Singlespeed & Fixed Gear - i ran into my hero today
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09-23-06, 06:57 PM
so i was taking the train home b/c i was running late and i had my track bike. so i'm at the 74th and roosevelt stop in queens(little india) and i'm waiting for the elevator cause i'm too lazy to walk up one flight of stairs and i see a cat with a track bike walking straight for me. so i'm like, ok, we'll compare bikes, greet each other and be off. he tells me i have a great bike and as he turns around, i notice he has no leg. It was ****ing Dexter Benjamin, the one legged bike messenger. I've seen him in like two docs. I was like, "omg god, ur dexter" and he started laughing. i seriously felt like a teeni bopper. it was stranger that he was in my neck of the woods. anyway, i wanted to sit him down and have him tell me his whole life, but i didn't want to seem like a loser. so i told him it was an honor. he told me to ride safe. and then i ran up the stairs screaming. well not really screaming but u know.
09-23-06, 08:08 PM
You mean he has a prosthetic leg or he pedals w/ just one leg? Either way, that's pretty amazing ****.
09-23-06, 08:09 PM
he pedals with on leg. he owns a bike messenger service in nyc. he carries the crutches on his bike hanging from the top tube
09-23-06, 08:09 PM
You mean he has a prosthetic leg or he pedals w/ just one leg? Either way, that's pretty amazing ****.
09-23-06, 08:21 PM
Here's an article.
Dexter Benjamin delivers packages for $12. He changes lives for free.
By Grant Davis
Bicycling Magazine, March 2000
Dexter Benjamin has a problem. On this frigid New York afternoon, his Motorola cell phone hasn't worked since 2:30. No phone means no customers for his fledgling bike messenger business, B&L Courier Service. Earlier today, he used the last ten minutes on his prepaid calling plan and has since been forced to rely on his beeper and the army of Bell Atlantic pay phones planted throughout Manhattan.
He stops his bike at the corner of Eighth and Fifty-Second. His dark eyes scan the intersection for a pay phone to answer his beeper. Searching desperately, Benjamin wonders aloud with traces of his native Trinidadian accent still audible, "How can I make any money when my customers can't reach me immediately, man?"
A minute later, he finds a phone. The order is from a loyal customer; it's the day's last delivery, a 10-block jaunt to a midtown Manhattan graphica house. Benjamin's 6-foot-2, NFL linebacker size frame hops aboard his battered Dura-Cycle fixed gear track bike. He cuts east one block, then sprints south down Seventh Avenue for more than two and a half miles, catching every traffic light as it turns green at each block - a signal system designed to keep autos moving at 30 mph.
He rides with ease and aggression, sometimes seeming a natural part of a peleton of multi-ton cars and trucks. Other times he dodges and slices the New York traffic, breathing diesel exhaust from buses while dodging pedestrians ignoring "Don't Walk" signs. He sprints through rapidly closing passageways between yellow taxis, barking warnings to drivers, fighting for his space.
When Benjamin arrives at the pick-up, he unties the two strips of inner tube securing wooden crutches to the right side of the bike's top tube. Then, balancing on the handle of one crutch to free his hands, he bends to lock the bike to a signpost.
The ease with which Benjamin utilizes his crutch makes the wood seem like an organic extension of his Lycra-clad stump.
Pedestrians walking by break out of their protective New York City scowls to watch Benjamin’s fluid dance between bike and crutches. “People always smile when they see me, says Benjamin with a gleaming smile of straight teeth that breaks up his long face, “So I’m always smiling, too.”
Standing balanced on one crutch, he digs around in the pocket of his neoprene cycling jacket for a tissue to blow his nose. In another life his muscular, athletic build and model looks may have landed him an ad campaign for Polo Sport or Tommy Hilfiger. Right now, he’s honking snot from his nose on lower Broadway. His mucus comes out littered with black particles. Benjamin looks at it, then clears his throat and mouth of the same grit and spits it out on the sidewalk. “This isn’t Trinidad,” he says simply.
After readjusting his bag, he pulls the other crutch back under his armpit with his stump—not much weaker-looking than the thigh on his intact leg — and heads into the office building to pick up the delivery taking long, loping steps with his crutches.
