New York Times, June 14, 1987
By Sarah Lyall
Bicycle messengers, the speeding bane of New York's pedestrians and
motorists, have a new weapon - the brakeless bicycle.
The word on the street is that messengers are abandoning their
traditional 10-speed bikes in favor of faster track bikes, which have
no brakes and are made for racing.
Track bikes are built with a single gear ''fixed'' to the back wheel,
so that whenever the wheel spins, the pedals rotate. This means the
rider has to keep pedaling as the bicycle moves.
When traveling at messenger speeds of 25 to 30 miles an hour, the
bikes, which are intended for use on oval slanted surfaces like those
in the Olympics, are hard to stop. The rider has to stop pedaling and
apply backward pressure to the pedals until the back wheel stops
spinning and skips up slightly. The Option: To Crash
Usually, the bike then skids up to 20 feet before halting completely.
As a last resort, the rider can grab the front wheel with his hand.
When traffic makes all that impossible, the other option is to crash
Messengers with track bikes said experienced riders had enough control
to stop when they needed to.
''After a while, you get used to it,'' said Mozart Augustin, a
messenger for Rapid Couriers, who said he grew accustomed to his
bicycle after several mishaps, such as hitting a taxicab. ''Most of the
guys who have them have been using them for a long time and are really
Owners also said that track bikes were cheaper to maintain because they
had fewer parts to break and that their light frames allowed riders to
go faster and make more deliveries. Leather and Spandex
Although many courier services said they required their messengers to
ride bicycles with hand brakes, messengers said that the rules were
only loosely enforced and that the number of track bikes on the streets
was increasing rapidly.
''They're calling them future bikes,'' said Delroy Grant, a courier
with the Supreme Messenger Service.
''You're seeing a lot of people who think they're Greg LeMond,'' said
Darrell Paschall, a messenger for Choice Courier, referring to the
American bicycle racer.
Bike messengers have always been a wild bunch, with their leather and
spandex outfits and their way of negotiating traffic at top speed, as
cars swerve aside and pedestrians leap onto the sidewalk.
But even some messengers are afraid to ride track bikes. These
messengers said the Olympics were nothing compared to the streets of
New York. 'You'll Hit the Car'
''You really need to be able to stop more quickly,'' said Raymond
Ramos, a messenger for Access Couriers. ''When you're doing 25 miles an
hour, and a car stops suddenly, you'll hit the car.''
''They're very dangerous,'' agreed Eddie Rivera, a messenger who once
saw a track bike slam into a woman on Wall Street, knocking her out.
Bicycle messengers are generally paid by the delivery, which gives them
an incentive to pedal quickly amid some of the most harrowing traffic
situations in the world. Many messengers said that unless a courier
wanted early retirement, he should avoid track bikes.
''They're terrible city bikes,'' Stuart Taranto, a courier for the
Pacesetter service, said. ''I have a hard enough time with good