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Thread: bike messengers

  1. #1
    suitcase of courage VegasCyclist's Avatar
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    bike messengers

    After going to Chicage and seeing all the bike messengers in the city it got me thinking... Is this really a safe job? I mean I guess no job is really safe in the long run. Yet it seems to me this job would be less then safe due to the traffic you must compete with while working. My uncle (who lives in chicago) is an avid cyclist said that he would never do such a thing because of the daily risk it imposes. It also got me thinking about smog and air polution while working. I guess this could be a problem but doesn't everyone take in this air polution no matter where they are? So basically if anyone has actually been a messenger I wondering what it is like and is it safe.
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    If you have to ask that question, you are not cut out to be a messenger. Forget it.
    Je vais à vélo, donc je suis!

  3. #3
    0^0 fubar5's Avatar
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    Riding in traffic is a huge adrenaline rush is all I have to say.
    Booyah!!

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    山馬鹿 Spire's Avatar
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    I could see bike messengering being a great job too. The only concern that I would have is the pollution from all the time in the city center, but its probably not as bad in Montreal.
    http://www.cyclistsroadmap.com/eng/ - Cyclists' road map. Checkout which roads are good for cycling and rate roads in your area.

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    Senior Member Bobsled's Avatar
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    About two months ago, the L.A. Times had an article about bike messengers in San Francisco using track bikes (fixed-gear, no brakes) while working. Talk about a rush!
    Litespeed, lasts a lifetime.

    Specialized Tarmac, lasts a lifetime, or until it breaks.

  6. #6
    suitcase of courage VegasCyclist's Avatar
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    Originally posted by D*Alex
    If you have to ask that question, you are not cut out to be a messenger. Forget it.
    I ask the question because 1) I have never seen a bike messenger before (they don't exist in vegas) and 2) I have never lived in a big city like chicago before.

    I have no problem with riding with traffic, I do it all the time to commute to work and school. not to mention my daily rides, I was just interested to hear other's opinions on the subject of which I have no experience.
    -VegasCyclist
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    I am a lonely visitor RegularGuy's Avatar
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    No. It isn't safe and the benefits truly suck. Those who do it long term must love it. It wouldn't be the life for me.

    Read The Immortal Class by Travis Hugh Culley for an insiders view of life as a Chicago Bike Messenger, along with some philosophy and politics. It is a good read.
    Religion is a good thing for good people and a bad thing for bad people. --H. Richard Niebuhr

  8. #8
    Junior Member Guillermo's Avatar
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    I actually really wanted to do it in Chicago this summer, but wasn't able to find myself the time and opportunity. Maybe next year though

  9. #9
    It's in my blood Pete Clark's Avatar
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    There is a lot of mystique surrounding bicycle messengers. Truth is, low pay, hard work.

    Sad, but true. Maybe better off cycling where/when you want.
    Next in line

  10. #10
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    I don't have personal experience, but know a few messengers.

    As far as I know, it could be a great job for those who love cycling and working outdoors. It could even be a safe job! However, there are quite a few problems with the conditions.

    1. One has to work under all weather conditions.

    2. One goes a lot inside and outside. Dressing appropriately to be comfortable in a snowstorm at -20 C AND inside while waiting for a parcel is, to say the least, rather challenging.

    3. In the downtown core, one spends more time walking through building corridors and waiting for packages, than actually delivering stuff (that's the case in Montréal).

    4. Some packages have very tight deadlines.

    5. Some clients and dispatchers aren't clear about the type of packages to be carried. At our office, we quite often call a messenger and specify it's for a bulky package (and give dimensions)... only to have a bike messenger arrive and get discouraged!

    6. Pay is "mer message" and very low.

    7. "4" and "6" mean that a bike messenger that would cycle in a proper and reasonnable vehicular manner might not even make enough money to pay for his/her tires and lunch.

    8. It's hard to stay clean, and it's hard to keep the bike clean, tuned up...

    So, if I win a few million dollars at the lottery, I might become a bike messenger, because I'll do it at my own pace. But until that time, I stay away from that job.


    Regards,
    Michel Gagnon
    Montréal (Québec, Canada)

  11. #11
    Senior Member bikerider's Avatar
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    Originally posted by mgagnonlv
    I don't have personal experience, but know a few messengers.

    As far as I know, it could be a great job for those who love cycling and working outdoors. It could even be a safe job! However, there are quite a few problems with the conditions.

    1. One has to work under all weather conditions.

    2. One goes a lot inside and outside. Dressing appropriately to be comfortable in a snowstorm at -20 C AND inside while waiting for a parcel is, to say the least, rather challenging.

    ...<trimmed>
    All of your points jive with my brief experience (8 months through the winter) riding in Toronto.

    In that time, I had a few wipeouts - none serious, mostly due to snow or slush on wet metal - where nobody else was involved. I had only one minor accident with a car where only one pedal was broken and I didn't come off the bike at all and I was as much as fault as they.

