Under cobalt skies last Sunday, I’m standing atop the man-made sled hill next to Chicago’s Soldier Field football stadium. To the north are the gleaming skyscrapers of the Loop business district, as well the pummeling beats of the Lollapalooza fest. To the east, ocean-like Lake Michigan is filled with bobbing sailboats. To the south, hundreds of bicycle couriers are gathered in a huge parking lot for the finals of the 20th annual Cycle Messenger World Championships, the ultimate test of two-wheeled delivery prowess.
It’s been a long, alcohol-fueled week of events celebrating the courier lifestyle, including on-street “alleycat” races, a film night, track racing and the Messenger Prom, with cyclists dolled up in cocktail dresses and pastel tuxes. Many pundits predicted that bike couriers would go the way of the Pony Express, rendered obsolete by digital technology. It’s true that email and online file sharing have cut into business since the salad days of the 1990s. But the crowd of messengers, who’ve come from as far away as Guatemala, Japan, and Australia, suggests that as cities grow more congested there may always be a place for fast, efficient, environmentally friendly bike delivery.