If Dexter Benjamin has his way, he’ll go down as the most famous bike messenger in New York, knocking off 1984 Olympic track cyclist Nelson Vails. Ask any New Yorker if they’ve seen Benjamin, and they’ll reply that either they’ve sighted him firsthand or have heard him talked about with the reverence usually reserved for Jerry Seinfeld sightings.
“Yeah, I’ve seen the guy, says Lauren Parker, a production manager who works in midtown Manhattan. “You see him and then a couple of seconds later, you stop yourself and say, Holy ****! Did I just see that?”’
Ask most local bike messengers about Benjamin and they’ll more often than not tell a story about how this one-legged blur shot by them as if they were standing still. “He s faster than most of us with two legs, says a messenger for Breakaway Couriers. Another messenger calls Benjamin the epitome of faith and courage with the best part being his independence: “I gotta give the man props.
At 37, Benjamin is retirement material in a shrinking industry filled with twenty-somethings. He laughs dismissively when asked about changing careers. “I’ll be a messenger until I die, he says, “And when I’m gone, I’ll take messages for God in heaven.” When asked if he honestly pictures himself delivering packages at age 70, he scratches his short hair and looks away as if to convince himself before answering, “I’ll still ride as long as I have the strength. I’ll do it as long as God lets me. I love to ride.”
Unspoken, perhaps, is the admission that without his bicycle, Benjamin is a one-legged man who walks with crutches. His pride and self-esteem are interwoven with his ability to turn a crank faster than millions of people living in New York City. Without his bike, he’s anybody.
Benjamin’s muscular left leg, which looks powerful enough to replace the landing gear on a Boeing 727, has been his bread and butter since he lost the right leg in an accident in Trinidad on a Sunday after-noon in January, 1983.
Benjamin’s story: Cycling to his uncle’s house to work as a carpenter, he was rolling down a steep hill. As an oncoming water truck sped around the corner at the bottom, a boy darted into the vehicle’s path. Benjamin realized that the truck driver couldn’t see the boy and—in a split-second decision—darted toward the boy. He threw himself off his bike and pushed the boy off the road.
His right leg was hit by the truck. “Boom! My leg is all broken bones and blood,” Benjamin remembers, “But I never thought my life was over while I was lying on the ground looking at my leg... just different.” The next day, his right leg, with a crushed knee and lower half, was amputated.
He’d entertained Olympic hopes in boxing or the shot put; those dreams died, but Benjamin’s athletic career took off after the accident. Roughly a year after he lost his leg, he entered a half-marathon in Trinidad. He ran the 13.1 miles on crutches and finished second in the disabled category, behind fellow Trinidadian Anthony Phillip, a marathoner with a prosthetic leg who had secured sponsorship from the New York Achilles Track Club to run the New York Marathon.
Recognizing another great athlete when he saw one Phillip recommended that the club sponsor Benjamin as well. In 1986, it did; Achilles invited Benjamin to run the New York Marathon and sent him a plane ticket along with a stipend for expenses. He flew to New York the first time he’d ever been in a plane or left the island and finished the race in seven and a half hours.
He returned to Trinidad with the memory of hundreds of thousands of cheering people lining the race route. When he returned to run the marathon the next year, he stayed:
“New York back then seemed a better place than Trinidad to further my athletic career.”
But the sponsorship money from Achilles evaporated once the marathon was over, and Benjamin found himself looking for work as an illegal immigrant with no place to live. He ended up panhandling in Grand Central Station and spending his nights at homeless shelters throughout the city.
“That was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” he says. “Even with one leg, I never had to beg for money before. I left a place where I never had to ask for anything, where I could always pay. And I come to America. I run the marathon and then I have nothing. (Well not quite nothing: "Some days, I would make more asking for money than I do now on my bike. On Wednesdays I could expect to clear $75, and on Fridays over $100... and some change,” he says with a bittersweet laugh.)
