The urban bike magazine

My double life as a bike courier

“You can’t be a bike courier with an academic title.” It still makes me smile when I think about what my tax consultant once said when I told him that I would be adding a second income to my work as a freelance journalist.

Barbara Ottawa
Barbara Ottawa is a Vienna-based freelance journalist. Predominantly she writes about finances. Having a passion for cycling, she loves to write about everything related to this lifestyle. You find here articles in „Drahtesel“, the magazine from the Austrian bike lobby or on her blog viennabeo.net.
Foto: patrickpapesch.com

The dispatcher, or dispo – i.e. the person who oversees the clientèle, orders, journeys and bike couriers – first sends me 6km from the 11th to the 10th district of Vienna. Up and down hills, bypaths, through the early morning traffic: 20 minutes later the tax consultant’s receptionist smiles and hands over a folder. I then travel 13km through the city to the 1st district. That’s where I call the dispo – “I’m available at Gonzagagasse!”

Sometimes I only get one job; other days I receive several and that means plenty of note-taking and/or memorising. Once the tasks are complete I call the dispo for new jobs. Recently, I reported back following a delivery to the concierge at a penal institution on Landesgerichtsstraße road with “I’m available at the prison!”.

It’s one of these days where my double life is evident from my clothes.

It’s one of these days where my double life is evident from my clothes.

Working as a bike courier can sometimes be strenuous, however, it is always rewarding – whether it’s the customer base which is receiving the service or the challenges involved. “So, what’s wrong? Is everything OK? You were a little slower than usual today.” “I just got a bit lost, sorry!” After a year, the dispos now know my limits and capabilities better than I do.
Why do I do it? That’s a question which often provokes stereotypical responses from most people: Some worry that I must be earning too little as a freelance journalist. Others see the workout benefit or the personal experience. “As a student I folded boxes which did me a lot of good.” Naturally, these people are the ones who have well-paid jobs and often no longer pursue manual work.

For me, this is one of the most interesting social experiments for all of the aforementioned reasons: Delivery to an office in which I only appear for press conferences, random encounters on the street with interview partners who only know me in skirts and high-heeled shoes. On the other hand, there are also plenary sessions with Hermes bike couriers or a courier meeting to which I show up in the aforementioned outfit as I have just come from a journalist appointment.

Above all, it is of course mostly about the cycling. Travelling across the city faster than I ever thought possible. Vienna seems much smaller most days. Sometimes it can feel much bigger, but a well-timed delivery or a “well done” from the dispatchers compensates for the physical effort. And then that means “You are done for today! Thank you for your assistance.” You’re welcome. The courier jargon still perplexes me a little: “turning off” a cyclist at the end of a shift. Now it’s time to perhaps replace the electrolytes together with a few colleagues, whether from our own courier service or a competitor’s. We are all service providers on bikes. Only a few of us are exclusively bike couriers.

Images © Frieda Notter, © patrickpapesch.com

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Barbara Ottawa
Barbara Ottawa is a Vienna-based freelance journalist. Predominantly she writes about finances. Having a passion for cycling, she loves to write about everything related to this lifestyle. You find here articles in „Drahtesel“, the magazine from the Austrian bike lobby or on her blog viennabeo.net.

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