Zach Thomas contends with more than most out on the road, steering what looks like (and probably is to the unskilled) the most unwieldy choice of two wheeled beast through the vehicle-clogged streets of New York - a cargo bike.
Text: Nick Chapman
Photos: Andy Donohoe
With boxes piled up to the bars, and often, if his Instagram is to be believed, past his head, it must be no mean feat navigating the city like this. “Bigger packages are seemingly more popular - jobs done by truck before can now be cargo bike jobs,” he says, “With the right messenger!” There’s a financial incentive to these kinds of risks of course. “Carrying bigger packages does mean more money. The investment in the cargo bike has paid itself off financially.”
For somebody who grew up racing BMX and mountain bikes, the cargo bike might seem like an odd choice for a lover of speed, as Zach clearly is, although the choice to be a messenger definitely isn’t. “I figured it would be a decent job and bikes have always been a part of my life. If you don’t mind the pedestrians, the traffic, or any of the other bullshit NYC has to offer, it’s a pretty damn simple job.”
Being relatively new on the scene (he’s been a messenger for two years) Zach isn’t caught up in the mythology of the New York messenger. When asked if the rebel outsider image rings true he is forthright: “Messengers tend to make a name for themselves as assholes.” He explains, “This is usually because of the chaotic and fast-paced efforts on the job are influenced by the environment around them,” and relents, “A lot of the couriers work very hard and are very professional for their clients and for their own self-respect.”
Like many messengers, Zach has other interests in cycling beyond delivering packages. The BMX racing of his youth led him to road racing, a pursuit for speed and bigger challenges. He’s ridden in alleycats and street races: “I don’t mind that style of racing because when it comes to riding or racing in traffic I have my end goal in sight and set to pursue it.”
Zach’s goals are set higher, with the rising popularity of crit races where fixie disciplines are becoming big attractions. This year he is riding the Red Hook Criterium series, one which fully embraces the style of the messenger scene, in branding at least. I ask Zach if there is much of the actual culture around the race. “Not in that race anymore. It has become more about professional cyclists with teams, sponsors, and coaches. People can try to adopt a style or image but you know a messenger when you see one.” He is upbeat though, “But that does not mean a messenger cannot win!”