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Watch a Local Bike Courier Race Chicago Taxi, Weave Through Beirut Traffic

By Kyla Gardner | March 30, 2015 5:42am
 Nico Deportago-Cabrera is a bike courier in Chicago.
Nico Deportago-Cabrera is a bike courier in Chicago.
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Red Bull Media

CHICAGO — A Chicago bike messenger recently lost a race with a taxi from Willis Tower to Wrigley Field — but the video of the contest is winning fans.

The cyclist, Logan Square's Nico Deportago-Cabrera, can also be seen in a video weaving through traffic in Beirut, part of his relationship with Red Bull.

Deportago-Cabrera lost the cab race from Downtown to the home of the Cubs ... but only by a minute. The cab got there in a little over 17 minutes.

"It was pretty close. I was obviously disappointed, but at the same time, when you look at it on paper, it's a human-powered, two-wheel machine going up against this big, gas-guzzling mechanical beast," he said. "I felt good about the end results."

The video, hosted on the Red Bull site, shows Deportago-Cabrera squeezing between cars and buses, past a beer truck and a shuttle, using mostly arterial streets. The cab is seen on Lake Shore Drive. They end up near Murphy's Bleachers.

Deportago, 30, has discovered one doesn't need to be rich to travel the world — you just have to be a bike messenger. He won the 2009 North American Cycle Courier Championships in Boston. Two months later, he was en route to Tokyo for the Cycle Messenger World Championships.

"Tokyo blew my mind wide open," he said. "It was so vastly different than any city I'd been to in the U.S. It gave me the [travel] bug."

Kyla Gardner says the messenger community is tight-knit:

With his Red Bull sponsorship, the World Championships have taken Deportago-Cabrera to Guatemala, Poland, Switzerland, Mexico, and Melbourne, Australia. He races on All-City bicycles, another sponsor, in competitive events that mimic the routine of a normal day for a courier, with pickups and drop-offs over the four-hour race.

He recently visited Beirut, Lebanon to learn about the growing courier industry there, and then have some fun weaving through traffic with a Sony Action Cam.

Deportago-Cabrera, a bike messenger in Chicago for seven years, said that in Beirut, one of the oldest cities in the world, the streets are winding, narrow and hilly, and the traffic unpredictable.

"Riding in Beirut was really like no other city that I'd ever been in before," he says in the video. "The traffic kind of had a mind of its own ... it seemed really chaotic."

Back in Chicago, Deportago-Cabrera works at 4 Star Courier Collective, transporting at lightning-fast speed items like legal documents and architectural drawings across Downtown. Sometimes the work also involves running errands, like picking up a prescription or a forgotten credit card at a bar.

"If you have something that needs to go somewhere 10 minutes ago, you call us, and we get it there," he said.

Bicycle deliveries are greener than those by car or truck — and they're also frequently faster, Deportago-Cabrera said.

If he needs to get a delivery far north during evening rush hour, he can easily beat Lake Shore Drive gridlock, he said. "I can get to Evanston [from Downtown] in 30 minutes if I'm really hustling," he said.

In the Chicago taxi race, if just one light had been different, the outcome of the race might have changed, and that's what Deportago-Cabrera loves about the city — being at the mercy of the huge metropolis and all its moving parts.

"My passion for cycling comes directly out of riding in traffic, that's my favorite place to be," he said. "Some people want to be out in the woods, on a winding road, and that's fine. When there's a million things going on around me, that's what gets my adrenaline going."

He said he's only been in one accident — with another bike messenger — and his favorite streets for cycling are Dearborn (before the bike lanes) and Clark.

"You used to be able to catch waves of green lights. You could spin your brains out and never have to stop," he said.

His least favorite is Western, a behemoth of a street where a cyclist can speed, but one where a rider might not be very safe.

When drivers aren't bicycle-friendly, the veteran urban cyclist shrugs it off.

"Some people might throw up a middle finger. I'd rather throw a thumbs up," he said. "I don't really have time to get upset by those things anymore. It's negative energy. It's not doing anything for the car-cyclist relationship, it's just fueling the fire."

The cyclist said he knows there are both bad drivers and bad cyclists: People not paying attention to what they're doing on the road no matter how they're traveling it.

But he has a hunch why some drivers hate cyclists so much.

"Nobody wants to be stuck in a box on Lake Shore Drive in gridlock traffic; it's a drag," he said. "I can kind of sympathize. We're bypassing traffic like it doesn't even exist. ... You get the fresh air, and the wind on your face, and it can be very liberating.

"I'm outside every day, in the streets every day, surrounded by its people every day. All the micro-functions of a city affect me directly," he said. "I feel like I get this very intimate relationship with Chicago."

(Red Bull Media)

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