Cycle Messenger Worlds
Words by Christina Peck, Photography by Chris Lee and Chris Dilts
This year, the 23rd Cycle Messenger World Championships (CMWC) were held in Melbourne, Australia. This event is held in a different city each year where the smartest and fastest bike messengers from across the planet converge to determine who is the best in a variety of events, centering around the main race that simulates a messenger's work day but a closed course. The CMWC main race typically follows a standard format: Saturday is a day long qualifier followed by a Sunday final race. Each year, the host city creates a controlled environment that mimics the stresses and excitement of everyday work. Since this event floats from city to city, it usually incorporates a taste of each city's unique challenges: one way "streets", roundabouts, cobbles, or steep hills. The closed course feature stops called checkpoints, that act as offices with checkpoint workers who are essentially faux receptionists. Riders are given manifests at the start that dictate pick ups and drop offs between these checkpoints. Depending on the format, whoever is able to deliver all items on the manifest the fastest, or in this case, whoever is able to deliver the packages that amount to the most "money" in a set amount of time, is then declared the winner. So while being competitive in this race requires speed, it is also about being the most efficient - if you have to circle back because you forgot to pick up a package, there is only so fast you can ride to rectify those errors.
This would be my 5th CMWC between racing in Tokyo, Guatemala, Mexico City and being on the organizing committee for Chicago in 2012 and I just can't shake making travel plans revolving around this event. It's the annual gathering of the tribe: it's the people, it's the competition, it's the excuse to travel somewhere new and foreign without feeling like a tourist, it's the international messenger family, and it's just always so much fun.
I initially flew into Sydney with my sister Allison, my boyfriend Dave and my old Chicago roommate Chris Dilts, for the pre-event and rode about half the distance south to the small town of Bega with about 50 other couriers. Rolling hills they told us, so 75% of the participants brought track bikes, myself included. It was a tough 400 km, with around 5600 meters of climbing. Yeah, the conversions got me too, but how ever calculated, it felt like a lot when trying to unfold my cramped joints from the packed overnight bus we took the remaining distance to Melbourne. It smelled pretty awful.
We rolled, ever so groggily, with all our travel belongings to our Airbnb apartment in Collingwood where thankfully two buddies had already checked us in, and were able to pass out for a few hours. Since we arrived Friday morning, the event was already in full swing and I forced myself out of bed by 10am so we could ride out to the velodrome where they were holding the bike swap, impromptu cyclocross race, and some track races. We caught the very beginning of the cyclocross race, the cx race I had been planning on racing in, darn it. It was a rad course set up on the in-field of the velodrome with spurts up the banks, and was really fun to watch. Following cross, there was a handful of track races, and since I had not been able to jump in on cross, I was trying to convince myself to race on an under-geared track bike and cut offs. Only one other woman was participating and she cajoled me out, but when I came off after only a 15-lap scratch with dead legs and track hack, I proceeded to eat the provided free lunch and spectate. The Friday before the event, there is always an alleycat and while I’m not a huge fan of out of town alleycats, - I usually end up either frustrated by having to stop every 5 minutes to look at a map or just blindly trying to follow a local - this one ended up being super fun. Allison, Megan, Dave and I banded together with a big Melbourne map and set off with the first manifest for what turned out to be a great tour. First to the Melbourne Zoo (no animals spotted), followed by the City Museum, to a weird underpass in CBD and all the way down to the south wharf. We then stopped at the last checkpoint, the Shrine of Remembrance, a beautiful WWI memorial that was pretty spectacular at sunset. We joined on with some locals for a cruise back to the last stop where Gold Sprints were going down. We opted for an early bedtime, still wiped from the ride and restless bus trip.
Saturday, and already time for the qualifiers. The week had flown by and the race crept up – I definitely was not in the correct head space. We arrived to the Docklands a half hour before they were supposed to begin, but the course set up caused the start to be pushed back a couple hours. I was relieved – more time to settle and familiarize myself with the course and where the checkpoints were oriented based off a provided course map. I waited for the first wave of racers to filter through and then finally jumped in. 2 manifests: the first with 5 required runs and 3 optional 10-minute rushes, but that "paid" significantly more. Both required physical packages to be picked up and delivered. A second manifest of pick up and deliveries to were able to be completed at any time during the allotted 90 minute race window. Only stamps marking those runs, but racers are only allowed to pick up 2 items at each location, and they all equaling a lower set dollar amount ranging from $2-$15. I start on the first manifest, trying to get the required’s out of the way, while still filling in with the money runs off the second manifest. I made sure to deliver all my rushes on time, also paying attention to how long I clocked traversing the whole course. I completed about 3/4s of the second manifest and cleaned up about 5 minutes early. I thought I have done pretty well until I get off the course and realize riders were allowed to “pick up” and not drop, without a penalty. I definitely would have been a lot less conservative if I had known that, but paying attention to details is key, and I am more frustrated with myself for not fully knowing the rules since this is usually an asset of mine. While I dwell, it's over and I know there's nothing else to do now. I drink a cider and unwind while watching friends finish up with a view across the Docklands, a beautiful venue to have secured for the event.
