[messengers] In the saddle with the chain gang

Date: 13 Jul 2010 14:19:31 +0200
From: Joe Hendry <messvilleto@xxxxxxxxx>






ENCOUNTER: In the saddle with the chain gang

 

Lauren Mentjox | 

 

The Auklander, 10th July 2010

 

 

 

He's one of the remaining few - racing against the email.
But golden years or not, he still loves the freedom of the ride. Lauren Mentjox
talks to this two-wheel devotee.

 

WHO: Mike Naylor

WHAT: Bicycle courier

WHERE: Bike Central

WHY: To find out if bike couriers are crazy

 

Mike Naylor belongs to a select few you might see whiz past
in the city as they race down hills, zig-zag through traffic and run red lights
if they have to.

 

Up there on pedals, lungs pumping, bike couriers are paid to
deliver. They are not paid to follow the road rules. Getting from Parnell to
Kingsland in 15 minutes won't happen if you have to stop at every red light.

 

Mike - known as "Old Mike" to  other couriers - has been a peddlie for about
12 years, the last five in Auckland.

 

With piercing blue eyes, wild grey hair and rough Jersey accent, his philosophy on life is as freewheeling
as his chosen profession. "Work is metaphysical for me," he says.
"My bike is like a magic carpet. It takes on a reality of its own and I
don't know I am riding it half the time. If they send you work you have to have
a positive outlook.

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You have to say I'm on my way."

 

I meet him at Bike Central on Britomart Place, a one-stop shop and cafe
where couriers (and cycle commuters) chill out and drink coffee, take a shower
and keep a change of clothes in winter.

 

It still looks new, with bright orange and black vinyl
chairs, bike paraphernalia hanging from the ceiling, and a glass counter laden
with energy-filled gourmet pies, sandwiches and brioches.

 

Mike showers here most mornings after he's picked up his
bike from a locker at Pier One on the quay.

 

"It gives me rhythm in my day," he says. "I
get off my ferry every day and I say, 'Good morning, downtown ferry terminal,
ready for work'."

 

Mike lives on Waiheke
Island, but he is originally from
Jersey in the Channel Islands. He lived all
over the world before  coming to New Zealand.  He once travelled through Europe, Iran, Afghanistan
and India
by bus, playing clarinet with a band of Danish hippies.

 

He became a bike courier in Perth. "I was riding my bike and I
figured I could make a living out of it. Then, a month or two later, I lost my
job and a friend suggested cycle couriering.

 

"It really is a fun job," he says. "It's
elevatory. There are sides to it that I don't like, but there are sides to
anything you do that transcend any form of verbal description. You have your
bad days, obviously."

 

Like the time he was hit by a bus.

 

That was two years ago and Mike says the accident was 95 per
cent his fault. "I just turned in front of a bus. It was only starting up
so I was okay. It wasn't going flat tack."

 

It was the bike repairs that kept him away from work the
next day rather than any injuries.

 

He was lucky. Land Transport New Zealand statistics show
that about 100 bicycle crashes a year are reported in Auckland City.

 

Couriers have to be constantly on the lookout for drivers
who turn without indicating, pedestrians stepping out into traffic, or doors
swinging open from parked cars. But it's as dangerous as you make it, says
Mike, who says he stops for red lights.

 

Faithful to two wheels, he has never owned a car.
"Never had the need for one," he says. "The poor old
four-wheeler has to find somewhere to park, pay a meter and [you have to] get
out of the car and back again.

 

"I realise we have to have a combustion engine, but the
way we use it is absolutely absurd."

 

His bike isn't much to look at: "It's ASB," he
says. "All spare bits. I just put it together as it falls apart. Like
Lance Armstrong says, 'It's not about the bike'."

 

Looking back, the years leading up to the late 1990s were
the golden age of bicycle couriers. Email hadn't caught on in a big way and
business was booming.

 

In the mornings, gangs of couriers would hang out drinking coffee
on Vulcan Lane
and, in the evenings, their pub of choice was Margaritas on Elliott St.

 

Back then, a top rider could earn as much as $2000 some
weeks, and plenty were pulling in $1000. Now they're lucky if they make $600.

 

Couriers have had to diversify into carrying things like
head gaskets and ride further out for jobs - to Newmarket, Grey Lynn and
Parnell - to survive.

 

As a result, there are fewer of them, about 20 in Auckland these days.

 

Those who stay on do so because they're not nine to fivers.
They love the outdoors and the freedom that comes with the job.

 

It's difficult to imagine Mike doing anything else.

 

"It's an addiction and like any addiction it's hard to
kick," he says.

 

"If you give something up then you are  pre-empting the cosmic finger. It sounds
superficial but it ain't. It's all about event flow."

 




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