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Bike messengers whisk around 4-wheel city

Detroit Free Press, August 24, 2007

Bt Alejandro Bodipa-Memba

Weaving in and out of traffic in downtown Detroit doesn't sound like a smart thing for most bicyclists to do.

But for Ben Chodoroff and the other owners of Rock Dove Couriers, the danger of riding alongside cars and trucks is an occupational hazard in the world of bike messengers.

Rock Dove, which started in September 2006, is thought to be the only exclusively bicycle messenger business in downtown Detroit. Though popular in most major cities around the world, including New York; Tokyo; Toronto; Barcelona, Spain; and Paris, bike messengers have yet to grab a foothold in Detroit, until now.

The group of four twentysomething co-owners -- Chodoroff, Darrin Brouhard, Aaron Kluza and Hans Buetow -- claims Rock Dove can deliver a package anywhere in downtown Detroit in 15 minutes, regardless of rain, snow or cold. Their customers wouldn't disagree.

"We use them every day because we always are filing things at Wayne County Circuit Court or the Court of Appeals on the Boulevard," said Tiffany Fletcher, a legal secretary with Detroit law firm Miller Cohen Plc. "Before, our delivery system was a mess. We had another company doing it that overcharged us and always messed up our filings. I don't think we can do without these guys."

The riders are hard to miss, sporting tangerine-colored T-shirts with a picture of a rock dove -- the species name given to pigeons -- emblazoned on the front.

About 80% of the company's business consists of delivering legal documents.

Rock Dove has no offices. Most of the company's business transactions and inquiries are done through the Internet. Even the dispatch system is Web-based ( and directly connected to each member's mobile phone.

Rock Dove couriers can pick up and deliver up to a dozen boxes full of folders in a non-rush situation. Prices range from $6 for a 2-hour guaranteed delivery within the downtown zone to as much as $80 for a long-distance trek to Pontiac or Mt. Clemens.

Each of the four messengers at Rock Dove has been in at least one accident involving a car. Chodoroff said he was hit by a motorist with Ohio license plates last year.

"He hit me head-on going about 15 or 20 miles per hour and I flew off my bike and landed on the sidewalk about 15 to 20 feet away," said Chodoroff. "The packages I was carrying were safe. I went to the hospital, mostly because the driver insisted on it, and he had insurance. He also got a ticket."

Tough economic times in Michigan have led to a growing number of small business ventures popping up.

"We don't need offices, and there is very little overhead," said Brouhard, a 29-year-old Detroiter. "Other than bike maintenance, our phones and our radios, that's pretty much it."

And that seems to be a good omen for a business that is less than a year old and is hoping to grow and compete with motorized delivery services.

With such low overhead, no gasoline-related costs and problems with finding and paying for parking, competition in the bike messenger business is largely nonexistent. That is why Rock Dove can afford to keep prices relatively low.

"The biggest expense we have are our bikes," said Chodoroff, who owns three of them.

In addition to filing legal briefs at courts around town, Rock Dove has begun shuttling food, too. The company has contracted with several local delis and restaurants to deliver breakfast and lunch to clients.

Still, the company's bread-and-butter business comes from delivering important documents for its clients.

For their efforts, Chodoroff and his partners said they each made about $20,000 from delivering packages last year.

"I'm here for two things," said Brouhard. "To make money and ride my bike."




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