In mid-august, the 25th annual Cycle Messenger World Championships took place in Canada. The event, which first took place back in 1993 in Berlin, brings together hundreds of city cyclists from around the world every year, creating the largest annual urban cycling festival. Cyclists, located on the streets of Riga from Velokurjers Ltd., have been participating in these competitions since 2011, taking the name of Latvia amongst the world’s fastest, strongest, and smartest city and bike commanders. The 2018 Cycle Messenger World Championship will take place in Riga, filling the city with about six hundred participants who will convene to compare their agility in more than ten different disciplines. One of the organizers of the championship, also the participant of five World, European and Nordic championships, Jānis Belecks (Nereta), has just returned from Helsinki where the Nordic Cycling Championship took place, says that anyone with a desire, a bike, a helmet, a bag and a pen can participate in the event.
What does the championship consist of? What are the distances?
The main disciplines are; cycle courier work simulation competition, with and without cargo (cargo race/main race). The other disciplines are determined by the organizers themselves – how and what they want. It is traditional that a large part of participants have fixed-gear bikes, so there are disciplines like skids, footdown, track stand, and backward circles. Each discipline has its own results and awards, that’s why it’s worth participating, even if the rider thinks he can succeed in just one discipline. If the participant thinks that they can do all sorts of miracles and tricks with fixies, then they can take part in the fixie event without having to go to the main race.
What is the aim of this event?
These are not the Olympic Games; you can feel the brotherhood of the trade. The aim is to bring together the representatives of the trade, because in the event they not only compete to see who is the fastest cycle courier, but also share in the experience, adventures, daily work, and socialize. It is also popularizing the urban cycling culture. On arrival, you can see the new bike equipment, you can buy new inventory in the market, exchange experiences, and make new friends. It’s an opportunity for the citizens of the city to come and see how a cycle messenger operates. Otherwise, in an everyday city you can only see how a cycle messenger is driving around and carrying packages, but from the sidelines people don’t know how it really is. Although for most of the cycle messengers this is a lifestyle, the Cycle Messenger Championship helps others understand the work of cycle couriers. The spectators at events – “Wow, look at how fast those lads go!”, “Wow, look at the bag the courier is carrying on their back!”. You can see the reaction from the championship competitors!
The 25th Cycle Messenger World Championships in Montreal took place form the 9th to the 14th of August, gathering around 300 participants. How many people came from Latvia and what did you do?
The size of the teams depends on the location of the championship: if it’s in North America, then the majority of participants will be from Canada and the USA. If it’s in Europe, then people from European countries. That’s why the geographical location is the deciding factor. There were participants from Mexico, Indonesia, Taiwan, and Japan. This year there were only 2 of us Latvians at the event, but we participated from a different point of view. In previous years we travelled to World and European Cycle Messenger Championships as participants, but this time, in preparation for the 2018 championship, we came as volunteers – to help and to have a look at the event from the other side. In the event we had our own Riga checkpoint, representing the next championship.
Is Riga ready to host the 2018 championship?
Yes, of course! We were ready to host the event last year when we presented Riga in Paris. Participants vote where the event will take place in two years time. The choice is not solely dependent on the presentation of the country, because a very important factor is the people who participate from this country. Participants must go and participate in championships so other participants get to know them, as well as the next potential hosts knowing people, this way demonstrating that you are capable of organizing an event. For example, if a guy from Moscow came to Latvia saying that he wants to organize the event and will put “Moscow 2020 Championship” up for nomination, then no one will vote for him, because nobody will know him and will not know if he is capable of organizing and hosting this competition. You have to attend 3-4 years of championships and have to prove yourself. You don’t necessarily have to get first place, just be in the events. Then the rest will trust you more.
From a bicycle couriers point of view you’ve seen a lot of streets and infrastructure in different countries. What is it that could make Riga interesting for bicycle couriers? Is Riga different?
The fact that the championships have never been so far East. They’ve been in Stockholm, Warsaw, but not in this part of Europe. Riga will be something new and exotic for other participants, because Latvia is a small country and many don’t even know where it is. Participants are usually couriers and they will be riding regardless of whether or not there are cycling routes. Couriers have no problem going between cars, buses – that doesn’t bother them. Bicycle couriers are on the road every day. The only thing that could affect them is the culture of the road – the drivers, pedestrians and cyclists – on the streets. That’s the only thing that might surprise them. During the championship there won’t be any disciplines in real traffic, since traffic would then have to be stopped; otherwise it is a high risk factor. Everyone rides fast because they’re racing. That’s why it will take place in a limited area – on a closed track.
