Everything you’ve always wanted to know about cycle couriers, but were afraid to ask

I’m endlessly intrigued by who reads this blog. In the beginning it was just my dad. Then Messenger of Doom found it whilst searching for ‘coffee and bikes’ or some such, and pretty soon it was being linked to on Moving Target, and House of Pistard, and real live couriers started reading, and I got all worried that I’d be flamed for misrepresenting the industry. And somehow, along the way, various friends and strangers have also stumbled across it. How did you end up here?

I like the variety of my readership. I like that there are couriers and ex-couriers reading this who will recognize my descriptions of the job – or pile in indignantly and say it’s nothing like that really, and you should see how it was back in 1986. And I like equally that there are people reading this who know nothing about cycle couriers, or any of the little trials and tribulations we face, and for whom this is an entirely new world. Which are you?

And one of the best things about writing this blog is hearing people’s reactions and responses to what I say. And they often have questions about couriering, and cycling, and London, that had never occurred to me before. And the discussions that evolve as I try to answer them are nothing short of inspiring. Last night, a friend (who will be reading this), requested:

more words!

any interesting observations on other rare species of the urban ecosystem

a little unsheathed vitriol

I have made a note, good sir, and all are forthcoming.

And what about you? What would you like to ask? Is there any particular aspect of courier life you want to know about? If you have a question, no matter how peculiar, leave me a comment, and I’ll do my best to answer it in future posts, either with my usual waffle, or by picking the brains of fellow couriers.

Hmmm, this could be fun…

Advertisements

30 Responses to “Everything you’ve always wanted to know about cycle couriers, but were afraid to ask”

  1. >L. Says:

    just stumbled across this blog while doing some research on internet material about female bike messengers. that was a while ago and i still keep visiting.
    there are probably different reasons why.
    for once i have this strange solidarity thought about other female couriers. it’s like ‘we’ had to stick together. while i really don’t want to make anything about gender in my ‘other’ life, working on the bike among mostly men has made me sensible about pointing out that females are rare in that business but there and hardly recognised. not even to mention the queers and gays. and the connection between them is mostly not existing. at least in my city. this scene is still so much backward in some ways..

    so i really enjoy to read about your view on certain issues. about the experiences you make. you are definitely one of those persons i’d like to meet somewhere someday and have a chat in the real world.

    another good thing about this blog is your stories seem real and grounded, not being made up to impress a possible readership.
    they are well written, funny, informative, .. *place a few more compliments in here* – i think you’ve heard that before.

    anyway, i need to work now.

    cheers from another place in europe

  2. David Says:

    I work all day in an office, programming. I like my job, actually, but I also love cycling and have often wondered what life might be like as a courier. Your blog has given me the best insight. Thank you for this, and I hope you keep posting.

    David

  3. adam roberts Says:

    Dear TMC, I’ve got friends who have been and are London couriers
    and as a cyclist and Londoner I am fascinated in the job as it combines so many things I interested in -especially an amazing detailed knowledge of the city combined with the freedom a bicycle brings.Also the sheer toughness needed to get through a day/week/month -inspires me to do my commute – also the aesthetics-the ‘street angel’ vibe.Lots of lovely and crazy characters – Red Roger springs to mind!
    I like your stories and photos- they really conjure up London for me, especially as I’m living away now.Wish a new Foundry could arise phoenix like from the ashes.Peace out…Adam

  4. adam roberts Says:

    Dear TMC – i do have a specific question- what’s your view on underwear?
    I’ve always been interested in what different couriers wear -my mate Gertie wears Assos bib shorts.But it can’t be comfortable wearing lyca for 10 hours a day.I now just wear boxer shorts, thick jeans and use a Brooks saddle, but I’m only on a bike up to 2 hrs a day.
    Hope this is an acceptable subject for discourse
    Adam!

    • thatmessengerchick Says:

      Interesting question, though it has the potential to go in all the wrong directions…

      I wear roadie lycra under whatever other jeans/combats/shorts/skirt I have on, and prefer it to cotton pants – I think because of the padding, and the seamless crotch, and the fact that cycling shorts are designed not to harbour sweat or germs. I still get saddlesore from time to time, but it’s a lot worse without cycling shorts.

      But I’m now interested to know what everyone else wears! Will investigate, and report back.

  5. David Says:

    Different David from the one above :-). I’m the father of a courier in London and she is the one who first sent me a link to the blog. I’ve always been interested in other cultures, and I find your blog a very interesting, accessible and understandable insight into the world and culture of couriers (as opposed to some other abstruse books that I’ve read on the subject!!). It conveys vividly the everyday aspects of the job – the ups and the downs – but what comes through is an overall joy and satisfaction with the work.
    I’m also fascinated with the gear you guys put on – when I’ve seen my daughter “dressed” for work, I always have this image of a medieval knight girded up in armour going out to do battle! (for chainmail, armour, helmet and lance, think wicking layer, fleece, capri pants, fingerless gloves, PDA and a bloody great bike lock locked around the waist!). Is there a “perfect” courier outfit for the cold, wet London winter? Inquiring minds want to know! πŸ™‚

    • thatmessengerchick Says:

      Oh, I love that image! (In fact, I’ll probably end up stealing it sometime.)

