6 Bike Messengers Share Their Best Carry Tips

Delivering packages as a bike messenger isn’t for the faint hearted. It takes skill, stamina and a bit of bravery.

A big issue is how you carry your packages, so we have talked with 6 experienced bike messengers and asked them to share their best advice.

Read on and learn from their best tips and tricks (the 6 messengers have years of experience, so they know what they are talking about!).

I started out in the messenger world at a company in Boston, MA that specialized in cargo. We used a variety of front loading bikes, trailers, and heavy duty trikes to make deliveries. From there I went to document courier work and occasionally some food delivery on the side. About two years ago my partner and I moved to Buffalo NY where we could get our own cargo bikes and have space to store them, but there’s very little bike courier work here so we spend most of our time working as bike mechanics. Hopefully someday we’ll be able to carve out a little niche for bike delivery here!

Favorite bike? Non-delivery related favorite bike is my 1999 Terry Titania. For work I like a simple steel fixed gear for light deliveries, and a Bullitt for big stuff.

What are your 3 best tips for carrying packages?

  • Make sure it’s secure before you start riding. You don’t want to drop anything.
  • Make sure it won’t get damaged if it’s raining. Stuff a garbage bag in your bag just in case.
  • Get creative, because you probably can’t afford to refuse a delivery. Having a front rack is helpful, too.

I’d say what bag you use depends on what you usually end up carrying. If it tends to be heavier, a backpack is great for keeping the load even on your shoulders. I use an old large Freight Baggage flap top which is great for most things, but it can be bulky if you don’t need all that space and you give up the ability to swing it around easily to grab something quick. If you do more documents, a messenger bag like the Bailey Works Super Pro is fantastic. You can fit a copy box in a medium (lengthwise with some bungees), but a large or xl is ideal.

Carrying basic tools is a must even for commuters, if you’re relying on getting around by bike for your paycheck it’s absolutely mandatory. At minimum you need a working pump, spare tube, levers, 15mm wrench if your wheels bolt on, and a multitool. A snack is a good idea if you can spare the space in your bag, because you can get real hungry riding around all day and buying food downtown tends to get expensive. Depending on the weather, an extra pair of gloves or a jacket might make your life a lot easier.

What kind of packages makes you happy vs. sad?

There’s nothing nicer than a well-labeled and sealed envelope going between two buildings with reasonable access procedures. Ways to make your courier sad include:

  • Incomplete addresses, like just the general building address and no suite number or contact person.
  • Really time-consuming building security procedures, which most couriers aren’t getting paid to put up with. Sometimes having to go to a loading dock streamlines things for a messenger and can be good, but sometimes couriers end up waiting for a building employee to show up to give them a pass, then they have to wait for very slow freight elevators (sometimes more than one), then wander around the back side of an office until they find a mailroom or the contact person, all of which can add 25+ minutes to a delivery that you can’t charge the client for, meaning you’re effectively doing all that extra work for free. If your messenger seems frustrated a lot, maybe offer to meet them in the lobby to get the package or talk to a building manager about updating the protocols.

I think the strangest thing I’ve carried was an active worm compost bin. Aside from easy envelopes, I enjoy delivering people’s CSA share boxes. I hate delivering most restaurant food, especially anything messy like soup or ice cream. Very few restaurants have secure-enough packages to deliver food in any presentable way. My suggestions are just don’t order food delivery, and if you do, tip well! (For non-food deliveries tipping isn’t expected but always appreciated. Food is much more difficult and couriers get almost nothing from the base delivery fee, tipping is definitely required)

What are your top tips for other bike messengers?

If you’re just starting out, find local messengers in your area and ask them for advice. Every city is different, and most things are personal preference you figure out as you gain experience. Generally, don’t try to impress people by riding fast. Go with the flow and stay calm. It’s only a job, but be professional.

As far as bikes, don’t under-spend or over-spend on it. Along with your bag, think of it as an investment in a tool of the trade. You don’t want some cheap junk you’ll have to fix a lot and you usually don’t want to be beating up on your best bike. If your city is flat enough, fixed gears are the easiest and cheapest to maintain. Something comparable to a Surly Steamroller would make a solid and reliable work bike. If you’re short like me, Wabi cycles makes a 650c bike I like a lot. Geared bikes are nice in nice weather, but only ride them in the rain and snow if you love meticulously cleaning them after every ride. In my opinion, risers or cruiser bars are where it’s at! Skip the computer and buy a nicer set of lights or a rain coat or soft shell jacket instead.

