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Female bicycle messenger has the grit to thrive


By Jason Cato

Pittsburgh, Tribune-Review, September 29, 2008





Indoctrination into the cut-throat bicycle messenger world, where time is money and money comes per delivery, can be daunting.

Lindsey Welsh lucked out, and she knows why.

"I'm the new kid on the block," said Welsh, 29, of the South Side, who six months ago became the only full-time female bicycle messenger in Pittsburgh. "I get treated very well, because I'm the only girl. I didn't get the normal rookie treatment; they had to be nice to me."

About 15 riders work full time for Pittsburgh's four bicycle messenger companies: Steel City Delivery, where Welsh works, Jet Messenger, Quick Messenger and Stat Courier.

Brad Quartuccio, editor of Bloomfield-based cycling magazine Urban Velo, said Pittsburgh's messenger scene is like those in most other cities.

"Messengering has always been a male-dominated thing," said Quartuccio, 27. "It's a boys' club that tends to be jockish."

Although he said Pittsburgh's industry is more mellow than some other cities, he said Welsh definitely has the moxie, work ethic and congeniality to hold her own with the guys.

"She gets up in the mornings and rides," Quartuccio said. "That's the No. 1 part of being a messenger -- you go do your job. She earns respect by being reliable and doing her job well."

Plus, Welsh is as competitive as they come, he said. "She'll throw elbows."

Welsh's boyfriend, Ian Newell, 29, of Bloomfield works for Jet Messenger and has been making deliveries for about six years.

Winter is busier than summer, because the interns have returned to school and bad weather discourages people from delivering packages themselves.

But one thing is a constant, Newell said: "Everybody wants everything done yesterday."

Law firms, advertising agencies and medical offices make up the bulk of clients. Even the Steelers use messengers to fetch prescriptions and other supplies from Falk Pharmacy on Fifth Avenue.

Most deliveries are between Downtown, Oakland, Shadyside and Squirrel Hill, though Newell said he has pedaled out to Churchill before and Steel City Delivery's rate for an airport run is $33 -- cheaper than a cab.

There's an added bonus, Welsh said.

"With everything going green, isn't a bike messenger the greenest thing out there?" she asked. "Why pay a FedEx truck to go across the street?"

Neither Welsh nor Newell owns a vehicle -- "There's just no need to when you can go anywhere on a bike," she said -- and their lives revolve around cycling even when they're not at work.

Weekly games of "bike ball" -- three-on-three polo on two wheels -- on a roller hockey rink under the Bloomfield Bridge draw big crowds. Informal "alley cat races" throughout the city attract out-of-town riders. Premiere events include the Punk Bike Enduro, Tour de Yinz and the Dirty Dozen, a race up Pittsburgh's steepest hills.

"It's a pretty cool little culture thing going on," Welsh said. "There's so much to get into."

Welsh and Newell said they wouldn't dream of doing anything else for a living.

"You go hang out with your friends all day and ride bikes," Welsh said.

"And get paid for it," Newell added.

But work days can be a grind, hoofing in and out of high-rises to then dodge cars and buses on busy city streets. Calls start coming in before 8 a.m. and sometimes don't end until after 7 p.m., making for long, draining days.

"Happy hour is a messenger's best friend," Welsh said.