2 – 1970 - 2005
Messenger History – “Modern” Era
The New Beginning:
The modern era of bike messengers is considered to begin sometime
around 1970. Messengers prior to 1970 were mainly telegraph messengers
and delivery persons for retail. After WWII the use of telegraph
bicycle messengers declined until they virtually disappeared in the
1960’s. After child labour advocates succeeded in preventing messenger
companies from exploiting children these companies were forced to turn
to adults who more often than not preferred cars as their delivery
In the early 1970’s all-bicycle courier companies existed in San
Francisco (Sparkie’s) and New York (Can Carriers) but Toronto would not
see a modern bike messenger until 1979. In May of that year Hilda
Tiessen started Sunwheel Bicycle Couriers to demonstrate the use
of bicycles as a solution to traffic congestion.
At that time cars and taxis performed most of the sameday package
delivery in the city’s core. In fact the number of courier cars
illegally parked downtown led the city to establish tow away zones and
clamp down on illegal parking.
Sunwheel started with 3 students and a Young Canada Works grant. Within
a year their numbers rose to 12 couriers. By 1988 Sunwheel had 55
messengers on bikes and foot and annual sales of $1.9 million. The
success of Sunwheel led other courier companies to add bikes to their
motorized fleets in an effort to improve their efficiency downtown. In
the late eighties there were over 200 courier companies in Toronto.
The summer of 1985 brought the world’s first “Alley Cat” race, although
the first race to use the “Alley Cat” name would not happen 1987.
According to legendary Toronto messenger ‘zine Hideouswhitenoise, the
Alley Cat race was “the style of racing originated in 1985 by
Ronny Munroe and Marshall Sukoluk, two Toronto couriers. The was race
was based out of Marshall’s backyard and was “full out rush hour
traffic racing.” Only six couriers competed in that original race with
Gary Rothenberg winning it.
By 1987 Toronto messengers set up two major annual races, the Halloween
Alley Cat Scramble and the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.
Under Construction/More to come soon:
alleycats, World Championships, North American Championships, Human
Powered Rollercoaster, Breadspreads/Standby Café, Licensing
attempts, The Association of Professional Urban Cyclists(APUC),
Messenger Appreciation Day, The Toronto Hoof and Cycle Courier
Coalition (THC3), Food as Fuel, Choking us to death, Toronto Green
Award, Toronto messenger bike shops, bag makers, famous ex-messengers
Toronto Early History
Copyright Mess Media 2004
Bike messengering since 1880
racing since 1895
racing since 1985
advocacy since 1937