[messengers] Stars Get Lessons in Life Out of the Bike Lane

Date: 18 Oct 2010 13:07:55 +0200
From: Joe Hendry <messvilleto@xxxxxxxxx>

Spokes | Stars Get Lessons in Life Out of the Bike Lane 


New York Times, October 16, 2010





FLYING on my bicycle down the dotted line between lanes on Park Avenue , I had a decision to make. I could follow
Dave Jordan as he rode between rows of slow-moving traffic. That would mean
bobbing and ducking around rearview mirrors that jutted out from vans like
reflective baseball gloves to catch any passing helmeted head. Or I could slow
down and go with the flow of traffic. 


It is the kind of decision confronted less often by the
city’s riders in today’s bike-lane era, where green swaths of cyclist-only
pavement knit neighborhoods together for even the most cautious of two-wheeled


Riding in the city is still far from safe, to be sure, but
it generally does not require help from a lifelong racer and cycling trainer
like Mr. Jordan .
I had asked him for a lesson in tangling with traffic so I could get a feel for
the coaching he had given to Hollywood actors last summer for their roles in
“Premium Rush,” a film about New York 
bike messengers that is to be released in early 2012. 



Eirini Vourloumis for The New York Times 

Mr. Jordan ,
41, had to take the film’s star, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and a handful of other
actors whose bike experience consisted mostly of beachside jaunts in Malibu , he said, and teach them how to ride the New York streets like a


His first bit of advice: “Be the fish in the coral.” The
city is like a reef, he said, and the cyclist has to navigate through the
“schools” of pedestrians and the occasional shark — a tractor trailer. For
everyone on the street — pedestrians and drivers as well as cyclists — “all the
paint on the road, the crosswalks, the lanes are merely suggestions in New York City ,” he said.
Even with guidance from Mr. Jordan ,
the actors and some of the stunt doubles suffered injuries, including broken
bones and lacerations. 


“Cool” is how Mr. Gordon-Levitt described his bloody arm in
a YouTube clip posted after he collided with the back of a taxi during filming.
(That crash scars are cool appears to be part of the mythos about messengers.) 


“Premium Rush” is only the latest big-budget Hollywood film to focus on the cult of the courier. There
was “Quicksilver,” from 1986, starring Kevin Bacon in the redemptive tale of a
Wall-Street-trader-turned-track-bike-riding-deliveryman. Outside the big
studios, there have been small productions, documentaries and YouTube videos
focused on street riding, like “Empire” (2011), a documentary that follows
riders around the city, and those shown at the 10-year-old Bicycle Film


As for “Premium Rush,” the plot details remain a secret
guarded by Sony Pictures, but the broad contours are known: a group of
messengers comes into possession of a highly-sought-after and valuable package
from Columbia University that they must deliver. They
are pursued by a dirty cop and a cavalcade of other treasure-seekers. “Every
party that hears about it wants a piece,” Mr. Jordan said. “I don’t want to say
it’s a Western, but. …” 


In fact, there has long been a kind of John Wayne style to
the messenger image: independent, rugged, righteous. “I think that the
messenger job gets romanticized,” said Michael Green, a former messenger and
the writer of BikeBlogNYC. And like the cowboy, the messenger now exists mostly
as a symbol. The actual number of New
  York couriers has declined since their heyday in the


Besides Mr. Jordan, who lives on the Upper
 West Side and directs a bike-racing team with a graffiti artist,
Zephyr, as his silent partner, other fixtures in the local bike scene took part
in the film’s production. They included two well-known messengers, Austin
Horse, who rode as a stunt double for Mr. Gordon-Levitt, and Kevin Bolger, who
is known as Squid, who acted as a consultant. Affinity Cycles in Williamsburg built the
custom fixed-gear bikes used on the shoot. 


My own lesson with Mr. Jordan lasted about two hours and
consisted of traffic riding and some skills that, as a regular bike commuter, I
should have been better at. But who regularly performs track stands — holding
the bicycle stationary — on their way to work, or finds the need to bend over
and pick up a water bottle at speed? 


As for that gantlet of narrowly spaced cars on Park Avenue , I passed through, no problem. Riding in this
city, you learn to navigate in a way that feels safe and doesn’t leave behind a
trail of disgruntled pedestrians or drivers. 


“I’d rather be in the traffic than in a bike lane, quite
honestly,” Mr. Jordan 
said, “because I’m going the same speed.” 


After we said goodbye, I returned to the comfortable green



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