Long hours, low pay, but lots of love – for bike messenging


Michael Malone, photographed by Alex Weaver

Ed. note: This article was contributed by Alex E. Weaver, a grad student at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. The piece also appears on the Medill Reports website. Alex covers transportation issues facing Chicago commuters, with a focus on cycling and car culture.

It’s not every day that practitioners of a low-paying, service industry profession become fodder for major motion picture action thrillers or speak of their daily routine in terms of pride, competition and creativity. Then again, Chicago’s bike messengers are not your everyday delivery service. “Bike messengers get attention because there is something very romantic about the job,” said Jeffrey Kidder, a former bike messenger who has studied them. “It’s fast-paced, it’s physical, and it’s risky.”

The Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) last estimated that 300 bike messengers are operating in the city, completing more than 1.1 million deliveries annually. And while those numbers may have declined since the recession and the advent of e-mail, Chicago’s streets are still teeming with these daredevil bikers – third only, industry veterans say, to New York and Washington, D.C.

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