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Four Things You Don't Know About Bike Messengers

They really like fashion, for example.

By Sharon Clott

Esquire Magazine, April 11, 2007

On the scale of dangerous jobs, bike messenger is wedged somewhere between third-shift convenience-store worker and IED bomb squad member. They're a breed apart, hurtling down cracked urban streets, swerving around cabs and dodging idiot tourists, their squawking walkie talkies trumpeting yet another successful delivery. Fuck the post office -- sleet, snow, gloom of night, tractor trailer, traffic jam -- ain't nothing stopping a bike messenger's appointed round.

But it's more than a job for these guys -- it's also a sport. This May, they'll be competing to see who's best, running in the 10th annual North American Cycle Courier Championships in San Francisco. In his new book and documentary, Pedal, photographer Peter Sutherland examined last year's race. We asked him to do the same this year, as well, exposing four things you might not now about the hardy urban athlete with one pant leg rolled up.

#1. Your dad could be a bike messenger.
"People think that the typical bike messenger is a tattooed guy with a silkscreen on a shirt wearing an army hat. But, there's a lot more to it than that -- there are dads from the Bronx and the guy who has no other choice because he makes messengering his 9-to-5 job. Or there's someone like "Kid" -- he's in the film. He focuses on "messengering," not just cycling, and prides himself on knowing all the tricks of the trade -- locations, fast ins-and-outs, dispatching. He'll make deliveries against all odds."

#2. They're serious about fashion.
"This is a profession that attracts a certain type -- an expressive type. There's always an eclectic style to bike messengers. Their wardrobe ranges from handmade stuff to customized clothes. The bike messenger isn't exactly the guy going out for the football team. Jonas is like that. He's from Denmark. He was there with a group of friends and all of them were messengers. They travel to messenger races and embrace the whole lifestyle."

#3. They don't stop because...they don't have brakes.
"A lot of messengers ride fixed-gear bikes, not track or road bikes, meaning they ride without breaks. They're definitely serious athletes. Like James, the guy with the broken hand. He hadn't been messengering for long, but he is very fast. He had a bad fall near the end of a race, picked up his bike and ran with it across the finish line. True story."

#4. Cabs are their nemesis.
"There's a dark side to messengers, like the weather isn't always good in cities, substance abuse, and honestly, people get hurt. There's a scene in the documentary where a female messenger gets hit by a taxi. The sound of the car hitting her was so loud that I almost vomited when I filmed it. I thought she was dead. Really, it's a sketchy sport. When you're young you feel bulletproof. But there are also a lot of uncalculated risks that make this sport so dangerous."




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