Life Of A New York City Bike Messenger

With all of the technology these days, it’s easy to send messages almost instantly – but there’s one way of doing it that’s been around for years.  People have been delivering messages on bicycles since the late 1800s, almost as soon as the contraption was invented.  Today, the world of bike couriers is not very well known, except for how it’s depicted on the big screen.

In 2012, Columbia Pictures released the film Premium Rush, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Michael Shannon, depicting a New York City bike messenger who gets involved with a dirty cop.  While it was heavily embellished for Hollywood purposes, it did give some insight as to what dangers and obstacles these athletes face on a day-to-day basis.  25-year-old Austin Horse was a stuntman on the film, with good reason – no one might be more qualified to bike through New York City than he.

Horse has loved bicycles since he was a child growing up in Fullerton, Calif., and now he’s managed to build a successful career with his bike, leading to a sponsorship from one of the world’s biggest brands.  It wasn’t an easy road for Horse, who started out with a variety of jobs including fisherman and bike shop employee before eventually moving to New York City to pursue his dream.

“I always wanted to be a bike messenger and New York is definitely the place to do it,” Horse said in an interview.  “It’s kind of a straight-forward way to make money on a bike.”

Since then, Horse has accomplished a ton, becoming one of the best in his business – and earning the interest of Red Bull.  While it’s not completely uncommon for bike couriers to be sponsored, it is a rarity, which might just make Horse’s partnership with Red Bull that much more important.  Over the last few years, Horse has managed to propel his cycling thanks to the energy drink company, winning one of his profession’s biggest honors, the North American Cycle Courier Championship, both in 2006 and 2008.

“The best thing about being affiliated with Red Bull is that the messenger community is a global one and it links me to other communities,” Horse admitted.  “For a lot of messengers, they’re not able to pay for the travel to get there and it’s something Red Bull has done for me.  I’m grateful for that!”

The bike messenger events are designed to simulate a day’s work.  There are fake packages and fake companies that are sponsored on a course.  The goal of the competition is to not only be the fastest from point A to point B but to connect all of the points as fast and efficiently as possible.

Even though he competes in a variety of events throughout the year, it’s his work that seems to make Horse the most happy.  Like most commuters, Horse starts his day with a cup of coffee, only he drinks it on his bike while dodging traffic and moving about 15 to 20 m.p.h.  He lives near the Brooklyn Bridge, though most of his work is Manhattan.  However, the close proximity allows him to plan his route.

“Usually, you don’t have to go to another borough unless there’s a big job, or a few jobs,” he added.  “I have done deliveries to the Bronx, and New Jersey, and Nassau County but those are when it’s been really slow and I figure I might as well take a long ride out to those areas – but you really get paid for it.”

As we know, New Yorkers don’t often like to share the roads, so riding a bike can be quite dangerous.  Luckily for Horse, he’s never broken a bone – something many in his profession cannot say.



“I have been really lucky, in that almost all of my falls have been without major consequence,” he said.  “I’ve made out with some bruises and some soft tissue damage – but having said that, I’m good at crashing.  I do crash and other people crash and it sucks.  I hear about friends of mine getting hurt, but it’s not just messengers, it is people who ride bikes in the city and commuters, you know.”

Maybe it’s because of the added obstacles, but watching Horse weave in and out of both traffic and pedestrians is like watching an artist as work.  With each zig and zag, he is already carefully calculating his next move.  It’s something not many can do without serious consequences.  Being a successful bike messenger requires as much brains as it does athletic talent – and Horse has both.


Ed Miller is a contributor for CraveOnline Sports. You can follow him on Twitter @PhillyEdMiller or “like” CraveOnline Sports on Facebook.

Photo Credit: Red Bull Content Pool



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