Every year hundreds of bike couriers from around the globe descend on a different city for the Cycle Messenger World Championships, with races, arts events and parties celebrating one of the toughest, most enjoyable jobs around. This year the 19th annual worlds take place in Warsaw on July 27-31; next year Chicago does the honors.
Augie Montes, an eleven-year veteran of the delivery biz who spearheaded the 2008 North American Cycle Courier Championships (NACCC) in Chicago, talked with me about the recent championships in Tokyo and Panajachel, Guatemala, and filled us in on the Windy City’s plans for hosting the worlds in 2012.
What’s the purpose of the messenger championships?
It’s a chance for folks from all over the world who do the same job to meet each other, hang out and celebrate the fact that it’s a fun and unique job due to the culture that’s built up around it.
What countries have you gone to for messenger championships?
I’ve been to a bunch of the NACCCs but the only time I got to leave the country for a world championship was Tokyo in 2009. I always work too much [as an owner-rider at Four Star, a Chicago courier collective] to make it to the other ones.
What was it like being in Japan, hanging out with messengers from all over the world?
That was great. Between the culture shock and messengers just being the way that messengers are – you plop us down in the middle of a situation and everyone just kind of goes nuts and figures out what to do – it was a blast.
The crazy part was, Tokyo being such a huge city, I was kind of shocked by how often I would be riding around by myself and run into groups of people from other countries who just happened to be riding around as well. And then there’d just be packs of us, roaming the streets and checking things out until the next party, race or event. It was everybody just trying to have fun and see as much stuff as possibly and getting to know each other as well as they possibly could. It was really, really positive.
Did you hear anything about how things were in Guatemala last year?
I would have loved to have made it but there was a pretty good crew of people who went out there from Chicago. I heard plenty of stories, including ones about the mudslides that happened right beforehand. It was bad: roads were washed out, towns were disabled, people died.
Despite that happening, the worlds still went pretty damn well, which was kind of incredible. First and foremost it was the people of Panajachel [a small city in the southwestern highlands] and the people of Guatemala being able to adapt to their situation. And then messengers being kind of knuckleheads, being like, OK, this is what you’re handing us? Let’s see what we can do here.
So Chicago won the bid to host the world championships in 2012. What’s in the works for that?
Right now we’re looking at the last weekend in August 2012. There’ll be some alleycats [races in live traffic], the main race, and all the side events that people have come to expect – trackstand competitions , skids, yadda, yadda, yadda. There’s also talk of a group ride up to Milwaukee a couple of days beforehand. Folks there want to be involved and since it’s so close [95 miles from downtown Chicago to downtown Milwaukee] it would really be lame if we didn’t take that opportunity.
Do you have a location yet?
No, we’ve got a number of places scouted out. The Mayor’s Office of Special Events has been approached and they seem to be into the idea. It’s a matter of what they will allow or what things are going to cost. It can get pretty expensive to block off streets and hire police and get Streets and Sanitation to put up signs.
We’re strongly considering the industrial area at Damen Avenue and Fulton Street because it’s mostly warehouse businesses and it tends to be pretty quiet during the weekend. It’s centrally located, which is also a good thing.
Why is Chicago going to be a good city to host the worlds?
One of the reasons bringing the NACCC to Chicago was a big deal to me is often I feel Midwestern cities get overlooked in the States. And as a transplant from the West Coast, I think Chicago’s an amazing city. There’s tons of culture, tons to see and do. Physically it’s a beautiful city. Lake Michigan is a perfect selling point by itself – it’s an incredible natural wonder that we’ve got sitting there. And we have a cool bike culture that I don’t think people necessarily expect. In the future when the best world championships come up in people’s minds I want Chicago to be one of the first places anybody thinks of.
Anything else you want to tell me?
The last weekend in August [of this year] we’re doing the Chicago Cuttin’ Crew Classic [alleycat] and that same weekend is also going to be the 6th annual Messenger Prom. Friday night there will be a small race, Saturday is the main race, Saturday night we do the prom and then Sunday there’s usually a bike polo tournament and we do time trials and barbecue. This year’s going to be a fundraiser for the worlds and we’re trying to get as many folks out from out of town as we can possibly get to come and have some fun.
Cool. Well, Augie, thanks a lot for your time.
Grid Chicago is a blog about sustainable transportation matters, projects and culture in Chicago and Illinois, by John Greenfield and Steven Vance since June 2011.
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