Peddling Free, Free of Charge

L.A. Downtown News, July 23, 1999
By Stephen Siciliano

Scott Free Travels to Switzerland for the Courier 'Classic'

Tujunga's a commute, sure, but by bike?

No problem for bicycle courier Scott Free: road racer; messenger in Mercury's service, free spirit. He makes the 22-mile journey in about an hour. Of course, that's about how long it takes by car, but wear and tear are limited to your right ankle.

Free's been a courier for eight years, but never has he had it quite so good as right now. His employer, World Attorney Services, is sponsoring him to the tune of $5,000 for the Fourth Annual Courier Championships at Zurich, Switzerland winding up this week.

This makes him Scott "Free Ride" Free, which if you think about it, isn't a bad name for a cyclist. Maybe after a time people can start calling him simply, Free Ride Free. He'd be but a hop away from greatness. At the pinnacle, he could then change it to Ride Free or borrow the name of former Philadelphia 76er, World B. Free.

"It hasn't always been this way," the tall and Nordic-looking Free informs. "Twice before I had to quit the company I was working for to compete." His best showing was in Barcelona two years ago when he finished fifth amongst North American competitors.

Apparently, the sport is dominated by Germans and Swiss, which makes one wonder just what kind of downtown they're dealing with. Home advantage must really come into play. An American courier might find himself lost in a medieval labyrinth that most European urban centers are, while a Swiss guy, no matter how good, would have to be at least a little spooked at the prospect of fighting for roadspace with an super-mondo-American-motor-industry-generated SUV.

Free says his goal is to make the finals, which he missed by only five minutes in his best effort. "Europeans really set the standard."

The event simulates conditions which couriers might encounter on a typical day: cobblestones, curves, mud puddles, pedestrians, train tracks. Last year Scott missed his start in a scandal of the International Olympic type, when he was provided with the wrong time.

"They give you six packages and you have to figure out the quickest route to each checkpoint." And this is what sets courier events apart from other biking contests; you have to think about where you're going."

The championship, to the extent it brings couriers the world over together, has spawned an unsanctioned shadow championship called the Alleycat Scramble. It is a courier competition without simulation and without rules and it tends to produce a champion "totally different" from that of its more respectable counterpart.

"It's the real deal," he says, " the real measuring stick."

In addition to his courier competitions, Free also road races, and therein lies the truth about why he's been pedaling away in the courier trade for eight years now. "I do it because of my love for bikes," he explains, "I tried getting off (the bike) and working in an office, but it didn't work out."

Free would like it known that he and his biker colleagues don't do much delivering of messages, rather they file documents in court for lawyers. "We do hot rush," he explains.

In the future Free hopes to ply his craft around New York and Washington D.C.-places where a courier can top $50,000 in earnings. He has an eye to professional road racing and hopes to land a sponsorship of a more lucrative type to underwrite his worldly ambitions.

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