Freedom for most cyclists is a crisp early morning start, so fresh that you can smell winter and can feel the calmness around you. There’s barely a car on the road as I leave my apartment each morning. This winter, for my commute, I can think of only one thing? How do I get a job as a bike courier?
Hitting the pro circuits in Europe or riding track for Australia isn’t a dream that’s reachable for me, I’m not thin enough, or light enough or even young enough. I am however, trying to keep the dream as realistic as possible, I want to ride my bike all day and I want to do it every day and be paid for it!
I wanted to find out more about being a courier, the job, the people and the lifestyle. Is this a job that I could actually do? Is this a job that anyone could do? And if so… When can I start?
On my mission, I tracked down Andy White of fyxomatosis. I’d been told that when it comes to being a courier, he’s the man to talk to in Melbourne; he’s been doing the gig for close to 10 years and still going strong, either that, or he hasn’t actually grown up.
Regardless of whether you consider them to be law breakers or a bad example for the rest of the cycling community, you do have to admire their ability; they ride with such finesse and confidence. Andy makes it clear that although it’s an unskilled labor job at the most basic level, a good courier has a highly developed sense of skills specific to their job, yet anyone can do it.
Can I do work experience?
No, as it turns out nobody wants a courier for a week. They especially don’t want someone who’s out to try before they buy. It’s all or nothing in this job. Take the weather for example; unlike the building industry, couriers don’t get to go home when the mercury hits 36 degrees. In winter, if you’re anything like Andy you’ll dress for the occasion, just as though you were going skiing.
I’m beginning to get the feeling that Andy is going to keep telling me that this isn’t a good job. However, the look on his face tells me otherwise. When he talks about the friends he’s made, I think they’re considered family more than friends. I have to ask the question, how many friends have you lost on the road? Three, I’m told, though none during his time as a courier in Melbourne.
Andy is direct about the job, it’s highly over glamorized and the pay isn’t great, I wanted to know if it was really as cool as I thought it was? Apparently not. I’d been doing a lot of thinking about the courier gig, trying to find the underlying factors that give this job the appearance of New York glamour when it occurs to me that it isn’t to do with the job description; it’s much more about the person and the bike.
I agree with Andy, this isn’t a glamorous job. Sure its en vogue, it has been and probably will be fashionable for a long time, especially in Melbourne as we have a fixed gear culture second to none, however, it’s the people doing the job who are chic, not the job itself.
If you’re a bike commuter who won’t commute when it’s raining then don’t bother as this isn’t the job for you. If you’re the sort of person that commutes even when you’re sick then maybe you have what it takes.
Think about the bike you will ride when you take on this job; it is not mandatory to ride fixed gear without breaks, you can ride fixed, single speed, a mountain bike or something inbetween. I would suggest you keep the carbon fibre just for Melbourne’s Saturday morning hell ride.
A good courier shows up to work every day and obeys the law. You don’t need to prove to everyone that you’re the best by being the fastest or by running red lights. You will however score more points by being the smartest, knowing there are regular jobs in a specific location everyday will get you further quicker.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking you are a hot shot when you start this job, just like any other job, there is a hierarchy. Someone has to scrape the bottom of the barrel and if you’re the new kid on the block, then that someone is you. Expect to do the hard work until the others have decided that your okay or someone new comes along.
As a courier however you have an amazing opportunity, you can travel the world. In Andy’s case he started in London and was welcomed into the beautiful world of couriers by one of London’s iconic double decker buses. Oops! BANG! The one moment you expect a little bit of sympathy from the dispatcher at the other end and all you hear is, “do you have another wheel?”
If you want glamorous, then head for New York; for the organic look at life, try London; for weather as consistent as Melbourne head for Vancouver and for fond memories check out San Francisco, which is how Andy describes the places he’s been to. I am ready to pack my bags for New York before he tells me that Melbourne is the best city in the world to be a courier.
This job will take you where you want it to, there is no limit, Andy is born and bred in Melbourne and considers that we have the best cycling culture in the world, we are so lucky.
“Patient, dedicated, determined, able to put up with a lot of crap, you get to ride a bike? there’s a lot of sitting around doing nothing, dealing with customers that are horrible to you, car drivers that are horrible to you, pedestrians that are horrible to you, sometimes it does feel like the world is against you so if you don’t have a thick skin or you get angry easily I don’t think it’s the right job for you,” Andy White.
If you still want that courier job, try the companies on a rainy day?