Back in the 80s and 90s, bicycle couriers were a bit of a novelty. I remember seeing them when I lived in London. I don’t think many people thought they would stick around beyond their allocated period of being a fad. Surely a cyclist couldn’t match the speed of getting some important document from one corner of the city to the other! But clearly they could and 30 years later, cycle couriers are indeed still around, and with the likes of Deliveroo and cargo bikes, the sector is not only surviving but flourishing. And some people who were cycle couriers in their youth – Emily Chappell and Julian Sayarer come to mind – have gone on to greater things in the wider cycling world.
Both Chappell and Sayarer have written books about their exploits as cycle couriers, and earlier this week I received an email from a chap called Mark Gallagher who has just written his own account of being a cycle courier. He describes himself as follows:
“For around four years, in the early to mid 90s, I was a bike messenger in Glasgow city centre. It was easily the best job I’ve ever had, until now. I’ve always loved cycling, ever since I sat astride my first bike, a blue Raleigh Challenge – a present for my eighth birthday. I’ve been a professional IT consultant for the past 24 years, travelling all over the UK and Europe and working for a large number of governmental and private sector organisations. I’m still a keen cyclist and get out and about whenever I can. I think that it’s fitting that I chose this particular time to complete the book, as my fiftieth birthday rapidly approaches, some of these stories have brought back great memories and some emotional recollections.”
His book is called Above Average and comes with what is perhaps the world’s longest subtitle: A collection of mildly amusing bike messenger anecdotes and other unbelievable stories, interspersed with a smidge of autobiographical bits.
“Above Average is a memoir containing a number of different and diverse stories, some of which are accounts of my semi-anarchic adventures as a bicycle messenger in Glasgow back in the 1990s, including chases from the mounted police, getting stopped for speeding and nearly losing my life in a catastrophic bicycle accident. There are also stories regarding my time as a computer games programmer at around the same time, where I was involved in co-designing and writing a computer game that would get ripped off and go on to become Grand Theft Auto, resulting in a reasonably high-profile lawsuit. Add to this a handful of other stories, some of which would be nigh on impossible to make up, and you’ve got for an entertaining, sometimes humorous and sometimes emotional catalogue of happenings and adventures, not all of them good. There’s also an account of the time when I wound up amongst hundreds of dignitaries at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York, dressed as a Nigerian Chief, while watching my soon-to-be wife dancing for the President of Nigeria!”
So it’s clearly a book about more than just the cycling.
“It was about twenty three years ago, when I was at a wedding, entertaining some of the guests with stories of my bike messenger days, that one of the guests, a published author, suggested that I should write these stories down. She liked the content and she liked the way that I delivered them. The following year, while working in Bristol, I took that to heart and started to write down some of the highlights, not fully believing that I could create enough content for a book. I stalled at around 10,000 words and the memoir was put on hold indefinitely. In the meantime, I had a number of other adventures, I grew as a person and naturally developed as a writer. I started rewriting and reworking these stories at the beginning of 2020, adding many more as I went, and in 2021, at somewhere around 78k words, I self-published. “
A caveat here; I haven’t read Mark’s book so I can’t comment in any way, shape or form as to how good it is – perhaps at only £4.99 on Kindle it’s worth a punt – but if you liked Emily Chappell’s and Julian Sayarer’s accounts of their times whizzing around the big cities of Britain delivering important documents (or are tempted to become a Deliveroo driver yourself…), perhaps it’s one for you.
Here’s a short extract from Mark’s book:
“I’m not sure if I have the words to articulate the sheer unadulterated joy of being a bike messenger. Yes, it’s dangerous as fuck, a microsecond slip in focus as you’re flying through slow moving or stationary traffic can lead to serious injury, especially in the wet, but it’s still the most awesome job in the world. We’re knights of the road on our trusty steel (or sometimes aluminium) steeds, armed only with unwavering nerves, a sense of humour and the occasional water pistol! The exhilaration and elation of working the streets on a pushbike is like nothing else I can think of. Imagine a day when it’s chucking it down, big fuck off droplets smashing off your rain reddened arms, you’ve got six jobs on and your controller is on the radio asking you to go and pick up another three jobs “en route” but actually miles apart. You’re pedalling like a madman, keeping all the jobs in your head, working out your updated routes to factor in the new pickups and drops.”Above Average, by Mark Gallagher