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Style on the move

Minneapolis Star Tribune, November 3, 2004

By Claude Peck

Araby Williams, 26, favors black outfits, to match her fingernail polish and punkish affect. Ebullient Tim Hayes, 23, is more colorful, in camo shorts, a flaming red helmet and blue-tinted wraparound Spy shades. Soft-spoken Matt Allen, 23, boasts vintage bike shoes and a prized shoulder bag he won in the annual Twin Cities bike-race-bar-hop called the Stupor Bowl.

Bike messengers in Minneapolis, those fixed-gear phantoms who tear down Marquette Avenue and disappear into skyscraper lobbies, are fast-moving fashionistas whose runways are city streets. Their style draws from punk, bike culture, thrift stores, practical necessity and tribal flair.

"Most of the way we look is for utility, but it definitely comes across as a certain look," Williams said. "We get a laugh when we see non-messengers emulating our style."
tim hayes speeds down nicollet mall

Williams was sitting in the front window of the Dunn Bros. coffee shop on Nicollet Mall, a popular hangout for many of the downtown messengers. Their stripped-down, fixed-gear bikes, or "fixies," lean against trees and posts out front, locked only to themselves. Though employed by different courier companies, the messengers usually sit together, a few goldfinches in a flock of sparrows. They swap stories, rib each other and work crossword puzzles while awaiting their next call.

"The messenger community is pretty tight," Hayes said. "You can go around the country and always have a couch to sleep on."

Despite differences ranging from preppy to punk, the messengers share a look that identifies them just as surely as the Target executives, instrument-toting Minnesota Orchestra players and WCCO-TV camera crew members who also frequent the cafe, which often fills with the burnt-coffee smell of an on-site bean roaster.

Allen, who rides for Blazing Saddles, said that messengers elsewhere in the country tend to wear more bike-specific clothing. "The Minneapolis messengers look a little less 'technical' than in other cities, and a little more thrift store-y," he said.
tim hayes sports a favorite cap

Messenger style is born of necessity. Stiff-soled biking shoes are popular, though some messengers wear sneakers. The bike shoes, with or without pedal clips, distribute leg power more evenly to the pedal.

The spandex bikewear of the weekend warrior is worn by some of the messengers, but they favor black over bright, and hide their spandex under long, baggy shorts or pants with cuffs rolled high to avoid chain grease. On the upper body, layers help control body temperatures between cool outdoors and heated buildings, while bright colors help riders to be seen by motorists and pedestrians stupid enough to get in their way.

Bike-lock keys often are worn singly on telephone-cord bracelets or slung from carabiners to speed the repetitive locking and unlocking of bicycles.

Common to all messengers -- and widely adopted by the rest of us -- is the cargo bag. The big waterproof bags (popular brands include Timbuk2, Dank, Reload and Baileyworks) are worn high on the back, with a wide padded strap across the chest that has a ring or buckle for quick release. Most of the messengers have their phone or walkie-talkie clipped to the strap, and a smaller strap under the armpit to hold the bag and its contents (legal documents, architectural renderings, contracts, burritos) tight against them.

Hayes is proud of the blaze-orange Dank bag -- handmade in Seattle, with an appliquéd Grim Reaper on the flap -- that he won in a Chicago bike race.

Headgear includes wraparound shades, baseball caps and the smaller bicyclists' caps (Hayes prizes his orange one with the insignia of a Spanish Tour de France racing team), knit caps, tighter-fitting helmet liners in black polypropylene, earrings. A few messengers wear bike helmets, though just one messenger company requires them of its riders.

Damien Tank, 22, has ridden for Benco since May, and also plays in a band, the Skinnys, with another bike messenger. His look is "all about practicality." He resembles a university student, in baggy cords, wool socks, sneakers and a ball cap. But even his low-key look shows glimpses of messenger style: new high-tech biking gloves and a Crumpler shoulder bag. In an adaptation worthy of the cult movie "Grey Gardens," Tank fashioned a no-flap scarf by ripping the top off a maroon knit cap and pulling what was left down over his head as a neck warmer. By all means, do try this at home.


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