Firstly, I love adding photos to my text to bring the whole story to life, but this one is different. When I read this one back to myself after first writing it, the pictures appeared in the words for me, and I hope they do for you. So here we go, with only one ‘not very traditional’ courier picture. I think most cyclists may have a) wondered b) enquired about c) watched a documentary d) knows someone who does it e) actually done it, in relation to cycle couriering. As a career, its been well documented in books, films and songs, and every time I see a cycle courier, I wonder about it as one of those life experiences that I should’ve maybe done/should even do. Equally importantly, I’m fascinated by the people that do it and their diverse backgrounds, and styles.
There’s a laboratory next door to where I work and they use cycle couriers everyday as they move around various human test samples and results. There are five particular couriers that I see regularly, which doesn’t mean I’m staring out of the window at cyclists all day, its just that I see them as I go about my work in our own building, next door the laboratory.
Firstly, what is common between the five of them is that their obviously 21st century-technology-connected from communication to tracking. But, the game remains the same, get package and deliver it, safely and quickly. The size of the packages varies considerably. Sometimes its a courier with a bag and sometimes its a bag with a courier attached to it.
Secondly, they are well connected with other transport systems and you see couriers waiting at railway stations ready to hand over or pick up something from a passenger or the train guard.
Based on my observations, and as I don’t know these couriers personally, my perceptions, let me introduce the five of them to you……..
Male. Aged about 30. No visible tattoos, but possibly has one or two. He looks like a cross between a cyclist (his body) and a well turned out lawyer (always clean shaven face and a great hair cut). He looks super-alert and seems to observe all of the people around him, and he seems to be able to read people, so he’s probably got a high level of emotional intelligence. He rides an old-ish matt black Caannondale road bike, that is fitted with long mudguards. He uses pedals that are flat one side and SPD clip less on the other side. He is aways eating fruit and (probably) has a lot of smoothies as well. He must do sports in his spare time as well as just couriering because his watch is a heart monitor as well. He does wear a wedding ring. His clothes are always clean and his socks never match. If its a cold day, he wears black cycling tights underneath some long shorts. When he’s waiting outside the building in the sunshine, he reads paperback books. He probably listens to Jazz on his headphones.
Female. Aged mid-twenties. Redd-ish hair, slim and sporty looking and probably just good at all sports. She always looks good and seems happy with life. She also, always says hello when greeted and she seems to operate in an efficient way. She rides a Trek carbon road bike with snap-on mudguards and SPD clipless pedals. Her red jacket has some gravel rash on the right sleeve, so she’s obviously had an ‘off’ at some point, but not enough damage to throw the jacket away. She takes off really fast from a standing start on her bike. I’ve heard her speak more than one language in addition to English when she’s on her phone & radio. She has the latest Garmin bike computer and sings along with whatever she’s listening to on her headphones. She’s good at bunny-hopping kerbs too!
Male. Late twenties. Tall and looks Spanish or Portuguese. His skin is a shiny, olive colour. He rides an unbranded, home built looking bike with a grey frame, wide handlebars, an orange carbon 3-spoke front wheel and a portable, bluetooth sound system attached to his handlebars. You can hear him coming from some distance away, and the music always has a strong drum beat to it. I guess its like having a loud motorcycle – people hear you coming, so you get heard before you’re seen and its safer. He seems to be able to fit his ‘5-a-day’ inside a croissant. He’s got a strong looking body, but isn’t fat. He pushes really big gears on his bike, starting slow, but winding up to a fast spin, just like a track racer. Once he’s got the bike spinning, he has mastered the art of ‘the manual’. I’m really not great at wheelying a bike, and even worse at trying the freewheel manualling, so he gets my full respect. He wears several rings that indicate everything except marriage, and wears a massive Swiss watch on his right wrist. His helmet is a BMX jump-style lid that is covered in stickers.
Female. Early thirties. She rides an electric cargo bike, which has two big wheels at the front, and either side of a big box. the bike has a weird steering mechanism, but is really well engineered. She obviously takes the big packages and I’m amazed at how fast this electric bike actually goes, and she doesn’t look anymore out of breath riding this massive machine in comparison to the other couriers. She has a tattoo with the words ‘Super Fast!’ just under her right ear, which can only be seen when she has her shoulder length hair tied bike. I’m told by someone in our office who knows her, that she is a ski instructor and racer in the winter, and courier in the summer. There is a small cabin which sells coffee and cakes just adjacent to the laboratory, and it has a reputation for great cappuccinos, and this seems to be where she stops for a break and a coffee. Occasionally, she’ll also have a cigarette if she is with some friends that have met her at this coffee cabin.
Interesting one this one, and not your traditional or even stereotype courier. He arrives on the railway station platform by riding up one of the passenger walkways that slopes upwards from the underpass, and which goes under the tracks. He looks like he’s pedalling a big gear up the slope. He’s dressed in tight trousers, with both leg bottoms rolled up to reveal different coloured socks. He’s wearing a tweed jacket, that has a definitely different cut to it, and looks like it was made for cycling in. He’s wearing a white, waterproof courier-style rucksack that’s probably got important documents inside it, and he has on his head, one of those collapsable cycling helmets, which just about keeps his blond hair in order. He’s average height and medium build. As he steps off his bike, he gets the attention of other people on the platform, because his vivid-blue coloured bike folds up in seconds. He’s obviously used to people staring at him and doesn’t mind either. His bike is a British designed Strida, which has a triangular shaped frame, small wheels, disc brakes and belt drive. Folding it up is fast and is entertaining for those that haven’t seen it done before. The train comes in and he jumps into first class. He puts his Strida neatly on the luggage rack above the seat and sits down, facing in the direction that the train is travelling in. He makes a quick phone call, and then starts to read something on his iPad as the train pulls out of the station. Reading this description, he sounds like a trendy commuter, but I know that he’s a true, modern day courier, providing transport for business documentation which has to be handled securely, and only in hard copy format.
For me, couriers are a keystone in integrating the bicycle into the transport and business worlds, providing a fast and simple service, and it also looks very cool to do the job. So, could I do it 365 days a year? Quite probably. The attention to style and image goes towards creating a culture that is also very attractive. If I ever need a Plan B for a job, I’d give couriering a go, quite probably.