Despite danger and little pay, a New York City bicycle courier explains why he loves his job.
For some, riding a bike through the streets of New York can be a treacherous affair reserved for when all other modes of transportation are out of service. But for Mike Pelletier, it’s a source of exhilaration, as well as income.
Pelletier, 23, has been working as a bicycle courier since he moved to Brooklyn around three years ago and says the job is more than just a paycheck. It’s a chance for him to make a living doing something he loves – biking through the often harrowing landscape that is Manhattan.
Sure, the job involves occasionally riding in bad weather and dodging some of the most aggressive drivers in the country, but Mike says it’s all worth the freedom and excitement his job allows.
When Mike isn’t delivering packages, he’s participating in the underground world of illegal bike races – commonly known as alley cat racing. The races are a chance for couriers to show off their skills in front of their colleagues and earn some street credibility.
While Pelletier is prone to taking plenty of risks during work, he says the races are where bikers really go all out to earn respect and glory. He once famously hopped onto the FDR Drive for a few exits with cars whizzing by at 65 miles-per-hour just to better his chances in the race.
While his job is often a rush, Pelletier is well aware of the dangers associated with biking in New York City. He has sustained numerous injuries including one that caused him to miss work for a week. An oblivious driver opened a car door as he was cruising by, causing him to lose control of his bike and slam into the back of a garbage truck.
Still, despite the danger and the little pay he receives, Pelletier says he loves his job.
For me personally it’s the most exhilarating thing you can do in an urban city like this where it’s just all cement. You can’t snowboard in the streets, you can’t parasail on the beaches. I mean, you ride your bike as fast as possible through traffic. That’s what we do.
My name is Mike Pelletier. I am a bicycle courier in New York City.
I think it’s just being able to do pretty much whatever you want in the time of 9 to 5. You have to pick up your package, you have to deliver the package and you have to do it all in a certain amount of time, but you can go any route, you can yell at people, you can blow red lights. Not necessarily, but you can pretty much do anything to get to your destination. I think that's the most gratifying part. It’s just so open, so free.
I put on a podcast or turn on my radio and listen to music and pretty much zone out. I’m always aware of the cars around me and the lights and the pedestrians because you have to be. It would be way too dangerous.
It’s a lot of work for a little bit of pay. You can’t call out on rain days, you can’t call out on snow days. If you’re sick, too bad, you got to rid your bike. So you kind of just have to work through that kind of stuff. But if you are a good messenger, you don’t get into accidents, you deliver packages on time, you’re trustworthy, you can make between $400 and $700 a week.
In one of my classes in college I had a friend that was a messenger and he came in sweaty, he had that giant backpack full of stuff, he had his bike gloves on. He just looked like a complete badass. And I just started talking to him and he told me he just rode his bike all day, made good money, he could pay rent. And at the time I was just looking for work, I was just working in a dead end busboy job somewhere and decided to try something new. Did really bad the first week, got a little better the second week, was dead tired the third week, but by the fourth week I kind of knew what I was doing, where I had to ride and stuff like that, and I think it’s when you get to that point that the job becomes really, really fun.
There’s just a lot of dangerous shit people do. It’s one of those things where you really don’t have time to think about it. You see a red light and you see a car coming and he’s already at the stoplight. You know you’re going too fast and you can’t stop. So it’s just pedal quicker and try to squeeze your way through the smallest gap as quick as possible, instead of slow down safely and wait until it turns green.
I’ve had a lot of injuries. Some minor scrapes and bruises, some really debilitating injuries. I’ve definitely had some injuries where I’ve had to lay down on the sidewalk and kind of reevaluate what I’m doing. But I think to do something like this you kind of just have to put it aside you, assume you’re not going to get hurt and just go about your day.