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Sydney couriers take to the streets in race

PM, ABC Local Radio, October 2, 2006

Real Audio Windows media MP3

Reporter: Jennifer Macey

MARK COLVIN: It's a public holiday in New South Wales but Sydney's bike couriers were out on the streets - not to work but to race.

The winner of today's competition will wear the red "Champion's" jersey when Sydney hosts the World Cycle Messenger Championships later this month.

Hundreds of cycle messengers from all over the world will be in Sydney for the championship event.

Jennifer Macey reports.

(Sound of bicycle bell)

JENNIFER MACEY: Sydney's bike couriers find it difficult to separate work from play.

On days off, groups of couriers compete in unofficial alley-cat competitions, which replicate a day at work complete with pickups and deliveries.

Police say if cyclists are breaking road rules they'll be punished, but organisers say they don't condone any cyclist to break the law.

SIMON MCKENZIE: There's seven checkpoints, each one has a pickup, and each one has a delivery. So basically you're getting seven jobs, we're off on two minutes, there'll be three people going at each two minutes, so don't try and follow someone, cause they may be doing a different way to you.

JENNIFER MACEY: Today's winner will have the honour of wearing the red champions jersey when the city hosts the 14th annual World Cycle Messenger Championships later this month.

More than 200 messengers from interstate and overseas will be competing in two days of races.

One of the organisers, Simon McKenzie, says it's the first time the event is being held in the southern hemisphere.

SIMON MCKENZIE: Being a bicycle courier or a cycle messenger is a very different way of cycling. It breeds different skills to the general commuter, or to a road cyclist, or a track cyclist or a mountain bike rider.

And the only way for us to showcase our skills at the highest level is to simulate exactly what we have to do on a workday. It's not about the dealing with traffic, it's being able to think quickly and process information straight away and work out which way you have to go. It's almost like a cycle orienteering event if you like.

JENNIFER MACEY: The main race at the championships involves a gruelling three-hour closed circuit course at Olympic Park to ensure there's no local advantage.

Riders work out their own quickest route to pick up and deliver the bulky odd-sized parcels.

English bike courier Ian says the championships are not just about speed.

IAN: It's more of a celebration of what we do, rather than anything else. It's a coming together of our culture.

It's not necessarily about winning. There's always the testosterone-fuelled few who always feel they need to prove themselves as being the fastest, but I don't race to win, I just race because it's there, you know, it's fun.

It's all coming together and doing what we love.

JENNIFER MACEY: Couriers use the gathering to meet up with colleagues from around the world and exchange hair-raising stories about negotiating traffic or simply to show off their fixed gear bicycles.

Nadine Schloss is the reigning German women's champion, and has arrived early in Sydney for some pre-race training.

NADINE SCHLOSS: I won the race, and I won the flight over here, cause Lufthansa, they sponsor the flight to the women winner.

Couriering, yeah, you have to love it, I think. And I do. So why not racing?

REID: My name's Reid and I'm from Vancouver Canada. Couriers do lots of races on weekends and holidays and stuff like that, so ... I've done a few here, and a bunch back in Canada as well.

JENNIFER MACEY: And are they tough?

REID: Maybe not physically tough, but they can be tricky some times. Like, some times there's a scavenger hunt, so you have to find different objects - a purple flower, maybe, and a beer coaster from a certain beer. So some time you have to be smart, instead of just fast.

RANDALL: I'm Randall from Zurich, Switzerland. For me it's not all about the race any more, it's for about seeing the bike messenger community, and it's like a big family, we know each other for years. You're going to meet new people, and it's all a big party.

RACE ORGANISER 1: Gather round people, the decision has been made.

(Sound of applause)

RACE ORGANISER 2: Shane-o, our winner.

(Sound of applause)

JENNIFER MACEY: Local courier Shane Clarke finished today in 30 minutes and 46 seconds.

SHANE CLARKE: I thought might as well come in, race before the World Championships to get a practice run at it, and to walk away with the jersey, it's, I'm quite happy, I'm stoked, I can't wait for the World Championships, look out, here I come!

MARK COLVIN: Sydney bike courier Shane Clarke, ending that report from Jennifer Macey.

Having once been knocked over while on crutches by a cycle courier, I do hope they stay off the pavements.


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