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Monday, February 6, 2012

I can't believe people bike through blizzards

Posted by on 02.06.12 at 01:31 PM

512px-Flickr_-_NewsPhoto__-_Amsterdam__city_of_bikes.jpg
  • By Jos van Zetten/Wikimedia Commons
I’m pretty new to Chicago, the city of a shitload of hard-core bicyclists. I started as an intern here last month, and arriving most recently from California, I was thrown by the sight of a bundled-up biker pedaling his way down Dearborn two weeks ago during a snowstorm. One of my fellow bus-stop loiterers gave a “Woo!” of excitement and encouragement and the biker cheered back. I thought, "You have to be crazy to bike through slush, ice, and snowfall in the midst of Chicago city traffic." Less than ten minutes later a second bicyclist rolled by.

About a week later, I was browsing ads, looking for a part-time job, and stumbled upon a post from the Chicago Messenger Service looking for bike messengers. “Large downtown courier service adding to biker fleet,” the ad read, leaving out the “in the dead of winter” part. Although the weather has been nice the past couple of days, I doubt I would be up for delivering packages and letters at breakneck pace, when the weather could deteriorate at the change of a traffic signal.

Maybe Chicagoans are just that much tougher than I am, because the Chicago Messenger Service is one of 21 licensed bike messenger service companies in Chicago employing over 300 bicyclists, according to the city. In a recent NIU Today article, NIU sociology professor Jeffrey Kidder says that Chicago is among the top three cities in the country in terms of number of bicycle couriers.

A 2010 Momentum Magazine article by former courier and Reader contributor John Greenfield details life as a Chicago bike messenger. The piece mentions how couriers go from pickups to drop-offs throughout the Loop no matter what the weather, communicating with two-way radios, and for only $300-$500 a week. But beyond the tasks, Greenfield touches on how bike messengers have a culture of freedom and excitement, with their own hangout spots like Cal’s and Blue Frog Bar and Grill. Kidder also mentions “alley cat” bike messenger races, which are (technically illegal) competitions to get around the city in the quickest and most efficient ways possible, regardless of the risks involved.

To all of these intrepid, freedom-loving, and fast-paced bike messengers who hit Chicago’s streets every day, I say have fun and stay safe. To those interested in what it’s like from the bike courier’s perspective, here’s a helmet camera video from a Chicagoan of what it’s like on the job.

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