Chicago Vets Swept the North American Cycle Courier Championships
[Last year the Chicago Reader launched a weekly transportation column written by Streetsblog Chicago editor John Greenfield. We syndicate a portion of the column on Streetsblog after it comes out online; you can read the remainder on the Reader’s website or in print.]
In two-way radio speak, “10/9” means “please repeat.” That’s exactly what Christina Peck and Nico Deportago-Cabrera, former and current Chicago bike messengers, respectively, did at the North American Cycle Courier Championships in New York City earlier this month.
The NACCC (pronounced “nack”) tests the mettle of messengers from all over the continent, as well as visitors from other parts of the world (although they’re not eligible to win), with races meant to simulate a day of two-wheeled delivery work. Back in 2009, Peck won top overall honors at the championship race in Boston, and her good friend Deportago-Cabrera was the top male finisher.
This year, on October 9—which is also 10-9 Day, or international Messenger Appreciation Day—the pair repeated those very same feats in New York. Peck, who now works for Godspeed Courier in San Francisco, was also the overall winner in the 2013 NACCC in Seattle—that’s a total of three overall North American championships. On top of that, she’s been the first-place female in two Cycle Messenger World Championships, in Mexico City in 2014 and Melbourne in 2015.
Deportago-Cabrera, who rides for Chicago’s Cut Cats Courier food delivery collective and as an independent contractor, is no slouch either. In addition to being the top male finisher in the main NYC race this year, he was the first-place out-of-towner in a nighttime “alleycat” race (a messenger-style competition in live traffic) held in Manhattan earlier that weekend. (Out-of-towners are often ranked separately because they don’t have the hometown advantage of knowing the street grid.)
I caught up with these speedy folks last week to discuss their achievements, and the state of the courier industry.
“It’s rad that we got to share the award again,” Deportago-Cabrera said. “It’s getting to the point where I’m getting used to being beaten by Christina. The championships are really a mental game—it’s about how fast you can think on the fly. She’s such an intelligent person that it’s no surprise she won again.”
Peck was modest about her latest triumph. “Nico’s generally faster than me,” she said. “He’s beat me plenty of times in alleycats. But alleycats are more about pushing it in live traffic, while the NACCC in New York was a lot more about studying your delivery manifest and keeping a cool head.”
A cool head was definitely needed for the final championship race, held Sunday afternoon on 17 blocks of Bushwick, Brooklyn, which the city rendered car-free for the occasion. There had been heavy rains associated with Hurricane Matthew the previous night and morning, delaying the start of the competition by three hours. At race time the streets of the industrial zone were still slick with water—not to mention rutted with potholes and railroad lines—and riders faced some brutal headwinds.
The three-hour competition involved flying around the course trying to earn as much (symbolic) money as possible by picking up and dropping off envelopes, parcels, and mailing tubes, with each racer choosing his or her own route. Some items were classified as “all-day” deliveries that could be dropped off at any time, while “single rushes” were due within 20 minutes and were worth an additional four dollars, and “double rushes” were due within ten minutes and added six dollars to the base rate.
To reproduce the frustrations of actual messenger work, the organizers purposely provided riders with a few wrong addresses. There, checkpoint volunteers portraying bored receptionists and surly mailroom clerks would order the riders to take the package to a different “office.” In the end Peck earned $300 while Deportago-Cabrera made $281.