[messengers] Bike Messengers: They Treasure Independence, Skills

Date: 23 May 2010 03:10:46 +0200
From: Joe Hendry <messvilleto@xxxxxxxxx>


Bike Messengers: They Treasure Independence, Skills

 

Brooklyn Eagle, May 21,
2010

 

By Mike Weiss

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

 

BROOKLYN — You’re out on
the streets from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in rain and snow. If you’re from Brooklyn, it means you’re crossing the bridges five, six
times a day. To make a little extra, you’re also riding the night food delivery
circuit, delivering noodles and burgers from restaurants until midnight. It’s a
long day spent dodging cars, trying to stay healthy, racing just to make enough
money to keep ahead.

 

If making it on the streets of New York is war, bike messengers are on the
front lines, overworked, under-appreciated and often underpaid.

 

Hugo Giron is trying to change this. By starting the first
messenger service based in Brooklyn, he’s
bringing a new business model to the industry.

 

“I saw an opportunity and I took it,” Giron said. “Independence,
self-reliance — that’s the true spirit of the courier.”

 

Started in 2007, Giron’s Snap Delivery and its combination
of a messenger-owned courier service, with riders knowledgeable about the neighborhood,
is changing perceptions about messenger companies. In the process, the business
is forging a new reputation for bike messengers as being more responsible and
professional.

 

“There wasn’t a mystique, it wasn’t looked on as anything
like a mystique until the late ’70s,” Dave Perry said about the bike messenger
phenomenon. “Then in the mid-’80s, you had movies like Quicksilver and Spike
Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It, and that bike cap he wore with ‘Brooklyn’ on it.”

 

Williamsburg resident Perry
has been part of the New York bike world since
moving to Brooklyn in 1979. A former racer in
California, he is a bike advocate, author of the underground classic Bike Cult
(1995) and since 2000 the owner of Bike Works NYC, a bike store on the Lower
East Side.

 

“In the ’90s they started the Messenger World Championships,
and there was a lot of interest. The messenger bag transitioned over, every
designer had a messenger bag in their line,” Perry said, “but the heyday for
messenger pay was in the ’80s.”

 

Then in the late 1980s, fax machines became widespread. This
cut into the need to deliver documents and messengers were further pressured by
mayors Koch and Giuliani, each with their own crackdowns on bikers. When in the
mid-’90s broadband started reducing the need to deliver large documents and
photos, this also cut into the messenger business.

 

“Hipster messengers do food delivery at night,” Perry said
of the current Brooklyn scene. “In Manhattan you have more delivery cyclers who are
immigrants from other countries, not immigrants from like, Ohio.”

 

Shawn Lowery grew up in California,
lived in Cleveland, and left to become a bike messenger in New York. Now going on 14 years as a rider,
he has his own reason for being a messenger: “The freedom of it.”

 

Where else can you connect to the city so vividly, know the
streets, weave through traffic with nothing holding you back? And experienced
bike messengers use single-speed fixed gear bikes with no brakes, so there’s
only the control you get by back pedaling to reduce speed. With no gears and no
brakes, the bike, in the hands of a good rider, can be played like an
instrument as it moves through traffic. These bikes aren’t faster than those
with gears, but smoother experienced riders say they have more balance.

 

‘Original Gangsters’

 

The next step is racing. The Alley Cat races or “Alleycats”
are semi-formal races between messengers, sometimes with only a handful of
racers but sometimes with 50 or more moving through the streets for bragging
rights. If you can do this too, and do it long enough, you get a reputation on
the street and the badge of being called “OG” for “Original Gangster.”

 

“If that lingo works for you, then use it,” Hugo Giron said,
although he would prefer veteran messengers be referred to in more respectful
terms.

 

Sitting in Affinity Cycles, a bike store in Williamsburg, Giron explained why he started
Snap Delivery. While technically “seated” during the interview, Giron never
stops moving, responding to his cell, checking his laptop and able to field
questions all with the same seamless efficiency and directness he uses swerving
through traffic on the street.

 

“I was the kind of guy that couldn’t have a boss,” he said.

 

A native of Guatemala
  City, Giron moved to the States when he was 13 and
starting being a messenger at 16. He was also a racer, sponsored by Puma, and
worked as a messenger for companies in Manhattan,
where he saw how others ran their businesses.

 

“I thought it was a crime the way big courier companies do
it in the city,” he said. “The owner gives you only 30 percent of a run when
you put in 70 percent of the effort, and the rider is putting himself in
danger.”

 

In 2007, at age 25, he looked around, saw the unprofessional
state of bike messengering and realized there was an opportunity to start the
first messenger service based in Brooklyn.
Since then, Snap Delivery has grown to have 16 riders. He’s also building a
reputation in Williamsburg
for doing right by the people who work for him as well as for clients in the
neighborhood.

 

 

Heather Barnard, who works at Blue Angel Wines on Grand Street, knows
the importance of having a reliable way to make deliveries to her customers.

 

“In Williamsburg,
it’s definitely detrimental not to have a delivery service — and these guys are
good.” She also appreciates the eco-friendly benefits to the neighborhood that come
from a business that doesn’t use gas or produce emissions, and she’s eager to
support it.

 

Dan Hart, also a Snap client, works at M Noodle Shop on Metropolitan Avenue
near Union Street,
which does about 75 deliveries a night. Besides improving his own business, he
sees the effect Snap is having on other restaurants in the neighborhood. “They
provide deliveries for smaller restaurants that couldn’t do it on their own,”
Hart said.

 

Jason Gallacher would agree. The owner of Affinity Cycles on
Grand Street,
his shop has become an unofficial home base for messengers in Williamsburg. Gallacher appreciates the
service bike messengers provide and besides sponsoring track racers, Affinity
Cycles sponsors individual messengers and gives discounts to Snap Delivery
riders.

 

“We’re supportive of one another,” Gallacher said. “It’s a
community, and we do a lot for one another. It all very much comes back around,
that’s what makes the whole thing really great.”

 

 

 

 
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Mess media Bryant Watch
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