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Delivering the goods

Cream of the bicycle courier crop get racing and drinking this weekend

Montreal Mirror, September 2, 2004

by Kristian Gravenor

Our island becomes a bastion of berserk breakneck bicyclist bravado this Friday to Sunday as the annual North American Cycle Courier Championship hits town. It's an event so perfect that it encompasses copious beer drinking, nifty bike stunts, and much more, according to local organizer Torrey Pass. And you are definitely invited.

"The whole idea is to integrate couriers and the civilian population as much as possible," he says, a feat best initiated with the help of a bit of ale, evidently, as the shebang starts rolling with a pub crawl launched at Foufs (87 Ste-Catherine E.) from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Friday.

The budget-poor, enthusiasm-rich event will be welcoming between 150 to 200 couriers from throughout North America. They will range in age from 17 to 50, with about one of three being of the female variety; the couriers range from tattooed punks to Ph.D.s.

Pass says our local courier culture measures up with the most radical. "Couriers here work in temperatures from minus-40 to plus-40 and we've got a lot more hills than in places like New York and Toronto," he says, adding that local couriers do it for a lot less pay than they'd make in other cities. Pass wistfully notes that his own courier days are behind him after crushing his knee in a door-prize mishap, then going through a windshield shoulder first. He only left for good after colleague and co-organizer Chris Kennedy suffered a crippling accident. "He's totally involved with this event too and he's still part of the community, which is cool," he says.

Pass says that spectators will undoubtedly remark on the love of urban riding that propels the riders, a hearty breed who stick at their trade under hard circumstances. "You have no protection of any sort, you're guaranteed to hurt yourself, have your bike break down, there's no vacation pay, and you end up making about $400 a week."

And they're not without skills, as will be proven mainly Saturday in Griffintown. Competition begins at 1 p.m. at the corner of Mountain and Ottawa streets with a skid contest to see who can make the biggest skid by "putting the crotches against their stems and all weight on the back wheel." Later the cargo race showcases the heavy-lifting delivery skills of the couriers, who are expected to transport anything from beer barrels to human bodies.

Sprints are slated for 5 p.m. while the main race is at 6. "They go through various checkpoints and they've got to be fast on their feet. They've got to unload as many packages as possible in a limited amount of time - it's very fun to watch."

At 9 p.m. the bikers and anybody else with seven bucks is invited to reconvene at Station C (1450 St-Catherine E.) to unwind to such bands as Feat, the Cherry Persuasion, Exocortex and Murderizer.

Sunday launches at 1:30 p.m. with a picnic on the canal just east of Guy, and at 4 p.m. begins the Mount Royal Climb and the Alley Cat Race. "That's the most exciting for racers," says Pass. "There's checkpoints throughout the city and riders go whipping through traffic. It's intense."

The brakes slowly start squeezing on activities at the final shindig at Station C, which includes the 5 p.m. screening of the 2001 documentary Rubber Side Down by local filmmaker Tristan Verboven, indoor races, a prize ceremony (winners are rewarded with bike gear such as courier bags), a bunny hop contest and even a trapeze show, not to mention more rock courtesy of Nitrosonique and the Donkeys.

In his film, Verboven managed to document the shenanigans that went on in a similar world contest in Budapest. From his experience there, Verboven says those in attendance can expect no shortage of feisty female messengers; there'll be much admiring and swapping of cool riding gear; lots of punk rock will be heard and don't be shocked if some doppelganging pro bikers try to pass themselves off as bike couriers.

As for the conversation? "They talk about injuries and the wipeouts they've experienced," says Verboven. "I was surprised how seriously guys take it but then it's a solid piss up as well, they come to have a good time. People think of these bike messengers as a freaky subsect of society but they work hard in life. They wake up at 8 and bike for nine hours and put up with so much shit from everyone because they love it, they love the intensity."


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