A solution to his beggar status came from an unlikely source, considering his handicap. In the late 80s a scarcity of fax machines and e-mail combined with a booming economy to make the refrain “$100 by lunch” a reality for New York City’s fastest messengers. People with the ability to read and ride a bicycle could earn a decent living by delivering letters and packages. A Trinidadian friend who owned a courier service told Benjamin about the opportunity, and he quickly cobbled together $400 to buy a bike.
But before he could even begin his new career, he had to learn to ride a bike again. Cycling with one leg introduced a new set of physics. Benjamin s first attempt to make a right turn landed him on his butt: “I made the turn as if my leg was still there, and lost my balance.” To learn how to turn he practiced riding in ever-tighter clockwise circles. He used rocks to set up improvised slalom courses in Central Park to practice weaving in and out of tight situations like those he’d expect on the streets. He also developed his own emergency stop system he takes his foot out of his toeclip and presses it against his front tire.
After a week of practice, he was on the job. Unlike his current customized bike, which features a left-side drivetrain with a 49-tooth chainring connected to a 15-tooth fixed gear (“That way the pedal comes up to meet me”), no right-side crankarm and a rear hand brake, his first bike had a traditional setup with the chain on the right side. The only tweak: The right pedal was removed.
“I lost a bike a year for six years straight,” he says. “All somebody had to do was put on a pedal and he could ride the bike. Now it’s not so easy.”
His Dura-Cycle cost him about $700, and he put another $700 into retrofitting the drivetrain and swapping out the stock sew-up wheels for clincher rims. His simple U-lock appears laughable in a town where Kryptonite’s $90 City-Chain is the norm. “This bike was stolen once,” he says. “But I found it, and the man who took it tried to sell it back to me. I said to him, ‘Who else rides a bike with only one pedal and the chain on the left? Me that s who.”’
When Benjamin is on his bike, his face is nearly always in perma-grin mode. The smile masks the difficulties of making a living as a messenger. More couriers are competing for the shrinking parcel business. Overnight delivery services cost less than many couriers, and advances in digital film promise to further reduce the need for couriers in the graphics industry long a staple in the courier business. Consequently, life is far from cush for those who pedal for a living.
Messengers are responsible for providing their own gear from bikes to cell phones, and if the gear stolen, the job is gone, too. Messenger companies in New York typically charge $12—$20 to deliver urgent local packages that can’t be sent electronically. The messenger usually nets half the charge; on a good day with 20—25 deliveries, he can walk away with just more than $100 half what messengers made 15 years ago, in a city where it costs anywhere between $400 and $800 to simply share an apartment. And benefits like health insurance? Forget it.
And the situation won’t improve. Competition among New York’s 400—700 courier services (a constant flux of independents like Benjamin make it impossible to post a definite number) keep delivery charges low and force messengers to take what jobs they can get.
Big Apple messengers also face a jump in competition every summer when a new crop of rookies—college kids hanging out for the summer battle for work during the slowest part of the year when people prefer to walk their packages themselves. Says Benjamin, “They [the rookies] ask me if I know of anyone who’s hiring. They think they’re getting screwed out of work by their bosses, but there s just not enough work.”
Hard knocks aside, Benjamin quickly earned a reputation as a reliable and rocket-fast courier. His first week on the job netted him $17 nothing compared with his $300 panhandling weeks in Grand Central, but Benjamin didn’t care; he had restored his pride: “The day I got my first paycheck was the happiest day of my life in America.
Clients began to request him for more lucrative rush deliveries. He fell in love, got married and started a family. In the mid-’90s, using his loyal customers as a base, he started his own courier service with five messengers.
To the outside world, Dexter Benjamin was living the self-made American Dream. But he was losing control. His employees ignored delivery calls, stole packages, and took Benjamin’s beepers to start their own messenger businesses.
Within months his professional reputation was ruined. But that wasn’t the hardest part: “I was going crazy sitting inside answering phones. I had to walk up and down the stairs just to get rid of some energy.” Problem was, when he was walking the stairs, he wasn’t answering the phones. His company went out of business, and Benjamin had to start riding again to pay his bills. His marriage collapsed, and his two children moved to Florida with their mother.