I am ex messenger currently partner in the bike shop. I was messenger for 10 years between Dublin and Amsterdam. I’m off the road as a messenger, but I’m a bike lover and my passion to any kind a bikes activities such as track cycling, bike polo and many more. The bike messenger community is more then just a job for most, it’s a lifestyle on and off the road – and a community at the start and with time its like you second family.

Favorite bike? My bike, hand build by myself.

What are your 3 best tips for carrying packages?

So as a messenger for most of my time I use a classic messenger bag, one strap with a second one attached on the top pocket for heavy loads. I find single straps great for busy messenger work (Dublin compare to Amsterdam). It’s relatively short distance trips so you are putting the bag on and off all day, so single strap works great for me. For places like Amsterdam and similar two strap bags work better, as you carry packages for longer amount of time. So for comfort on the long journey,s I was choosing a two strap bag.

My favourite brand for single strap bags and hip pouches would be PAC Bags, hand made in Canada. The price is high for those bags, but they worth every cent you spend on them. Great design and outstanding quality that last you many years.

For two strap bags, BLAHOL Bags, handmade in Poland. You have great product, great finish, quality and design and with the option of personal customization of any type. Colour, extra straps or pockets and for a fraction of the cost of some other brands. It’s the great choice for messengers, but also for anyone that want a bag for every day use while also being able to use it for traveling, shopping and anything that you can think off.

What kind of packages makes you happy vs. sad?

So over the years I came across a variety of packages starting from urine and blood samples, food such as soups and related, flowers, clothing to just standard contracts and bank transfers. So with jobs like flowers, prizes, giveaways such as concert tickets and holiday trips it was always a pleasure because you are welcomed with a smile on you arrival and its so natural, there is nothing fake in it. It’s just a happy person that can make you feel good even when you have a bad day.

I would be hard to choose the strangest job. I was once asked to collect a 40′ plasma tv, a pot of soup and a wedding dress (and I was told that it couldn’t be folded as it would leave marks – and my explanation that I’m on a bike didn’t seem to make any impact on them).

What are your top tips for other bike messengers?

I was using a brakeless track bike, for feeling of control on the bike, but also for the cost differences. Using any type of single speed as a commuter or bike messenger means you are saving spending big bucks on repairs and parts. Single speed bikes are much cheaper to maintain in good working order with a small budget. Most of the work you can do yourself a home and if you decide to invest little bit in a few basic tools, you can fix or build your bike yourself.

I can’t say that I would recommend the same bike for everyone, as people are different with various styles and need of cycling. That was my choice. I also ended up working for 2.5 years on a cargo bike and I love it as much. It was a different experience and style for sure, but I can’t say that if I went back now, I would happily do any of them.

For the electronics, we on the stage where everyone is using it. When it comes to XDA compared to old fashion pen and paper, the XDA are great if they work 🙂 About GPS and similar, I always advice people to learn the city by using an old fashion map for a few reasons. You need to make mistakes and get lost, as that’s the best way to discover the city and it’s the fastest way to learn the street names and shortcuts.

For new messengers, get yourself decent waterproof clothing, mudguars and a decent bag of whatever type suit you. Be patient – and for experienced messengers, I love you all and s u in school 🙂

Favorite purchase under 100 $ – set of track Dura Ace hubs in cyber monday sale.

I’m English but moved to Bordeaux, France a few years ago. I’ve recently opened a bike cafĂ© in the centre of town which has been a huge project to set up and while I was planning it all I used to be a bicycle courier.

Favorite bike? My custom Genesis Brixton

What are your 3 best tips for carrying packages?

I used to use a Blahol and I still use it in my day to day life when I need to pick up a lot of stuff. My flatmate once borrowed it to transport a tower computer and screen. It is a great insulated bag with huge storage capacity. For my valuables I’d also often wear a bumbag or separate phone pouch. When working I’d always carry a spare inner tube, tyre levers and a mini pump.

What kind of packages makes you happy vs. sad?

The worst food to deliver was always soup, I’d cycle very cautiously because even if it had a lid on it, it would manage to spill out if you weren’t careful. I once had to deliver a single can of coke which I thought was kind of ridiculous, that was because they’d forgotten to put it in the original delivery.

What are your top tips for other bike messengers?

I would highly recommend setting up your bike in accordance to the type of cycling you do, the geography of the city you live and your personal preferences. I use a Genesis Brixton which I made a few modifications to in order to make it my own. The Brixton is already a bicycle designed by Genesis for the urban environment but I changed the handle bar to a flat bar for a more aggressive riding position and replaced the front rack with a Basil flat rack. I also use Schwalbe Marathon Plus ‘un-puncturable’ tyres, which I would highly recommend.

I am a co-owner of Clutch Courier LLC in Santa Cruz, CA. I am a detail-oriented dispatcher, strong+safe rider and lifelong learner.

