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Post on pedals

Slovak Spectator, May 17,2004
By Eric Smillie

Not all packages cross long distances. To exchange documents quickly with their neighbours, firms in cities around the world have turned to bike messengers. In Bratislava, a few riders fight to make local hand deliveries on time, and in one piece.

Martin Bačkády, 23, is one of three bike messengers who ride for B&F Courier in Bratislava, and one of a handful of brave, big-thighed riders who cruise the streets of Slovakia's capital. He says that his service is appreciated "because it is fast, accessible, not very expensive, and the client knows that you will hand what he gives you directly to its recipient."

Though other delivery firms once offered similar services, at the moment they focus on delivery by car. There is no kind of bike-messenger community, Bačkády says, as there is in some cities. "It would be fun if there were more of us," he added.

It might not be a surprise that there are so few. An advertisement for a bike messenger opening at Kurier Expres Grell, a firm founded by one-time bike messenger Ondrej Grell in 1996, warns bikers that they will work year-round in all weather. "It's hard work - you have to be in good shape," said Bačkády, who works under the same strenuous conditions.

In addition to rain and snow and the athletic performance the job requires, it can also be dangerous. Just crossing the street in Bratislava is a sobering thought for most pedestrians who obey walk lights in justified fear for their lives. To hear Bačkády's stories, biking in the city requires even more attention.

"There are some people who just don't pay attention - they pull out in front of you without even looking. Or on Šafárikovo square [in Bratislava] I got caught between a tram and a car; when he should have been waiting for people to get on the tram, some Mafioso hit me. But it's cool, I'm still alive."

The work is catching up with him, however. A courier for three years, he says the job is not sustainable. "It's fun but it's not easy to ride very hard every day. It's the kind of work you can only do for about three or four years."

"Next I might do office work, or deliver by car, but that doesn't really appeal to me. Maybe I'll go abroad," he added.

For now, though, Bačkády manages the tough conditions on the road with a mountain bike, which offers more weight and stability than a road bike.

When asked about his time off, he said adamantly that, "over the weekend I never go biking."


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