Benjamin became the sole employee of B&L Courier. He has no plans for expansion for the rest of his career. Working alone allows him to pocket all his earnings, so he can make fewer deliveries and still earn a living wage. His cell phone runs him $125 a month his beeper another $25. His average of 60 weekly deliveries nets $500 after expenses. It’s enough money to buy cereal and bananas to fuel his 50-mile workdays pay the gym membership for his nightly workouts and help support his children.
He makes a living. He gets the adrenaline rush of cycling. And he’s addicted to his everyday dealings with people: “I love to see people notice me,” Benjamin says.
He’s constantly being stopped by people who just thank him for his inspiration. He remembers specific people—the Rastafarian in the Bronx who took one look at Benjamin and broke into tears then thanked him for making him realize how small his own problems were, or the drug addict outside Port Authority Bus Terminal who told Benjamin that seeing him helped turn his life around. Amputees or their relatives approach him and thank him and ask for his phone number. Benjamin always obliges.
Being in Benjamin’s presence, whether he’s whizzing by you or chatting with you, puts you under his inspirational spell. You begin to think there’s nothing the guy can do. He truly believes he’s a champion. And like any athlete who draws from his successes, Benjamin’s pride is tied up with a competitive drive that needs to be constantly recharged: “It makes me happy when I can catch some guy with two legs who thinks he’s fast. I do it for the look on his face when I pass him and he realizes that some guy with one leg beat him.”
But are games of chase-the-rabbit with other bike messengers enough to sustain a life? Maybe not.
Benjamin has set his sights on the track cycling events of the 2000 Para-Olympics in Sydney this October. “I’ve always wanted to try the track,” he says. “I think I would be good at it, but I know I need a coach—somebody to tell me what to do, how to sit on my bike, how to race. I think I could win it.” Win what? When asked what event he thinks he’s best qualified for, Benjamin purses his lips and shrugs his broad shoulders.
“I don’t know.
Later, you realize that Benjamin has no idea what events make up track cycling. The same optimism that carries him through his sprints around Manhattan has convinced or deluded him into thinking a gold medal is lust past the next stoplight.
With the Para-Olympics less than eight months away—and the U.S. trials in April—Benjamin is woefully unprepared. His only connection to the steep and fast banks of a velo-drome is his fixed-gear track bike; he’s never raced in one. He was a no-show at last June’s nationals in Colorado Springs, citing the cost of travel expenses and lack of help from Disabled Sports USA (DS/USA) in navigating the qualification process.
“I spent a year training,” says Benjamin. “But DS/USA doesn’t understand that I can t miss a week of work and not get paid. They gave me nothing.” Perhaps the most telling cause for Benjamin’s absence from the US. trials, however, is that he doesn’t want to become an American citizen. Yet he knows that Trinidad has no funds to compete in the Para-Olympics and no disabled cycling program to represent.
Kathy Celo, program services director for DS/USA, says, “Until Benjamin commits to becoming a U.S. citizen, our executive by-laws say we can t fund him. Money is always a problem for these athletes; there's no ‘athletes in residence' program for them such as those for the Olympic athletes". Celo notes that many amputee athletes receive training funds from prosthetic companies trying out new technology.
Benjamin’s determination to not use a prosthetic costs him more than money, according to Zack Williams, a track coach for the ‘96 U.S. Para-Olympic cycling squad: “By opting not to ride with a prosthetic leg, he is sacrificing a significant amount of wattage that would cost little extra in cardiovascular work.” The current amputee record holder, Dory Selinger, rides with a prosthetic leg that clicks into his Look-compatible pedals. With this setup, he’s managed to motor up to 37 mph in the 200-meter sprint and average 30 mph over 1 kilometer. Benjamin claims he can hold 33 mph for a mile, but “track racing’s a whole different ballgame from the street,” says Williams. “I’ve seen guys who had no problem reaching 32 mph on the road be unable to go faster than 27 on the track.”
“I’m sure he can compete,” says Beverly Harris, Benjamin’s girlfriend, who is using her expertise as a former publicist for Run-DMC to find sponsors for Benjamin. “But he’s not getting any younger.”
