funked up heroes

Following the launch of the first of our ‘Funked Up Heroes’ videos, we wanted to take a closer look at the life of Dublin’s bike messengers; a work hard - play hard group of dedicated urban cyclists who are the invisible lifeblood of the city. Overworked, underpaid and generally looked upon with disdain, they live to ride and take great pride in their profession. But, there’s more than meets the eye with this subculture so it’s worth taking a closer look at who they are and what they do..

“I’ve been a messenger since 2007… I thought I’d do it for a while, that turned out to be a bit longer than I thought”

Being a bike messenger for any length of time takes a certain mindset, some might call it masochism. The Irish weather is a constant factor; wind, rain, sleet, and that’s just the summer months…. Couple this with the fact that it is a low-paid job with little prospects and you’d be forgiven for thinking you have to be a bit mad to choose it as a profession. Yet, for a small group of people, predominantly young males, there’s nothing else they’d rather do than ride their bikes through the congested city streets, 9 hours a day, for pennies.

Messenger bikes of Dublin Messenger bikes of Dublin

“You’ve got all these elements that are working against you – the road surface, the weather, the cars, & sleepy pedestrians… But when you’ve got a nice day, and your bike’s feeling good, you have those moments, it feels right for you.”

However, there is a flow and a feel to being a bike messenger. When all the little details come together and everything just feels right. Your bike is working perfectly, silently; you’ve a bag full of jobs and worked your route out to perfection. On the way, you get 2 more jobs that fit in perfectly. You hit that set of lights at just the right time. Receptionists are nice for once, and all the jobs are ready to be collected as you walk through the door. You’re kept busy all day, being ’fed’ by your dispatcher. The sun is shining, and all is right with the world. You feel a sense of freedom, yet a sense of control. Both exposed to all the world around you, yet more connected to yourself than you are anywhere else. It’s not always like this, but when it is the feeling is incomparable.

BUSY from Balazs Pataki on Vimeo.

"You’ve got a mindset, you’re going to go out there no matter what…How far can you push yourself?”

Long-term bike messengers measure their time on the road in the number of winters that they've worked through. It's a badge of honour to ride through the worst weather, and anyone who fails to turn up on bad days can expect to be labelled as a 'fair-weather' messenger. As the saying goes, 'There's no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing'. Have a look through any messenger bag and you'll find rain gear, gloves, foldable mudguard, spare tube, tools, spare clothes, a map (just in case), and myriad assorted odds and ends that each individual has deemed necessary to carry along to cover all eventualities.

Bike messengers Messengers at an international competition

“It’s a good scene… You’ll meet people from all over the world”

Most people aren’t aware quite how global the bike messenger community is, or that there are international competitions to determine the fastest messengers on the planet. Each year since 1993 the Cycle Messenger World Championships (CMWC) have taken place in cities across the globe. From Berlin to Mexico City, Tokyo to Toronto. Dublin hosted the CMWC in 2007. Hundreds of messengers travel to compete in a multitude of competitions; the main race, which simulates the working day, picking up and dropping off packages to complete a complicated manifest in the fastest time; Sprints, to find the fastest messenger in a straight line, and a variety of fixed gear competitions, trackstand, longest skid and backwards circles. The events have a real festival atmosphere, with messengers the world over coming together to race, party, and share war stories.

“If you keep on looking at the close calls and the near misses that you’ve had, you’ll be terrified to get out of the door in the morning”

Aside from the weather and the poor pay, the bike messenger’s worst enemy is injury. Generally not out of a fear for personal well-being, but due to the bad working conditions most find themselves in. In most cities, bike messengers are classed as subcontractors and aren’t entitled to paid leave or sick pay. This means that if you get knocked off your bike and can’t work because either you or the bike are damaged, you have nothing to fall back on, and if you need to pay for medical treatment it’s going to be tough to cover that cost, pay rent, even eat sometimes. To combat this, and in the spirit of the global community, messengers founded the Bicycle Messenger Emergency Fund (BMEF), and more recently the London Courier Emergency Fund (LCEF), to give financial aid to messengers who are injured during work and help them with their medical expenses. the BMEF has raised $20,000 in donations in the last 5 years.

Dublin bike messenger

“There’s no job that would give you the same amount of freedom”

When all is said and done, there is one thing that connects all bike messengers; a yearning for freedom, an unwillingness to be tied down and conform to social 'norms'. They are willing to take the bad working conditions, poor pay and physical demands of the job because it allows them to be true to themselves, something that we at Funked Up hold dear. So the next time you see a bike messenger hurtling down the road, with what may appear to be reckless abandon, take a minute and re-evaluate your thoughts, and you might find yourself wishing you were out there with them.

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