Mess Media




This bike race delivers


The Globe and Mail, June 14, 2008

You would think the last thing a bike courier would want to do on holiday is deliver things.

But this weekend, about 600 messengers from about 20 countries will converge on Hanlan's Point on the Toronto Islands to do precisely that as the 16th annual Cycle Messenger World Championships replicates their daily working conditions, complete with waybills, bike locks, receptionists and rush deliveries.

"It's been touted by some as the most complicated bike race in the world, and as such it's an odd spectacle, because what you're watching is people picking up and dropping off packages," says Toronto courier Mark Hayward, who is co-ordinating Toronto's two-day main race.

Toronto is the first city to host the race a second time - a testament to the respect accorded its couriers by the international messenger community.

Today, competitors will race in staggered groups to make 32 pickups and 32 drop-offs at 13 checkpoints. Speedy racers will be able to complete the list in less than an hour.

"We've got some funny checkpoints; they have to run onto the nude beach. And most checkpoints are in the main area with the vending and the beer."

Fifteen to 20 per cent of the field, or about 100 racers, will advance to the finals tomorrow, when they will compete for bragging rights and cycling prizes worth anywhere from $5 to $1,500.

The unique and complex nature of the event reflects the character of the profession. "You get people who can't work in Tim Hortons for 10 minutes who do this job for 50 hours a week, and they risk their lives, and they thrive. It's also a wonderfully irreverent community with an absolutely bizarre machismo: A bunch of guys who are incredibly proud about riding around on bikes with their pants rolled up," Mr. Hayward says.

Following established tradition, previous race organizers are arriving to help out. First in town was Copenhagen's Martin Larsen, who has attended, competed in or helped organized seven Cycle Messenger World Championships. "I missed Edmonton because I had a child. I missed Budapest because my leg was in four pieces. I try not to keep count of them," he says.

Although his company team, De Gronne Bude, came first in 1995, the last year the race was held in Toronto, Mr. Larsen says he isn't planning to compete. "I'll be racing the cargo race. That's the only place I'll be active on that side of the counter. Other than that I'll be the obnoxious guy running around shouting, 'Clear the course' and stuff like that."

Mr. Larsen says attending his first messenger competition "changed my idea of what I was doing. I thought I was just riding my bike, and then I went to Zurich in '99. That was the first time I met the wonderful brotherhood of the global messengers."

The race was created in Berlin in 1993, and Toronto became the first North American host in 1995.

"The Tour de France has survived for over 100 years, and that's very impressive," Mr. Larsen says. "But if my gut feeling about this race is right, then it will survive over 300 years."

Details: Opening events and registration were last night; main qualifying race today, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; main race final tomorrow, 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.; closing events, Monday.