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Edmonton lands world bike courier Olympics

Downtown 'brats' will compete for global bragging rights on city streets

The Edmonton Journal, May 19, 2004

By Cathy Lord, With Files From Joel Kom

EDMONTON - Those "pesky brats of downtown" from all over the world will converge on Edmonton in July for bragging rights as top bike courier at the Cycle Messenger World Championships.

Brother couriers Bill and Mike Thain, front, ride the streets of downtown Edmonton
Credit: Larry Wong, The Journal

Showing off the power of their thunder thighs and orienteering skills, 500 bicycle couriers from 18 countries will compete July 1-5 for the title of the world's fastest bike messenger.

Biker Bill Thain has been planning the event for several years and is thrilled Edmonton was chosen to host this year.

When he tells people what he does for a living, he says, most of them say, "Oh, you're one of those jerks who cut people off in traffic.

"Rather than being portrayed as the pesky brats of downtown, we're trying to throw a more positive image on what we do," Thain said Tuesday in an interview, between making deliveries.

In addition to sprints, a cargo bike race, track bike races and the gruelling main race, messenger culture will also be highlighted through art, films and fashion, Thain said.

The main race will take three to four hours, with couriers making pickups and deliveries at eight to 12 checkpoints on downtown streets.

Courier Andrew Degenhardt said he is happy to be competing for the first time. "There's going to be lots of parties and lots of events, so I'm looking forward to it."

Iain Reynolds said doing his job is enough preparation for the competition but he would like to get some rest before it begins.

Thain said he works hard through all kinds of weather to make about $25,000 a year ($3 per delivery) but he loves the freedom the job gives him.

"I don't like working at a job where the walls close in a half an inch every day. It drives me crazy."

Of being a courier, he said: "I've yet to find a job where you get thanked so much in one day. It's not so much about the money as it is about the people that you deal with. And of course it's great being outside when it's nice out."

Although faxing and e-mailing have cut into the demand for couriers, Thain was busy Tuesday taking orders by cellphone and two two-way radios. But at 35, he thinks he's close to retiring from the field.

About 28 bike couriers in Edmonton each make 30 to 60 deliveries a day compared with the 200 road warriors who ride the downtown streets of Calgary. Thain said he reaches speeds of more than 45 km/h on his bike.

The Edmonton riders are close-knit and often help each other out.

The Cycle Messenger World Championships started in Berlin in 1993 and were held in Toronto in 1995. This year's competition is dedicated to those who have lost their lives while working.

"We've been fortunate in Edmonton," said Thain.

"Edmonton is very bicycle friendly. That's one of the reasons we went after the championships."

Thain said he appreciates the support he got to host the event from the mayor, Economic Development Edmonton and the chamber of commerce.

"Without their support, we wouldn't have been awarded the event."


The Cycle Messenger World Championships in Edmonton run from July 1-5. On Canada Day, opening ceremonies will take place at Louise McKinney Park, trials and fixed-gear events are on July 2 at the Argyll Velodrome, main race qualifications take place July 3 in the river valley and the main downtown event happens July 4. For more information, check www.hardcoremessengers.com


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