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

Monday, August 18, 2014

A new way of doing business

I was in a business meeting with my right hand man at a local burger joint recently, and we were a few beers in when I threw out some home-spun cliche like, "every problem is an opportunity in disguise." and something changed in his face. "I never thought of it that way!" he said, and proceeded to thank me for being his mentor and tell me how much the knowledge and trust I've placed in him over the years has changed his life for the better.

It was quite a moment, and I guess I hadn't crystalized my role in the relationship in my mind until then, because it struck me what an honor and awesome responsibility this is. I mean, I was just trying to get him to change his attitude about the endless little challenges of running a small business, which is something I struggle with always. I never fully realized how valuable all my tips to success in business could be when applied to other people's lives. Many of these gems were passed down to me by my own mentors, and many were mined from decades of brutal trial and error.

This could be my ultimate contribution, I thought.. and such a scary prospect! What if I'm found out to be a hypocrite? Betraying my own lofty ideals of what I say should be done. The role of mentor can inspire me to always be a better example, to personify the vision I preach. And it can be a burden of guilt if I don't always live up to the high standards I hold others to.

The difference is in full disclosure. I am human, and I will fall short, but I know from experience what works and what doesn't, especially in my realm of expertise.

My long term crew has seen me at my worst, but they also know I have their backs, and that I've been where they are and want to make it work better for them. The knowledge I pass on to them is the best of what I can glean from everything I've collected over the years. I've been punched in the nose and gotten up - many times. Maybe I can help you to see it coming, and duck.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Ongoing discussion of bicycle entitlement vs empowerment and what that means to our real time relationships on the road...


Anonymous writes in response to my article:

"Entitlement means you should receive something by right. All people on bikes should be entitled to safe, comfortable passage.

When you say someone is 'taking up more room than they need' what you really mean is 'taking up more room than I think they need.' As a skilled, former bike messenger, you may not understand how much space someone who is a little wobbly or carrying children needs to be safe. Maybe to you 'cars that cut her off are simply obstacles that she has the deftness to go around' but to me they're physical threats that could leave my children without a father."

In reply:

Thank you 'Anonymous' for your well taken points and for pointing out a valid perspective differing from my own. I see this as an opportunity to foster mutual respect and forge positive discussion about common ground solutions.

I wholeheartedly feel the validity of being vulnerable as a cyclist on the road, but how do we get beyond that feeling of fear and get home safely on our bicycles? I think we can agree that all cyclists - no matter how wobbly - are entitled to safe passage. But feeling comfortable is an entirely different and subjective thing based on each individual's experiences and opinion, and it's much harder to write that into the law books.

For me personally, pushing myself beyond the bounds of comfort - getting out there every day and conquering my fears - has led to the kind of empowered cycling I'm talking about. It allows us the ability to assert our rights on the road while remaining above all - aware, cautious, and conscientious of the other travelers around us. While it's true that cyclists are relatively more vulnerable, we also have more freedom of movement, and the convergence of these two realizations should lead to a heightened awareness of our spatial relation to other people and things on the physical plane, as well as our options for avoiding collision - an increasingly crucial skill for survival in today's distracted and hurried world.

Safety on the road is all about your awareness and expectation of the objects around you on a very concrete level. If you expect a motorist to cut you off - regardless of how you feel about it - you are better prepared for how to deal with it. If you can let it slide off your 'duck's back' and keep going without becoming fearful or indignant, you stand a better chance of staying on the road and becoming a more experienced and stronger (less wobbly) cyclist. Alternatively, if all day long you see every car as a life-threat, you may conclude that bicycling is dangerous and give it up entirely until society creates an infrastructure built just for you and your comfort level.

I submit that a certain amount of faith and responsibility in becoming competent and comfortable is required in stepping outside every day. I know that when I was first starting out as an urban cyclist, if I felt particularly nervous on a certain busy thoroughfare, I would seek alternative routes until my skill level and confidence matched the flow of traffic on those streets.

To me empowerment is the act of carving out your niche in the ecosystem we all intend to share in a way that takes into consideration all the players involved. After all we are all just people trying to get somewhere alive and continuing the 'us vs them' narrative leads nowhere fast.

