couriers from around the globe gathered at London's Royal Victoria Dock for no-holds-barred competition and serious celebration
by Andy Dickson
published in October 1994 edition of Mountain Biker International (U.K.)
They shut the streets, opened the Brandenburg Gate and stood back whilst mayhem ensued. At least they did last year in Berlin for the first Cycle Messenger World Championships. This year hordes of the world's hippest bike riders came to London. But the Glastonbury-meets-National Points Series jamboree couldn't get authorisation to close the streets in the capital, presumably because shutting the roads for a bunch of bike riders smacks too much of a communist plot against the state. So the circus pitched up the Royal Victoria Dock, a place so far east many people feared they were in Essex. The Docks aren't the Peak District - they aren't even Epping Forest- but they are way off-road. Occupying a sector of the A - z where you expect a "Here there be dragons" inscription, the region is an urban wilderness in a virtually uninhabitable area of the capital with a sky-line of pylons, gas works, vast disused warehouses and dock-side cranes - the suitable back-drop for a race involving those on the fringes of society and the cycling world.
What it lacked in single-track and drop-offs, the course more than made up for in harshness, with a mixture of concrete crisscrossed by old railway tracks, expanses of rubble where once warehouses stood and loose chippings - like Central London in some respects, though a few cabs and a bus-load of tourists would have added a final touch of reality.
As you might expect, the event is not UCI recognised even though world champions were crowned. But competition wasn't the point: far more relevant was the opportunity for a bunch of anarcho-cyclists from 14 different countries to meet, ride, party, swap near-death stories, check out bikes, and realise that far from dying out, bike- riding in the city is spreading. The event also saw the first ever meeting of the International Federation of Cycle Messengers & Companies. Side-shows included trade stands (trading rather than buying was encouraged) t-shirt stalls, Dr. Awkward's Stay Awake Cafe (winner of "The Best Caff We've Ever Been To" award), shady dealing in Oakley shades and a vast indoor art installation with a centre-piece cycle-powered kinetic sculpture by Dan Knight.
Ten heats were scheduled when they closed entries at 400 but emotional breakdown by couriers who had travelled hundreds of miles to pay their £50 entry fee pushed the final number way beyond.
The majority of bikes resembled the mutant variety featured in the September 94 issue of MBi, stripped-down MTBs, chopped bars, slick tyres, reduced gears. But a significant number of competitors used road bikes with the fattest tyres available.
Sleeping accommodation was on-site in a renovated warehouse (adjoining the vast bier-keller-style bar) resembling an army barracks for a bike-mounted regiment.
The course resembled two figures of eight squashed together, with eight "post-code" Portakabin check-points dotted about its 5km length. All routes were one way. After a Le Mans-style start, the 40 riders rode to checkpoint one, delivered a package, had their day-sheet stamped and were given their next drop. After this it got really messy with plenty of DQs for riding the wrong way up a one-way street and DNFs for inept roadies who couldn't jump curbs or who gravel-rashed themselves into the St. JohnÕs Ambulance. The mutant MTBs coped best with the punishment but long stretches of pedaling into the wind favoured the lighter and more aerodynamic machines. On Sunday the Smokin' Tyre Sprints had a real atmosphere of gambling and bravado and set the scene for the final. Think you're the fastest? Then put a fiver where your mouth is, get on the start-line with nine other speed-freaks and blast 150 metres down the track. Collect your £50 wedge as you cross the line and, if youÕre up for it, go back for more.
The final which lasted two hours, followed a similar format to the heats but riders carried multi-drops and had to choose their own, more complicated routes. Nobody knew what was going on and that included the commentator (and occasional MBi contributor) Buffalo Bill. Last year's winner, Andy Schneider from Per Velo, Kšln, triumphed again, looking suspiciously like a first-cat roadie with shaved legs, Parkpre ti bike and matching kit. But there were other honours. The Cargo Bike Trophy was won by the seriously retro Erik Zo of the Moving Target Old Gits team. An ex-courier turned courier bag maker, he trashed the field on a hi-tech version of a Danish Long John, carrying a keg of beer the length of the course.
Inspector Gadget (featured in Sep 94 MBi) won a trip to next year's CMWC in Toronto, scooping the Best Bike category on a fixed-wheel, low-pro Marin. And if the woman who competed on a BMX decorated with fake leopard skin and dressed as a green frog didn't get a prize, then there is no justice. As well as a large contingent from Scandinavia, Germany and the USA, two competitors came from Afghanistan. They weren't couriers but illustrated the bicycle's versatility by competing in the heats despite being lower-limb amputees courtesy of Soviet mines. A bungee hooked round the head-tube pulled the pedal through the dead-spot and enabled them to compete without toe-clips or clipless pedals. They made the trip to raise awareness of their charity, Bicycles for Afghan Amputees Rehabilitation.
At the end of the event, couriers massed to ride past the Messenger Monument, a sculpture in honour of the four couriers [America should be putting up a pic of the 94 monument on the Memorial site] killed in recent years by lorries on the streets of Central London. The sculpture by Genghis, himself a courier, shows the bike triumphing over the lorry. And as if to emphasise the point to a wider audience, the bunch continued eight miles into town to Trafalgar Square and on to Soho, holding up the traffic.
So, in the end, the streets of London were closed for the couriers, albeit unofficially. One of the two riders arrested (for being part of a large group of cyclists as opposed to a queue of traffic) said the night in the cells was the best night's sleep they got all weekend.
Next year's CMWC is in Toronto.