      And I have thought about doing a post on the perfect winter outfit, but the idea I had involved photos, and I’m shy about putting pictures of myself on here. But maybe if I can persuade someone else to model for me…

      Watch this space.

  6. wg167 Says:

    fellow courier here.
    i love the blog, its articulate and well done, i like hearing about and seeing London.

    but the main reason i keep reading is bc pretty much every post i think, “yeah, that! *exactly*”.
    its nice to see someone else who’s too tired when they come home to put air in their tires for days,
    struggles with the paycheck,
    was a rookie who couldnt change gears,
    finally got a decent jacket,
    isnt straight,
    is full of rage when the 37th ped of the day tries to kill you
    and can describe all the good and powerful things that keep us at it in the face of common sense.

    pretty much every post on here i plan on commenting on with at least a ‘right on’ or ‘me too’.
    but usually, i’m too tired so i just think it in the direction of the screen.

  7. a cyclist Says:

    I found your blog doing some research online for writing a sitcom (yes, I had considered writing a show about couriers in the vein of the US 80s sitcome “taxi”, but it was just an idea).

    I live in London and get around most places by cycling, but I really enjoy cycling outside the city for fun. I don’t consider what you do on a daily basis much fun at all! (dislikes: pedestrians, exhaust, white vans, bad cycling infrastructre — but that’s an entirely different rant. I’m one of the folks who is hoping for a revolution of sorts for cycling in Britian, like these guys http://cyclelondoncity.blogspot.com/)

    I guess that’s why I’m interested in why someone would choose such a profession. (In this day, I’m sure the Internet hasn’t made business for this type of delivery service easier – I often wonder what is is you are delivering, I imagine mainly things that still take up a lot of bandwith like videos/film or maybe architectural drawings).

    Having found your site, I really enjoy it because it is well written! It makes me think. Sometimes a female courier will jump that stupid matrix of lights at Holborn ahead of me, and I think to myself, I wonder if she is “that messenger chick”! I just like hearing different perspectives on what is like to live and work in this city.

    (and no, I don’t think its wrong to jump lights, controversial stance it may be)

    • thatmessengerchick Says:

      If she’s jumping lights then she’s almost certainly not me. I’m the goofy-looking one stopping for all the reds and some of the yellows too, because I’m lazy and want a rest. (Or am deliberately winding up the cabbie behind me.)

  8. super ape Says:

    adam roberts, i presume you are not a woman. as a man-cycle-courier maybe i can help. anything is fine as long as your saddle is nice for you. i use a charge spoon, and wear from 1 to 3 layers (just shorts, shorts/jeans and boxers, shorts/leggings/boxers) and it is all kosher. no pussy padded shorts here, fuck that shit. sit on something that doesn’t cause numbness of the penis and you will be fine.

  9. Cudzoziemiec Says:

    I’m not a cycle courier past or present (and highly unlikely I will be in the future) nor would I say I even have a great interest in couriers as a species. I’ve already mentioned how I found your blog – a prominent poster on a forum I inhabit sometimes links to her own blog, which in turn has links to a dozen or more other blogs, of which yours is one. I recognised your name and profession, so had a look. I like the fact that for you, being a courier is indeed a profession, not just employment. It’s interesting to read about what someone does all day when they love that occupation and are able to identify both the mundane and the fascinating within it – or rather, to find the mundane fascinating. It’s a bit like spending time with a toddler! A highly articulate, intelligent and thoughtful toddler, I should say, but there is that level of curiosity towards the everyday and ability to see beauty in the usually ignored.

    Anything else I’d like to read about from you? Not tat springs to mind. Bikes, cup cakes, magnolias and the oddities of clients, road users and colleagues are pretty satisfying.

  10. Chrissy J Says:

    Who am I? Just a random occasional cyclist, who was blog browsing whilst learning about fixies. I’m not a Southerner, either!
    Your content is literate and interesting, and that counts for a lot when there’s an awful amount of illiterate crap posted by people who should know better.

  11. Alex Says:

    For me the most admirable thing about the courier is the way they seamlessly navigate the great swathes of traffic in a nonchalant, effortless manner that belies immortality. I’m sorry if this view comes across as childish.
    So I’m interested to know what is the best riding you have ever done and what is the most risky but got away with? And what/which riders do you consider to have the best skills and what examples of their riding have been particularly impressive to you? Also when/can you do track stands and skids and where do you do them, and how did you learn to do a skid if you can?

    I think that is it. I think you are an amazing writer by the way and I absolutely love this blog. Please keep doing more posts on bad traffic and good cycling.

  12. Ben Says:

    Stuck in an office working for a property company in the west end, been riding in London for years now and stumbled across this via Moving Target.

    Got onto that after hearing about ally cats, stumbled across ally cats when a guy asked me where the ‘check point’ was a few years back when hammering down Bishopsgate, with interest piqued when pulled for slipping over a red and questioned about ally cats by a van with a PC attached.

