The Worlds - San Francisco 1996

The Iron Lung, Volume 2, Issue 1

as told by Jeff

The Arrival

You know how you always check out bikers riding by to see if you know'em? And if they have a bag on you look even closer (if they're not wearingcompany clothes) to see if they are really a messenger, or if they justwent to Gregg's and dropped $100 on a bag to look cool?" Well in SanFrancisco over Labor Day Weekend I had a stiff neck after about 15 minutesin town on the first day.

Messengers were everywhere. And this was on Friday before the raceshad even started! James and I rode from Dean’s place (my gracious hostand crash pad) to the "Wall on a sunny afternoon after Southwest flight192 had landed (in flight pretzels, not peanuts-what a drag). The Wall,as the local meeting place in SF is called, is a rough approximation toSeattle’s Westlake Center (or should I say Nordstrom/Pine St.?). Already,there were messengers who were obviously from out of town hanging around,watching as the confident SF guys took a call now and then and headed offon a run.

They were pretty cool, considering that their place was being overrunby dozens of look-a-likes trying to soak up some of the SF atmosphere,a couple said "hey , which I appreciated. In fact that was to be atheme for the weekend.

Messengers by nature tend to be hard on newcomers, and it could havebeen a whole lot different but for the smiles and hellos most of the gatheringhoard gave one another.

The Food

Nothing like skipping breakfast to catch an early flight, then ridingaround town a few hours on a empty stomach to promote howls of discontentfrom the engine. One of my main goals of the weekend was to eat as manymission burritos as possible, and so the first food in SF had to be one.Damn! I admit, I am already partial to burritos, but these were the best!It doesn't matter to much which Mexican place you go to, the burritos aregoing to be great.

Seattle has Taco del Mar, and they are good, but add cilantro, blackbeans, and way better salsa, as well as a few fluent holas and gracias,all for 2.99, and you have a true burrito. in addition to Mexican burritostands. SF also has lots of Chinese places, again for cheap. I had moundsof rice and vegetables and chicken and other stuff for under three bucksin between burritos a couple of times. That, including beer and power barswas pretty much the extent of food. I think I had eight burritos in threedays, and I miss them even now as I write this.

The Ride

It started in SF, and they say the Friday Critical Mass was the biggestever (3500 cyclists). Wow! It was real big, lemme tell yah- BIG! Cyclistsrarely ride in groups, messengers hardly ever, and nobody with as muchpower and control and freedom as the riders present at Justin Herman Plazaon Friday night. The ride took us everywhere, around two hours of trafficstopping, road closing freedom to coast through streets normally filledby 50 mile-an-hour gas guzzlers. The snake of the mass was so long I couldn'tsee the front or the back from my vantage point on a long street half wayback Everyone on a bike it seemed was there. It was an amazing place tobe, amid persons of the same breed, with no fear of the jungle.

The Messengers

The Germans stood out the most next to the home team. They were themost organized as far as jerseys and attitude went. I think that on thewhole, messengers in Europe have a different attitude about work, morespecifically, how they act at work. The culture seems to be more professionalin the sense that they all look clean and serious, and act like they aredoing a job, not acting like they are. I think that the attitude towardsmessengers in Europe most be different, and they possibly get more respectin the workplace than U.S. messengers. But so be it, they were messengersjust like everyone else. Two of the coolest guys I met the whole weekendwere from Sweden. They were both really good riders who had worked foryears in mostly winter conditions where six feet of snow was the norm forhalf the year. But they must have been well reimbursed for their troubles,because apart from their work bikes, one was riding a Merlin Newsboy tibike with very trick stuff. Lots of the SF messengers were really poor,it looked like. They say SF is a tough town to live in, and for the messengerswho CoHo in the flats, I heard most couch serf. 400 working riders makesfor all types though, and I saw guys riding the best stuff in New Shoes!D.C. had a big group of motivated people, as did Toronto and New York.I think that most all of the cities that have couriers had a representativeat the race. Seattle had about 20 people too!

The Bikes

I thought that it would be tough to beat Seattle for good equipment,but I was wrong. Most everyone had clipless peds, and expensive shoes.I saw lots of road bikes, some as nice as the European racer dude’s tiDeRosa with Shamal wheels. Most of the Europeans rode nice bikes. One cityeven had company bikes that were actually nice, Track bikes were pushedand crashed all over the course, and more than once I stared in amazementas a fixey made a sweet manoeuvre through a tight gap (and this with nobrakes and lots of train tracks). There were lots of homemade bikes thatwere totally cool, with their swing arms and super long forks, and pivotingbottom brackets that made for wild rear wheel steering. The main orderfor the race bikes was gearing: very small gearing.

The Race

There were something like. 500 competitors at the race. To narrow thefield down prelim heats based on points were run to pick the top five scoresfrom 16 heats- leading to the final. The course was mostly up. And by upI really mean straight up. No one ever does a run that includes this muchclimbing in so short a time. Half the competitors pushed their bikes up,while the people able to ride did so at a crawling pace in their smallestgear. The prelims were all strategy in running the most precise route toaccumulate a high point score in under 30 minutes. Riding up and down thethree monster uphill blocks wasn't as important as setting yourself upwith the right combination of packages to drop and pick up. Complex rulesand route choices made for as many strategies as messengers, and I meanthat literally. This fact definitely made for a good race and I congratulatethe organizers on a well planned out event. I was bummed to be number sixin my heat, finishing my hopes at the World's, but I know I rode my bestrace and the guys that beat me were better (that day).

The finals were more of a point to point style of race, with 100 startersbeing pared down every lap by 10% Very quickly the climbers were sortedout from the rest, and Seattle's own Sun Sachs from ABC was with the leaders.Although Mike, Justin and I did a nifty wheel change for him midway throughthe race, Sun deserves a ton of congratulations for riding great, finishingas the 7th best messenger in the world (the 3rd place overall went to femaleIvonne Kraft from Germany!). The race was held on telegraph hill, goingright through the middle of some very spendy condos with an awesome viewof every thing. I only heard one person complain about street closures;mostly the spectators were really into the race and cheered loudly forall.

The Golden Gate

On Sunday a group of Seattle people went on a ride to Sausalito ledby Dean. This turned out to be one of the best experiences I had in SF,and I know the others in the group would agree with me. The bridge is verydramatic with its sheer size. knock-over wind gusts, long ass drop to thewater below. dramatic view of the fog rolling in off the ocean, and ofcourse the around the clock painters high above. We cruised across, andtowards the yuppie town over the water. Starbucks is of course everywhere,and after a trip through the local bike shop we sprawled on the park grasswith coffee and watched the sailboats play in the breeze with the big cityas a backdrop across the bay

The weather in SF dramatically varies from hill to hill. On this ridewe had everything from cold fog to hot sun to gusting winds that threatenedto slam us over. Once behind the cover of a big enough hill, we could relaxin comfort able temps. But with the ocean right there fog and freezingcold mist can roll in at any time to make you wish you were wearing allthe GoreTex and wool possible. A comfortable 10 miles later I could sayhad ridden the bridge and back.


Next Labor Day the, Messenger Worlds will be in Barcelona, Spain. Sure,its a long hike, but it could be the best trip you ever made if you getgoing on the planning now. It is an incredible experience to hang aroundpeople who do the same things as you every day, and have a heavy accentfrom some corner of the world you never knew had messengers. Leaving SFon Monday was a let down. It was like a week of fun filled summer campwhere you met your best friends for 8 days and swore you would always stayin touch. It's worth investing in a piggey bank for next year's worlds.Trust me.

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