Toronto Star, August 17, 1995
By David Graham
For bike couriers around the world the working motto is simple -
deliver or die.
They were here in force last weekend for the third annual Cycle
Messenger World Championships - a competition that simulates their
actual working conditions and in the end crowns the best. Previous
championships were held in Berlin and London. Next year they will be
held in San Francisco.
They came from all over - 125 teams from Germany, England, Japan,
Sweden, Spain and the United States. Some were sponsored by their
employers or local bicycle- equipment companies. But most of them
simply scared up enough money for air fare and entry fees.
Certainly the do-or-die motto applies when couriers are on the job. But
in Toronto over three days of races, rallies and high-flying ramps the
pressure to perform was off. For most of the 450 couriers who competed,
winning was secondary.
Couriers, especially the North American variety, have gained a
well-earned reputation for partying as hard as they work. Many log
about 60 kilometres a day and their look is an important element of
their work, and play, ethic.
Each city has its identifiable dress. Riders from Cologne, London and
Copenhagen are slick and athletic. Toronto and Berlin hold hard and
fast to the functional-first, Bladerunner style. And the couriers from
the mean streets of New York and Chicago are Freddy-Krueger tough in
hockey masks, cobweb tattoos and high-tech protective gear.
Still, with each subsequent international championship, there is some
cross-dressing - epitomized by the all-girl courier team, The Call
Girls. Organized by Toronto's Anita Hurley, the four-member team
consists of two couriers from T.O., one from Berlin and one from
London. Their uniform was a purple Lycra racing jersey with Archie
comic-strip character Veronica Lodge emblazoned on the front. Only the
lime-green hair of Berlin's Conny Falk set her apart from her
teammates. "I love Veronica because she a go- getter. Nothing gets in
her way," says Hurley.
While bruised knees, battered elbows and shins covered in bicycle chain
marks are common trademarks to all couriers, there are variations.
Andy Capp travelled from London to participate in the championships. "I
think couriers from London identify more with the Tour de France
cyclists than they do with the skater look," says Capp, who works on
the London- based courier 'zine Moving Target.
"I prefer the smart, racer uniform," he adds. "I feel stronger in
Lycra. And I feel sexier." Capp says the bike courier business has been
going strong in London since the city's lengthy postal strike in 1978.
"I think the business community might be a little more uptight in
London. We are rarely allowed in the front door of a company. We're
usually sent to a mail room in the back of the building. So it's in our
best interest to take on a cleaner, more professional look."
Rauthgundis Hoschen, Thilo Jacob and H.P. Jagusch from Cologne, Germany
share Capp's convictions. "Being a courier in Cologne is not so much a
culture as it is in Toronto," says Jacob. "We do our work. Perhaps we
will have a drink at the end of the day with our mates. But then we go
home to our other lives. Here I think the couriers are very close."
He's right. While estimates suggest there are only about 200 working
couriers in Toronto, the scene is much bigger.
Kelly Given is not a courier. She is the girlfriend of a courier. And
from the top of her gnarly blonde dreadlocks to her Airwalk
skateboarding shoes, she embodies all elements of the Toronto
Her tongue is pierced - twice. Her tummy is tattooed. She sports a
Veronica Lodge jersey in support of the Call Girls. Her high-tech
sunglasses are Black Flys and even her underwear that rises slightly
above her low-slung, sawed-off denim shorts is by Dr. Martens.
Joe Dias, who finished fourth making him the top Canadian last weekend,
refers to his own look as "raggedy." A friend comments that Dias'
cropped, thick dreadlocks make him look like a Chia Pet. "I wore
spandex for a while but I didn't feel good in it. It was too tight and
too hot. A pair of baggy shorts suits me better."
In Manhattan there are about 4,000 working bicycle messengers. And many
of them have taken to wearing full body armor for protection as they
weave in and out of heavy traffic. Felipe Robayo pulls a heavy metal
helmet and mask over his face and pads his elbows and knees. "Because I
know I'm protected I go a little faster and I take more chances. It's a
very competitive business in New York," says Robayo of the daring Team
On the final day of the championships, a team of Toronto fashion
critics scoured the competitors for signs of style. For some outsiders
they may appear an unsavory bunch, but according to the fashion judges
- they had great taste.
The job of judging fell into the hands of Toronto hairstylists John
Steinberg and Russ Mackay and streetwear designer Viki Larouche who
manufactures under the Balzac label.
Criteria included "craniality" (helmet, hair and glasses);
"functionality" (comfort and protection) and of course, "originality."
The Most Intimidating Award was given to Chicago courier Jack
Blackfelt, whose face was tattooed with a spider's web. His head was
shaved except for a black braid that ran down the middle of his skull.
The Sprocket Techno Award was presented to the Danish team. Each member
was uniformly slick in bright yellow racing Lycra.
And the Wonder Woman Award went to Corinne Rhodes from Boston who was
turned out impractically in a white '60s bobbed wig, a sequined stars
and stripes halter top, silver hot pants and white gogo boots.
Frances Kells of Creative Couriers in London took the best hair award
for her chic buzz cut. New York's untouchable Robayo cycled away with
the top safety award.
And finally Boston messenger Michael Pach took home no awards despite
sporting the most memorable look. Pach competed totally naked.