For many avid cyclists, biking for a living sounds like a dream come true: spending all day in the open air rather than at a desk, enjoying the sights and sounds of the city while engaged in an activity you love.
For bike messengers, though, it’s not so glamorous.
These couriers play an important role in New York City’s delivery services industry. With the rise of Uber, Instacart and similar apps, they’re more in demand than ever before. Their efficiency and ability to navigate traffic simply can’t be matched when it comes to local deliveries.
It’s tough, dangerous work, though. According to a 2002 study of bike messengers in Boston, these cyclists suffer injury rates comparable to professional football players. They’re at risk for serious accidents such as:
- Getting struck by cars
- Getting “doored” by parked cars
- Getting into collisions with pedestrians (or crashing while trying to avoid inattentive pedestrians)
Bikers can end up with serious head, neck and back injuries – not to mention broken bones that can lay them up for months. And because most bike messengers work as independent contractors – often piecing together jobs from a patchwork of companies just to make ends meet – they rarely have employer-provided benefits such as workers’ compensation or health insurance. And to make matters worse, the surge in app-based delivery services in New York City has lead to steadily decreasing wages (and even more strenuous working conditions) for even the most seasoned bikers.
Not just a job, but a lifestyle
Despite the downsides – the safety risks, the long hours, the constant pressure to go faster and earn more, and the meager pay – for some, being a bike messenger is more than just a job. It’s a passion.
Many veteran bikers started out intending it to be a short-term job. Decades later, they can’t imagine going back to a “real job.” There’s even an annual racing event where bike messengers compete to determine who’s the best at what they do.
So the next time you see a bike messenger winding through the busy streets of Brooklyn or Manhattan, take a moment to appreciate the challenges they’re facing – and make sure you give them plenty of space.