Benjamin's body is starting to break down. He’s gotten slower and weaker; he can no longer routinely hit 40 mph in a sprint and leg-press 500 pounds with his one leg. Now his top speed is 33 and his leg-press maximum is 400 pounds. His ham-string muscle starts to spasm if he sits for too long, and he’s lost almost all the cartilage in his left knee over the last 10 years from overuse.
“Cartilage acts as a shock absorber for the knee,” says Rob Hunter, a clinical professor of orthopedic surgery at the University of Colorado. “Benjamin ‘s knee will always work, but without cartilage, it’ll be a much rougher ride."
In many ways, Benjamin’s Para-Olympic ambition might start with Harris. She sees the big picture of Benjamin’s life and is pushing him to take his talent to an international level while he still can—and attract the ex-posure that will get him off the Street. Benjamin’s becoming a motivational speaker is a no-brainer in her mind. “It’s what he does every day."
But Harris sees the window of opportunity for change closing. Fast. “I worry about what will happen to him if he loses his other leg, she says. “What’s he going to do for work? What’s it going to do to his pride?”
When he hears this, Benjamin smiles. “I’ll pedal with my hands ,he says. “I’ll never stop riding. When I die,” he reminds Harris, you'll bury me with my bicycle.
Then Benjamin steps out into the now-freezing night. A howling, sky-scraper-induced wind beats at him. None of his movements are wasted. He doesn t hobble over to unlock his bike he springs. He ties his crutches onto his top tube, swings his stump over the scat and pushes away, down the sidewalk ramp and into traffic.
A one-legged bicycle messenger navigates the streets of Manhattan
By Anusha Shrivastava
He lifts himself onto the bicycle seat, tilting the machine a notch so that his left leg, his only leg, supports his body. He tucks his crutches inside rubber loops he fashioned himself and attached to the rod extending from the bike's seat to its handlebar. He shifts on the seat until he is comfortable, and certain that his body is aligned just so with the cycle.
Dexter Benjamin, a tall, muscular man, lost his right leg the day he snatched a toddler from in front of a delivery truck hurtling down a hill in his native Trinidad. "I never focused on the accident," Benjamin said. "Two days after I came home from the hospital, I tried to ride my bicycle using my left leg and fell. I swore I would ride it again and again until I got it right."
In the 18 years since his accident, the crutches have kept Benjamin from falling down. In his American life, his bicycle keeps him employed as a messenger ferrying packets from business to business in Manhattan.
Benjamin was born into a poor family. Abandoned by the boy's father, Benjamin's mother remarried when he was 8 and, at that point, he was sent to live with his grandparents. Benjamin was not interested in school and dropped out that very year. At 10, he ran away from home. At 13, he got sent to reform school for knifing a grown man. As a man himself, he has married one woman, conceived three children, then lost her because -- he admits this -- he was cheating on her.
"He is very attractive and gentle so it is easy to love him but then you realize that he is using his handicap as a shield against any criticism," his soon-to-be-ex-wife, Lisa Benjamin, said.
The couple met in this country, the place to which Dexter Benjamin first journeyed in 1986. He arrived as one among the throngs of foreigners participating in the New York City Marathon. He clocked seven and a half hours in the race.
Taken by what he saw and heard and did, he opted to stay in New York, believing he could make a better life for himself here than back home.
His immigrant's tale is rife with its own troubles. Most recently, Benjamin was accused and acquitted of a hate crime, of repeatedly hitting a transsexual, a man who chooses to live as a woman, in a crowded subway car. "The next time someone hits me, I'll ask them if they are straight or gay," Benjamin said, smiling and giving his account of things. The man weighed 300 pounds, Benjamin said, and began pounding on him because his bike hit the accuser's leg.
"He looked like a man with no lipstick," Benjamin said, adding that he was the person under attack.
Had Benjamin, 39, lost the case, he would have been deported to Trinidad. Instead, he is remaining here, running the four-person messenger service that he started in 1999 and which has suffered its share of ups and downs.
Benjamin's sister, Cheryl Chandler, 41, said her younger brother had always been industrious, even if he was not the model citizen on other fronts.
When he dropped out of school, he began riding a donkey cart in Mornediablo, a farming community, collecting old bottles that he could sell for the equivalent of 5 cents. "He was always a hard-working boy but he is also rebellious and very independent-minded," Chandler said.
