Bicycle Messenger



Bicycle messengers (also known as cycle couriers) have carried packages by bicycle for more than a century, but it wasn't until the 1980s and 1990s that bicycle messengers became cultural icons. With its combination of high risk and low payoff, bike messengering is often seen as the quintessential youth culture job. The urban antihero overtones and fashions (such as tattoos, cut-off shorts, and rugged shoulder satchels) are emblematic of bike messenger subculture; however, in many cities the level of professionalism and pay scale has increased. Some couriers retain their jobs for decades, resulting in a more mature demographic. Bicycle messengers are especially effective in urban areas as they travel faster than walking yet won't get stuck in traffic as an automobile would.

Commission-based compensation encourages risk taking among messengers, who are not party to job security or medical benefits in the United States. Some in the messenger community blame a media profile which highlights the outlaw image and fails to focus on the many long-term bicycle messengers who are neither young nor reckless.

There have been sporadic attempts to organise messengers beginning in the mid-'80s with the Independent Couriers Association in New York City which was formed to beat the mid-town bike ban in that city. Since 1993, messengers of the world have come together to celebrate messenger culture and remember their dead at the annual Cycle Messenger World Championships.

In the '90s fax machines and modems began to cut into the bicycle messenger business. Anecdotally, in the mid-1980s, Manhattan had 7,000 bike messengers to navigate its crowded streets; by 1994, this anecdotal number had shrunk to 2,000, although part of the story is that a race to the bottom amongst messenger company proprietors seeking market share at the expense of price led to a fall in price per job, leaving many messengers to seek other employment. Average gross earnings reportedly fell from $600 to $300 a week.

Many bike messengers use single speed or fixed-gear bicycles for their rounds because of their lightness, handling and simplicity of operation and maintenance. Although outsiders unfamiliar with fixed-gear bicycles often mistake this for a reckless display of bravado, amongst some messengers it has become a rite of passage and a symbol of identity and pride. While a great deal of attention is given to fixed-gear bicycle riding messengers, they represent a very small percentage among the industry as a whole. A larger percentage of messengers use mountain bikes with slick, road-style tires, while others prefer road bikes or hybrids—for instance road bikes with flat handlebars or stripped down touring bikes.

Most messengers use bags with a single strap which is positioned diagonally across the body. The advantage of such a bag is that is can be swung around the body to the front, in order to put in or take out packages without taking off the bag. The main strap on more advanced messenger bags is usually adjustable, both to adapt to rider's physique and allow it to be loosened in order take on heavier packages. Most bags also have another smaller strap, that comes under the arm opposite the one that bears the main strap, which can be fastened on to the main strap to keep it from moving while the person wearing it is cycling. A minority of messengers (in most cities) however use bags with two straps (one over each shoulder). These bags put less strain on the shoulders, but have to be taken off and put back on at each stop.

Dispatch radio systems have evolved from analog brick sized open channel radios introduced in the early 1980s to a variety of modern communication devices. Messengers today frequently make use of two-way packet radio systems such as Motorola iDEN, marketed as Nextel in the USA and Telus MIKE in Canada. In recent years BlackBerry, Treo and other two way email systems with miniature keyboards have become popular for job dispatch.

Many messengers see their occupation as a sport as well as a job. Bicycle messengers in most cities hold fairly regular urban cycle races known as "alleycats". These races are held informally, that is without notifying the authorities, on open roads and in heavy traffic, to simulate the messenger's working conditions. These should not be confused with the prestigious Cycle Messenger Championships, which take place at North American, European and World levels. However, most participants in cycle messenger races, whether sanctioned or otherwise would say they compete for fun rather than primarily for competition. In recent years some particularly skilled messengers have taken an interest in racing track bicycles in velodromes, where they can shed their heavy bags and test their strength and bike-handling skills.

Bicycle messengers have developed a popular cultural identity that has made them a symbol of urban living. Their innovative sense of street style and function inspires fashion designers, musicians and artists. Messengers are the subject of novels, memoirs, feature films, television series, songs, operas, and anthropological studies. They even appear on sports cards, and virtually every major city has at least one documentary about its messengers.

Although the idea of modern bicycle messengers is thought to have originated in North America, it has now spread throughout the developed world. The attraction of this service is that it provides a cheap and fast method of sending messages around an inner-city area with heavy traffic. The bicycle messenger is most common outside America in northern and eastern Europe, with large and organised bodies of couriers in such cities as London, Berlin, Copenhagen, Zurich, Warsaw, Budapest and Dublin, among others. In London motorcycle couriers are as common as bicycle couriers for historical reasons and most couriers services provide both motorbike and bicycle couriers.

An annual European Cycle Messenger Championships (ECMC) is organized in a different city on the continent every year. Strangely, the concept has not become especially popular in southern Europe, the heartland of world competitive cycling. There are very few bicycle couriers in Portugal, France, Spain, or Italy.

Outside Europe, there are large bicycle messenger scenes in Japan—notably Tokyo—and also in New Zealand and Australia, especially in Sydney. Bicycle messengers are also very popular throughout Africa and Asia where the bicycle is a more affordable mode of transportation. Many Latin American countries also use bike messengers in cities with heavy traffic congestion. Mexican artist José Guadalupe Posada created a popular icon of a marijuana-smoking bicycle courier everyman in his 19th century engravings.

Most of the cities of Western influence reveal only their "messenger scenes" and are no indication of the size or typical application of bicycle messengers outside what can generally be regarded as the western concept of bicycle messengers. Beijing is estimated to have up to 6,000 bicycle messengers today serving as an important part of the infrastructure. In fact many of the largest most populous urban areas utilize bicycle messengers far more effectively than Western civilization. Buenos Aires, for example, also estimates several thousand bicycle messengers working to deliver packages each day.[citation needed] This efficient use of the messenger for any task has seen little decline even in the wake of the information age. The "messenger scene" is in all likelihood only a tiny portion of the industry as a whole.

Messenger associations:

* The International Federation of Bicycle Messenger Associations
* The District of Columbia Bicycle Courier Association
* The London Bicycle Messenger Association
* The New York Bike Messenger Association
* Sydney Bike Messengers Association
* Cycle Banditos Illegal - messengers in Budapest
* The Portland United Messenger Association
* Minneapolis Bike Messenger Association
* The San Francisco Bike Messenger Association
* The Windy City Bike Messenger Association
* The Denver Professional Bike Messenger's Association
* The Atlanta Bicycle Messenger Association
* Dutch Messengers Association
* The Helsinki Bike Messenger Association
* Toronto Hoof & Cycle
* Oslo Bike Messenger Association
* Frankfurt's Finest Messengers e.V. - Frankfurt's Cycle Messenger AssociationPermission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, with no Front-Cover Texts, and with no Back-Cover Texts.
Virtual Magic is a human knowledge database blog. Text Based On Information From Wikipedia, Under The GNU Free Documentation License. Copyright (c) 2007 Virtual Magic. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.1 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU Free Documentation License".

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