The fast-paced hustle of New York City is alluring to outsiders, but oftentimes hectic for those already living in the city that never seems to sleep. The miles and miles of sidewalks brimming with people, the tide of yellow taxi cabs merging into a sea of endless traffic, and the stoplights appearing every twenty yards can make commuting even the shortest of distances into a time-consuming affair. However, there are some who thrive in this environment, weaving in and out of traffic with speed and precision. Who are these people you ask? They’re your friendly neighborhood bike messengers!
You probably already knew that though since you’re reading this post. While some experienced cyclists make it look effortless, being a bike messenger in one of the busiest cities in the country isn’t as easy as you may think. These guys likely grew up pedaling back and forth through parks and back alleys learning every shortcut along the way. With that being said, if you’re still interested in establishing your own career as a bike courier, then hopefully my advice will help.
I’m not going to waste your time with the basic stuff; you obviously already know that you need a decent bike, as well as a helmet to even consider being a bike messenger. Instead, I’m going to pass along some knowledge I have picked up in my own experience as a bike courier.
No Couch Potatoes
In other words, you can’t expect to be a successful courier if you don’t live an active lifestyle. Most bike messengers train quite regularly to keep their physique in top shape. A good bike messenger is defined in terms of speed, precision, agility, and stamina. The ability to deliver packages quickly is what weeds out the less efficient messengers. NYC is filled with people, cars, and obstacles, all of which can cause serious damage to your bike, the item being delivered, and most importantly, you!
Being a bike messenger makes you quite versatile. In fact, most NYC bike messengers are always on the move, working for more than one delivery service on any given day. For instance, a messenger may deliver flowers for an online florist every other morning, and then transition into ferrying food for a small corner café at lunch time. For the most part, working for one delivery service usually won’t yield a large income. However, I have met several couriers who were pulling in upwards of $50,000 by holding three or more jobs.
While you may be one of the best riders in NYC, nobody is going to know that unless you tell them. Sure you could pick up the yellow pages and call around about possible employment, but that can be extremely tedious and time-consuming. When I first started out, I had one job that was barely paying the bills, so I decided to put myself out there a little more. For starters, I had a few black t-shirts and a couple baseball hats made that promoted my services. Because the information was printed on the back of the shirt, I was advertising every time I got on my bike.
One of the first things I learned as a bike messenger was to stop as little as possible. Yes, blowing through stop signs and red lights can be dangerous and I’m not saying you shouldn’t slow down, but a lot of research lately has shown that excessive stopping can actually be more dangerous. Aside from that, you should also go against your instincts to ride towards traffic, riding with the flow of traffic instead. The last little tidbit of commuting knowledge I’m going to give you pertains to the subway. While the subway can shorten a commute significantly, you’re going to want to avoid it whenever possible (especially during rush hour). However, the one exception to this would be if the weather is just downright terrible and/or creates hazardous riding conditions.
Thieves Are Everywhere
That may not be “breaking news” for you, but you would be amazed how lightly some messengers take theft. When you think about it, a bike is an easy target that can be used to escape on once stolen. I have had one bike stolen because I was naive enough to think my simple U-Lock was indestructible. That experience led me to purchase a heavy duty cable lock that could be looped through the entire bike (front wheel, frame, back wheel). You can also couple your cable lock with a standard U-Lock for added security.