Favorite bike? 2000 GT ZR 5.0 with Cetma HALFrack front rack

What are your 3 best tips for carrying packages?

  • Whenever possible, get info as to size, weight and fragility of package before you pick up and have a plan in place to scale up your handling capacity on the fly (bungee cords, etc).
  • Make pick ups and deliveries seamless for your clients by having everything in order before you arrive (proof of delivery form filled out and ready for signature, etc).
  • Expect the unexpected.

I have used many sling style messenger bags over the years from several brands: Patagonia, Chrome, Timbuktu, Seagull. I have settled into Seagull Bags, and currently use their Legacy Sling in size Large/Oversize and with a right shoulder strap. Most right-handed messengers use a sling bag with a left shoulder strap, but I find that having the bag strap on my right shoulder frees up more visual space when I look behind my left shoulder (to check that it is clear to pass). My bag has compression straps to cinch down to a smaller size when empty and expand when needed.

What’s Inside:

  • Ride-Related: patch kit, two extra tubes, pump, tire levers, u-lock.
  • Work-Related: Paper pad, pens, paper clips, tape, white-out, blank stamped-envelope, proof of delivery sheet, “hair-net” bag capacity expander, large sealable plastic bag.
  • Weather-Related: Sunglasses, cold-weather gloves, fleece neck warmer, silk thermal baselayer shirt.

Attached to outside of Bag:

  • Cell phone pouch with money clip, primary phone and dispatch phone inside.
  • Boombotix “Rex” waterproof bluetooth speaker.

What kind of packages makes you happy vs. sad?

A package delivery that makes me happiest is one that works into an existing route, with a large delivery timeframe and someone present at delivery location to sign. Delivering baked goods and celebratory food items are always my favorite.

Package deliveries that are frustrating to me are ones where delivery instructions and/or delivery location change at point of pick up, and when package is confirmed to be ready to pick up but upon my arrival additional time is needed.

Strangest thing I’ve ever carried was a large handful of ice cubes, which I delivered to an ice chest a few blocks away to keep the fresh produce inside chilled. I now keep a plastic bag with me for future jobs. I wouldn’t classify any package as “nasty”, but it is important to know what items you need a license to carry or are barred by law from carrying (varies by city/state).

What are your top tips for other bike messengers?

I ride a 2000 GT ZR 5.0 with Cetma HALFrack front rack. It’s got an aluminum frame (light, rust-resistant), steel fork (sturdy, compliments heavy duty front rack), 9 speed friction stem shifters (shift, steer and brake with one hand if needed), Mavic Ksyrium wheelset (bombproof, super low maintenance, loud “buzzing” sound while coasting to give notice that I’m coming behind you). I’ve put a lot of trial and error with different set-ups on my bike, but I realize what works for me is not for everybody. Some want the integrated index shifters, carbon frame, built-in USB charger, etc., but that’s just not my style.

New Messengers: Be open to learning from veterans. Communicate with clients and dispatchers using solution-based methods. Take out your pad and write things down until you fully understand what you are writing down and why those details matter.

Veteran Messengers: Learn how to dispatch. It will give you a “big picture” outlook you might not have had before. Translating your messenger’s check in to your client and vice versa will help you communicate clearly and effectively no matter who you’re speaking with.

Favorite purchase under $100: Pinhead unique-key locking skewers for my wheelset (for peace of mind).

Bad recommendations I’ve heard: “no cop no stop”

Owner/Rider/Dispatcher at Clutch Courier. I love the job and try to get 150-200 miles a week. Dispatching slows that down.

Favorite bike? Ibis Hakkalugi (non-disc brake)

What are your 3 best tips for carrying packages?

I use a Chrome Citizen. It’s cheap, efficient, easily replaceable. Chrome also gives us a discount and also has a lifetime warranty and will replace the parts that wear out (aka the main strap) for free. I’ve used other bags, bigger bags, different bags, but chrome has always been a charm and their consistent quality and ease of customer service keeps me coming back. I don’t really want a bag that is too big or my sweaty ass will just soak it in sweat. Hell this even happens with the smaller bag. I just carry additional straps in case I need to carry larger items.

I do have multiple bags though. The Chrome works as a my work bag, I use a Re-Load medium size bag that I bought myself when I was homeless as my off hours bag, and I have gigantic back pack thing (no longer made by chrome) for weekend grocery shopping or for air travel.

Well, as much as people complain about bike theft in Santa Cruz I haven’t really had a problem, especially keeping a small seat bag on my bike. I keep most of my tools in the saddle bag. But there is a different small pump, 15mm wrench in each of my bags. The seat bag I can switch from bike to bike so I always have the essentials, then each bag has the bare minimum JUST IN CASE the saddle bag gets stolen. But I try and never leave the saddle bag on my bike at night. Or outside for too long anywhere.

