Frequently Asked Questions
How to be a messenger and not get stitched up, nicked or runover.
Before you pursue a career in bicycle deliveries, please read this account.
What basic tools should I carry?
A pump, two tyre flips (the big flat Michelin flips work well), a puncture repair kit (get the little patches that only Condor seem to sell) & two spare tubes. 4,5 & 6 mm allen keys (also called hex wrenches) and a 14/15mm spanner if you have solid wheel axles that are secured with nuts.
Having spare tubes will cut the time that you lose due to punctures, as time off the road means possible loss of earnings. This way you save money. It's always good to have two tubes as punctures often come in pairs. Really industrious riders use stand-by time to fix the holes in tubes that they have replaced.
What is the best map book?
A Geographia A-Z with expanded Inner London pages or even better a Mini A-Z & a Super Scale Inner London. If you're inexperienced, do NOT attempt to use the Mini by itself. Any notional weight saved is utterly negated by the length of time it will take you to find Bourchier St, Draper Pl or Wardrobe Pl in the painfully small & abbreviated lettering of the central area maps.
Do I have to work if it is raining?
Yes. If you go home because you're wet, you are a muppet. Anything Goretex or Pertex should be alright, but remember that these membranes have to be kept cleanish to work properly, so find out how to wash them correctly and do it regularly. Mudguards go without saying.
What bags are decent?
The days when bicycle messengers merrily rode around looking like overgrown newspaper boys with orange vinyl coated shoulder bags that contained all their worldlies and that had non-adjustable length straps are gone. There are plentiful variations on the single-length adjustable strap shoulder bag or 'messenger bag' first produced by Globe Canvas (aka De Martini) for telephone line men and adopted by bicycle messenger companies in NY sometime in the late 70s.
See the bags page on the IFBMA site for a comprehensive list of proper messenger bags available worldwide. For durability and waterproofing, look for an outer layer of 1000 denier Cordura and a seperate vinyl lining.
You need some means (that is not wrapping tape) of securing a radio to the bag strap. Wrapping or duct tape sucks, and if for any reason you need to take the radio off the strap of the bag, you will be casting around for a roll with which to reattach. Far better to have something reusuable like a purpose made radio holder or Zefal velcro pump straps, or cut down toe straps. If you do use toe straps make sure to always to use two. 2-way radios have a nasty habit of jumping out of single straps and before you know it you're looking at a £300 bill for a smashed radio.
Is my bicycle safe left unattended?
No. Never ever ever leave your bike for a second anywhere without locking it with good quality (ie cost at least £30) lock, even if you are only to leave it for a second. If you leave your bike without locking it, even for a second, you might as well just give it away. Lean locking is OK in London most of the time [Ed - no it's not], but generally it is a good idea to lock your bike to something immovable, like a parking meter. Never get lazy about locking your bike. Don't ever imagine that your bike is too tatty to interest a thief; anything with wheels looks appealing to a crack-head or a junkie.
What company should I work for?
The very worst company is Special Delivery. Do NOT under any circumstances work for them. All the others are pretty much of a muchness. OK companies include: Reuter Brooks, Cyclone, MPC Logistics, Initial A-Z, City Sprint, Creative, Holborn Globe Trotters, Mach 1, Go Betweens. All these companies will be in the BT London Business Telephone Directory. Try and pick up the Rider's Digest, which is a magazine directed at motorcycle couriers more than cyclists. There'll be ads with phone numbers for companies wanting riders in the back. This can be found at any courier company.
How do I approach them?
The best way is to actually visit all the companies on your list until you find someone that is willing to give you a start. However, this can be a good way to waste a day, so use the phone. The disadvantage of using the phone is that you generally will not get to speak to the person in charge of hiring and firing. This either the senior controller, the fleet manager or the operations manager. At those companies with a dedicated pedal bike controller it may sometimes be the pedal bike controller.
How do I know if the company I'm working at is bad?
At first, any company that will take you on is a good company (except Special Delivery). After two weeks, you should get your first pay cheque. For 5 days 9-6, even a total amateur should pick up £200 before deductions. If your first cheque amounts to less than £40 a day then you should either quit the job altogether or go looking for another company.
Talk to other riders. If there's a crowd of couriers sitting around chatting chances are that they'll respond favourably to any reasonable queries. (Unless they're Metro riders ;>). The Duke of York (Clerkenwell Road - Vine Hill, EC1) has couriers about most evenings, though you'll catch the largest gathering on Thursday and Friday nights.