The 2016 European Cycle Messenger Championships came to an end in Copenhagen in July and hundreds of riders migrate across the continent to Paris for the World Cycle Messenger Championships. Trine from Copenhagen is one of them and we met in Paris to talk how the courier community is more than she ever imagined and how cycling needs to be more welcoming. She rides with Copenhagen female bike gang Pånch who want to fix that.
Tell me about how your courier life started.
I started in May last year, so it’s been one and half years as a courier in Copenhagen. I didn’t know anything about all the other couriers and messenger environment around the world before. I was really surprised when I got into it – from the first day you’re like part of the family. When you’re in the uniform people just come and greet you and give you good advice.
When I started, it was at the time when the European Cycle Messenger Championships (ECMC) was in Milan [in 2015] and a lot of people from Copenhagen went there. I heard about it from people who’d gone. They were like: ‘I crashed at this guy’s place, stayed at this guy’s place and now I’m going to Melbourne to the World Championships and just crashing somewhere.’
“From the first day you’re like part of the family”
I went to Helsinki in November to see my cousin who was living there for half a year. One of her co-workers put me in touch with Paavo [who works in Helsinki]. He’s a legend. That’s what they say. I wrote to him and said ‘I’m new to this world, if you’re around let’s meet up.’ He said ‘Yeah!’ He was so nice and we had a coffee and talked about bikes and stuff, and how it is to be a courier in Helsinki. He’s the only messenger in Helsinki so he does dispatching and does all the riding himself. Sometimes he has somebody to help him but he’s kind of the only one. I think they had more messengers before but it just went down.
I always used to cycle and used it for transportation and really enjoyed that. Then a friend of mine introduced me to a messenger in Copenhagen at a party – a couple of years before now. She said ‘It’s totally the job for you.’ I forgot everything about it until two years after. I really needed a job and went to another party and met a messenger who hooked me up with a company. Two days after I got the job.
When did you get into cycling?
I got into cycling when I became a messenger, basically. Before that I had a really shitty city bike. I had 15km to my school so was riding 30kms a day, and I used to do other trips and really enjoyed cycling as my main transportation but not really anything before that – I didn’t have anybody to share it with. I come from this little countryside village where nobody’s into cycling.
The Danish thing where everyone happens to cycle but people aren’t always into it as a sport?
Yeah, and then I got really into it. The couriers were really welcoming and taught me how to clean my chain, and inner tubes. I got my shitty bike stolen just before I became a courier.
How convenient. “I’d better buy a nice sexy bike now..”
Exactly. I went to all the cycling stores and everyone said ‘oh you can buy this bike for 800KR’ [about £80] which is pretty cheap, and they were a bit shitty and I didn’t trust them. I was like ‘I’m going to become a messenger cycling, I’ll ride the bike for 40 hours a week…’ Then I went to a really cool bike shop called Pedal and Co, and he was really cool and honest. He had a messenger working there a while ago. I got a Bombtrack Arise. Now I have the Bombtrack Hook which is more for cyclocross.
It’s a small city. We are 40 couriers strong but there haven’t been that many women messengers in Copenhagen before, and last spring we started becoming more and more. I was the fourth and then there was one more and one more, and in the fall we were like ‘We gotta have a club.’
The bike crew you’re in is called Pånch. It’s clear that everyone has a slightly different approach to feminism and equality in cycling. How would you describe it in your eyes?
We have a lot of opinions of what Pånch should be. We are six girls that make up the fundamental group, and we are very different, all of us. We all have different opinions on how they want to be a part of it.
Right now for me, it’s a group of people who have the same interests and we participate in different races and stuff. Lots of us are part of a cycling group called SygKliste CC. You don’t have to be a messenger – it’s for people who are into this cycling culture.
It’s a group of girls that take care of each other, welcome each other, take care of each other. Whenever I go racing, some of the girls come to cheer.
So Pånch is a ‘safe’, welcoming space for women who cycle. Do you think it’s sprung up because there was a need for a women’s group, does it has specific political gender goals – what’s your view on that?
For me, it’s that I want to ride with some girls. I have some guy friends that I’m riding with but they have a different view of cycling, but it’s just nice to have some girlfriends riding with you. They talk about different stuff. Some girls in Pånch think there are too many men in the cycling culture, and they prefer that men aren’t allowed to be part of Pånch. It’s a big discussion.
What I want? I want new guy messengers who want to know about cycling and learn how to fix their bikes and stuff – I want them to be part of it too. But others prefer to stay together as girls to keep a certain environment.
You’d like there to be something like this for everyone, irrespective of gender?
It feels like that’s a big perception challenge for cycling – that it can be hard to find welcome places that are open to people who might not feel they have the right kit, or experience or who feel out of place in some way.
It all started when I had my first Cyclocross race. It was one of my colleagues who was involved in a little chilled cycling group who organise bike polo and stuff, and they had a cyclocross race. One of my colleagues was like ‘you should totally do that.’ I hadn’t tried it before and I really wanted to do it with somebody. In the end they ‘forced’ me to do it! And it wasn’t that bad! Afterwards I really got into cyclocross.
I wanted to participate in one of the more official races but it would be nice if somebody like me – at the same level – participated so we could just have fun and practice how it is to be in a race.
Right. That fear barrier of having to brave making an idiot out of yourself that first time. Where do you do cyclocross in Copenhagen?
Actually the first race I went to was near the city centre – not in it, but pretty close to in Østerbro. There was a little grass area with some trees and stuff and they’d made a little race course.
The train area in Copenhagen has an area with all the trains and stuff, and we talked a lot with them so we’re allowed to do it there. The was really nice. It was up and down some stairs, and there’s a little pool where they put the trains for repairs so you could go down, cycle through lanes up and down around there. The more official events are in the woods and in Amager, close to the airport with some woods and grass fields where people go to do cyclocross.
How was the ECMC race for you?
I had a lot of fun. I had too much fun. At the race I got disqualified. I had lost a letter and I was pretty sure that if I handed in my manifest without a stamp they would definitely think that I cheated. I had two minutes left and two checkpoints, which you couldn’t take in the same round. I got disqualified for going the wrong way against the traffic.
I loved the reasons some people got qualified. Like ‘being a fucking idiot.’
I was at the main race for the finals, helping at Kryptonite. [Kryptonite is the one checkpoint riders are told to use their locks.] I was being a bike thief. I only got to steal two bikes. We were standing at the side looking like an audience, and then people came and left their bikes without locking them. We just took them around the corner but we hid them. The first guy ran down the stairs running in the wrong direction shouting ‘Where the fuck is my bike? Where the fuck is my bike?’ After a while people were shouting ‘it’s in the other direction.’
I really loved it. I’ve been really impressed by the whole culture.