    Really like the blog. Its excellently written and gets my head out the office. Plus it got me onto various bits of kit that has made the winter more comfortable.

    Indecently my other half runs a cake/coffee shop in Hove. Anyone consuming both with great regularity would have a good opinion on what makes both worth their weight in gold.

    BG

  13. thatmessengerchick Says:

    Oh my goodness. I feel I ought to say – I didn’t write this post with the intention of soliciting so many compliments. I’m quite embarrassed that that seems to have been the effect. (And it shows what a bad writer I actually am – what I really wanted was suggestions, not flattery.)

    Nonetheless, thank you. πŸ™‚

  14. swing and a miss Says:

    full time messenger over in philadelphia, usa. always dreamed of working in london. i lurk hop and moving target as well.

  15. commuterbloke Says:

    I think I stumbled across your blog while browsing cycle blogs last year. I was immediately struck by the witty, intelligent and deeply thoughtful nature of your writing and have been coming back to read every so often since. Please carry on for a long time, both as courier and blogger.

    I’ve always found couriers fascinating but never have the courage to strike up a chat at red lights for fear of being sneered at, I’m a mere commuter after all. You definitely are a breed apart on the road, respect is due. What your blog has taught me is that just as in any other walk of life it really does take all sorts and you won’t necessarily bite.

    I wonder why the majority of couriers shun helmets? Is it an image thing? Weight? Strikes me that while you lot perhaps have more of an instinctive feel for danger there will always be accidents. I know my helmet has kept my noggin in one piece in a couple of unavoidable accidents, if not saved my life when a car pulled out right in front of me a few months back.

    So if I see a battered black Condor Pista alongside me at a set of lights I’ll say hello. If you see a slightly battered red Puch 5 speed please do the same.

    • thatmessengerchick Says:

      It’s actually a yellow/orange Joe Waugh these days – the Condor has finally been retired. Give me a shout if you see me. I don’t bite, unless you do something stupid, like cutting me up. (And if you do, my forgiveness can be bought with doughnuts.)

      • commuterbloke Says:

        Heh, yeah I saw that about 5 minutes after I posted. You’ll be easier to spot on the road now. Evelyn replaces Joe I assume?

        @spaceman – I’ll keep my eyes peeled for you. I checked your blog, reminds me of my former life; hip hop and substances! This is me: http://fbcdn-sphotos-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash2/73016_10150089167685883_675780882_8030964_2344826_n.jpg

      • commuterbloke Says:

        PS. Next time you see Crazy Socks say Hi from me, we’ve been exchanging emails in the LCC mag last couple of months, he’ll know what you’re on about.

      • thatmessengerchick Says:

        I love how we all recognize each other by our bikes! It’s the same among couriers.

        “Do you know so-and-so?”
        “Not sure – what’s he look like?”
        “Oh, you know, tall bloke, mid-twenties, dark hair…”
        “That’s basically 50% of people on the circuit!”
        “Ah, OK – green Cinelli frame; purple Chrome bag.”
        “Oh yes – I know exactly who you mean!”

      • commuterbloke Says:

        There’s probably a photo essay in there somewhere…

  16. spaceman Says:

    commuterbloke, you sound a top guy, if you see me on this say who you are man!

    http://kainedbutable.wordpress.com/2011/04/13/do-not-you-understand-bro/dscf0696/

    ^that’s my ride

  17. max Says:

    HELP!

    So i have been reading your blog since i followed the link from MT and haven’t left since. If it wasn’t for you i would be stuck inside the catering trade and slowly going insane.
    So here i am in Brum not exactly a cycle courier but it’s as close as i am going to get in this part of England.
    Started off with a Bike (which was formed from the essence of pure evil) that was quickly dumped at the first opportunity now i have three bikes and the greatest LBS in the world (it’s next door to work and they put up with me…..ok,… they smile and nod).
    I have experienced pain like never before, i’ve wanted to kill my way through a que at the shops so i could pay and finally eat something and i have been so tired i have wanted to cry (but i didn’t cause i’m a tough girl…..honest)

    I have been at it for only a few months (praise be to Gore Tex) and there was a point where i thought i had finally reached Nirvana, actually becoming one with my bike, and my lungs not trying to escape or looking down at my legs to see if some sneaky tike had tide lead weights to them.

    I don’t know when or what caused it to happen but, i don’t have the same tingly feeling i used to get when i got a text to say ‘can you do such and such day’ it takes me six miles to warm up (before it was instant) and i look forward to not being called.

    It’s a great job, freedom, getting paid to ride around (makes me feel like a cowgirl (and yes i do sing the ‘Raw Hide’ tune and ‘Whip Crack Away’

    Why do i feel so blah, is it just a phase! will i get my groove back! has this ever happened to you.

    From
    Max (most likely the slowest girl in Birmingham)

  18. Angus Carnie Says:

    I think bicycle couriers are a great idea I am a same day courier based in Manchester. I wish we had access to some up here!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: