There are three important items of equipment necessary to be a bicycle messenger. The first is the bike. Next is the bag, without which packages get damaged or lost. Third and most importantly is the lock, the leash for the bike while one retrieves and delivers packages. My perspective on bicycle locks is different than the average consumer. I live and work in one of the busiest cities in the world with a notorious reputation for bicycle thieves. I alternate between riding and locking my bicycle to poles, trees, and racks in all weather conditions year round.
I was recently awarded an ABUS Bordo 6100 folding combination lock as a prize for my team’s podium performance in a recent messenger race. I decided to test out this unique folding link style of lock as spending my work day wearing a heavy chain around my hips affects my ability to walk normally. The links on the chain sometimes weigh heavily on my thighs preventing me from riding at the best of my ability. I needed an alternative.
When I first looked at the Bordo I noticed an empty pod in the packaging. I thought my prize was missing keys. Upon closer inspection, I realized it was to vigorously remind the user that keys were not necessary for the lock. This feature is marvelous. In the past I have lost keys, dropped them down subway grates that line most streets in Manhattan or simply worn them out from long term usage.
The Bordo comes with a carrying bracket that attaches to a standard water bottle cage mounts. It has two thick 1″ velcro straps for mounting to frames without water bottle bolts. I tossed the velco straps aside, using only water bottle bolts during installation.The compact size of the lock inside of the bracket enables it to be transported efficiently without awkwardly interfering with one’s legs during pedaling. The bracket has a rubber strip at the top of the bracket to keep the lock secure during transport. There is a square hole in the strip that corresponds to a notch on the outside of the bracket. It is simple to open and close with a firm tug of the rubber strip.
After removing the lock from the packaging, I noticed the weight was fairly substantial. I decided it was a good thing. More metal means a greater obstacle for thieves. After using a heavy chain for years its smaller heftiness would still be easier to haul around all day.
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A few months ago I was riding my bicycle along 6th Avenue, a busy 6 lane, one-way road, with the flow of traffic on a clear sunny day. I had packed my lunch and was heading to the office of Elite Couriers to refuel for the rest of the day’s activities. In the block before the intersection where I needed to make a right turn was a police car parked in the far right lane. In front of it was a food delivery guy. Traffic was snarled trying to get around the obstacle. In addition there were the gawkers who slow traffic further, curious to see why their forward progress was delayed.
As I attempted to ride around the cluster, a police officer jumped from the passenger side of the vehicle and ordered me to stop. He asked me for my ID. I asked him why. He told me because I was not using the bike lane on the other side of the road. I told him that I was making a right turn at the next intersection. He then made me wait in front of his patrol car as he checked my ID. It was a humiliating and infuriating experience. The police officer snagged another food delivery guy for the same reason as I waited.
I stood in front of the patrol car, my bike on the ground, arms folded. My blood was boiling. A few friends rolled by on their bikes, attempting to stop to see if I was OK. I vigorously waved them on. If the NYPD would cite me for something as trivial as not riding in the bike lane, I was certain they would cite them as well. Somewhere in the warped minds of HQ, it would be viewed as an effective sting against outlaw cyclists.
The police officer got out of the car, handing me my ticket last. I let him know that the law allows me to ride out of the bike lane if I am preparing to make a turn. His response as he handed me the ticket: “Tell it to the judge.”
On the pink ticket, a summons, there is a line indicating when the accused should appear in court. The line on my summons was blank. I was hoping to receive a letter in the mail saying that the matter would be dismissed. After two weeks, I received nothing. There are many cyclists in New York that ignore these minor tickets because they are deemed trivial. They fail to understand that they become warrants. If by some chance they meet another law enforcement agent in the future in New York City, they will be detained. I do not want that possibility dangling over my head. A month after being cited, I went to the Criminal Court to clear my name. (Writing that last sentence was painful, just the very notion of going to CRIMINAL court because I got caught making a right turn on a bike disgusts me.)
New York State Courts has a huge room with a roped-off maze to enable a long line to form. There are a hundred or so people waiting to check in for various violations and misdemeanors. Some cases are dismissed, others require a court room appearance. When I approached the window, I handed the clerk my ID and the summons filled out with a NOT GUILTY plea checked. I was handed a different piece of paper and directed to go to a court room down the hall. (This was all happening on a normal work day meaning that the more time I spent in court, the less time I spent at my paying job.)
I sat in the front row of the benches for the accused in the court room. I was eager to settle the matter and be on my way. Lingering in a dingy court room, listening to the variety of inappropriate behaviors witnessed and cited by the police, while an integral part of the US Constitutional right to a speedy and public trial, was not how I wanted to spend my day. I sat in the court room for several hours hearing case after case being called. The bailiff would call the accused forward, the judge would browse the information on the citations and say how much the fine was for the offense. The accused would either pay the relatively small fee and plead guilty or plead not guilty and return for a trial with the citing officer.
New York has a very high cost of living. As such, everyone needs to make lots of money to exist. Many people, even though innocent, plead guilty rather than waste more time returning to court. Frivolous tickets are a travesty of justice and a waste of both government and citizens’ resources.
I listened to all the cases for the morning. I was one of the last cases called. It was only after waiting for so long that I was told my case was scheduled the following month. I was early. The judge said my fine was to be $75. The public defender, who knew nothing about my case, asked if I was going to pay it. I looked her in the eye and boldly said no. She told me that I would have to come back for a trial as if it were going to be a more severe punishment. I told her that I was not guilty and that I could show her on my iphone the statute proving my innocence. I asked if they could dismiss the case. I was told the citing officer needed to be present. Great. Five hours wasted. No resolution. Still a suspected criminal.
On the official day of the court case, I arrived at 346 Broadway at 9am. I had a few tense words with security when they collected my bike pump, tools and helmet. They have sticker pairs where they keep your stuff, putting one sticker on your things and hand you the matching one for retrieval later. I told them not to put stickers on my helmet, the dude shrugged and did so anyway. I went to the appointed court room and handed my paper to the bailiff. (It was disturbing that I have been to Criminal Court for bicycle offenses enough that his face was familiar.) I took my seat on the first of the benches. I was hoping to be finished quickly. I sat as other people entered the court room. I kept an eye on the clock, hoping I would not have to waste another day sitting in court. There was a quiet tension in the air. Construction across the street from the windows made the occasional thundering boom as if we were on the edge of a war zone.
The bailiff stood at the front of the court and said amid all of the murmuring: Corey Hilliard. The noise diminished as he glared around the courtroom. He loudly said: RAISE YOUR HAND IF YOU’RE HERE! The woman sitting next to me and dozens of other nervous people around the courtroom all raised their hands. I laughed. He then said after getting everyone’s attention for people to raise their hands after their name was called. He called my name again. This time I was the only one to raise my hand. I was directed to talk to the public defender in the hallway.
The woman introduced herself and asked about the case. She showed me the ticket. I told her it looked different. Revised. I remember some information that was on the pink ticket, a duplicate of the one she was supposed to be viewing, missing. I told her everything that happened. I also gave her a printed copy of the exact statute that would exonerate me. She was impressed with my “legal research.” She kept the paper and we went back into the court room.
I waited as the first few cases were heard. This judge was in a good mood or just a very awesome guy from the old school approaching retirement. Many of the NY State judges are stern individuals that believe their job is to dish out punishment to the masses brought before them. One case was for public urination. The judge questioned the man about the affair that occured at 3 am. He asked if he had been drinking. The man replied yes. The judge told him to let it out before heading out of the house. The judge joked to the bailiffs as the man left the court room that “The kidneys break down after midnight.” Another case was of a young woman caught for public drinking. She was asked what what was her life story. She was a college student, majoring in criminology. The judge asked if she could find criminals. He said, “Look around do you see any criminals here? To me they look like citizens that got caught doing nothing.”
Officer Perez arrived. He sat in the bench closest to the front of the court room near the judge. I burned holes in the back of his head with my eyes for wasting my time. I watched as he was the only police officer in the court room, a rarity for low level citations. The bailiff called out for a Carlos Perez. It was a defendant in a case. Officer Perez sat back down. As we waited I noticed his feet shaking. He was nervous, uncertain. Good. This was going to be a battle of wills and I intended to win.
The public defender asked to speak outside once more. She asked more in depth questions about me. Have I been convicted of any crimes? No. Was I a messenger? I paused for a moment. New York City has been on an unofficial quest to legislate everything cycling related specifically messengers. Most of this legislation is all punitive in nature. Admission of my profession could be detrimental to my case. I told her that I was formerly a messenger. (Technically correct as I no longer operate Vespid Couriers in Philadelphia.) I told her that I was a free lance writer. (You are reading this right now…) She told me that the case would probably go well as the judge was happy-go-lucky and most other judges like to make everyone guilty. We returned again to the courtroom to hear more cases. She spoke to me once more before I was called. She told me that the maximum fine for my charge would be $270. I shrugged my shoulders. I had no intention of paying a cent. I was pissed and was planning to file a complaint immediately after the case. It had to be dismissed first.
My turn to have my case heard finally came. Officer Perez and I were called forward, me on the left, him on the right. Perez stated his badge number and precinct. I, with pen and paper in hand, wrote all of that down. The public defender and bailiffs were intrigued by my note taking. The judge asked what happened. Perez said in official jargon told the judge that I was heading northbound on 6th Avenue, traveling on the eastern side of the roadway. The bike lane, on the western side of the roadway, was free and clear of obstacles and debris. The judge then asked me what happened. I told him I was on the right side of the street, about to make a right turn when I got stopped and that the bike lane was on the left side of the street. I continued that it would be counterintuitive to try to make a right turn from the far left side of the street. The judge was about to make a ruling, because on the surface it would have appeared as though the officer was correct. The public defender then spoke with the sheet of paper in her hand: “Your honor, the law says…” The judge stopped her. “You are going to read me the law? You expect me to read that? What is that, single spaced?” He ranted. “Bloomberg (the mayor) ought to ride a bike to work every day…, a girl’s bike.” He mumbled something under his breath. Then said, “ACD.” I looked to the public defender. She told me I was free to go. Perez had already turned and was out the door of the court room. I went out after hoping to make eye contact. Hoping to remind him about the tell-it-to-the-judge comment. But he was quickly walking out the police officer doors to the courthouse. I mumbled to myself “toodles,” knowing the process of filing a complaint would soon follow.
I picked up my belongings from the front of the courthouse and went out to the sunny day. Work on the bike was calling. I went forward nervous that at any moment I could be stopped and cited for the slightest of infractions. I would have to be mindful about every action on the bike and who was watching. A few deliveries into the day I figured out the legal acronym for ACD: ALL CHARGES DROPPED
Just outside of New York City over the George Washington Bridge lies the Henry Hudson Drive. Most people simply call it River Road because it runs beside the mighty Hudson River. It is seven miles in length and has smooth, well paved surfaces thanks to relatively low motor vehicle traffic. It has spectacular views of Manhattan and the river on one side, a rock face cliff wall and vegetation on the other.
I ventured out for an early morning ride with an old mountain bike buddy from Philly. Given that my fitness is pretty good from training and riding as a bicycle messenger, I rode at his pace. He was testing his brand new Independent Fabrications. It was super light, equipped with a titanium Campagnolo grouppo. I was riding my filthy sticker covered Specialized with 105. It was an easy paced ride where we talked about random stuff without trying to race the entire route. We’ve been friends for years so the competitive half-wheeling has long gone from our rides.
We rolled along the West Side bike path of Manhattan without the usual parade of weekend warriors due to both the early hour and the expectation of rain in the forecast. We quickly zipped by the few other users of the trail on the way to the bridge. Once over the bridge we passed dozens of joggers near the beginning of the path. Occasionally we stopped for minor adjustments of our bikes. For him it was saddle height position of a new bike, for me tweaking the bolts after unpacking out of a bike box from a recent trip to Toronto.
On the flat roads and mild rolling terrain we rode together and talked. On the first few steeper or longer hills I waited for my buddy at the top. At the end of River Road is Alpine hill. It is longer and steeper than most of the other hills along this isolated road. Because it is at the end of the road it usually feels more difficult. My buddy and I came to a truce about the hills and I rode at his pace up the final few hills.
Two men on road bikes passed us as we climbed the last hill. I am competitive by nature and was itching to unleash my hard earned fitness on someone. My buddy gave me the nod and I danced up the hill toward the duo.
I passed the first guy without a glance. As I caught the second guy I had a big smile on my face and stared at him as I passed. But then something unexpected happened when I got beside him: he had a serious face on, refusing to even turn his eyes sideways and began pedalling harder. My smile deepened almost to a laugh. This was going to be fun.
When one is really fit they need not stand to go faster, a simple increase in pedaling cadence is all that is necessary.
I smiled as I ascended the road to drop the guy. He was almost a memory in the rear view mirror when I heard a click. He didn’t want to get beat so he chose a harder gear. Didn’t matter to me. I have done 180+ rpms on my fixed gear mountain bike recently. I can churn chunky peanut butter into a frothy smoothie.
Then I heard it again. Click. I laughed in my head. Then again. And again. And then the grind-click that can only be the jump into the big chainring. Within that brief period he panicked his way through all of his gears to try to beat me pedaling rapidly in one. He caught up to me with the same stone face of intense concentration. I thought about shifting too, but that would have been too easy.
I learned racing on downtube shifters. I knew from experience that one shifts first then accelerates. Shifting while trying to accelerate up hills can put great strain on the derailleur hanger or throw the chain off of the cranks. Under load, chains can snap in two.
Rather than shift or stand on the pedals, I let Mr. Mask Of Anger ride onward ahead of me. About fifty meters later he gets to the police station near the top and turns around. As he began to head back down the hill we made eye contact. I still had the same menacing smile on my face, almost laughing. He gave me a head nod. I looked back down the hill and his riding companion was far off, my buddy even further down the hill.
I waited as planned for my friend at the top and we took the flat inland car route back to the bridge. I told him about me laughing in the guy’s face during this mini battle and him giving me the head nod afterward. My buddy told me that as he was still climbing, the guy descending gave him a look that said: drop dead. I laughed even harder.
Road racing is about inflicting physical and mental torture on your competition the same way that fire destroys a wax candle — it can melt through the burning wick or proximity to the flame. Either way, the wax resigns. I look forward to racing this summer in the heat.
Every morning when I wake before work, the first thing I do is check the window to see what the weather is like. Today I opened my eyes to see gloomy gray through the curtains. The warm happy feeling I had from a recent trip to Toronto was rapidly fading. The US Postal service has some fancy jingle about “neither sleet nor rain will keep them from…”. Yeah, yeah whatever. I am a bike messenger and although we have relatively the same job, delivering envelopes and parcels, today I wasn’t all chirpy about riding in crappy weather.
I dressed for the possibility of a crappy day, bringing a rain jacket but forgot to wear rain pants. I left home hoping the clouds would pass without dumping their payload. It was only after a few deliveries into the morning when big rain drops began a steady soaking. It might not have been so bad had I ridden my bike with fenders. In my pre-work sulking, I neglected to fix the flat on the front wheel, dooming me to suffer for my lack of earlier action. Instead, I rode my mountain bike that threw the most water upward from the road with every revolution.
By mid-day I was soaked head to toe. I had forgotten to zip my rain jacket to the neck and the vent zippers under the arms. I was collecting water like a sinking submarine. My shoes squished with every pedal stroke or step when walking through buildings. My vacation was definitely over. After acknowledging that the conditions couldn’t get worse, I settled into the misery.
There is an awkwardness about walking around soaking wet. People in buildings repeatedly ask the question, “Is it still raining?” It is a reminder of how you got wet, the water swirling around inside of your shoes and that after the conversation you will return without umbrella into the rain. Since I had resigned myself to suffering in the wet, I trudged through it. My only focus was just keeping my packages dry. When my clothes finally couldn’t hold any more water, the rain stopped. The clouds broke late in the afternoon to reveal warm blue skies.
The misery I expected to endure for the entire day was transforming for the better. As I continued to ride, most of my clothes dried. The temperature increased to something pleaseant in the 70 degree range. My mood elevated knowing I wouldn’t have to ride with wet diaper ass. There is also an unspoken bonding moment when messengers that have endured crappy weather see each other at the end of the day. Chatting with some of the regulars about my recent vacation did even more to raise my spirits.
When the end of my work day arrived I happily began my ride home. At one point I passed a sedan occupying most of a bike lane. I squeezed through the narrow space between the curb and the slowly moving car. With on hand on the handlebars, I ran my other hand across the roof of the car and calmly told the driver through the open moon roof: “I’m right here dude”. I heard a group of pedestrians behind me shout, “You took that pretty good.” I looked back, informing them that I don’t get paid to get upset. They warned me to be safe. Smiling, I told them that’s why I wear my helmet.
