Bike Messenger Chronicles
If you live in a large city, you’ve probably encountered people riding their bikes around delivering food, packages, large boxes strapped to their bags, envelopes, gifts, and sometimes unusual items that bike messengers don’t normally carry such as 20lbs of lamb meat, boxes of shrimp and babies. Joking! No babies don’t worry. Messengers are great people who really enjoy what they do, and many of them have other talents and hobbies or projects they work on when not on the bike. I think bike messengers are often misunderstood by the way they are portrayed in the media as crazy cyclists who knock people over and cut off cars, and yes, sometimes we do what we have to do to get the job done but a professional messenger will always use his skills to avoid accidents, but not everyone is a pro and that’s when accidents happen. I gathered a couple of stories of bike messengers from different parts of the world. Every messenger is unique, with their own personality, some have battles with their demons and riding serves as an escape, others just enjoy the thrill of riding in a crowded city. These are their stories and remember, bike messengers are people too.
Susana León (Santiago Chile)
How long have you been a bike messenger?
It’s been 4 years since 2016, although my first job had to do with messenger work and delivering food orders by bike in 2011, but then I found a different line of work.
What made you choose this lifestyle?
Ufff for many reasons. I simply fell in love with the work. Bike messenger work conjugated many things I enjoy doing. After I got into it I really started to enjoy it: My love for bicycles, my political activism, the ability to navigate around the city, physical activity, the satisfaction I would get from providing great service, the ambiance and the feeling of community. All of a sudden I found myself in a place where my qualities weren’t seen as a problem, I was accepted for who I am. The requirements for being a bike messenger include great communication and the ability to move hastily through an urban environment. I found myself in a place where I was not being discriminated for my gender and where there was an understanding of equality (although more often than not, women in most places are being treated as less). I found myself in a tight-knit community stemming from different origins, and with different mindsets which allowed us to learn from one another a wealth of information. As bike messengers we share the same risks with others doing the same line of work, we understand the challenges and different possibilities that our profession can bring. These past years that I worked as a bike messenger I learned more about the city, society, my bike and my body more than previous years. Finally, working as a bike messenger I found family.
Do you work for a company? Or do you have your own messenger business?
I work for a company and besides being a courier I handle logistics and manage our courier staff as well. I am also a founder and member of an organization of bike messengers who educate students on the importance of safe cycling.
What was your first experience like as a messenger?
In 2011, I worked delivering food. During this time I wasn’t using a mobile phone and had to go out and deliver food at various locations at the same time. Working in a big city I had to observe my environment and pay attention to the routes I was taking and tried to remember the addresses all while navigating in circles all over the city. I started to carry a notebook where I would write down the delivery addresses in order, it was my manifest and once everything was written down I would begin to delivery every order with ease. Now that I think of it, it amazes me how such an archaic method functioned well for me, I was no longer getting confused nor lost and most recently in 2016 I started working with a courier company handling package deliveries and I learned about sustainable logistics and became interested in the culture.
What is your favorite bike messenger gear (bag, clothes, shoes)? and why?
I consider myself a minimalist. I don’t carry or wear anything specific, rather I wear my every day clothing all the time, the same clothes I used to work, or to hangout and have a few beers. Some years back I opted to dress in clothes I liked that were comfortable to work in. In general my criteria is functionality, I carry the essentials like my sports water bottle, cycling cap, Bluetooth speaker, shades, sunblock during summer, roll top back pack, I always carry extra bicycle tire tubes just in case, as well as some tools and snacks.
What bike do you use? What do you love about your bike?
I ride a Sparton frame fixed gear bike. I love it because I had my frame customized at a local antique bike shop, and my bike has been a loyal friend. My bike is much more than steel parts, we’ve been together for 11 years, this year will make 12. Throughout the years, both my bike and I have been through some changes, we’ve evolved, changing our components, to improve. I enjoy my bike because of our history and who she is, we’ve been through so much.
What advice do you have for people interested in working as messengers?
My advice would be to take the job seriously, to cooperate and become professionals in the field, always looking for ways to improve procedures, their knowledge of the roads, their abilities and skills. To be a bike messenger may seem very cool, but in reality it less glamorous than you may think, especially when looking at selfies of messengers carrying large packages defying gravity. This gig requires physical conditioning, communication skills, great ability and skills, mental strength, you must be able to tolerate frustration, creativity to resolve difficult moments and to interrelate information, and other soft skills plus teamwork. I love this job and I don’t ignore the difficulty and effort I put in every year to improve. To love riding a bicycle is only the first step to a big stairway.
Important Lessons From A Pro
Wow what a great story and experience from Susana Leon all the way from Chile. I agree with everything she mentioned. In order to succeed in this career path, any career path for that matter, you must enjoy what you do. Sure there can be little to big bucks involved but in the end if your not having a great time, then you will only feel miserable performing a job that you do not like. I remember when I first started working as a courier, I didn’t mind riding a bike, I loved riding bikes as a kid and rode a BMX throughout my teenage years. But when I first worked as a courier I remember it has been some time since I rode and yeah it was hard, but what helped me was my mindset and the fact that I have been on and off such an active lifestyle. I was able to adapt quickly but the skills came as time went by. I guess I was a bit shy on the road, but later became this car slapping, people yelling (“get out of my way”) bike messenger just so I can get this thing on my back from point A to point B as fast as I can. Truthfully I never had a dull moment, it’s always a blast riding around, of course coming from someone who is passionate about cycling.
Do you have what it takes?
I see so many new cats everyday on the road, sometimes I feel for them and it’s probably one of the reasons why I blog about the lifestyle so newbies can read on and learn from experienced riders and make the best out of this fun exciting gig. For all those new couriers out there, you are welcomed to leave your comments below and I would be more than glad to share some tips to help you enjoy your job more and hey it’s all about networking, that’s how you get ahead in life by opening yourself up to future opportunities. Everything is a process in life, I don’t care what kind of background you have, what your goals are, if you aren’t resilient, dedicated and patient, no matter what you choose to do in life you will not succeed. I can’t begin to tell you how many down moments I had, the pedestrians I knocked over, not intentionally, the couple of times I got hit by a car, and even times I simply lost control of my bike by hitting cracks and then falling off, ouch! But this is how you learn, through failure. You will never get ahead if your always expecting an A, you need to take those C’s, D’s and F’s so you can learn from your mistakes and improve. I hope you enjoyed this article, please be sure to leave your comments and questions down below and please subscribe to my blog to receive notification of my latest blog posts via email!
Stay Safe Out There And Ride Hard!
Emilo “SYCONYC” Simon