    Vegascyclist, I had a lot of near-misses though but I definitely gained a lot of experience in that time. Just as commuters learn to find the trouble spots on their route, couriers learn pretty fast the dynamics of the city and how to 'flow'. Perhaps this is why I hardly ever have any incidents with motorists anymore. I tend to obey the rules of the road now, however.

    Of course, the risk increases with the number of hours doing any activity. Don't forget that cycling injury and death rates per mile (which are roughly the same as driving) include the high risk groups such as children, sidewalk cyclists and cyclists who ride at night without lights. Experienced road cyclists are considerably safer though it is difficult to estimate exactly how much. Since you are comfortable riding on the road, you don't have much to lose by trying it. You will know pretty quick if it's for you.

  12. #12
    We drive on the left. Dutchy's Avatar
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    Bike messenger's are playing with fire, at least the ones here are.

    I saw a bike messenger riding with one hand on the bars, in the other hand was a Chinese takeaway lunch container. He was riding against traffic on one of the busiest 8 lane roads. I watched him ride around a parked bus, 1 second later a 4X4 came from behind the bus towing a trailer. Somehow he didn't get hit, but I am sure the 4x4 driver needed new underwear.

    There was story on A Current Affair a few years back. They had attached camera's to the bikes to show what a typical day was like. In one shot there are two trams heading in opposite directions toward each other, and the bike messenger rides in between the two of them as they are passing. SCARY STUFF!

    All bike messengers here, ride against traffic and through EVERY red light.

    These guys are not cyclists, they just happen to have a job that involves a bike.

    CHEERS.

    Mark
    I'd rather be riding.

  13. #13
    mousse de chocolat Moose's Avatar
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    Here's a book title that glamourizes the messenger trade, though the main character is a rollerblader.

    The Ultimate Rush by Joe Quirk.

    Not destined to be a classic, but entertaining.
    I feel more like I do now than when I first got here.

  14. #14
    meh goodcatjack's Avatar
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    The Ultimate Rush by Joe Quirk.
    wow, I can't believe I'd forgotten I read that! it's been a while, but I remember reading it and thinking it was pretty good, a little Neal Stephenson-esque, and definitely written with the hopes of being picked up for a movie. the writer had something on the dust jacket like, Please buy this so I can pay back my law school loans.

    IIRC, there's something in there about the protagonist on blades beating messengers on bikes.

    --alex.

  15. #15
    cycle-powered nathank's Avatar
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    well, ever since i can remember (i think after seeing the movie Quicksilver) i've wanted to be a bike messenger... i'm almost done it a ton of times but never did (mostly b/c the pay sucks).

    from the friends i've known i think it varies a bunch by city in the way people ride and the treatment. even w/o cities there are some companies that treat their riders like crap... and others that make it more fun and bearable. in the "business" most guys know which cities and companies suck, but there are decidedly different cultures: Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, Houston, Boston, Chicago... i can't remember which is which... if i remember right Chicago and San Francisco were "good" and Boston crappy... but this is info from maybe 4 years ago. also some cities entail more miles and some more waiting (i think Portland riders averaged more miles b/c downtown is less dense than say SF or Chicago or NYC)

    IF it were a job that paid a wage similar to most other skilled labor-intensive jobs it would be a pretty decent job... but you usually get no benefits and paid by the delivery and/or hour and it adds up to way less than working as a waiter somewhere... not to mention you need to EAT more b/c you use so much energy... and belive me on this kind of salary spending more on food is not an expense that goes unnoticed...

    most of the riders i have known have had very few accidents - and when they do, they're usually not too bad and keep riding with a broken finger or whatever - or else you have to get a different job.

    i think as something to do for a short time for the experience (fun, learning) and something that pays for itself and earns you a little extra money - it's not a bad idea --- i.e. a summer between college - or an extended period of unemployment in your regular career...

    of the guys i knew very few messengers did it as their main income for more than 2 years --- and very few worked for more than 3 years period --- mostly b/c the working conditions and host of problems (injured, sick or not 100% fit, you can't work) just don't come close to matching the compensation (low pay and few or no benefits)

    lastly, most of my buds who tried it encountered this problem: they spent so much time on the bike and rode so much, that they had little time/energy to ride recreationally -- a good friend had to quick mountain-bike racing b/c his body was toast from messenger riding 5 days a week in Portland...

    that said, i think you learn a lot from riding in the city core every day and it would be a total blast --- i personally always wanted to do it, but when i could get a "resume-building" job that paid 3 times or more as much $$$ plus benefits... i always chose the $$$... maybe some day when i have a lot more money and can work for a low low income... but seems unlikely

    as to the safety: sure, i've seen some guys (also knew some hard-core messenger chicks!) do some crazy stuff --- but most guys really learn how traffic and pedestrians work and what to and not to do (otherwise they crash)...

    i personally wish that almost all small-package delivery was done by bike (like they use bicycles for mail delivery in the Germany - and then trucks only for large packages)... but as delivery vehicles don't pay for parking, run on cheap subsidized fuel, and use the free public road network (despite contributing more to congestion double-parked all over the place) bicycles are rarely price competitve... "in the old days" the market was for quick-rush paper documents, but the FAX machine really cut into this market there are still legal documents requiring an original signature, but now ONLY the original, not each draft or less important docs, are sent by messenger...
    why drive when you can ride?
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    Dutchy said: "These guys are not cyclists, they just happen to have a job that involves a bike."

