2018 Markus Cook Award – Call for nominations

It’s time to call for nominations for this year’s Markus Cook Award for services to the international messenger community.

This will be the 21st year that the award is presented. It was started by Buffalo Bill in 1998, to remember Markus and to draw attention to messengers whose work benefits all of us. It was first awarded during the 1998 Cycle Messenger World Championships in Washington DC.

From the IFBMA’s Markus Cook Award page:

“The MCA for services to the International Messenger Community is not a prize for winning a race. At the time the Award was conceived, CMWC was beginning to be more about the racing than the happening. I [ Buffalo Bill] wanted to re-establish the spirit of the championships, to restate the reason that we all come to this event every year.

The MCA is a reflection of the axiom that everyone who comes to a CMWC is a winner, whether they race or not.

Markus himself was very much in love with the CMWC, and in many ways he was the unlikeliest bike racer imaginable. He was several other things, of course. Editor of Mercury Rising messenger zine, unofficial spokesperson of the SFBMA, leader of L Sid, and a friend to all. The enthusiasm of Markus brought CMWC and the international messenger community toSan Francisco, and it saddens many people to this day that he did not live to see it.

This award is for people that inspire and empower the wider messenger community, that put all of us before themselves.”

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Messenger Appreciation Day – 20 Years in Toronto

October 9, 2017 is the twentieth anniversary of the first Messenger Appreciation Day (10-9 Day) in Toronto. It was first proclaimed jointly by Toronto Mayor Barbara Hall and Metro Chairman Alan Tonks on October 9, 1997.


Toronto’s celebration has its roots in San Francisco as the bike messengers of San Francisco first promoted the idea of Messenger Appreciation Day in the early 1990’s and San Francisco first proclaimed it in 1991. Many messengers outside of San Francisco first heard of Messenger Appreciation Day in 1995 when San Francisco messengers held a Messenger Appreciation Day celebration to promote their hosting of the 1996 Cycle Messenger World Championships. A few months later Adam Hogan (Mr. Nice Guy) in Sydney, Australia suggested Messenger Appreciation Day would be an opportunity for the international messenger community to focus attention on the positive aspects of the profession

During the 1990’s Toronto messengers, often found themselves under attack by politicians, media and even fellow cyclists. In February 1996, Keefe McLaverty became the first Toronto bike courier killed on the job in the modern era. During the summer of 1996, two cyclists, Erin Krauser and Martha Kennedy were killed by trucks within a ten day period. The overwhelming publicity led the City to request The Board of Management to prepare a report on “Enhancing Bicycle Safety.” The resulting report made no recommendations regarding bike messengers but when it came before Council in February 1997, Toronto Councillors passed a motion for staff to explore the licensing of bike messengers as a solution to solving the problem of motor vehicles killing cyclists. Ward 9 Councillor Steve Ellis used the deaths of Toronto cyclists Keefe McLaverty, Erin Krauser and Martha Kennedy to vilify and condemn the Toronto messenger community.

Toronto’s bike messengers were portrayed as a cadre of couriering kamikazes, mayhem messengering menaces, wheeling wild warriors, a pedal pushing tribe of reckless road raging rebels. In reality Toronto’s messengers were contributing to the city, supporting the communities and playing an important role in the development and growth of the city’s economy.

In 1996, when Bicycling! Magazine named Toronto the best city for cycling in North America, it cited Toronto’s bike messenger community as a contributing factor. Toronto messengers, led by Derek Chadbourne and Sarah Hood hosted an annual community relay bike race at College Park, (St Stephen’s Courier Classic) among bike couriers, police officers and firemen that raised thousands of dollars for St Stephens Community House. In 1995 Toronto brought hundreds of messengers to the city for the third annual (and first in North America) Cycle Messenger World Championships which Much Music broadcasted live to the entire country. “The Alley Cats”, a group of Toronto messengers and ex-messengers led by Johnny “Jet Fuel” Englar, developed, promoted and organized a style of urban bike racing, (Alley cat Race) that has become popular all over the world and bears their name even today. In 1996, the Alley Cats, led by Johnny Jet Fuel also brought the “Alley Cats Scramble” or “Human Powered Roller Coaster” to Vancouver and Toronto. It was a corporate sponsored cultural event centred around a wooden figure-8 velodrome while independent and international music acts like Run DMC and Fishbone performed live.

Toronto’s messenger community also had its own restaurant and bar, Breadspreads (Standby Café) near the corner of Yonge Street and Temperance Street, owned by former messenger by Jayne Hart. Breadspreads/Stand By was also the scene of many of Toronto bike messenger, Trevor Hughes’ famous messenger portraits that continue to inspire culture and fashion around the world today. At the same Derek Chadbourne published “Hideousewhitenoise” an urban cycling magazine focused on bike couriers and utilitarian cyclists. Also during this period, Toronto messenger Wayne Scott battled Revenue Canada in the courts to change Canadian tax law to allow bicycle and foot messengers to deduct their extra food intake as a fuel expense for income tax purposes. Scott would ultimately win this battle in 1998.