What should the people who have never participated before be prepared for? Is it safe?
Participants should know which disciplines they want to attend, they need to prepare themselves, and arrive on time. Safety is just as important as it is in any other cycling sport. Someone could fall, someone else could run you over, there may be traumas, but it’s the same as, for example, mountain or highway bikes or BMX races. The risk factor is exactly the same! Everything depends on the riders themselves or on the condition of the bike.
Is it an attractive type of sport for spectators?
Yes, because it is a closed track, so you can see more. If the spectators of road cycle races only see the section of where they are, then in this case, the couriers circle the track all the time, passing by the spectators. As a result it’s more dynamic, more entertaining, and the cycling is more intense. There is something to see! Spectators get to understand the daily routine of couriers, their work, to look from a different point of view what it actually is, go visit markets and concerts. There might be 10 couriers in Helsinki, but in the evening there might be 50 people at the event that look like messengers with hats, bags, and equipment. Why is courier equipment attractive? Because it’s thought out – you have to ride fast, think fast, and get started quickly. So everything is thought out – the buckle, so you can connect as quickly as possible, the bags are waterproof and easy to open and close, insert and remove, hats with a cap so the sun doesn’t blind you or let the rain drip off, lock keys are hanging from your hand so you can lock it up faster, unlock and keep going. So you don’t have to remove it from your pocket and waste time. Everything is comfortable and effective! Everything is thought of in such a way, so that it can be done as fast as possible.
What kind of emotions do the participants feel? Is tension the reigning emotion or does the event have a positive atmosphere?
Genuinely positive, because you go to the event from the other side of the world and meet friends who you haven’t seen since last year. You ask them how’s it going, what everyone else is up to. A lot will have changed over a year – someone’s married, someone had a baby, someone else has started a business, someone’s gone from being a courier but still attend the championships because it’s in their blood. It’s like a festival. During the competitions, the organizers always remind the participants that they have to be polite at checkpoints, because it’s like a client. If the courier goes to a client, he’s not going to shout at them. It all depends on the person in the competition. If there are any technical problems then that can cause friction between players – one participant puts down his bike, someone puts theirs down on another riders bike, someone scratches another bike, or handlebars get stuck in spokes and break them. Participants may be disgruntled if they have to leave the track because of someone else. Otherwise, everything is in a positive environment with gigs and events.
A courier could seem quite stylish to the younger generation: fast, physically active and on a bike. Is it cool to be a cycle courier in Latvia, and how popular is it?
People often see the courier riding around and want to try it. They think, what’s the big deal – “cycle around on a bike all day, and everything is cool”. But those who come to work as a courier in the summer usually leave in autumn because it is a hard job. You can’t say “I’m not riding outside today because it’s raining or because it’s plus or minus 30 degrees”. It is a job that has to be done whatever the weather. The couriers are usually frozen in winter, soaking wet in autumn, but the job needs to get done regardless. If anyone wants to try out how it is to be a bicycle courier then you have to come in November, not in the summer, when the sun’s shining and you can just roll about on your bike in the city.
Does being in a bicycle courier company pay off in the championships? Is there a difference between cities over the world?
Couriers from big cities compete over the best positions because they travel large distances on a daily basis, and they have to do them faster. That’s why they have better physical fitness, faster speed, and they need to know more streets that will help them train their planning, to process information faster, and what they have to understand. For example, if a courier in Riga, not getting off his bike, rides a maximum of 20 minutes to reach the airport, then a courier from a mega city has to continually make these large distances and plan them so that they don’t have to take a detour. There’s more traffic, more streets, and with that comes better physical fitness and route planning.
What kind of equipment do you need to participate?
A bike, a helmet, a bag, and a pen. The type of bike that is the best for each individual is dependent on how the rider feels comfortable. Someone feels good on a mountain bike with big tires; another may feel good on a road bike that is light and aerodynamic. It’s individual for everyone. You can see various bikes and different results at the championship, which show that it’s not determined by the price of the bike, be it 100 or 5000 euros. Those types are seen at the championship – from simple ones to professional sport bikes.
What qualities guarantee a victory?
First of all, it is important to plan your routes, and the participants’ resourcefulness and logical thinking. Secondly, the participants’ speed and physical fitness are important. Thirdly, the bike. A bicycle courier’s job contributes to victory in the championship! A potential participant may be a really good highway cyclist, but if they do not plan the route properly, they will not win. You have to ride fast too, of course. You can’t push the bike and wonder why there is no result.