While to some, earning a living through riding your bike may seem like heaven, for bike couriers there are obvious downsides, such as dealing with irate taxi drivers and white van men, dodging careless pedestrians, and consigning packages to unsmiling security guards, not to mention the ever-present risk of serious injury or worse while going about your work.
And with the evenings drawing in, temperatures dropping and the Met Office forecasting continued rain in London in the days ahead, it would be unsurprising if spirits started to flag among some members of the capital’s bike courier community at this time of year.
But this Thursday 26 November, the London Courier Emergency Fund (LCEF) plans to show them just how valued they are with by organising a Bike Courier Appreciation Day.
LCEF will be distributing free coffee and home-made cakes and other treats to couriers at the junction of Shaftesbury Avenue and Bloomsbury Street – known as ‘the island’ – in Central London, from 9am until supplies run out.
The spot sits immediately between New Oxford Street and Shaftesbury Avenue, key routes used by couriers going to and from the City and West End.
Hackney’s Tour de Ville bike shop is providing a Bike Doctor service, and LCEF badges and stickers and other freebies will also be handed out. Information about LCEF’s work will also be available to anyone wanting to find out more.
LCEF aims to help bike couriers injured during the course of their work, which can have an obvious impact on their finances given that most are engaged as self-employed contractors. It aims to provide a minimum of £150 for couriers prevented from working for two weeks or more due to injuries sustained on their bike.
As Buffalo Bill from online courier magazine Moving Target points out, this isn't the first time such an initiative has been held in London, with previous events held in 2003 and 2004 by the now defunct London Bicycle Messenger Association.
Bill welcomes the revival of the day, saying: "It's an excellent idea, and I hope that more businesses will take the opportunity to recognise and respect the contribution of couriers to their city."
Although the practice of holding a day to recognise the work of couriers lapsed in London, similar initiatives have existed continuously elsewhere for nearly two decades.
In North America, Messenger Appreciation Day was first held in San Francisco on 9 October 1991, the date chosen because “10-9” – as our Transatlantic cousins would refer to the date – is the radio call sign for “say again?”
Since then, a number of other cities in the US and Canada have chosen that date to celebrate their bike messenger communities, including Calgary, Chicago, Edmonton, Portland, Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver , Houston and Washington DC.
And in San Francisco, Chicago and Toronto, high-profile recognition of Messenger Appreciation Day has come in the form of official proclamations from city officials, making it part of the civic calendar.
LCEF admits that it wasn’t organised enough this time to get around to asking London Mayor Boris Johnson for a similar endorsement, adding that “maybe this is something that can be looked at for next year… Boris is a friendly chap after all.”
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.