The importance of being elegant or getting back on your bike

By Andrew Cornell, Tokyo

Bicycle couriers, with their racing tadpole heads, dragonfly sunglasses, antennae and array of weirdly labelled backpacks, don't stand out much in Tokyo.

For one thing, they need to dress a bit more outrageously if they want to be seen in a city that brooks no rival for bizarro-style.

Arrayed against a mohawked punk carrying a mobile phone in the shape of a penguin, or a bright-orange tanned, grey-haired teenage girl in Hawaiian beach gear on 25cm clogs, your average bike courier is a little too straight.

There aren't many courier services, but that is changing rapidly. Tokyo, with its flat streets, crowded roads and expensive transport, is perfect for them.

Now, a romantic comedy-come-action movie, Messengers, starring a Japanese rock star and the hottest actress in the country, has opened. Several television specials have been scheduled. While Japan's best established service, T-Serv, has been around for 10 years, for most city dwellers couriers are a new, fun and attractively non-conformist tribe.

Unlike in Australia, where courier backlash has well and truly set in, people in Tokyo still look on in quiet admiration as a manic courier hurtles down the wrong side of the road before swinging onto the footpath, scattering a few pedestrians and screeching to a halt in the glistening foyer of some imposingly modern office building.

The Yomiuri Shimbun described bike courier as "one of the coolest professions in the nation" in a profile on Koichi Idei, a 20-year-old college student, describing him as a "big man on campus, besieged with requests for interviews about cycling and his courier business".

T-Serve, the model for Messengers, has increased its riders from two to 80. Other, similar services are springing up in the capital.

Motorcycle couriers are well established in Japan but T-Serv undercuts them on price about 2,350 per trip compared with 2,850 while regularly being quicker, particularly on bad traffic days.

Says T-Serv founder Takayuki Ikeya: "The beautiful thing about a bicycle is that it can move freely you can cut through parks, ride along sidewalks, go the wrong way down a one-way street and use crossings as well as roads."

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