Fortunately for Toronto, the city’s staff supported its messengers allowing messengers the use of an office at City Hall and access to many archives and files to prepare a response to the scapegoating of the messenger community. The response led to a report from messengers to council and a follow up promotion for the city to proclaim October 9, 1997 as Messenger Appreciation Day. Messengers expected a long battle that would actually result in 1998 as the city’s first Messenger Appreciation Day but the response was overwhelming.

Within a couple of days, Councillor (and future NDP leader) Jack Layton personally called messengers offering his full support. The City of Toronto and the Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto proclaimed Messenger Appreciation Day. The Mayor of North York, Mel Lastman proclaimed it there too.

We were so surprised by the city’s action that we had no plans to celebrate that year until Sarah Hood contacted the media and many businesses that relied upon messenger services. Sarah arranged for businesses to offer small gifts, snacks and even beer (after work) to show their appreciation of the city’s messengers. Sarah arranged for media interviews and newspapers articles on such short notice. The first and all Messenger Appreciation Days in Toronto owe a huge thank you to Sarah!

Messenger Appreciation Day on CBC Radio’s “Here and Now” – October 9, 1997

The first Messenger Appreciation Day in Toronto also owes a large thank you to late Toronto Councillor Dan Leckie. During the 1990’s one of the Toronto messenger community’s greatest allies at city hall was bike planner Barb Wentworth. On very short notice she arranged for Councillor Leckie to present the first proclamation at Urbane Cyclist but I couldn’t make it there on time to receive it. Back in those days you could just walk right in to a Councillors office and talk to them directly. I rode over to City Hall, went to his office and apologized to him and presented him with one of the two Messenger Appreciation t-shirts I had made. I knew Councillior Leckie was himself a cyclist as he was the Chair of the Toronto City Cycling Committee. Councillor Leckie was probably one of the most genuine people at City Hall. He asked me to autograph the t-shirt as he wanted to keep it to remember this important day. No media, no photo opportunity, no one else around, just a City Councillor and his constituent. Councillor Leckie passed away a few months later from a brain aneurysm. Toronto renamed part of Portland Street, “Dan Leckie Way” in his honour.

The next year we were better prepared to celebrate Messenger Appreciation Day. We closed Temperance Street for the entire day. The city supplied a free breakfast for messengers. Q107 broadcasted live from the Stand By. Free t-shirts were handed out and Councillor Dan Leckie’s good friend Councillor Jack Layton presented an award to Wayne Scott and the Messenger Appreciation Day proclamation to Derek Chadbourne. We finished the day with free beer at the Stand By after work.


Help support the production of Darcy Allan Sheppard documentary

Bryant Watch

Documentary to reveal evidence hidden from the public (Fund here)

On August 31,2009, former Ontario Attorney General, Michael Bryant killed Toronto bike messenger Darcy Allan Sheppard in a violent act of road rage. The killing was caught on video and witnessed by many people some of whom were standing a few feet from Bryant’s car.

After reviewing video and speaking with witnesses, Toronto police charged Bryant with with criminal negligence causing death and dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death. Bryant responded by hiring PR firm Navigator and famed defence attorney Marie Henein. (Readers may remember these names as both were also hired by CBC personality and accused sexual predator, Jian Ghomeshi). Bryant claimed that his defence cost him $300,000.

Henein would later reveal that the pressure to acquit Bryant was overwhelming:

“I couldn’t get away from the legal community’s oft-expressed sentiment. The truth is that Michael Bryant was well-loved…

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Bicycle Couriers in Love with Life on Mean Streets

This article from March 1993 is the likely first coverage of an alley cat race in the mainstream press. It was on the front page of the Toronto Star with another full page inside. This is before the first Cycle Messenger World Championships. Toronto messengers would bring film of this race and others to the first CMWC in Berlin in August 1993.

Bicycle Couriers in Love with Life on Mean Streets

By Peter Cheney

TORONTO STAR, March 27, 1993

They live the life you may have dreamed of but never had the courage or foolish disregard to try: Out on the fringe, up on the pedals, lungs pumping, eyes and ears keen to a thousand dangers.

The life of the bicycle courier…. You have a primal dream about it: Living by your own skill and cunning, like a gladiator in the Roman amphitheatre, surrounded by fat and decadent citizens who have never known the highs and low of unrestricted experience.

You stride on muscled thighs through offices filled with suited drones, and then take to the streets your natural element. You go to the parties the straights never hear about, develop muscles they have never known, and yes, they’re all thinking it: You have the kind of sex they would give their fortune for.

And you don’t wear a tie, either.

St Valentines Massacre

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Blazing Saddles

Here is another old article from 1992 about DC couriers. Yes they were already writing articles about the end of messengers in 1992. When I first read this in 1993 I didn’t know any messengers outside of my own city and I thought Scrooge and Su were awesome.  Scrooge would become one of my messenger heroes. He’s still awesome.

