Welcome to Santa Cruz County’s Bicycle Courier Blog

I thought it would be great to have a place where Bike Couriers and Bike Riders could meet and talk, share stories, trade advice, and build an online community. I look forward to reading and writing our Courier stories, news, and comments.

Rick Graves

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Messenger Profile #9 Rick Graves

You never would have guessed looking at my skinny ass pedaling out into the New York City snow on my Panasonic with the Pee Wee Herman handlebars, that 18 years later, I'd own my own courier company and still ride every day.

Well here I am, and what a ride it's been.

I have learned so much from being a bike messenger. One thing is what people mostly see, the pure joy and freedom of tearing down the road for a living, but also the slog through bad weather and the burden of responsibility that comes with carrying out the job professionally.

Along the way I have parleyed my independent contractor status into an entrepreneurial way of life. I sell my skills on the open market, and if I'm not paid well enough where I am, I step up my game and look for people and places that will benefit from my services and can appreciate - in every sense of the word - their value.

Holding true to that vision and standard has created real lasting jobs here in Santa Cruz, a dream come true for me as I watch the fruits of my many years labor help to make other lives better.

Today professional bike messengers cross the county daily carrying everything from legal paperwork to your grandma's biopsy, and the people that hire them know they can be counted on to get the job done.. to get it done right.. and to get it done right away.

Personally, I am so thankful for what I have gained from the job over the years: An acute sense of focus on the road, and an awareness of where I am on the physical plane, especially in relation to others. A rare practice these days.

A strong body and disciplined mind are requisites for doing the job in longevity, and in turn these things add to your life span. A humble nature must be maintained in order to let flattery and abuse slide from those that don't understand the job in it's day to day.

And in the end always a sense of wonder in what lies around the corner.

Of course a huge shout must go out to all my fellow bike messengers I have met along the road, both in the Clutch Couriers crew, and those holding it down worldwide. You are all a special breed of human, and I have been honored to ride with you, and be a part of this community.

Mostly, I am grateful to the people that gave me the job. Those of you that trusted me and my crew with your valuables, your documents of high consequence, your faith in our ability to deliver, rain or shine. You've given me the perfect job, and as long someone will hire me.. I may never retire.

Today my big chain ring in the front lost a tooth. It went down from a 53 to a 52. They say I'm getting older.. just as long as it happens one ratio at a time I don't mind so much.

Long Live The Profession! Long Live Bike Messengers!

Clutch Crew Forever!


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Messenger Profile #8 Michael Donohue

"Greets, My name is Michael, but some call me Mike or Micah. I like the variety. My humble roots are in Hilmar, a small dairy town in the Central Valley famous for its cheese manufacturing facility and high school football teams. Small town life was great for climbing fences, shooting bb guns and swimming in canals. It was also prime for commuting to scho ol on bicycle, and I have been a cyclist for about as long as I could walk. I spent many a sweltering summer playing bicycle ‘cops and robbers’ on the cul-de-sac, chasing and being chased by my brother Stephen and friends. I moved to Santa Cruz to attend UCSC in 2002, and even before graduating in Anthropology I knew Santa Cruz was a community I could settle down in and grow as a person. Being a cyclist from the valley I was amazed with the luxurious bike lanes on nearly every road and the sheer number of fellow cyclists. “Bike traffic... where am I, Amsterdam?!” I began professional cycling work in the summer of 2004 for a company operating a pedicab business hauling tourists from the wharf and boardwalk to downtown. The job ended with the summer, but working outside and on bicycle stuck with me as an ideal way to make a living in this beachside town. I joined the blossoming Santa Cruz Bicycle Polo scene one day after a trip to the Bike Church, and through bike polo I met and befriended Brandon and Andrew, both of whom are now with Clutch Couriers. I was smitten with envy when Brandon and later Andrew scored contracts to work at Clutch, and one night I pitched my cycling repertoire to Rick, who was gracious enough to give me a trial ride-along on the Watsonville route. Rick stuck with me joining Clutch even after my bike literally fell into pieces along the ride, and I learned a lesson in the value of dependability, both in the messenger business and life in general. I've been with Clutch Couriers since late October, and couldn't be happier with the way my life is going. Today you may see me riding along Soquel or atop UCSC; I’ll have at least one flower in my voluminous hair and, thanks to Rick and Clutch Couriers, a big ol’ smile smack across my face. See yall on the road." Editor's Note: Michael has been a welcome addition to the crew.. and when he's not trying to charm the ladies en route he's always on point. Thanks for the great attitude and hard work Mike! You rule!!-RG

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Bike to Work Day turns 25!

