for my bag. Boris must have designs on my job. "Beware the Ides of March, O Buffalo." Will it be: "Et tu, Boris," come the spring?
We emerge from the terminal with our bikes and our bags, ready for action. Red Nic and Big Al meet us and whisk us off into town in a van. Welcome to Toronto!
Next days are spent meeting old friends last seen in London and Berlin and making new ones at that legendary cc hangout Breadspreads or 'Spreads' for short. We collect the rest of the London team from the airport and drink a serious amount of beer with Pete, Al, Nic. Friday night we go out with Micus, Tom, Jo and a few others to Sneaky Dees and drink a serious amount of beer. Boris takes some class A's and goes to a rave. Saturday the DC team shows up: Eric Yard Sale, Zalan, Frank & Sam. Zalan shows me his new zine (more cc zines - way cool) and they tell me about their memorial for a guy killed in DC the week before (not so cool), blocking the scene with bikes (100+) and chanting for minutes. Stop the city to show respect, grief and honour...whatever - out of the gutter and into their faces - messengers are not cockroaches, we will not be squashed without making waves. And drink a serious amount of beer. Phew! These Canadians drink a lot of beer...
Sunday. The fat-tire crew go off to jump logs and ride off cliffs or whatever it is they do and the roadies go for cappuccino. No beer - thank God!
MONDAY - RACE DAY
The Moving Target / 2 and 8 team has by now swelled to 6. The team captain suggested that it was a wise move to recruit some of the locals onto the team as guides. They get a t-shirt, we get directions. Well, at least that was the plan. This race is a courier race and an illegal street courier race at that so it's gonna be well mad and most likely we won't even recognise our own handlebars when the hammer goes down, never mind another team member. Oh well, we only came for the crack. Yeah, like hell we did. Boris and Eric drop a tab each 3 hours before the race just to give the scene a bit of an edge. As if it needed one.
2100 Spread's, Temperance Street, Downtown Toronto
So now it was time for the race itself... me and Boris had been talking about it since we took off from Heathrow. In London, I really didn't have time to think about the race itself or what it might be like. But now, here in Toronto... I was very apprehensive and even, yes, I admit it, scared. The whole idea was completely insane. 50 messengers, most of whom would be stoned, drunk or perhaps tripping were going to race through downtown Toronto at night from a mass start. Boris and I were sure that some one was going to end up horribly maimed if not disfigured to the point where their own mother would not recognise the contents of the body bag. We agreed that we were absolutely no going to let any kind of accident happen to us and that we would ride sensibly. Micus promised that he would sheppard us to the finish in good order with all of our limbs in tact. But we wouldn't be racing, running red lights or any mad shit like that...as time race time got nearer and nearer, I got more and more nervous. Someone was going to die, what the fuck did we think we were doing, this was mad, crazy, irresponsible, had we all turned into lemmings? What was wrong with us, wasn't it dangerous enough at work without adding to the risk in this ill-advised, ill-conceived, utterly stupid adventure? Whose idea was it to come? In the end I was in such a state that I had to go and chant a Buddhist mantra for 30 minutes in order to calm myself. After chanting I just thought well, if someone has to die then it's Mercury's will.
When we got to Spreads the party was in full swing. The adrenaline &testosterone was flowing as freely as the beer. After a few minutes I was incoherent with anticipation & fear.
Wilko, annoyingly was as calm as if he was standing by at St. Anne's waiting for the next call on the channel. As the atmosphere around us got more & more frenzied, with many riders openly foaming at the mouth, Wilko turned to me and said :it's exactly the same as the Championships; all these people doing stretching and whatever; I don't need all that - I just get on with it." I looked at Boris & Eric the Commander who were tripping, for a second I tried to imagine what they were experiencing. I had to stop that, 'cos it was just to terrifying.
Pete Lord, who was already well stoked, took the foreigners to one side to explain to us what the route would be. I didn't get a word, Boris & Eric were probably just watching the interesting spirals comming off his lips. By now I was off my head with terror; either the race was going to start very soon or else someone was going to have to restrain me with heavy bondage & tranquillisers.
The race start itself was chaotic; Nic was trying to make sure that everything was in place & ready for action when somebody said: "Fuck it, let's go," so we did. We exploded onto Toronto's main drag, Yonge Street, in a blur of pedals, spokes and flashing lights. I started at the back and as I turned into Yonge I could see the bunch swarming through the gridlock ahead of me. Somebody ahead ricocheted off a car and wiped. For a brief moment, I visualised the possible carnage: bodies everywhere, twisted metal, fleets of ambulances arriving to collect the wounded...then the adrenaline hit me and washed away any fears, doubts and most of my common-sense. I threw myself and the bike into the melee.
