It's all about substance for bike messengers

Couriers from around the world gathered in America's capital for the annual Cycle Messenger World Championships, September 4-7. On or off the job, the mission was still the same: get there, and get there fast! International talent mixed with "good times" made the race a huge success. Next year, CMWC is in Switzerland, although Amsterdam may be a more suitable locale.

by Andy Goglia
Velo News, October 5, 1998

Not a trace of any performance-enhancing substances - well, no EPO or anabolic steroids could be found September 4-7, at the Cycle Messenger World Championships, officials were proud to report.

And why would there be? Quite the antithesis of any UCI, USCF or NORBA event, this year's CMWC, held in Washington, D.C., was much more than a battle for the world champion title. Sure, some very intense racing took place throughout the weekend; but even more intense was the partying that took place each day and night.

With more than 500 registered competitors from literally around the world, this was not your small, hometown-boys crowd on a city block corner. And the drug of choice was cigarettes containing a variety of substances - none of which helped the racers one iota!

The race course was set-up on six blocks in downtown D.C., only four blocks from the White House. But while the streets were closed to traffic, cars trying to leave parking garages or lots found their way onto the course several times. So did a multitude of tourists, several homeless people and many residents who did not wish to heed the commands of race volunteers, couriers themselves: "Run lady, you're about to get hit!"

Oddly enough, these variables made the event even more life-like in terms of true courier work. And there were not enough of them to affect the race in any measurable form, aside from showcasing the tempers and sharp tongues of certain couriers.

The main race consisted of riders having to make pick-ups and dropoffs of packages, ranging from small envelopes to long, cumbersome tubes, at various checkpoints on the course. Qualifying heats were run on Saturday and Sunday, with average times at around 20 to 30 minutes. The finals on Labor Day consisted of the top 80 men and 40 women, and took much longer, with the last 10 riders being dropped at the end of each round. Riders would complete their manifests, or lists of pick-ups and dropoffs, and ride to a checkpoint to get another. Each following round had 10 fewer manifests, thus slowly thinning the herd.

Contrary to what most would think, the riders were not allowed to ride in any direction they wished, as would be the real-life courier style. Instead, the course had a prescribed route, in which different intersections allowed for only certain turns to be made. But in true courier fashion, this was enforced haphazardly although the final event was run more strictly than the qualifying heats.

Other events not yet seen at any USCF race, but very popular, included fixed-gear skidding (winning distance of about 100 yards), track-standing, the bunny hop (winning height of 3 feet 8 inches), and street sprints. Street sprints, which ran a little over the length of a city block, were a showcase for riders and their bikes: The men's final included one fixed-gear bike, one BMX bike, three mountain bikes and five road bikes.

Aside from the racing, the true focus of the weekend for most folks was the partying. Although alcohol has been known to be popular with many cyclists, most events do not have beer trucks present but most events are not anything like the CMWC, where those sweet-smelling cigarettes were ubiquitous. The stereotypical Gen-X look was in force as well, with tattoos and piercings as common as SPDs, and Lycra mixed in a sea of denim and cotton.

As they say, you had to be there. If you weren't, you might want to catch next year's CMWC, scheduled to be held in Switzerland in July.

back to the main articles page