The WISE Championships just took place in Glasgow, so we sent the only local Gophr employee we have, Nile Frater, a born and bred Glaswegian who had no clue about this stuff to go check it out and report back his findings
So off I went to the 2015 Welsh, Irish, Scottish, English Bicycle messenger Championships to take my first real look at some cycle couriers and the shit they get up to in their spare time. First thought I had after seeing their clothes and bike was it was a sort of British Burning Man Festival/Mad Max on bikes hybrid, only this being Glasgow the backdrop of amber and blue you find in the desert and its skies was replaced with varying shades of grey. Love it.
Couple of other pretty obvious observations: cycle couriering needs physical fitness, endurance and when you’re zipping in and out of traffic all day, a bit of bravery too. But unlike many professions, many couriers see their role not as a job, but as a bloody good laugh: “It’s basically just a paid hobby” Ross, a Glaswegian courier I bumped into, told me.
Glasgow’s 3-day long event started in RIG Bike Shop, a cosy, basement bike shop and cafe. This was as a base for the couriers over the weekend, with a BBQ on the Saturday afternoon and a party on the Saturday evening. They even shut the shop over the weekend just so the couriers could eat, sleep and party.
The street Keirin started at 7pm on a Friday night in Park Circus, possibly the most London-like area of Glasgow. They chose it for a good reason, though: this street is circular, wide and quiet, perfect for a race. Usually, a Keirin consists of a group of cyclists following a speed-controlled pacer, like a motorcycle, only to then sprint against each other towards the finish. The meet started with the organisers and early-arrivals shortly followed by the arrival of a massive group from the RIG bike shop, turning the quiet, empty street into a lively, busy place in no time at all.
Normally you’ll have a motorbike to pace the Street Keirin. Instead, a cyclist in a flashy green and yellow hoodie emerged take charge at the head of the pack before swerving out of the way and letting them compete in a super-fast race which was like a low-budget Formula 1 with multiple laps and close wins, only quieter and with more spandex. I wasn’t the only one watching either; loads of residents had iPhones, iPads and cameras pointed out their windows. (Mainly cos Glasgow weather is rubbish and no one wants to leave the house)
Street Keirin’s are on shaky legal grounds as they aren’t the safest. To try and keep each other out of harm’s way, couriers asked drivers entering the street to wait until the laps had ended before driving in. There weren’t any helmets or safety gear involved in the race as far as I could tell. So to see them taking those sorts of measures was good.
Saturday started out with a 1pm BBQ at the RIG bike shop. Shortly afterwards, the couriers started the main race of the event, between 2-4pm, starting off from RIG. 8pm that evening held a “Deathcat Criterium”, which I didn’t manage to attend but from the name I gather was as safe as houses. The night ended with another party, this time back at RIG.
Sunday morning must’ve been a painful one for those drinking since Friday, but the group made their way to the West coast of Scotland on the way to Millport after a Wetherspoons breakfast. Millport is a small island just across from Largs with a tiny town situated in the middle and a well-cycled route all the way around the island. You can only get there by ferry.
Having previously been dragged along to Millport on two wheels in my life (an experience I never want repeat, ever), the thought of having a courier time trial there made me queasy. It was only 4 months ago that I got halfway round the circuit, only to be hungover I collapsed face-down, crying out for my mother. These guys are made of tougher stuff.
With time-trials kicking off at 2pm, the event drew to a close on Millport and prizes were handed out for the weekend’s events. John Buchan was named the fastest Glaswegian, having also won the main race on Saturday.
If you like the sound of this, it won’t take long for another event to come around. The 8th annual London Calling event, held between September 11th and September 13th has just passed and there will be plenty more early next year which we’ll be attending.
Want to help the courier industry and their struggle against unfair wages? Booking with Gophr helps us provide our London Living Wage guarantee and guarantees your one good deed for the day.