It's always a little tense waiting to see if you qualified on Saturday night. You could be racing or you could just be hanging out and cheering on your friends on Sunday. There are merits to both, but I know I will be incredibly disappointed if I do not make the cut. We walked over to that night's party, held in a loft space and hung out waiting for the posting. Results were announced around 11pm and I realized I had placed 10th in the top 60 that qualified, phew! Still recovering from the pre-ride and that bus trip, turning in early wasn't difficult to convince myself to do.
Though Sunday morning featured heavy gray skies, the rain held off through the weekend in spite of earlier forecasts. The main race went off late, per usual messenger time. Racers laid out bikes in the traditional le mans grid, in order of how you qualified. We all huddled back by the start tent amid nervous pre-race chatter until the countdown, and GO! It was a similar format to the day prior, but with an added section of 5 minute rushes, available anytime during the 3 hour run, and the 10 minutes only available in specified 15 minute windows. I started on the required "jobs", sprinkling in pick ups from the second manifest knowing that money priority did not really matter since I would definitely complete at least one of the long stamped manifests. I then made a huge mistake by missing a rush window and was a little rattled finishing off my first manifest, making another big mistake of not dropping all my items to the Bombtrack checkpoint. The course was quite big, so while it was nice to avoid any bottlenecks or lines, I was not consistently crossing paths with fellow racers which maintains the frenzied energy I enjoy, so I was stoked every time I arrived at a checkpoint full of friends hanging out and heckling. I could make jokes, yell a little, and hype myself back up, especially now since I had to circle back and do an extra lap I could have completely avoided. For the first half of the race, I kept telling myself how much time I had and then suddenly I picked up the 2nd big manifest, and felt like I had to cram. The beginning of the second stamped manifest felt great: I nailed the first run of big money makers, switching up the zones I had set up for myself. Towards the end of the 3 hour race time, I kept overestimating how long it would take me to cross the course and ending up without enough work. I ended about 3 minutes early while I watched so many other racer scurry around the course, a little jealous of their zealousness and confidence to take on those bigger runs. I was also frustrated with my rookie feeling mistakes. Still only once did I start to feel tired, which was quickly solved with some water and a quick snack, I felt like I had been consistent outside of those mistakes and worked through my last manifest quickly. Tired and unstressed with the race completed, we hung out at the course for a while after. Everyone was comparing stories of how their 3 hours went and what mistakes they might have made over $2 happy hour beers.
I arrived to the closing party around 10pm. Awards are always a rad feature of the closing party, showcasing winners from the various events over the weekend, as well as some additional prizes particular to the host city. They definitely covered all the bases, from top male and female Australian courier, to prizing the track and cyclocross races, and I was having a blast cheering madly for all my friends going on stage. And last, the main race prizes. Despite my mistakes, I was called up as first place female along side the men’s champ, Austin Horse. While I had hoped to crack the top ten (I ended up 12th), I did not feel that I had ridden my best race, and could only be pleased with those results. It was a solid ending to an excellent week traversing the eastern Australian coast, making new friends and reconnecting with old ones. After having helped organize CMWC in 2012, I know the effort and unpaid labor of love that is thrown behind these events and it was great to see another organizing group come together and clearly have made it a boon to their local community.
To circle back, the pre-rides have become such a draw for me since the groups are always much smaller, encouraging more cross over and forced (in a good way) interactions that do not necessarily involve being in a bar. On this pre-ride, of the 60 something couriers, amazingly, there were 10 women in attendance. Seemingly, this was a significant increase from past events I've attended. We had a hilarious first evening where most of the women ended up sitting at the same table waiting for dinner to be ready and the conversation invariably turned to work and working conditions. The interesting conclusion a lot of us reached is: so often we do not feel marginalized or made overly aware that we are females in a male dominated profession by our own peers. I have pretty much always had amazing and supportive co-workers and fellow couriers. The most surprise and comments derive from security guards, receptionists, or clients, "Well you're the first female courier I've ever seen", immediately being called "sir", or wanting to help you load up your bag and double checking that you will actually be able to carry that 20 lb roll. Despite that, it is still awesome to have those conversations with someone who has true empathy for you situation and having a forum to connect with so many amazing women doing a similar job but in another part of the country or world. By the end of the week's event, a lot of those women had continued the conversation with Nikki and Kelly discussing heading up the formation of a specifically Women's Bike Messenger Association. Goals included setting up as a group to enable discussion outside of this event, but also with the intent to encourage increased female participation as I have certainly known other female couriers who feel overwhelmed or discouraged from feeling included or from wanting to compete. It's rad to seem people like yourself out there, doing the job and getting out to race along side all other courier. So, keep an eye out for the launch of this group!