of bike messengers converge in Toronto for world championships
Canadian Press, June 15, 2008
TORONTO — Low pay, no benefits, stiff
competition and constant threats posed by aggressive traffic and car
doors - being a bike courier is a tough job, and they've got the battle
scars to prove it.
But as hundreds of bike couriers from around the globe descended on
Toronto over the weekend, many of them said they'd never trade it in
for a more traditional job.
John Campo was one of the approximately 400 participants from 20
countries in the annual Cycle Messenger World Championships, held on
the Toronto Islands this weekend.
He has been working in downtown Toronto - an area he describes as a
"war zone," where bike courier companies are in tight competition for
clients - for three months.
Campo said he has been "doored" three times and hit by cars twice
already, pointing out scars on his hands from someone's rear-view
But he's not deterred.
"It's a load of fun," Campo said. "You can't ask for a better job than
riding a bike outside."
The downsides, however, are numerous, said Leah Hollinsworth, one of
the organizers of the event.
One of the main focuses of the weekend event was an annual general
meeting of the International Federation of Bicycle Messenger
Associations, which works to improve conditions for bike couriers.
"We're not designated as employees so we're not granted the benefits of
paid vacations, sick days, any sort of benefits, like no dental or
medical benefits," said Hollinsworth.
"If you get injured on the job, chances are you'll just lose your job
because you're not able to perform it and the companies don't care.
There's not really the sort of loyalty or job security and we're
working to change that."
She said a typical bike messenger might make between $70 to $90 a day,
and those earning the most might get around $150 per day.
Robert Melnyk has worked as a bike messenger in Toronto for 24 years.
Melnyk said he's been hit by cars 12 or 15 times, having once spent a
year in a neck brace after a car made a right turn in front of him and
he ended up going through the windshield before being thrown onto the
He couldn't speak properly for two years after the accident but he said
he still loves his job. Riding 50 to 100 kilometres a day, doing
between 20 and 60 deliveries in "rain, snow, hail, sleet, sweltering
heat, whatever they throw at you," is worth the freedom, he said.
"You get to be out on your own, you're on the road," said Melnyk,
relaxing on a picnic table with his daughter, Norah. "You have your
boss, your dispatcher on the radio, but that's not someone looking over
At the bike polo courts, some of the three-person teams donned masks
and face paint and tore over the pavement, swinging mallets and
Quinn Shamlian came from New York City to compete in bike polo, a sport
she picked up six to eight months ago, she said.
"Bike polo is polo because we're riding something and we have mallets,
but it's much more like hockey, just because of the skidding and the
blocking," said Shamlian.
Arik Jelonnek, from Berlin, Germany said he heard about the competition
about a month ago and scraped together all the money he could to get to
Toronto where he's had a "great time."
"I always ask myself what is it I am searching for in this kind of
work," said Jelonnek.
"I think all the people are searching for something in it, something
they don't get in their normal life.
"Because it's such bad pay, why don't I (find) a job that's better
paid, and not so hard and dangerous? I don't want to, because everyday
I see people in their ties in their offices ... No."