I spent quite a few years working as a bicycle courier in London and it is without a doubt one of the hardest and most enjoyable jobs I’ve ever done. There are days when the time just flies by, all you focus on is what’s in front of you and the next drop/pick up. Weaving through traffic, spotting the perfect line and squeezing through that seeming impossible gap. Calmly judging your speed and distance, taking every movement into account to float through what appears stupid to onlookers but is actually completely calculated to the very millimeter.
I’ll admit at times I rode like an asshole and others I was super chilled, I guess this is part of the attraction; you can choose how you ride, how much you want to physically push yourself. I had days where I pushed so hard that by the end of the week my legs and body were a shaky mess. I remember waking up in the morning on Wednesdays not thinking I could ride another meter but I pushed through and somehow made it and once Friday morning came I was cruising around with a smile on my face because I knew my body had two days to recover and couldn’t wait to get to Bar 170 for a cold beer and hang out with mates.
When I started working as a courier it was meant be a part time job, one to earn some extra cash whilst at university. A lot of people get into it this way, and many end up staying at it like I did. Being a courier is like being in the Mafia (though I’ve never been in the Mafia), it’s a close family who look out for each other, one that is nearly impossible to leave.
I managed to leave on a couple of occasions though always found myself back there riding the streets. I think any other job seems boring in comparison, and you just end up feeling claustrophobic. Countless times I got fed up and went and found a job in various bike shops, though never attended the first day of work. I just ended up back at the courier base getting my radio and docket sheets back, spending the day riding around smiling and giggling to myself that I had made the right choice. I’d be bored shitless stuck in a bike shop all day listening to people talk rubbish and ask stupid questions, why would I want to be stuck inside looking at bikes when I could be outside riding mine?
The courier scene in London is amazing, it’s a close knit community where everyone supports each other. Back in the day alleycat races were put on to raise money for injured riders and this led way for a few hard working individuals to set up the London Courier Emergency Fund (LCEF), the aim of which was to raise money for couriers injured at work. It was a dark, heart stopping week when two messengers were both hit by lorries in the same day. Efrim and Chewbacca both luckily rode again after those crashes but after the tragic loss of Sebastian in a similar accident in 2004, the London couriers mobilised to further support each other. HGV’s have been the cause of too many accidents with cyclists, and responsible for a large number of deaths, there have been campaigns and petitions but all seem to have been in vain.
Old school courier Buffalo Bill has been an outspoken voice for years on this subject, and has always been supportive of the courier scene, an active member of the the London Bicycle Messenger Association (LBMA), organiser of the 2nd Cycle Messenger World Championships (CMWC) and recipient of the Marcus Cook Award for Service to the International Messenger Community. He understands what it is to be a messenger and the dangers they face daily and takes the time to educate many via the Moving Target website. Originally a zine printed on paper, the site has come leaps and bounds and is now the place couriers can congregate online and discuss/moan about their daily stresses and organise events to support each other and keep the community alive.
Why do couriers choose such a dangerous job? Well it’s certainly not the money, you will always hear couriers talk about the golden days when you could earn a million pounds before breakfast, but the reality is its the freedom of the job, the wind in your hair, riding all day, pushing yourself further than you ever felt possible and the chance to be an ‘urban cowboy’. I loved my time as a courier, and would recommend it as a job…though its not for everyone it’s definitely a great and eye opening experience. Will there be couriers in the distant future? Who knows, it’s no secret that the work is diminishing due to the internet. I hope it doesn’t end, couriers have been around for hundreds of years and it would be great if this continued for hundreds more. Long live the bicycle courier!