the North American Cycle Courier Championships
By Vernon Appleton | Photos By Illustration Evan Reyes
Almost immediately after the development of the pedal-driven velocipede in the 1860s, people began to use the bicycle for delivery purposes. Some of the earliest bicycle messengers were used to transport mail and other documents between or within cities for various reasons. Within no time, rivalries sparked between messenger companies and by 1889 Toronto had the first documented race that went by the name Alley Cat. This race was meant to test the resolve and talent of the bike messenger..
Messengering has changed a lot with the advent of fax machines in the late 80’s and then the Internet in the 90’s. Messengering took a hard hit and lots of companies died off or merged with others and messenger numbers dropped. But the racing has continued, showcasing the incredible physical effort and pride of being a bike messenger with events like the Cycle Messenger World Championships, Alley Cat Races, and The NACCC, (the North American Cycle Courier Championships). Denver is no exception with its own Alley Cat races: the Mile High Messenger Challenge, Velo Chase, Track Shack Attack, and the infamous Road Rash Bash. Mikey Abell is one of those whose obsession with biking as a kid grew into a job. “I always thought messengering would be a cool job, but never thought about it as a job I could do in Denver, just a NYC thing” Abell remarked. Abell is now an eight-year veteran, starting in 2005 back when there were 50 messengers in the Denver area. He got his break with a phone call to Velocity Courier, landing him a job for one day. Then, with a lot of persistency, showing up every day, asking if they had work, and spending a year of occasional work when a messenger quit, he was given a job.
His job grew into even more of an obsession. Riding 40-50 miles a day and now owning 10 bikes, he has become more and more immersed into the culture. Racing became something he started doing, but never took serious and usually completely failed at the Alley Cat races. As he puts it, “I came in DFL (dead fucking last).” But as the messenger number decreased, a lot of the “older” talented messengers left the scene, and the races started to diminish, so Abell started winning and had to step up his own riding and take things much more serious.
When he was still a rookie he learned about NACCC, a major bike cycle courier event for messengers from all around the world. It is also one of the largest annual gatherings of the courier community. Cycle Messenger Championships are world class sporting events, but they are also a festival celebrating messenger culture. Abell wasn’t able to go the first few years because as the bottom man on the totem at his company, he had to work while other messengers would go. But two years ago it was held in Austin,Texas - and as a veteran, he was able to go.
The NACCC race consists of a qualifier, final, and side events (like track stand, etc.) and the length of the races can be anywhere from 70-100 miles. The event is four - five days, giving people from all over the world a chance to see the city, attend parties, concerts and markets that showcase the many talents of the athletes. But most of all it’s about racing - and having an all-around good time!
Abell further explains:
“Austin NACCC was the first really big race I went to, or competed in. NACCC generally starts with sign up on Friday evening. Then they have a ride around the city and a meet ‘n’ greet party situation. This was followed by an Alley Cat thrown by a local bike shop then the qualifier for NACCC is the next morning.” “We were all given a number and an electronic time sensor that we placed on one ankle. This way they could send us off every 30 seconds and know who was the fastest. Getting ready to race and then waiting around was definitely nerve racking. Kind of realizing how many people you’re competing against (previous NACCC racers and other renowned race winners), and how tough this race your about to do will be. It›s just like Alley Cat, except more like the races we have thrown (Velo Chase and MHMC) where you pick up and drop off packages. You have a manifest that needs to be signed for all deliveries and you must route yourself perfectly if you want to do well.”
“I think my number was 122, so I had to wait a while. But finally I was up and off. They give you about fifteen minutes to check out the manifest before you start, so I felt a little prepared (as much as I could be). I took it steady and made sure to not miss a pick up because if you did you could not go backwards, your only option was going all the way back around and then get the missed pick up. This was a 2 mile loop so that would put you behind big time. I did not miss anything and finished in 46 min. It was rough! Plus, this was just the qualifier!”
“After that there was down time and then they had the qualifier results at a venue later that night. I showed up to the bar for the results party and it was crazy cause you want to party and go wild since you just worked your ass off, but if you qualified you wanted to be well for the main race.