Jarek Środecki is behind the influx of grinning skull stickers around the world as half the courier world receive sly marketing from Szczecin in Poland, intent on hosting the next ECMC. I met him in Berlin for the CMWC Sister City Alleycat. Between making a good line in socks and mugs, taking Oskar around CIMB and elevator surfing, he talked about cycling in trick-to-say city on the north west of Poland.
Hey Jarek, what are you up to in Szczecin?
I live and work as a bike messenger in Szczecin. I’ve been living here for over a year now after having lived abroad for 11 years prior in a bunch of countries and few different continents.
How did you get into cycling?
I got into cycling thanks to my older brother who would be on his bike all the time, riding everywhere when I was growing up. And I encountered the messenger scene through Tomek, one of my brother’s friends, an awesome guy who was a messenger in Toronto at the time – in the late 90s. I admired him a lot whenever he would come for a visit, being this awesome, rad-looking dude with crazy stories.
Later on when I was in highschool Tomek organized a stage of CMWC pre-event, which was held in Copenhagen that year, in our hometown (Gorzów Wielkopolski). Meeting so many rad, extremely interesting messengers from all over the world in a small city like ours was mind blowing. And subsequently it changed my life forever.
Do you have any clever tips on how to avoid saying ‘Szczecin’ totally wrong?
Hahaha. That’s a great question. You could use the easy way and say it German way Stettin but that would be lame. It’s very easy you say what you see …so :
Cz- tch as in waTCH
E- e as in bEd
C- tz as in swiTZerland
In- een as in splEEN
Shtchetzeen. Piece of cake isn’t it?
What type of cyclist are you? What’s your favourite kind of ride or what is like the perfect day of riding for you?
I would say I’m a city rider I really enjoy riding in the traffic, especially when it’s really busy, I love the adrenaline it gives me. Planning my route, meandering through cars, cutting through the traffic and lights – that’s what tickles me.
I also enjoy climbing a lot, and riding fixed, depending only on your legs and your one gear it’s simply awesome. The feeling when you’re flying up the hill with the momentum you’ve got – it’s the best. I’m not a big fan of rides with too much flatness. I get tired more and it gets boring.
Mind you, while living in Auckland in New Zealand, which is situated on 40 volcanoes or so and no matter where you go there is a bunch of climbs on the way I wished I had lived in a flat city.
As far as out of town weekend rides I enjoy interesting routes with plenty to see on the way and some interesting destination with plenty of hills to climb and turns – don’t like going straight for too long either.
What’s riding in Szczecin like?
“Szczecin .. with a sick Masonic street layout designed by the same architect who designed Paris and plenty of hidden gems.”
As far as riding in Szczecin is concerned it’s a mixture of nice, separate bike lanes, the ones next to sidewalks – in reality more sidewalk space for pedestrians – and no bike lanes at all. It’s also a mix of nice, smooth new roads and crappy ones with hardly any shoulder, plenty of pot holes and tram tracks.
There aren’t that many bikes out there, especially in fall and winter, so drivers aren’t that used to seeing bikes and looking out for them, so you have to be extra cautious and anticipative. And of course there are plenty of morons out there that believe you shouldn’t be out riding on the streets.
The topography of the city is quite hilly so it can be quite demanding at times – especially when you have to ride the same hill for the 10th time that day. But it’s lots of fun.
Szczecin is situated almost right on the German border and there are plenty of cool spots you can ride to with nice smooth roads, minimal traffic, a lot of forests and good beers to drink.
What are some of your favourite local rides in/out of Szczecin, or some of your favourite places you’ve gone by bike?
Last summer with two friends from the U.S. we planned our own ECMC/CMWC pre-pre-pre event starting in Geneva and finishing in Hamburg at the official ECMC pre-event. We rode through Switzerland stopping at major cities, hanging out with messengers in each of them then headed up north through Strasbourg in France, Karlsruhe and Frankfurt in Germany, where we took an overnight bus to Berlin to meet more friends there and hang out for a few days before riding to Hamburg. It was one helluva trip.
My favourite part was going through Switzerland, with the amazing views, beautiful weather, awesome places and people and lots of climbs-especially Lausanne with a big climb getting into the city , lots of climbing in the city and then 20km climb up leaving to Bern. My wallet didn’t like it that much though and preferred Germany with €1 beers and €3 euro kebabs.
Do you have a favourite bike shop in Szczecin?
Favourite bike shop in Szczecin has to be Gruby Kolarz, which stands for Fat Cyclist. It’s a small, old-school bike repair shop run by an ex-messenger Edi and shared with his cobbler Dad. It’s a place with lots of character and it’s not your typical bike shop. It’s located right in the city center so it’s best for a quick fix or tea or coffee when you’re on standby.
What are your plans for ECMC 2018?
The whole idea of bidding for hosting ECMC 2018 came up during one after alleycat party. It sounded like an awesome idea and everybody got super excited about it, we started making plans, shared ideas, even had one guy volunteered to prepare sandwiches for everyone that would come to the championship (got a bit of a reality check when he was told that it would be over 500 people). And surprisingly when we sobered up we remembered the whole thing and still were up for it.
So decided to do a bit of promotion. With Basel hosting a bike messenger New Year’s Eve we had to act fast. We decided to chose the skull from a local artist’s graffiti, got stickers printed and distributed them in Basel. Then we sent them all over Europe but the ideas of places kept coming and now we have most of the globe covered. It’s exciting to see your sticker popping up on social media in the sickest of places.
Later on, after having received the offer of a ‘Vote Szczecin’ checkpoint at the main race at ECMC in Vienna, we came up with an idea of making some merchandise in order to raise funds for it. And just like that the mugs and socks got created. We played it safe and ordered a 100 pairs of socks which a big portion of was sold in the first few days! It blew our minds and got more ordered.
We also went to a few messenger events to promote our bid including Wrostro in Wrocław and Sister City Cat in Berlin and hosted one ourselves too.
We have a few more exciting aces up our sleeves for further promotion during ECMC you just have to wait and see. Everything is up to the mess family and their votes. Fingers crossed.
Why would ECMC in Szczecin be a good thing?
Szczecin is an interesting city with a vibrant past, beautiful architecture, sick Masonic street layout designed by the same architect who designed Paris and plenty of hidden gems waiting to be discovered. It’s out of the way, being located in north-west corner of Poland, for a typical tourist foreign and polish alike so it’s relatively unknown. For the year of 2018 and CMWC being held in Riga, Latvia and pre-events happening in Stockholm and Helsinki, Szczecin has a great location to make it an amazing messenger summer with plenty of riding, racing and a lot of chistole.
It’s easy to get here by land, sea or air and it’s really cheap. We could provide a lot for the registration and sponsors money.
What’s more it’s a new location for mess family to visit and have an awesome time.
Last but not least, such a huge event would definitely have a huge impact on the cycling scene out here. With promoting cycling and bike messengers industry and also raising awareness of city cycling and its needs within the communities and city officials.
Here’s what the ride from Berlin to Szczecin is like.