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Courier culture puts pedal to the medal

T.O. welcomes bike messengers vying for world championships

Toronto Star, August 10, 1995

By Jennie Punter

Every subculture has its fashion, its lingo and its soundtrack - the rallying cries and mood music that swell behind the scenes from the fringe - and the bike courier world is no exception.

And when the third annual Cycle Messenger World Championships swings into full gear this weekend, we guarantee you won't hear anything remotely resembling Harry Dacre's 19th- century lyric "You'll look sweet upon the seat. . . ." or that obnoxious ditty by Queen.

Nine blocks in the King/Dufferin warehouse district will be closed off to noxious car fumes on Saturday and Sunday to make way for the CMWC's North American debut, with Lamport Stadium providing the throbbing rock 'n' roll hotspot of what is being dubbed by organizers as "courier city."

At the core of the international event - held in London, England, last year and Berlin in 1993 - are the races, all held on and around Liberty St., and all free to the public.

Courier teams from across North America, as well as Germany, the U.K., Denmark, Spain, Japan and other far-flung spots vie for glory in competitions that range from straightforward sprints to "same-day" delivery courses that mimic the urban terrain couriers navigate every day.

"The courier community includes as widely varied a spectrum of people as any professional community anywhere," says former courier Jim Rooney, one of a team of local organizers.

Rooney's main task is setting up the marketplace area in the Lamport Stadium parking lot, which features all manner of bike gear, clothing, jewelry, arts and crafts and, of course, body piercing.

"I think initially there was a certain level of disbelief that it was possible for bike couriers to organize something on this scale," he continues. "But we've been steadily gathering sponsors, letters of support from the city and we're starting to get inquiries from international media."

The stadium itself shakes both days (1 to 11 p.m.) to a lineup of bands whose music captures that elusive courier quality . . . which is, uh, well?

"Not to generalize, but a lot of (couriers) are the most cutting-edge, extreme people around," says Zack Werner of the Framed Recordings label, whose first release, the CD compilation Deliver Or Die, is the official CMWC soundtrack.

"It's a live hard, live fast kind of mentality and we tried to chose music that is indicative of that - anti-establishment and cutting-edge."

Several of the 17 bands on the CD play this weekend, including Washington, D.C.'s Lovecraft and local rockers Hev's Duties, Boozass, Acid Test, Random Killing and Ten Tonne Pudding.

While Pudding lead singer Gabrielle Roddy hasn't logged any courier kilometres, she's been on a collision course with the community ever since she stumbled into one its favorite Toronto hangouts years ago.

"I discovered the Standby Cafe when I was working in the financial district years ago," she recalls. "It was a welcome relief from all the suits I had to eat lunch with. I kept going and became friends with a lot of people that hung out there.

"There was no small-talk politeness. These guys and girls are in your face, and they don't give a hoot about where you come from.

"And the couriers were the first group of people to come out and support my last band, Bass Bikini."

Courier-trapped-in-a-music- publicist-body Laura Hopcroft, riding for Team Smoke this weekend, says in her experience, the courier contingent is often the first group to start supporting a local band.

"The music-courier thing is very complementary," says Hopcroft, who covered for some courier friends when they were off competing in last year's CMWC.

"They're usually there," she says, "going to see the shows, making sure the beer quota is filled. There's a real community, a real word-of-mouth thing happening."

Besides the tunes, the CMWC festival will also feature performances from Vancouver bicycle poet Graham Olds and an exhibition of paintings and photography either created by or featuring couriers at XXX Gallery, 7 Fraser St. Also, look out for copies of some of the popular courier 'zines, including England's Moving Target, New York's Road Kill and Toronto's own Hideous White Noise, published by Derrick Chadbourne, one of the event organizers.

With an expected 600 participants from around the world, action-packed races and an explosion of art, the CMWC is ripe pickings for documentarians. And that is indeed the plan for filmmakers John Milne, of Partners Film Group, and Fusion Entertainment's R. K. Mann and Stephen Fanfara, who will turn spectators into unwitting extras this weekend for the making of The Perfect Edge [note: this was renamed TRIBE-mima], a documentary which intends to capture the spirit of this vibrant subculture.

"The thing that ticks most in my mind is the these people move the packages that fuel society," says Fanfara. "But in a really broad sense they reject society. To them, it's a rent-generating activity so they can do the other things they want to do, be an artist, a musician or an anarchist.

"There is this philosophy that may not be immediately apparent," he continues. "But once you cut a bit deeper into the community, there's a lot more to it than being this wild person who rides a bike."


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