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CityLab
Transportation

When Will Bikes Rule the City?

CityLab explores the ever-changing role of the bicycle, the machine that makes cities better.  
New York City Mayor John Lindsay leads a group ride in 1970.
New York City Mayor John Lindsay leads a group ride in 1970. AP

In college, I worked a summer as a bike messenger in the late 1980s, which was roughly when that profession—pre-email—was enjoying a swashbuckling pop-culture mini-renaissance. (Remember when Ed Koch tried to ban them? And this guy?) Equipped with the hefty 10-speed I’d gotten for my 13th birthday and a helmet I’d borrowed from my friend Doug, the only person I knew who had one, I rolled into Magic Messenger, Baltimore’s best and only bike messenger company, and rolled home with a job on two wheels.

I’d set out every morning with pockets bulging with quarters, for the pay phones we used to communicate with the dispatcher, and puff home 8 hours later, staggered by heat and bus fumes. It was very much not like the Kevin Bacon movie Quicksilver. The best riders could take home $200 a week or more. I did not, because I was terrible at it—timid and slow—but it was still a great gig.