I do see a middle ground that provides for everyone's safety while keeping in mind the need for the efficient flow of all traffic. (see positive examples of dedicated NYC/Portland bike lanes) The vehicle code, although not set up originally for the rights of all, is a means of correcting the equation between motorists and cyclists. Dedicated and painted bike lanes that are routed 3 feet out of the path of opening car doors and jay-walking pedestrians are one example. Another is the recently passed law in California requiring cars to 'safely' pass cyclists by giving them at least 3 feet of leeway.

One proactive step we could all personally take would be to lobby our state politicians for stricter penalties on motorists who kill and maim cyclists with reckless or negligent driving.

Bill Monning State Senator


Mark Stone State Assembly


Finally, while I appreciate the input, I do have to correct you on calling me a 'former bike messenger'. I'm not just writing about this stuff, I've been a working messenger for over 20 years and I still regularly ride 50 mile days on my bike to Watsonville and back for Clutch Couriers. Also as a worker/owner I'm proud to say I don't take any accounts or jobs that I wouldn't be happy to do myself for the price offered; An important distinction and another building block of empowerment for my crew.

"Rather than pave the whole world in leather.. put on a pair of shoes." - Unknown

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Bicycle Empowerment vs. Bicycle Entitlement - an opinion piece

When I was a kid growing up in rural New Zealand our family farm was in the Waitakere mountain ranges, perched a couple of miles up a gravel road and then up a steep driveway winding through overhanging rainforest ferns dripping their big dew drops down the back of your jacket.

I thought of a bike as a tool and a toy; it was for getting around and play. Racing down that country road with the wind at my back I felt as if I was flying. It didn't matter that I was precariously balanced on the back of my older brother's bike rack on the way to school, or that he often tried to bump me off by hitting the biggest rocks as a joke. The danger only added to my exhilaration. I was always disappointed when we got to the asphalt and he would let me off like so much dead weight. As he disappeared over the next hill, his strong legs barely showing the effort of his acceleration, I marveled at the speed and grace the bicycle gave my sometimes dorky brother. It seemed to transform him with the power of movement.

When I got my own bike I was more cautious, but I was always thrilled at how far I could go up our little road without much effort, and I never tired of letting the miles of greenery just flow past as my little legs found their first tenuous cadence.

In my 'urban twenties', living in the lower east side of Manhattan, my bicycle opened up a whole new world to me. First of all, it's the only practical way to get around. If you own a car in New York you are a fool or must love paying tickets and gridlock, because that's all you get. The subway is ok, but it takes forever and is extremely claustrophobic. The bike is the complete opposite and it's a perfect tool for inner city transport; also your bike lock can serve as a handy form of self defense in a pinch. Most often my bike offered me freedom and empowerment. The freedom to leave my neighborhood and explore the madness that was New York City. Boundaries meant nothing to me, and if someone tried to corner me I could easily get away .. "Gotta go, yo!"

When I became a bike messenger in '94 it gave me an escape out of my dead end retail job where I was treated less than human. In courier work I found a merit-based career where I could move up in value and commission based on my willingness and ability to grow stronger and learn new skills.

People who rode bikes in New York came from every socio-economic background. If you looked at all the snarling and immobilized motor traffic, it just seemed that we were the locals with the most common sense and moxie. Everyone else was trapped in the grid, but not necessarily inferior or worthy of derision beyond a chuckle as you flew past.

It wasn't until I moved back to the west coast in the 2000's that I met the 'Entitled Cyclist'. You know the type.. They sit up real straight in the saddle, snoot aloft, taking up more room than they need on the road to feel comfortable - because godammit they are saving the planet with every pedal turn - and you are just going to have to wait with your carbon-spewing monstrosity. The cyclists who call themselves 'car-free' and look down on you if you drive. Ask them to say 'SUV' without making the letters drip with judgement and contempt. Also included in this category are the inconsiderate cyclists who incite road rage and confuse the flow by blowing through intersections and tearing down one-way streets the wrong way because they feel they deserve to and everyone else should be looking out for them.

I was visibly annoyed with this crowd, and still am for the most part, but I was recently illuminated by a different perspective from a friend who told me that when she first started to ride regularly, she cultivated and used that sense of entitlement to propel her up hills in the rain when really, she would have rather been in a warm, cozy car. "I'd look at these 'car-people' knowing they were fat and lazy and would never get off their asses to do what I was doing, and that made me feel great about myself, even if I was physically miserable." she admitted, adding- "As I got stronger from riding every day, I didn't need that feeling as much." In this instance she used her entitlement to empower herself, although I doubt the smug look on her face inspired many drivers to get out of their cars and into the rain.

