Denver's Bike Messengers Are a Union Divided

Bike messengers ride fast and they ride alone, which is why an effort to organize them has hit the skids.

Still, several days before the 2007 Road Rash Bash, the annual bike-messenger extravaganza founded by J-Bone, optimism is running high. Organizing the event for the first time, Marcus, Jaimie and Rich have busted their asses, trying to make it the best in Denver history.


Feet First, August 25, 2007

Beneath a giant white silo that spews the overpowering odor of hops into the air, a blur of bike messengers with FedEx tubes stuffed into their bags and backpacks zips by, sweating bullets on a sweltering Saturday afternoon in downtown Denver. The Road Rash Bash is in full swing, and everyone is in it to win it as they hurl their bikes down behind the Flying Dog Brewery, which is hosting the extravaganza, then sprint into the back warehouse for their next assignment.

One by one, the messengers trot through a line of cones to a table where Jaimie sits, confirming that each has hit his checkpoints. (Other monitors wait at various locations on the race route around town, checking riders in so no one skips a stop.) Marcus, seated at a table at the opposite end of the room, hands the messengers their next drop, and they hop back on their bikes and tear off into the city.

Beer flows freely from an endless supply of Flying Dog kegs, and several Bash sponsors hawk their wares — biker socks from Save Our Soles, clothes from local designers — in another room. Members of the Pitchfork Collective, who run the Open Door Cafe, an anarchist vegan kitchen in Denver, have prepared a breakfast to raise money for Food Not Bombs: breakfast burritos with green chile, biscuits and gravy, enchiladas. Everyone seems to be enjoying the food, dropping five-spots in the suggested donation bin while the chefs take turns leaping chairs and trash cans on skateboards and punk music ricochets off the walls.

Then there are the two drunken messengers with megaphones, barking shit-talk at everyone involved.

"Hey, why don't you go back to your cedar A-frame and take some more mushrooms, hippie?" Pete Jensen yells at racer Phillip Carlson of Denver Boulder Couriers, who sprints into the warehouse exhausted, but currently in first place and about to head out on his last run, a grueling crosstown trek from the warehouse at 24th and Blake streets to Second Avenue and Quebec Street. Carlson pays the comment no mind. First place — and the sick Cannondale Capo bike it entails — is one last haul away, and he's not about to slow down for verbal sparring. Close on his heels is Ross Miller of Quicksilver Express Couriers, who sprints out the door as well.

A crowd of twenty or so mills around inside the warehouse, drinking, smoking and chatting about the race, which has dragged into its third hour. Outside, about thirty more messengers do the same, finding shade wherever they can, casually busting tricks on their bikes. Everyone who's anyone in the bike-messenger scene is here, from newbies who have been in the game a few months to lifetime messengers. J-Bone peddles through on his BMX like some sort of diplomat, shaking hands and smiling an almost toothless grin. Rich Ryon quietly patrols the crowd as well, smoothing over the unseen edges intrinsic in any sort of major production, the ones that only get noticed when they're not addressed.

"Hey, Rich, did we fuck anything up?" Jensen yells through his megaphone from inside the warehouse, smiling down from an open loading door.

"Not yet," Rich deadpans back.

That comes a few minutes later. In a bizarre scene that quickly unfolds inside the warehouse, some of the anarchist vegans from the Pitchfork Collective begin jawing with a megaphone-armed messenger who goes by the name of Boomer. Jensen is by his side with his own megaphone, and Marcus is in the middle, trying to keep the peace. But voices continue to rise, fingers continue to point, and for an uncomfortable moment, it appears that the quarrel may escalate to blows. Jaimie joins in the struggle, which proceeds unabated for several minutes before finally settling down. A few minutes later it comes out that one of the chefs had borrowed Boomer's megaphone. When he returned it, however, Boomer deemed it to be damaged and demanded that the Open Door Cafe pay for it. The chefs refused, claiming the damage was not of their doing, so Boomer reached into their donation bin and took all the cash. Drama ensued.

"I just told the guys not to worry about it," Jaimie says after the huddle dissipates. "We're giving them $100 to make this go away."

Skirmish settled, the Road Rash Bash rages on until the main race finally comes to a close with Carlson shuffling in victorious and thoroughly spent. Miller holds on to second place. "That was ceaselessly brutal," he says, changing out of his drenched clothes and into a fresh Road Rash Bash 2007 T-shirt.

Outside, the focus shifts to biker games, and first and foremost is Footdown, a tradition whereby a bunch of messengers ride in a circle, never putting their feet to the pavement, and try to knock each other off their bikes. About 25 riders take part in the game, but for the first minute or so, no contact is made; the participants merely eye one another, waiting for someone to make a move.

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