While the entire messenger community gathers for the main race that will prove the fastest rider on the day, there is possibly more to watch within the surrounding community. The gathering of messengers who camp out under the tress on one of the few shaded spaces, hammocks hung, bikes littered through the area. Everybody takes shelter here. The heat was exceptional. Refuge was required.
During the qualifications and main race, there is the lobbying for the 2018 championships. Bern, Jakarta, Indonesia, and Riga, Latvia, were all there, hats thrown into the ring. Bern with their stunning bumper sticker “Bern, motherfucker, Bern”, Indonesia with a social squad and an appeal for the far side of the world that was enticing. And Riga appeared with a cargo bike filled with their recuperative beer. Far from the millions paid for Olympic Games, these championships seem to hang on the enticements of a few.
And there are the opportunities to rally, even if for a short period. The Women’s Bike Messenger Association (WBMA), gathering under the shade to discuss the coming year; the London Courier Emergency Fund (LCEF) flogging t-shrts, badges and pins for their funding base. The LCEF had to have struck a chord at the championships. By the third day, there was scarcely a cluster of riders where the t-shrt was not visible.
While we socialised, riders were being called, enticed, to the registration area to ride their qualifying races. If they were lucky, if not fortunate, they would be one of the top in their section and would race the final on Sunday. But each and every day had been a heat wave. Temperatures were always over 30 degrees. And the qualifications and main race were being held on a torturous course, open roads that were closer to airport runways. Its as unrelenting, save for the smallest sliver of track in the shade that led riders to the rear section and the headwind.
Only a handful would qualify, the competition is so high. Cargo bikes transporting pizza boxes and hay bales and your bog-standard messengers racing the course, carrying their lightweight manifest sheet. Meanwhile, back at the gathering point, beer and t-shirts are the main interest. One group arrived with a simple, desktop, silk screening process and were creating custom t-shirts on the spot for the riders. Donations accepted, which was brilliantly generous. Everybody could go home with something unique to the event.
And, while riders sweated their way around the course, there was a hot meal to enjoy. Or another beer. Or there was shade to enjoy while watching the others suffer.
Truth is, the main race is something that is highly supportive, without knowing who is leading. You stand and shoot, but, while the winner might be known, it is not something that is common knowledge during the race. In fact, it ended and it would be a couple of weeks before the final finish list would be available.
Bullitt bikes took the cargo category. Denmark took the individual title. But there is no podium event at the Championships. The organisers are far too busy trying to mover people along to the next event. The track stand.
If anybody has seen gathering of messengers on fixies then, observe for a few minutes and somebody will be doing attack stand; that balancing act where they stand immobile on the pavement. Messengers practice this at traffic lights, open spaces, when meeting colleagues or just wasting time between runs. Now put 100-ofdd into an open space and start. The competition is simple, at the outset. Just stand still. After ass minute, one hand comes off the handlebars – and you see the competition thin considerably. Then both hands have to be removed and, within seconds, the competition is down to a small handful – and that will thin fast. Balancing with just your feet is as hard as it sounds.
But there is real skill, on display. Riders who go hands-free from the first whistle. Riders who can reposition themselves, while on the bike, and reverse their position so they sit on their handlebars. The final two came down to a mind game, as one rider slowly stripped off his exctgvas. The unrequited backpack was jettisoned, then, over 30 seconds, he managed to pull off his jersey. It all seemed so intimidating. Until the reply. His opponent simply opened his jersey, pulled it off and that was done. It was a complete psyche and the event was over seconds later.
The Championships were ending fast, now. I had a Thalys to take me back to Brussels and could only watch as the last events were being pushed and shoved into place. I slipped to one side, pulled my messenger bag onto my shoulders and pulled the strap tight. The bike beneath me and I was gone, hoping to be at the station in time, and convinced this was one of the best events I have ever ridden. Competition, the final standings, are so less important here, despite everybody wanting to win, or perform well. It is, in truth, closer to what we have all been told throughout our lives – that it is participating that is important. Messengers have this nailed.
Next year, the CMWC moves back to North America and is being hosted in Montreal. Riga, Latvia, won the battle for 2018. Meanwhile, if Montreal might be too far for some in Europe, then there are the European Championships in Vienna, Austria, next year. I have been online, looking at the city, and they have some stunning backdrops for the races.
Cycle Messenger World Championships
CMWC, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, 2017