I realize that at least half of all human endeavor is motivated by ego, and if you can feel superior to someone else, it's a great motivator. While I see the powerful drive behind such thinking in the bicycling community - and even it's positive outcome - I feel it's a double-edged sword that can create a martyr complex from a sense of sacrifice - i.e. "I'm better and give more because I'm biking versus driving."

An Entitled Cyclist lives in a world relative to the motorist. She feels good because he is lazy and polluting in comparison. In contrast, an Empowered Cyclist lives in a world relative to her better self. She feels good because with every crank she gets closer to her literal and figurative destination; as well as her goal of good health and a sense of joy through movement. The cars that cut her off are simply obstacles that she has the deftness to go around .. like water in a mountain stream flowing around rocks on it's way to the ocean.

As bicycling gains popularity you might think that more cyclists on the road is a good thing overall, but I would argue that we need all the entitled cyclists to eventually grow into a more responsible and empowered style of riding. Empowered cyclists are more desirable because they understand that survival on the road is a matter of respect. They know sharing the road means being aware of everyone's trajectory, and act as part of a system with common sense rules that apply to all. Like waiting to take your turn. Personally, I'm tired of motorists - conditioned by rude cyclists - expecting me to ignore four way stop signs, or worse, trying to wave me into situations where their well meaning but misplaced politeness would put me in danger. I'd rather give the right of way and live another day. Plus, it's less confusing for everyone involved.

I'm not advocating stupidity .. there are obviously some scenarios where it's appropriate for cyclists to bend the rules that are designed for cars. Common sense tells us though, that if you don't want to die or hurt someone (let's hope we all agree on that at least) you should be visible, slow down and look at every intersection, give the right of way, and not whip around blind corners that might have pedestrians crossing.

Empowerment is agency. It's the feeling of self-worth that comes from making yourself valuable to society and leveraging your skills towards a goal, whether it be personal or community minded. Entitlement is when you expect special treatment because of the sacrifices you have made for society, or because of your position at birth in the social strata - be it high or low.

Bicycling has brought me so much growth and empowerment in my life and career, and sometimes admittedly a sense of superiority. But I have to say that it came only after bicycling itself took over my life and made me stronger. It was something I had to do by necessity and for that I'm grateful. Perhaps if I had been given the choice I would have needed a sense of entitlement and specialness to get over those hills in the rain.


editors note: [pic is former Clutch Courier and Competitive Cyclist Nate King]

Saturday, June 7, 2014


While we fairly often receive positive feedback about our riders on the road, Clutch Courier Cassidy Morris (see pic) gets consistently noticed and commented on as providing a great example of how to ride safe and courteous while getting the job done. Unlike some other cyclists who feel entitled to blow though right of ways or buzz in front of pedestrians trying to cross the road, she has developed an empowered style of riding that gives awareness and leeway to those around her while maintaining her maneuverability and communicating with clear hand signals.
Way to be Cassidy! You get our 'considerate cyclist' award this month and we are proud to have you represent Clutch Crew.
For more about empowered vs entitled cycling and how these issues shape our relationships on the road stay tuned to this site...

Monday, April 28, 2014

SF Chronicle article on bike messengers 4-26-14

Interesting article about the growing number of messenger companies in the bay area turning to cargo delivery to stay afloat. While I agree that adaptability is key to the survival of the industry, I don't think that the future of bike messengers is in being go-fers for the "culture of instant gratification". For one thing, food delivery provides very little upward mobility for my crew; there's only so much even a fantastically rich techie will pay for a bagel. The real opportunity is in the fact that business is picking up, and both offices and individuals need more help streamlining their day. A professional bicycle courier company can pick up good work in this environment by providing a better, more efficient service for delivery of items of consequence within time frames that are unattainable by motorized competition because of congestion. That way the bike courier is providing an essential service beyond pure convenience, and companies will find them indispensable even in hard times.
This model has worked well for us in Santa Cruz with Clutch Couriers; where we provide a variety of professional services across a broad spectrum of the market. Our messengers are paid accordingly, and this allows them financial security beyond the 'fringe lifestyle' usually associated with bike messengers. By raising the professional standards and value of bicycle couriers in the market, the entire industry progresses forward and upward.
I wrote about the differences in approach and the long-term viability of the job a couple of years ago. This is also worth reading .. http://clutchcouriers.blogspot.com/2012/03/who-needs-bike-messengers.html