I asked my friend Peter DiAntoni, if he would give the readers of Over the Bars an early look at some of the photos he took recently while in Europe for the Cycle Messenger World Championships. Pete is a talented photographer and sometimes bike messenger at Milwaukee’s Breakaway Bicycle Couriers. Peter and fellow Breakaway couriers Eric Von Munz and Kevin Sparrow, produce COG Magazine, perhaps the best magazine in the world about fixed gear culture. COG was launched in 2007 and it pretty much created the genre that now includes the French Fixé, England’s Fixed, the Chinese Dash and a host of other online zines.
In fact, COG is such a well done magazine, that it seemed to raise the bar for all other urban bicycle niche magazines. After COG came out, magazines like Momentum and Urban Velo also upped their game with redesigned magazines, higher quality printing, thicker paper stock and better photography.
Story and Photos by Peter DiAntoni
Although Eric, Kevin and I now produce COG, we have deep roots as bicycle messengers. Eric has been working as a courier for 14 years, Kevin for more than 10, and I worked for a little under 2 years with Breakaway and way back at Bikers Express shortly after the guys left to form Breakaway. Courier races are a big part of bicycle messenger culture. They combine a lot of the skills we develop on the job and offer a chance to socialize with other messengers. The crew at COG have been organizing, racing in and reporting on various Alleycats in Milwaukee and around the globe for more than a dozen years. Between the three of us, we have attended 11 Cycle Messenger World Championships.
Last year the championships were in Guatemala City. In 2009 they were in Tokyo. Next year we can actually ride our bikes to the race, because the 2012 Cycle Messenger Worlds will be in Chicago! This year, on our way to attend the 19th annual Cycle Messenger World Championship in Warsaw, Poland, we put together a little tour of some of Europe’s bicycling meccas. Dave asked me to share some of our experiences here on the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin’t blog.
Our journey in Europe started off in Amsterdam where we spent a couple days exploring the city and hanging out with the fine folks at Pristine Fixed Gear, Amsterdam’s only fixed-gear specific bike shop. For any cyclist who hasn’t visited Amsterdam, you really need to experience the culture there. It’s simply amazing. We literally spent hours drinking espresso while watching the endless stream of cyclists pass by. Chartreuse vests and other flouro safety garments do not appear on cyclists in Amsterdam, the cycling populace appear sharp and stylish. The fashions were a delight to take in, as well as the seeing kids carried front and back, the ever popular side-saddle passenger on the rear rack and sometimes front rack.
It rained a lot during our stay, which didn’t deter cyclists a bit. The overwhelming majority of Dutch bikes are of the classic black Gazelle design, full fenders, enclosed chain case. It was very common to see average people cycling, in the rain, riding one-handed while the other hand-held an umbrella. That alone would get wide-eyed stares here in the States, yet it is simply nothing special in Amsterdam. It was extremely heart warming to take these moments in, again and again.
One thing that left our heads spinning with confusion was Amsterdam’s policy of allowing motorized scooters to share the bike lanes with cyclists. It made no sense, and was at times terrifying, as the scooters would pass within inches of our handlebars as they whizzed by.
We left Amsterdam by overnight train to Berlin, Germany. After a quick overnight stay with friends there we cycled back to the train station to catch another train to Warsaw. While in Berlin, we did notice the Deutsche Post’s use of cargo bikes. Somebody really needs to rattle the bell of the USPS Postmaster General…
We arrived at Warsaw Central station on the evening of a very warm summer night. As experienced couriers, all of us are pretty comfortable rubbing elbows with motor vehicles, but we immediately noticed Warsaw traffic is no joke. It wasn’t uncommon to see cars and motorcycles ripping through the city center at 80 kilometers per hour. Luckily Warsaw, being Poland’s most progressive city, has implemented red brick cycle paths similar to Amsterdam’s cycletracks. We found it very easy to get around the city on bike using the segregated lanes
Most of our time in Warsaw was spent on a peninsula where the CMWC race events were held, so we did not get to see too much of Poland outside the race. Our trip was great and I could write about it for days, but we still have a magazine to publish, hundreds of photos to edit and a video series (filmed on Tri-X Super 8 film stock) to produce from our Euro Tour. Stay tuned for the full adventure!