Right now they’re in style. For some time, loads of messengers were riding BMX bicycles since the 16″ wheels were viewed as a children’s bicycle so lawful to ride on walkways. Something helpful where there are one-way lanes. Some messengers working in downtown areas use kick bikes with pneumatic tires for that reason.
Many bike messengers changed from traditional ten-speed drivetrains to mountain bikes after they realized the sturdier tires and wheels gave them a potential benefit, which made the MTB a popular choice for many bike messengers.
There are still loads of bike messengers using their MTB daily, while others have adopted fixed-gear bikes as their preferred tool for work. Likewise, by all accounts, there has also been a move away from the previously popular messenger bag toward the use of rucksacks nowadays; it’s a balance thing.
So why do messengers use fixed-gear bikes?
It’s NOT about speed. To an expert rider, the factors which affect “speed” most are the route and planning.
It’s NOT tied to braking either. Other than the conspicuous material science behind an appropriately applied front brake, any brakeless rider that is set on contending otherwise should demonstrate it. I’ve seen front brake fixies go from 25 to 0 in less than 15 feet. It looks startling, and it is. On the off chance that any brakeless rider out there can do likewise without hitting anything I’d love to see it.
So why a fixie? They ride them for the enjoyment and straightforwardness of this type of bike. Fixed-gear bikes, or fixies, are likewise extremely cheap and easy to maintain and once you know how to ride one exceptionally, nobody can keep up with you.
Numerous bike couriers swear that riding a fixie avoids unnecessary stress on their knees compared to using a freewheel bike, so they keep it simple by using a single-speed or fixed-gear bike.
For anyone who doesn’t have a clue about the distinction – a fixed-gear has one speed without a freewheel – on a fixie the pedals will consistently turn while the bike is moving.
Here’s another reason: sadly, muggings and robberies are common among bike messengers, particularly when they often need to leave their bike temporarily while delivering packages in the city. Oftentimes, there is a lack of a reasonable structure to which they can secure their bike without wasting valuable time looking around or securing it some distance away from their designated destination, again wasting precious time.
A fixie is a deterrent to bike thieves because you need a lot more skill to mount and ride a fixie compared to a regular freewheel bike. If you’ve ever seen anyone trying to ride a fixed-gear bike for the first time, it’s hilarious to watch. It’s just not as easy to get on and go, so bike thieves tend to avoid them for this reason. Most bike messengers also make use of thick security chains around their abdomen and secure their bikes using U locks at any convenient point they can quickly identify.
But why are bike messengers still a thing today?
Indeed, even nowadays, bike messengers are still in high demand. You would imagine that with all the digital technology at our fingertips that only the most valuable documents and packages would still be conveyed by hand. But bike couriers or messengers continue to be used daily by many organizations.
In reality, what has spared bike couriers from becoming an obsolete breed is our inherent human dislike for anything new(ish) and our longing to truly feel things, physically, which are important.
How did bike messengers get started?
It appears that some of the first bike messengers or couriers in the US showed up during the 1880s. In the US, bicycle couriers began becoming well known in 1894, when the delivery of mail was halted in San Francisco because of a rail strike. The proprietor of a Fresno bicycle shop had the splendid idea of setting up a delivery route between Fresno and San Francisco, an amazingly successful idea.
Before long, huge organizations also began using bike messengers to do deliveries, including Western Union and the US Postal Service. As you can probably guess, at that time, they all used fixed-gear bicycles.
Despite the appearance of DHL, UPS and similar huge delivery organizations, bike courier companies still endured, being able to offer a quicker response in many cases, especially for local neighborhood delivery needs.
During the 20s and 30s, bike messengers became increasingly popular, although most organizations hired specialist service providers to deal with their logistic and delivery requirements. A few organizations used their own team of bike couriers; Tamblyn Drug Stores had perhaps the largest fleet of bike couriers at the time.
Because bike couriers regularly used to carry more valuable bundles (and oftentimes cash), they became obvious targets for hoodlums or muggers. There were even gangs that dedicated themselves to robbing bike messengers. Things turned out to be so awful in certain urban areas that evening and night-time deliveries were suspended for a while.
The most popular bike courier organization was established by Carl Sparks in 1945, post Second World War, in San Francisco. The organization, Sparkie’s, in the end, became Aero, which was eventually purchased in 1998 by CitySprint.
Today’s bike messengers are typically equipped with state-of-the-art radio communication devices or GPS-enabled gadgets. Yet the most significant tool they use harks back to the roots of bike couriers and those that pioneered the service before them – the fixed-gear bike.
Although fixed-gear bikes (or fixies) may be seen by those who don’t use them as a superfluous headache, bike messengers have a valid justification for using them: when your work requires you to cycle up to 100 miles daily, you need a bike with minimal components which can break or fail. Downtime due to mechanical failure is lost income. The simpler the bike the better. Bike messengers using today’s fixies also pay homage to those early pioneering bike messengers.
And those are the main reasons why today’s bike messengers prefer to use a fixed-gear bike over a traditional freewheel setup.