It’s was originally published in the New Republic and was republished in W. Hampton Sides’ book “Americana” in 2004.

Blazing Saddles

The decline and fall of bike messengers

By W. Hampton Sides (New Republic Vol. 207, New Republic,12-21-1992, pp 16.)

Tuesday through Friday nights, the bike messengers congregate at a Washington dive called Asylum for a little-known event, the “Courier Happy Hour.”At 6 p.m. they come skidding in from the streets, Lycra spider men with names like Beaver, Beetlejuice, and Bam Bam. Concrete cowboys with shaved legs and holstered Motorola radios, scabby knees and earrings, guys who look like some weird cross between Greg LeMond and Sid Vicious. Soon the place is reminiscent of the alien bar in Star Wars, all sorts of interesting-looking beasts and hard-shelled insects hobnobbing in the dim lounge, speaking a strange patois. “Made a major southwest slice, man. Cut a big hole in the traffic in front of this Murphy at Farragut and then I shredded ’em, man, had him eating my dust….”

The conversation often centers on perennial peeves — jaywalkers, elevators, security guards, cops, potholes, tourists, Capitol Hill metal detectors, suddenly opened car doors, or, most common of all, cabdrivers. “This cabbie’s cutting me off, so I kick in his fender. Then the prick flips me the bird. So at the light I take out my radio, ride up to his window, and bash him good across face, like this.”

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I’d Rather Be a Messenger

I began collecting and researching articles about bike messengers in 1993. One of the first articles I found on microfiche at the Toronto reference library was by Jack Kuglemass from 1981 in Natural History Magazine. 

The copy I was able to print out was of very poor quality so I was never able to transcribe it and put it up. I have been searching for it to be available publicly online for the last 20 years. It’s finally up.

I still think this is probably the best article ever written about bike messengers.

Kuglemass also appears in the National Geographic Explorer documentary on bike messengers entitled “Big City Bike Messengers”

I’d Rather Be a Messenger

New York City’s bicycle messengers prefer the independence
and excitement of dodging traffic to the routine of a nine-to-five job.

By Jack M. Kugelmass

Natural History, August 1981


I’m speeding across town, weaving in and out of traffic. I’ve already done sixteen runs. Good messengers do twenty-five, but I’ll settle for twenty. I’m tired, and it’s late. But I’m trying for that magic number. So I pedal harder. I’m pushing, trying to reach the front of the line of traffic. As I move up to take the lead, I no longer feel tired. My mind is working fast, checking out openings. I hug the curb, keeping clear of the traffic. But I’m riding too close to construction debris: there are mounds of dry cement powder on the road. Before I realize what’s happening, the hike skids out of control. I pump the brakes but still can’t keep my balance. I can feel myself going down. The impact on the cold pavement overwhelms me. I remember there is a truck behind me, but my body won’t move. My head can turn, so I twist it backward and stare helplessly at the driver seated high above me. I feel like a conquered gladiator. The driver motions to me to lie still, not to move until I’m ready. The shock passes. I pick myself up unsteadily and walk my bicycle over to the curb. Still shaken, I get back on and begin to ride, a little slower, a little less arrogant, no longer trying for that magic number.”

So ended my first week as a bicycle messenger. I took the job in order to study bicycle messengers, but after a day or two I had become more concerned with magic numbers than with researching the story. Although it made me hesitant to continue riding, the accident on the cement powder put me back on the right path: I began to concentrate on meeting and arranging interviews with other messengers. I also began to understand the attractions of “messengering” as a way of life, particularly the romance of danger.

The 600 bicycle messengers who ply New York City’s Borough of Manhattan are a diverse group of people. They cross over class, ethnic, and racial lines, and although a small minority, there are women riders too. But all share a kinship with the heroes of the Wild West. They are romantic adventurers who prefer the exhilaration of danger to civilization’s deadening routine.

The streets of Manhattan are a frontier, a no man’s land. In the main business districts, they interrupt the flow of civilized behavior, contrasting with the sterile, almost hermetically sealed world of high-rise offices. If there are laws regulating New York City traffic, they are barely enforced. Bicycle messengers are fast and contemptuous of the rules. They intimidate pedestrians and alarm the drivers of other vehicles competing with them for space on the road. Messengers sometimes wear outlandish clothes that go well beyond what is functional attire for riding in town. Some wear gas masks to filter out particles of dirt from automobile exhaust fumes. Others wear special racing gloves from which their knuckles protrude in a vaguely menacing way. And they all have one identifying mark—an oversized bag slung behind their backs.

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A brief history of the Alleycat in Toronto


The photo above is an article by one of the originators of Alley Cat races, Leo Slonetsky that appeared in Navid’s Guidebook for CMWC 2008. Leo notes that the Alley Cat name comes from the group of Toronto cyclists that explored the city at night.  Johnny “Jet Fuel” Englar and Lance Latrullo were members of this group.

In 1989 Gary Michael Dault wrote an article called “Midnight’s Children” for Toronto Life about the “Alley Cats”, he recalled:

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