To drivers, bike messengers are daredevils with a death wish. To office workers, they are the mules that deliver their packages. And to the media, they are a weird new subculture of bike-mounted, tattooed punks to be stereotyped and glamorized.
Messengers, however, have their own opinions about themselves:
“Tearing through the streets like flailing birds of prey on the hunt, hounding for tiny packaged morsels of corporate paperwork and secretarial signed, cum stained copies of projects, projects, projects, teeming down lanes swamped with tiny-minded mites with poor motor skills, literally WAKING UP their sorry Pabst-soaked, tobacco-stained, inbred existences to the cosmic wheel-shod genius that is the BIKE MESSENGER”
– Road Kill, Issue #3, June 1995, New York.
Messenger magazines born in the late eighties and throughout the nineties in San Francisco, Seattle, Toronto, London and Dublin gave bike messengers a platform to say what they wanted about their lives in their own raw, unedited words. Columns reported bike thefts, the occasional run-in with security guards outside office buildings and addressed bad media coverage of messengers: “I believe that the media by sensationalizing bad cycling is actually glamorizing it” – Moving Target, #4 1989, London.
They made no apologies for their aggressive cycling and covered their crazy Alley Cat races, which started in Toronto. In columns such as “Cars, I hate the fucking things.” (Voice of Da, San Francisco), bikers protested about their natural enemies, reclaiming the streets for cyclists while denouncing the car industry for the environmental damage it causes.
Obituaries for colleagues killed on duty were regular features. These pointed out to the need for better working conditions, from job insurance to unionizing. The messengers also raised questions about whether working for a larger, Establishment system was right or wrong: “Every now and again, in my line of work, I find myself having to take part in a delivery for a company or person that I find objectionable on some moral, environmental, or political grounds” – Mercury Rising, #6, April 1992, San Francisco.
Like all media, messenger zines have moved on to the internet. The Messenger Institute for Media Accuracy website keeps track of messenger-related news and republishes articles from the old zines. London-based Moving Target has survived over the years and platforms, becoming, in its own words, “the world’s most useless messenger zine”.