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Bike messengers not squeegees on wheels: Ice Cup organizer

Annual Ice Cup tries to introduce messenger culture to the masses

The Link (Concordia), February 08, 2005

by Dave Weatherall

Overheard between one of the race organizers and competitor Tai Lung:

Did you qualify for this heat?


Then you're in.

The tone was casual, but the racing was intense as couriers from across Canada converged on Montreal's Old Port to try to take home the Ice Cup.

The event attracted just under 100 bike messengers, but in the end, there could be only one winner. Montreal native Mike Speed Bourgeois came out of racing retirement and defeated all challengers to take home the Cup.

I haven't raced in three years, so this is very nice to be able to come back and win at home, he said. The other guys were really fast, it was a great race.

Organizer Tom Ostreiko said one of the reasons the event was put together was to try to dispel some misconceptions about couriers.

Messengers are sometimes perceived as squeegees on bikes, so we wanted to introduce the culture of being a bike messenger to society, he said.

Thirty-two-year-old Faidon Vrahnos is part of that culture in Montreal and lost every heat he participated in on Saturday. He's been a messenger for three years and said it takes time for a rookie to be accepted by the more experienced messengers in Montreal.

After a year, I got my first nod from people outside my company. A year later I had some conversations with them, so it takes a bit of time.

One of the reasons it takes so long to become part of the culture is because of what Vrahnos called summer butterflies. Summer butterflies are usually students or seasonal workers who take a bike courier job for the summer and then leave in the winter. Vrahnos said veteran bike messengers do not respect them.

What messengers look at isn't what kind of bike you ride, or how much money you make in a day, it's how long you've been at it and whether you've worked through a Montreal winter, he said.

Michael Harviy has seen his fair share of Montreal winters, and he's one of the main reasons why bike messengers began racing on ice in Montreal. He's been a messenger for 10 years and exported the idea from Toronto, where the sport allegedly began on Lake Ontario.

When I moved from Toronto to Montreal in 2000, I was like, 'Guys, we have to have one of these races here!' he said. I mean, what is more Québécois or Canadian than racing bikes on ice? It's what separates us from the messengers in the States and the rest of the world.

According to Harviy, a group of messengers started racing their bikes on ice in 1995.

They pushed the screws and tacks through the tires themselves and just went on the lake to race, he said.

While there were a lot of smiles during the racing on Saturday, Vrahnos said that being a bike messenger is a grueling physical job that doesn't pay much. Maintaining a bike is costly and isn't usually covered by a messenger's employer. Vrahnos said he spent $200 on a new wheel and brake pads in January alone. Messengers average two sets of brake pads per month and go through at least two sets of bearings in their bottom brackets and wheel hubs in a year. Another important expense is the food messengers have to consume. Vrahnos said he eats huge amounts of food just to keep going.

I'm 32, and it's the best job I've ever had, he said.

Besides racing on frozen water, bike messengers in North America and Europe can compete in regional championships that culminate with the annual world championships. This year the world championships will be hosted in New York City.


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