Toronto on two wheels: bike courier Ian Christison

Cycle messenger Ian Christison manoeuvres around some snow in the College St. bike lane while delivering packages… in his shorts.“It has been really mild this winter – like 7 degrees in February… absolutely ridiculous! – and I was wearing shorts one day and said that was it; I’d be wearing shorts from here on in.” Read our feature on climate change in this issue by Todd Aalgaard here.

Photos by Rebecca Baran
Interview by Tammy Thorne 

BMX rider turned courier says it’s a good job, just don’t lose your walkie-talkie

Name: Ian Christison
Age: 20
Occupation: bicycle messenger for United Messengers

What’s the best thing about working as a bicycle messenger?

I love my job and get to push myself physically everyday. I don’t have anyone breathing down my neck.

What gear do you need in order to be outside on your bike all day in the winter?

Something to keep your feet warm! Invest in the right footwear.

Worst day on the job?

There have been a lot of days where I’ve stated, many times, This is the worst day yet

But this one day last winter, right after I started, I was with the first shitty company that hired me (and it is a shitty company, they take advantage of new people) and was late for my morning pick-up. It was the middle of winter and there was snow everywhere. I fell on ice. I still got to my first drop and did it no big deal. Got it done. But then I can’t find my walkie-talkie. I came back outside and it wasn’t there. I had no clue where it was. It was snowy. I was *&%!ing looking for a hour and finally gave up – it’s a $300 fee when you loose a walkie-talkie, which is ridiculous because it cost 50 bucks. I left the company. They took my last paycheck. That was by far the worst day yet. It was also shit since I was only getting $30 a day in those early days because I didn’t know where anything was or how to get there. Since I got my shit half-together, it hasn’t been too bad… although there have been plenty of accidents.

Do you find it more dangerous riding BMX in our city’s streets or delivering packages on the clock?

Half and half.  I could have died BMXing a few times… (Ian is featured prominently in this popular Sour Fever “Bails” video.)… but as a courier you’re going in between trucks, going fast…It’s a crazy place to be mentally and physically and you have to focus on the next object coming at you. I got into it because I needed a new job and a friend of mine was doing it. I thought I’d just do it for a couple of weeks.

Best day on the job so far?

The first day I worked for United. I got calls over a widespread area, went all over town, and made good money. I liked going the bigger distance. I felt like I was doing it professionally. I felt really like I had a purpose in the courier world.

I also like seeing new places that I haven’t been to before, like Forest Hill. I’d never been there and don’t have any friends there… so it kind of puts social circumstance on the delivery and makes you think about what is valued, and your own life circumstances.

How many bikes do you own?

Oh god. Just sold one. Last month I had no apartment and four bikes. This month, I have an apartment and three bikes… so I think that’s good

Do you still ride BMX?

Of course.

It’s a lot harder nowadays…when you ride a bike for eight hours a day it’s a lot harder to feel motivated to be like, ‘Cool, after work I’m going go and ride some more…’ Well it’s almost impossible to go out and put 100% effort into it … but then the weekends come along and my number one passion will always be BMX. It’s never not in the back of my mind – even when I’m working, riding around the city, I’m looking for places to ride. (More about Ian’s BMX styles on the Sour Fever team website.)

Any BMX skills come in handy on the job as a cycle messenger?

For sure the skills come in handy – There’ve been times when I’ve had to get our a situations fast and being able to maneuver my bike quickly helped a lot.

Yeah, BMX helped me out more than I realized… even with endurance. It taught me to have fun and have no fear on the bikes… but just knowing how to move a bike – call it ‘bike control’ – or just being aware of where you can fit, your pace and timing, with downtown traffic (for me) it comes from riding BMX.

What is an “Ice pick”? And has it come in handy during wintertime as a courier? Back peg grind. Yeah. (Laughs.) No. (Ian is doing a pegless icepick grind 180 right in the beginning of this video.)

How did Wallace Emerson BMX park influence your life?

So much. Goddamn! I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for that park – it was important for my riding technically/skill-wise, yes, but also for the sense of community and the whole scene that wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for that park! Especially for all the kids that can’t afford to drive and pay admission to skate parks outside of town… if it wasn’t for Wallace Emerson and all those guys that worked so hard to make it happen there… well, it really helped me to push myself. I got to meet Chris Silva (Issue 2, The struggle to shred freely) and Jamie Burke (Issue 1, All wood is good) for example. Those guys really influenced me and helped make the BMX community what it is.

Do people still call you Ginger? Yes.

Taking care of business at Bay Street on King with streetcars.

“Fogging up” New courier Ian Christison recently started wearing glasses which do fog up in winter when he goes inside to drop packages. Outside, he says he still can’t seem to see stop signs.

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