[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

   

By J. DAVID GOODMAN

   

   

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
beginners. 

   

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
messenger. 

   

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
Festival. 

   

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
1980s. 

   

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
swath.

   

  

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