For 25 years this day has been celebrated as “National Bike to Work Day”, an event that has raised awareness and participation in cycling across the country and particularly in Santa Cruz due to the tireless efforts of volunteers and organizations that donate their time and resources to provide free breakfast to bike commuters today, and bicycle related events and outreach all week long. While this is highly commendable, and I love the free brekky, it has always had for me-the working messenger- a sort of high rent feel to it, being so geared toward bike commuters. The-‘let’s get lockers and showers at our fancy tech firm so I can avoid being sweaty and helmet hair in the office’-set. While this may be somewhat of a personal bias, I’d venture to say there is a whole segment, maybe lower income population, that the bike to work movement has missed; those that actually work on their bikes, or rather use their bikes for work. You see them in Watsonville riding beat up mountain bikes to labor in the fields, you see them in the city streets of Shanghai transporting monstrous loads of cargo, and you see them in the tree-lined boulevards of Amsterdam safely shuttling their children in special ‘family trikes’. In most of the developing world ownership of a working bike can be a ticket out of poverty for the savvy entrepreneur. By providing transport and a means for delivery the bicycle as a tool can improve the standard of living for whole communities. There are micro-lending organizations that are dedicated to the bike as a means to upward mobility. “Sherida began selling tomatoes in 1995, starting her business with only $10 in working capital. Although her produce sold well, she could never really afford to improve or expand her business; her profits went immediately to fulfilling her family’s basic needs. In 1998, Sherida heard from a friend that an organization called FINCA was offering loans to women in the area. Sherida used her first FINCA loan to purchase spare bicycle parts for transporting the tomatoes. She also cultivated her own tomato garden, and was able to afford seeds and insecticides. But perhaps more important, she was able to set aside savings, even after paying school and uniform fees for her children.” For more info visit: http://www.finca.org/site/c.6fIGIXMFJnJ0H/b.6088193/k.BE5D/Home.htm Of course you can’t discount the bike as a sublime toy, an avenue to sheer joy. All the pro bike messengers I know are in the game because they love to ride. I don’t know any motorized couriers that do it because they love to drive. For all the bike messengers working every day world-wide, for all the Sheridas out there, I propose an “International Bikes That Work Day”. Let’s honor the most efficient tool for energy conversion ever created by honoring the people that have thought up the best uses for it.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Who needs bike messengers?

One of my friends was having a conversation with some twenty-something techno wonks and the subject came up that he knew some bike messengers around town. The attitude around the table was universally contemptuous, “that's stupid,” offered one, “in this day and age aren't all messages digital? Who needs bike messengers?”
While I love the internet for the connectivity it offers my business, these whiz-kids are forgetting some of it's limitations. For starters communication on the web is very one way. It's easy to ignore a message you don't want to get, and for that reason alone there will always be a need for bike messengers to physically inform people that they are being sued or to make sure a legal filing gets done.
As we find out more about this new digital reality it's the human element that's missing. Just today there was a need for a clerk to get papers in our hands so that a little girl could be adopted by her grandfather after her parents death. If the superior court clerk didn't answer the phone and listen to the attorneys case as to why this needed to be expedited, if there wasn't a bike messenger ready to physically get those documents, they would be sitting in archives for 4-6 weeks as this little girl waits.
As it was we were able to get the job done that same day because of human interaction and physical requisition of documents. These things do not happen by email. In fact many counties are switching back from e-filing systems because of the cost of constant upgrades and unreliable software.
Also the web is subject to fraud. When you receive an email, you don't even know who you are talking to anymore. When you receive a document by bike messenger you sign for it and she tells you what it's about. There is a human being involved whose professional duty is to make sure that you receive the message. That is very important to the legal profession.
Also as mobile notaries, we bike messengers make sure that people are who they say they are, and when they are signing documents that they understand them and are signing under their own will. You don't want that done over internet. Remember all those robo-signings set up by the banks to fraudulently speed up foreclosures a couple years ago?
We deliver cookies, blood plasma, bone marrow, and biopsies. You can't fit any of those in an email, and when we deliver we give you a real smile not an emoticon. ;)
So who needs bike messengers? Everyone does!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Impact letter for consideration at Elliot Dess's sentencing

I miss Zack immensely. At Clutch Couriers we all do. He was our friend, confidant, and when he was taken from us, ¼ of our crew.
For years he was always there on time with a friendly greeting or bad pun. Now when the time comes for the bad joke that would break the tension I try weakly to fill the role but it's not the same.
Beyond being kind and funny, Zack's presence as a reassuring veteran on the crew is sorely missed. By always giving an encouraging or helpful word to the rookies, Zack filled an important role in maintaining our company's high standard of service, and relieved pressure on me as a business owner by being so reliable and generous with his knowledge and good humor.
He could have easily chosen to see his other crew members as competition, but he wasn't that way. These kind of people don't come along every day, and they are impossible to replace, in your work and in your life.
As much as losing Zack is hard, it's how he died that really gets to me. I am aware of the dangers of the job, and we all take risks, but I can't think about a world where people are left for dead on the side of the road and just go about my business. The brutality of it is paralyzing.
I have been a bike messenger for 18 years both in New York City and Santa Cruz, but this really shook me. It took me a while not to think that some drivers were out to get me. This is my job, and I had to soldier on, we all did, but I know we had to lean on each other hard to get the job done.
Part of what helped was the memory of Zack and what a great person he was. I have met so many amazing people and heard so many stories about how Zack has touched their lives, and I can see in their eyes what an impact he made.
I can only imagine the loss his family feels. I am honored to have met them, and I can see Zack in all of their quirky kindnesses.
I know that this was an tragic accident and maybe some day it can be reconciled or even forgiven, but the act itself, the senseless loss of our friend Zachary, can never be fixed.

Rick Graves/Clutch Couriers

Richard Graves
Clutch Couriers