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Dublin Exiles `Reckless' Biker Games to City's Bucolic Edge

By Alex Armitage

Aug. 3 (Bloomberg) -- Dublin bicycle courier Graham White says there's nothing more exciting than weaving through heavy traffic with no helmet -- and no brakes.

While White gets a thrill out of his work, the prospect of an invasion of bike messengers sends chills up drivers' spines in the Irish capital. White says that's one reason the 15th annual Cycle Messenger World Championships this weekend has been exiled to Phoenix Park on the northwest edge of the city.

Although the event has been held successfully in Copenhagen and New York, the Irish city whose tourism office offers visitors ``one hundred thousand welcomes'' is having trouble scaring up a single one for the bikers.

``They are a nuisance, they are dangerous,'' says Ken Armstrong, a Dublin truck driver. He has a simple message for the visitors: ``Keep out of the way.''

Organizers of the event, which will attract 500 couriers from as far away as Anchorage and Tokyo, say the championships involve two-wheeled virtuosity that can't be replicated in a spot better known for roaming deer than urban grittiness.

Many couriers ride without brakes on so-called fixed-gear bikes, where the rear cog is fixed to the wheel so the pedals keep moving when the bike is in motion. That means that when riding on ``fixies,'' couriers can't coast and must use back pressure on the pedals to slow down or stop.

``The city wasn't sure they wanted to be associated with us,'' says White, 30, a veteran courier whose crashes include ``head-butting'' a car's rear window after it stopped short and landing on the windshield of a taxi. ``They see us as really fast and reckless.''

White, who earns about 100 euros ($137) a day delivering packages, says he has tried office jobs but has never lasted more than three months inside a building.

``I would just look out the window and think, `I've got to get out there,''' he recalls.

The championships, which begin tomorrow, are made up of six events, including a contest where riders lock up the back wheel to create the longest skid. The current world record is about 500 feet.

Messengers can show off their skills by riding in backward circles and facing off to see who can stay upright on the bike the longest without pedaling. Championship trophies are fashioned out of used bike parts.

In June, the city's roads department rejected a plan to hold the event around Fitzwilliam Square, a Georgian neighborhood in the city center that includes a home owned by Tony O'Reilly, the billionaire former chief executive officer of HJ Heinz Co. The bikers had spent more than six months trying to obtain approval to hold the event downtown.

The bikers have only themselves to blame for the relocation of the event, says Conrad Rennicks, an administrator at the Dublin City Council roads department.

``They had very little in the way of planning,'' Rennicks says. ``Traffic engineers couldn't see a way to get the diversions to work.''

``The essence of the job is get from point A to point B as fast as you can,'' says Neal Keogh, 32, one of the race organizers and a courier for seven years. ``We are not lunatics. I'm starting to think there's a conspiracy against us.''

The championships have been welcomed by lawmakers in other cities. Five years ago in Copenhagen, messengers gorged themselves at a free breakfast hosted by the mayor.

``There was just a feast,'' Keogh says. ``And there was free beer. It made us feel really welcome.''

Oisin O'Mahony, a marketing executive in Dublin, helped line up gifts for the event from Red Bull GmbH, Groupe Danone's Evian and Australian bike accessory company Knog Pty. Negative attitudes about bikers may have hurt chances of getting sponsorship cash for the event, he says.

The show will nevertheless go on, with the championships culminating in a contest that replicates a day's work for a messenger. Riders will navigate a course with checkpoints and need to lock their bikes before delivering or picking up a package --otherwise the bikes will be stolen by ``thieves,'' giving the event a real-life flavor.

``If people come down and watch this race, they will see professional athletes,'' White says. ``It's painful that it's so hard to get people in power in Dublin to realize that we just want to show off the city.''




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