As a child, he also cleaned other people's backyards. At 13, a farmer hired him to sell coconuts and he seemed pretty steady on that job until the day a customer refused to pay in full. Benjamin slashed the customer across the forehead and, for that, ended up at the vocational reform school. There, he discovered his older brother, training to be a chef. Benjamin, for a time, began taking cooking lessons too. "I love food too much to be around it all day. Look at the fish tank," said Benjamin, pointing out an empty one in his living room. "I ate all the fish when I was starving one day." It was a joke.
Eventually, he studied masonry at the reform school. After four years of confinement, he was released and accepted a mason's job. That lasted until, at 21, he lost that right leg and headed for New York.
Early on, he panhandled at Grand Central Terminal. He took in $75 on the good days. A house-painting job in Brooklyn brought him $300, which he promptly invested in an old cycle that he adjusted for his own use. He removed its right pedal and had a mechanic move the crankshaft, the mechanism holding bike's chain, from the right to the left side.
"My old bike was transformed into my right leg, an extension of my body," Benjamin said. "My balance improved with practice."
Another Trinidadian hired him as a messenger in Manhattan. Within a few months, Benjamin set up his own courier service, charging $9 per delivery and earning $700 per month, he said.
Soon after his new business seemed stable enough, Benjamin married Lisa, a woman he met on the train. "We got married in City Hall and went to McDonald's for lunch. It was the best hamburger I ever ate in my whole life," he said. Apart from a wife, the marriage provided him with a green card and, thereby, legal status in the United States.
Two children later, Lisa Benjamin walked out. In response, he said, he wrote a good-bye note to his children and swallowed 12 sleeping pills. The next morning, his roommate woke him up. "I was upset. Even my suicide attempt had failed," Benjamin said.
His luck changed when a reporter from The Daily News wrote about Benjamin's bad luck, and told readers where they could send money on Benjamin's behalf. That was in 1998. Benjamin bought three more bicycles and started afresh.
The same year, he met Beverly Harris, a social worker, on a train. Harris found him a subsidized apartment for the disabled on Roosevelt Island, helped Benjamin get modeling assignments, even bought him a bus ticket to Florida two years ago to visit his children.
Before returning to New York, he had impregnated Lisa Benjamin. Even so, he is divorcing her to marry Harris this year. He also plans to take up a more stable job.
"I might work as a doorman. I'm nearing 40 and, if I don't switch careers soon, I might have to cycle my way into heaven or try to sneak in by delivering messages to God."
09-23-06, 11:00 PM
I saw Dexter at my LBS about a week ago. I was silent, not knowing what to say, until he walked out and then I looked at the guy that was standing next to me and I said, "that guy's a legend". Nuff said.
That guy is bad ass. He can walk around w/o holding on to his crutches by using what's left with his other leg and he can ride faster with 1 leg than I can with both of mine.
Dexter is cool, known him for 15 years now. Time flys.
09-24-06, 02:46 AM
did anyone notice the guy playing solitaire behind dexter at about 4:45 into the video?
Not only is he a badass messenger w/ only one leg...his name is effin' Dexter! Fnck yeah!
09-24-06, 09:21 AM
i ussaly wont post redundency but this guy rocks hardcore style
09-24-06, 04:23 PM
wow, reading those articles...what a life. you could make a movie about him.
09-24-06, 04:34 PM
wow, reading those articles...what a life. you could make a movie about him.
they should. if they made one, I wouldnt complain about spending like 10 bucks to see it.
09-24-06, 04:52 PM
yeah, no, you really couldn't.
In two different stories it says that Dexter pushed a boy away from the train tracks and got his leg run over by the train, and then in the other one says that he pushed some kid out of the way of a bus or something? Eh?
In any case, who cares. This dude is awesome.
edit: i meant truck :p
In both the stories I posted, it's truck.
In both the stories I posted, it's truck.
I don't have the time to watch this again at the current moment but if I recall correctly he says that it was run over by a train.
Here's a link to that Bicycling Magazine article: http://www.messmedia.org/messville/dexter.html
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