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Hundreds of Bike Messengers Roll Into East Williamsburg for Championships

By Gwynne Hogan | October 6, 2016 10:24am
 Around 400 couriers have signed up so far.
Around 400 couriers have signed up so far.
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Photo by Christopher Dilts/NACCC

EAST WILLIAMSBURG — Call it East Wheel-iamsburg.

Hundreds of bike messengers hoping to ride their way to victory will flock to the neighborhood this weekend for the 19th annual North American Cycle Courier Championships.

On Saturday and Sunday a grid of neighborhood streets between Waterbury, Bogart, Maujer and Meserole streets will be cordoned off for a course where couriers will compete to pick up and deliver as many different kinds of packages as quickly as they can.

Currently, about 400 messengers  are signed up from as far away as Japan, Australia, Colombia and Mexico.

Austin Horse, 34, a Williamsburg-based courier for Flash Messenger who won the last two competitions in Denver and Minneapolis, helped organize this year's event and explained that being a "rock star" messenger is about much more than dodging cars.

 The North American Cycle Courier Championships come to Brooklyn this weekend.
The North American Cycle Courier Championships come to Brooklyn this weekend.
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Photo by Christopher Dilts/NACCC

"[It's] a real feat for the human brain," he said.

Every step of the way is a calculation. You've got to engineer the best route so you're not wasting energy, he said.

What you eat and where you get it is also part of the calculation.

"It's not just about who can play chicken with a car the best. That's not really what makes the best messenger. That's a daredevil rookie that's gonna be gone in a year," he said.

While the East Williamsburg streets will be closed down to cars, riders will have other things to worry about to make the course a challenge.

"It looks like there's going to be a hurricane and there are a lot of potholes," Horse said, talking about Hurricane Matthew whose path is expected to bring rain to the New York City area. 

"We didn't really have to add any more complications there."

For the first time, event sponsor State Bicycle Co. offered to pay for women messengers, hoping to entice more women to participate. Each year it crowns a man and a woman champion.

Organizers said they already have about 100 women signed up. 

The North American Courier Championships started in 1998 in Montreal and has traveled to Houston, Atlanta, Boston, Toronto and Washington, D.C. This is the first year New York City has hosted the event. 

For spectators, the Cargo Race on Sunday afternoon from 4 to 6 p.m. on the intersection of Scholes and Waterbury will be a sight to behold, Horse said, with competitors carrying big loads.

To kick off the event, a bicycle art crawl from Soho to Greenpoint is open to anyone interested in pedalling along. It starts at 5 p.m. Thursday at Chrome Industries at 238 Mulberry St.

But for Horse, the annual competition he's been partaking in since he started as a bike messenger a decade ago is about community.

"You go out into the city and you make money on a bike," he said.

"That feeling of accomplishment every day. You went out into the city and you were on the streets and you dealt with all the good and the bad.

"That's a powerful way to live."