    Dutchy - not sure I agree with ya there. I ride thru a lot of red lights myself, and like someone else said earlier, I also get a total buzz thru riding in traffic. in between jobs I've actually thought about becoming a courier...

    I also can't blame these guys for riding aggressively and breaking the law, as it's the only way of levelling the balance which is very very much in favour of cars.

    the pollution would get to me tho

  17. #17
    cycle-powered nathank's Avatar
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    Dutchy said: "These guys are not cyclists, they just happen to have a job that involves a bike."
    yeah, i missed that comment.

    they are definitely cyclists. if you don't love cycling and pain and suffering and living-on-the-edge, then it's not a job for you...

    but bike messengers are DEFINITELY cyclists and very skilled ones at that --- now skilled doesn't necessarily mean smart or safe...

    if you don't love cycling i don't see any reason why someone would want to be a bike messenger. in the effort/crap/mistreatment/B.S. relative to $$$ it's one of the worst i can think of (unfortunately). you earn way more delivering for UPS (it's a real career) or a mail carrier (also a career w/ benefits) or doing general customer service -- usually even working in retail sales at the mall or telemarketing or delivering newspapers pays more... there just aren't too many jobs that pay less...
    why drive when you can ride?
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    suitcase of courage VegasCyclist's Avatar
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    thanks everyone this was the kind of response I was looking for
    -VegasCyclist
    "Daddy made whiskey and he made it well.... cost two dollars and it burned like hell...."
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    WallaWalla! Rotifer's Avatar
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    I also can't blame these guys for riding aggressively and breaking the law, as it's the only way of leveling the balance which is very very much in favour of cars.
    Well said, I've thought this many times. In fact I had an argument with a cop a couple weeks ago in which I stated this (he had pulled me over because he "... thought I was running from him"), needless to say he didn't agree. Bike messengers are serious cyclists.
    Jeff

  20. #20
    Friend of Jimmy K naisme's Avatar
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    site with links

    http://www.messengers.org/main.html

    Found more than enough information. But talking about fun bike jobs, San Deigo Bike Taxi driver looks fun too me, meeting people touring the city, making tips when there's business.

    I don't think it would work here in the Twin Cities though
    "I will remain the stranger who came from a faraway land." Lance Armstrong

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    Senior Member jump's Avatar
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    I really really want to be a courier!! I'm serious about this. All you guys are all put down by the thought of having your eyes, ears, and muscles going at terminal velocity all day for low pay, but I'm thrilled about it! I'm a bigtime street rider, getting around EVERYWHERE on my bike, knowing all the shortcuts and fast lights and stuff downtown and stuff... plus I can push my tires and myself to the max while loving it. It's just a passion I have.

    And to do all the riding I usually do downtown for a purpose and getting PAID makes me estatic! I'm still 15 so any job that pays that I like is perfect. As long as I have over twenty bucks in my pocket you won't see me not smiling.

    Can any of you guys get me hooked up in this whole messenger thing?? I really want to start my job like right now, but I haven't a clue of where to even start. Can any of you guys lead me in the right direction on how to get myself employed? I'm in the downtown Bellevue area. I know there's messengers here cause my neighbor see's 'em every once and a while. I wish I could catch one to just ask him who he works for. Thanks!!

    Oh yeah my email is keubstudios@attbi.com if you want to email me.

  22. #22
    Senior Member jump's Avatar
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    Oh yeah, Bellevue is pretty close to Seattle, so a job in Seattle is fine too

  23. #23
    I am a lonely visitor RegularGuy's Avatar
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    Originally posted by jump

    Can any of you guys get me hooked up in this whole messenger thing??
    Look in the phone book under "Bicycle Couriers" Call a messenger service and ask if they are hiring.
    Religion is a good thing for good people and a bad thing for bad people. --H. Richard Niebuhr

  24. #24
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    I see couriers around, but I don't know any of them personally. However, you might try the contact information on this site: the Courier Association of Seattle

    They haven't published a newsletter in a long time, but the site appears to still be active.

  25. #25
    WallaWalla! Rotifer's Avatar
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    Good luck Jump! Keep us informed of your progress. The only obstacle I could see would be insurance (you are under 18). But, if you started hanging around now I bet they would hire you when they could.
    Jeff

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