Hump day complete, a surprisingly good day despite the ugly start.
I was in an upward bound elevator yesterday. The doors to the car opened a few floors early. A woman was preparing to enter when a girl’s voice said: “Mommy, no”. The woman looked to me and the lit white up arrow on the door frame. I acknowledged with a nod that the elevator was indeed heading up.
Just then another smaller child, two possibly three years old, with a giggly face surrounded by curls came bounding toward the car as the doors began to close. I do not know if it was because of her short height or slow reaction time, but the sensors failed to stop the doors. I could foresee her getting crushed by the giant hulking metal doors.
Instantly I reacted, leaping forward to grab the doors and prevent a tragedy. The speed at which I lunged shocked the girl. The mother, having the same protective instinct, yanked the girl from the imminent danger of the doors a second later.
The moments earlier happy face turned into a mask of horrified fear. I tried to smile to let her know that everything was fine, but she began sobbing loudly. The doors to the elevator closed. The elevator resumed its slow upward climb. Two floors later I could still hear the muffled wailing of the frightened child as her mother consoled her.
Although the mother thanked me in the moment just after I saved her little girl, it stung just a bit knowing that somewhere that girl may be forever terrified of bicycle messengers or cyclists in general. Damn.
In January there was a week of bitter cold weather. The wind chill was amplified by being on the bike. I had been reading all about the cold weather from friends across North America on social media. I avoided these silly discussions. Every year that I can remember since childhood, it has always been cold at some point between September and March. Making a fuss about the annual occurrence seemed a waste of time.
Although I usually won’t complain about the conditions, I have the good sense to know when it’s time to come inside from the cold. I had been riding daily for Elite Couriers as the cold began punishing those in the north. My training rides went from several hours to a one mile jaunt to the gym where the steam room was utilized for thawing purposes.
My friend Ethan posted a message on Facebook about needing a mechanic for a new bike shop. As the manager, it was his responsibility to find someone capable of assembling or repairing bikes and had the ability to build wheels. Having all those talents and living nearby, I knew I could be indoors during working hours. I took a temporary position to give Ethan extra time to find a permanent wrench. I would escape the clutches of Old Man Winter.
On Monday morning I awoke to falling snow outside of my window. Success! I had beaten the system. I could still earn income without suffering in the muck. I assembled new bikes with the comfort of music playing.
The next day as I left the house, the temperatures had risen. It was balmy, almost like a spring morning when one would expect to see tulips blooming or buds sprouting from the trees. Inhale. Exhale. Aah. It was a great day for a bike ride. I thought of two long rides I wanted to do, but was sadly headed indoors to wrench on bikes.
Wednesday morning the weather was beautiful. The day’s high was warm like those mid spring days when the cherry blossoms send petals cascading downward mimicking snow. Damn. I really wanted to be outside on my bike. I could see several of my friends rolling past the shop enjoying the day. My plan was to spare myself the brutal commute and working in the cold. Mother Nature played a cruel trick. After agreeing to working indoors, the temperatures were mild and pleasant.
Thursday was to be my last day in the shop as the Ultra Orthodox Jewish owners have half day hours on Friday and Saturday completely off. As I organized the order of bikes on the showroom floor, a rep from cycling company visited to present apparel available for sale to customers. It was quite interesting watching the rep discuss women’s jerseys “in a variety of colorways” to a man whose community strictly adheres to a dress code of all black everything except white blouses and shirts. The irony was that a few years earlier, the Hasidic Community fiercely lobbied Mayor Bloomberg to remove existing bike lanes due to “scantily clad” women rolling through South Williamsburg Brooklyn. Their wardrobe would inspire immoral behavior among members of their pious sect.
Building and repairing bikes I can do. Bridging the divide between religious doctrine heavily ingrained into the Hasidic community and the fast paced lifestyle of New York cyclists I cannot on my own. It will take years. While I wish them every success with the new shop promoting cycling, I had to return to the road. I love riding.
At the end of the week as the Hasidim prepared for the sabbath, I returned to the chaotic messenger scramble in Manhattan. The weather, almost as if scheduled, resumed its punishing cold. I rode through another day of heavy winds and snow. I had been reminded that life as a messenger in the winter is brutal and relentless.