Last week, while the world’s finest amateur athletes competed in London, hundreds of poorly paid professional athletes from four continents convened in Chicago for the Olympics of bike messengering. They were here for the 20th annual Cycle Messenger World Championships, the ultimate test of two-wheeled delivery prowess.
It was a long, alcohol-fueled week of events celebrating the courier lifestyle, including the main race simulating a day of work in the Chicago Loop business district, on-street “alleycat” races, a courier-themed film night, track competitions, and the Messenger Prom, where cyclists got dolled up in slinky dresses and ironic tuxedos.
Many pundits have predicted that bike couriers would go the way of the Pony Express, rendered obsolete by digital technology. But the crowd of messengers, who came from as far away as Guatemala, Japan, and Australia, proved that, while email and online file sharing have cut into the messenger business since the salad days of the 1990s, as cities grow more congested, there may always be a place for fast, efficient, environmentally friendly bike delivery.