Memoirs of a Bicycle Courier

Jul 11 19:36 2016 Lisa Jeeves Print This Article

A recent book related the memoirs of a one-time cycle courier in London. If you work as a courier today, you might find the recollections amusing.

The recent publication of a book outlining the memoirs of a cycle courier in London has evoked a nostalgic response from many that started such businesses in the 1970s-80s. Even if you work as a courier today,Guest Posting you'll find the recollections interesting and offering an insight into the motivations of the bicycle couriers of the time.

The Old Days

It’s something of a myth that the courier sprang into existence in the 1970s and 1980s. In fact, even a century ago it was possible to see people making their way through the streets of our cities carrying tell-tale document cases that were sometimes even strapped to the wrist of the courier concerned.

True, they largely used public transport, but some used bicycles even then.

However, it’s really in the 1970s that the growing use of IT starts to increase companies’ expectations of what ‘quickly’ actually means. After all, it seemed pointless to print-off a complex and urgent contract in 2 minutes if it then took several days in the post or a leisurely bus and train ride plus several hours elapsed time for a courier to deliver it.

As a consequence, at least in the bigger cities, the motorised courier sprang up, but that led to a problem. Many of those same cities were jamming up with traffic and parking was also becoming a nightmare – even for motorcyclists.

To fill the gap, the cycle courier seemed to spring up overnight in the 70s and 80s.

The Uniform

They quickly became an emblem of the age.

Suddenly, work as a courier became fashionable and appealing, particularly to those who liked a slightly freer, independent and even alternative lifestyle. Whizzing around at high-speed and showing off some very attractive bikes and cycling kit (including that infamous Lycra), they really established a name for themselves and even a distinct culture in “Maggie’s Britain”.

Often seen clutching those early mobile phones and cutting corners (physically and metaphorically) to make those fast deliveries, they were a symbol of their age.

Problems Arise

While many couriers of the time will speak glowingly about the camaraderie and ‘free-wheeling’ culture they worked within, the business also had its darker side.

Legislation offered little or no protection against commercial exploitation. Benefits were virtually zero, apart from the price for the job and rates were often appallingly low by today’s standards.

Worse, accidents were relatively commonplace and many other road users demonstrated hostility towards cycle couriers (i.e. Road Rage) for different reasons including, it has to be said, the reckless riding tactics practiced by a relatively small number of the couriers concerned.

Even so, the sector prospered but dark clouds were on the horizon – the net and digitisation.

The Digital Age

In the 1970s and 1980s, faxes were relatively few and far between. They also used standard phone lines and were slow.

The only way to get documents to and fro quickly and reliably in urgent B2B communication was either the mail or courier.

Of course, the arrival of the internet and digital systems quickly changed that and suddenly much of the traditional fare of the cycle couriers simply started to disappear.
Today, cycle couriers still exist and they play an important part in city centres. For example, if you have a master document that requires a physical signature, many companies will still use a courier for that.

However, the halcyon days of the cycle courier have probably passed. Today many who work as a courier use motorcycles, cars and vans - even in city centres. Unfortunately, cycles aren’t really well equipped to carry bulkier and heavier items, so they’ve missed out on the courier boom that’s arisen as a result of online shopping.

Things change and, as the above-mentioned memoires confirm, if you work as a courier today then you'll probably find that the business lacks some of the romanticism of yesteryear - even if it is perhaps far more practical.

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About Article Author

Lisa Jeeves
Lisa Jeeves

Norman Dulwich is a correspondent for Courier Exchange, the world's largest neutral trading hub for same day work as a courier in the express freight exchange industry. Over 4,000 transport exchange businesses are networked together through their website, trading jobs and capacity in a safe 'wholesale' environment.


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