What kind of packages makes you happy vs. sad?

The packages that make me happy are the ones I think I’m not gonna be able to carry with my bag, but then I make it work anyway. The ones that make me sad are the ones that make me call for a driver backup.

I don’t think I hate carrying any of them. What I do hate is waiting around for them. Especially if I’m supposed to be in a hurry. But at the same time the feeling of completing the job on time even after being held up by a client is quite satisfying.

The strangest thing was a “cock cake” an erotic cake I had to pick up, store and deliver for a bachelorette party. The cake got returned by the client because it was supposed to be in the shape of a penis rather than having a drawing of one on top of it. The ladies declined the cake, so we got to eat it. It was amazing BTW.

There is no avoiding nasty packages. Even with an amazing dispatcher who will go over everything with the client ahead of time, there will still be surprises. And it’s really up to your attitude after that. It can be a challenge for you to complete or a reason to want to quit.

What are your top tips for other bike messengers?

I feel like Santa Cruz bike messengers may have it a bit different than other messengers due to our small town nature, but here we go. Ask questions if you have them. Ride bikes with fatter tires, thin tires don’t really make you faster they just rattle you more especially on shitty streets. You can see this trend becoming more mainstream with “Road Plus” bikes coming out. It makes a huge difference and tubeless tires all but eliminate flats (if you can remember to keep the fluid levels topped off). I’d also recommend knowing how to work on your bike otherwise you will waste a ton of money and lose money not working. When I first started I had a hard-tail mountain bike with grip shifters and didn’t know how to work on anything. I eventually got tired of this and switched to fixed gear because of the simplicity and lack of maintenance. After years, I learned nothing is that hard about bike maintenance is that hard and moved to a road bike with friction shifters, to integrated shifter/brakes. Not knocking bike mechanics by the way they probably still build better wheels than I do and know how to do things with hydro brakes and suspensions that I don’t care about.

I ride a Ibis Hakkalugi, which is a cross racing bike. Cross bikes kinda feel like track bikes on the road, but have better brakes and can fit the larger tires I was speaking of earlier.

The best tip is to carry condoms around. In the US most phones and electronics aren’t water proof and you never know when it could rain. So buy in bulk, some condoms. Keep em in your bag put em on your phone and other electronics when it rains. You can still use the touch screen and see everything you can keep out that pesky moisture. 2nd best tip is tubeless fluid. Even if you aren’t riding tubeless, pop out your valve stem and put it in your tubes. The fluid will help keep you from getting flats, most of the time. And it will help with slow leaks that keep you putting air in your tubes everyday.

Bad recommendations: 700×23 tires at 120psi. I did this for years but jeez what was I thinking? You may think you’re going fast but unless you’re on the track you’re just wasting energy and punching your butt with your seat.

I’m a NYC Bicycle Messenger since 1992, love my job !!! I started my company Cyclehawk same day bicycle delivery service in 2007.

Favorite bike? Squarebuilt. Handmade in Brooklyn, NY.

What are your 3 best tips for carrying packages?

  • Make sure your package is secure before you start riding.
  • Extra Straps can make the impossible possible.
  • Make sure you are prepared to keep your packages dry.

I use the Manhattan Portage Empire XX Backpack sku# 1267.

I helped design this bag, it’s big, durable, light and can become more compact as needed.

Besides Manhattan Portage I have used Reload, Chrome, and Globe Demartini bags for messenger work.

For bike messenger work in NYC, bigger is better.

I usually use one bag for work and a smaller bag for when I’m running around with my kids.

My workbag has my tools, an extra tube and tire, my laptop, and tons of other stuff at all times haha.

What kind of packages makes you happy vs. sad?

Carrying food can be stressful. I recently delivered an ice cream cake with a custom inscription, wasn’t sure how it was going to look when I delivered it haha.

It’s always nice to deliver flowers!

I have delivered large amounts of cash and medical samples eeew!

I try not to turn down deliveries but I did refuse transporting someones dog one time.

Ask for a plastic bag if you think something might leak or leave a bad odor haha.

What are your top tips for other bike messengers?

Anybody can start their own bicycle delivery service. All you need is a bike, bag, lock, phone and some elbow grease.

I ride a fixed gear bike, it’s good for me! Any bike works as long as you are comfortable on it.

I don’t use any devices besides my cell phone.

Good communication saves time and effort in the long run.

My neck warmer is my favorite accessory for spring, fall and winter.

It drives me crazy when people tell me to wait haha.

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