Stephen Murphy vs Bike Couriers

City Hall Column
Boston Phoenix, March 11, 1999
by Ben Geman

Boston's maligned bike messengers may face more regulation if Boston city councilor Stephen Murphy gets his way. Couriers are already required to be insured and to display licenses, rules stemming from a 1997 collision between a messenger and school-committee member William Spring that left Spring seriously injured. Last week, the at-large councilor called for a hearing into whether to ban "people engaged in the courier business" -- otherwise known as couriers -- from using "track bikes" that have no brakes. Murphy says he merely wants to learn whether the lightweight bikes, which have chains connected directly to the back wheel and stop when the rider stops pedaling, are a safety hazard. "I'm not sure there is a problem," he says. "I want to see how they [cyclists] stop with them if they do not have braking devices like regular bikes. I want to see if they can be stopped as quickly as other bicycles."

The track bikes have become more popular over the past three years, says messenger Tom Aldersey of Boston's BreadRunner Couriers, who credits fashion, lighter weight, and easier maintenance for the bikes' increased use. But Aldersey and BreadRunner manager Owen Carlson say the bikes are not hazards. "They are completely safe," says Carlson. "They are easier to maintain and they are easier to control. There is less sliding in bad weather. . . . A good track-bike rider can stop on a dime."

Still, Carlson, who likens slowing a track bike to downshifting in a car, says he can see why the odd-looking bikes may appear dangerous. "There are people who would argue that track bikes are safer, but it is a tough argument for someone who has not ridden one [to believe]," he concedes.

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