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Bike rides that pay

Bike messenger Christopher Olthoff has run into an opening car door and lost his front wheel

By Nancy Jones-Bonbrest

Baltimore Sun, November 7, 2007

Christopher Olthoff - Bike messenger

Expedited Courier & Distribution, Baltimore

Salary:  $32,000

Age:  36

Years on the job: 18

How he got started:  Growing up in Baltimore and being an avid biker, Olthoff answered an advertisement seeking bike messengers. In his first messenger jobs, he was employed as an independent contractor by two companies. Then, he and a few friends began their own company, Mercury Messengers. That lasted about three years. After that, Olthoff traveled and spent time as a bike messenger in Denver and later worked for a health-food store in Austin, Texas. A few years ago he moved back to Baltimore and began working for Expedited Courier & Distribution.

Typical day: Olthoff works normal business hours and still operates as an independent contractor. His salary is based on commission and he says in a good week he can make almost $1,000 while a bad week would be closer to $500.

He has several large law firms that are regular clients, but he also delivers documents for insurance companies, graphic design firms, architects and management companies. He usually starts his day by picking up three or four packets and stopping to make deliveries as he heads to the State Department of Assessments and Taxation. He spends much of his day walking clients' papers through the various offices at the department. At the end of the day, he delivers the finished documents to his clients. "I don't ride as much as some of these other guys do. I am getting older."

Distance: Olthoff typically works between downtown Baltimore and Preston Street. He averages 25 miles a day, but says it's not unusual for many couriers to travel 30 miles a day.

The good: "The freedom of the job and the exercise."

The bad:  "Careless drivers."

The weather: Olthoff estimates he spends about $300 a year on rain and cold weather gear. "I don't like being wet or cold, but you are all the time. You just have to toughen up."

Bicycle:  He owns five, but uses his Trek 5200 carbon fiber road bike or his Rezesa fixed-gear track bike for work.

Wrecks:  Although he hasn't been in one in about 10 years, Olthoff said he's had his fair share. Some of his more serious accidents involved a front wheel popping off his bike and sending him face forward on the pavement as well as a car door opening on him, resulting in a leg injury.

Helmets:  "Helmets are smart. A helmet saved my life one time. But I don't wear them all the time like I should."

Advice:  Drivers should get off their cell phones, use turn signals and pay attention. Pedestrians should watch where they are going, especially if they're not using a crosswalk, says Olthoff.

Extracurricular:  Mountain biking.

Philosophy on the job:  "You can't let things bother you and you can't let people bother you. I try to be a friendly, nonconfrontational guy."




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