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.”
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.