THE RACE ITSELF
How can you write a report on a race like that? It wasn't linear in time or space. It was more like a riot than a race. Obviously, it had a beginning and an end. But in between... I have so many unanswered questions like why was it reported on race radio that I was leading the race through one of the checkpoints? How come I never saw Boris or Heather even though I started last and finished way ahead of them? Where did Micus get to? What is the secret behind Eric the Commander's ability to ride straight through red lights without ever slowing down? Does he sacrifice the ashes of Vittoria Chronomettro tubs on an alter welded of Campag GS crank-sets under a full-moon to Mercury? Why was I unable to remember the first 15 minutes of the race? Why did Tom Quesnel throw away a certain victory by riding the wrong way back down Casa Loma? How on earth did Steve & Frank (from DC) end up in the top 10 in a completely foreign city?
Afterwards, I had the feeling that the race was a huge jigsaw of the various little exploits of all the riders that could never be fitted together to make a coherent picture. In other words, it was complete and utter urban bicycle bedlam.
It was the most fun I ever had on bike. In the cold light of the day, racing illegally at night, through a city centre is plain stupid. But when I was doing it I felt more fulfilled, more alive than I had since, well to be honest, I have never felt more alive. It was the biggest rush ever.
And I want more.
TORONTO STREET STYLE
The Toronto courier attitude can be summed up in one phrase: "Hey, whatever, guy", meaning, well, whatever. One of the things that struck me about the Toronto guys who came over to London for CMWC ' 94 was their style. They dressed more skate, less lycra. All the London ccs tend to wear black lycra but the Toronto boys were nearly all in cut-offs and baggies. Sort of skate-punks with two wheels.
Most of the Toronto ccs ride mountain bikes. What with the tracks, the state of the roads (which get hammered by snow & ice every winter) and the fact that baggy pants do not look as cool on road bikes as they do on MTB's, road bikes are shunned in favour of trick MTBs. Broadies, Rocky Mountains, GTs and a lot of suspension is what you see down at Spreads. And the bikes are not for show - these guys really hammer about. Where a London rider will be stoking on cappuccino in the slack times, in Toronto they go and scream down an underground car-park or ride the wall of a park.
The Toronto street environment is considerably different to anything I have seen in the UK. The streets are much wider, which gives the street-rider more space to play with but nearly all the major streets, Spadina, Yonge, Queen, etc, etc, have two sets of tracks running down the middle. These tracks will swallow a 700cc wheel and are still a hazard to 26 inch wheels. In the wet, being shiny and metallic, they are absolutely deadly. This makes switching lanes interesting. If you really are a good bike handler, then you will obviously have no problem and will even be able to ride along them, like Little Joe does.
And then there are the trams... if you're riding high in the tracks then you have to keep an eye for the trams. Even better, if you are riding on the yellow line between the two sets of tracks then you really have to watch out 'cos you can get caught between two trams going in opposite directions. If this happens, it's curtains. The new trams do not have enough room between them for a person, never mind a person and a bike. In the old days, there was just about enough room to squeeze through, if you had a lot of skill, a lot of nerve and clean underwear. Those veterans who have made this move say that the phonetic sound that the contact between rain jacket and two trams makes is a "zxeische." I believe them.
WIN THE DOOR PRIZE
If you don't want to ride in the tracks (and who could blame you?) then it's the door-prize zone. This is the part of the road between the tracks and the parked cars, just about as wide as a car door when opened. Getting one of these is called getting the door-prize. Endearingly, Canadian drivers do not stand on ceremony - they do not look before they open the doors and they will open the doors anywhere they feel like it. In fact, the MT team was rather unimpressed by the standard of Canadian driving.
GET A LIFE
Canadian drivers seemed to have the greatest difficulty doing
except driving in a straight line, which is what they do most of the
I suppose. What this mean is that if they're doing anything remotely
like turning a corner or God Forbid, a u-turn, then they will need so
attention focused on getting the vehicle to do what they want it to
they won't have any left over to pay attention to what's happening
them. They compensate for this by doing these types of "difficult"
manoeuvres at unbelievably slow speeds to allow all those in their path
time to get out of it. For us, this was particularity disconcerting -
would be thinking, "nah, no way, that's so stupid, you can't turn
there", watching, hypnotised by the slow dream-like quality of the
action, with no sense of danger until it was nearly too late. We
really get angry with them either - it really was beyond them to look
they turned. Hand-to- eye co-ordination absolute zero. What on earth
Canadian driving test consists of, I cannot imagine.
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