March 12, 2006 at 3:38 pm #11687
My experiences as a courier in 1985…
Redundant is a pretty nasty word at the best of times, but when someone is saying it to you when you are only twenty and on the last day of a four year apprenticeship, suddenly the real meaning becomes all too apparent.
Well if we wind the clock back to August 1985 I was that twenty year old. The manufacturing industry was under repeated attack from the hoards of Blue nasties led by the she devil Thatcher herself and my redundancy came like a hammer blow. My chances of getting another decent job in such a bleak environment were not great. I decided to make use of my bike licence, and try get a slice of the £500 a week action the bike press always seemed to be on about at the time. I went off to be a despatch rider. Getting paid to ride a bike, got to be good, surely..?
There was a courier firm based less than a mile from where I had just been laid off, so I headed around there. A quick chat with owner and hey presto I had a job! No problem, the fact it had been so easy in the middle of a depression that Marvin the Paranoid Android would be proud of, did not set any alarm bells ringing; oh the joy and naivety of youth!
So that was it then, I was now a cool hard courier, a knight of the road! I was chuffed to bits and turned up on my first Monday, parked up my RD350 and expected to leap aboard a battle scarred Kawasaki GT750 and roar off to deliver desperately important top secret documents or maybe vital bits of nuclear reactors or something. The reality was rather more mundane;
“You, take the CD200 and deliver GKN’s internal post”
A whole 3 miles, on tired 70,000 mile Honda Benly. This was not quite what I had been anticipating. To make matters worse, GKN was the company that had just made me redundant! Oh isn’t irony a wonderful thing?
The mighty Honda CD200
My fellow riders were a disparate bunch comprising a heady mix of drop outs, students, more mature riders just looking for a bit of earning power. Oh and rejects like myself! All had nicknames and these doubled up as our call signs on our crackly radios. Mobile phones were few and far between in 1985.
There was “Fast Nick” an ice cool degree student who had dropped out the system and who had the knack of getting anywhere quicker than anybody else. “SPG” (Special Patrol Group), was an ex copper, tough but friendly, while “Biggles” was a terribly well spoken Honda CB400F rider who sported a white silk scarf , a handlebar moustache and looked for the world as if he had just stepped from the cockpit of a Spitfire fighter rather than a beaten up despatch bike. We all hummed the theme to ‘The Dambusters’ film whenever he rode in! My title was Sidevalve as I rode an RD350 Powervalve…
We all gathered in a shabby touring caravan drinking tea and eating bacon sandwiches waiting for the next shout, “Fast Nick” tended to get the plum jobs using one of the firms three Kawasaki GT750s while new boys such as me wound up on local stuff on one of half a dozen CD200s the firm also ran. Classic amongst these was the so called “Piss run” which was the rather charming title for a regular run from a hospital mortuary to a pathology laboratory with body fluids from the recently deceased! I used to leave my gloves on and my lid and jacket zipped up when taking drops this to the client! The was the ‘Rites of Passage’ run and after a couple weeks another new rider would join and you get to hand over this delightful task to them! Soon I was out and about on the motley collection of clapped out CX500s that formed the bridge from the Benly to the GTs. These all had at least 80,000 miles on them and were tired to put it politely. It was aboard one the CX500s that I set a personal biking record that stands to this day of 825 miles in 24 hours; the bike had 105,000 miles on it too. Boy was I knackered, and I even managed to fall off the miserable device at one point, drag it out of hedge and carry on. In fact crashing was a pretty good way of passing time as a courier and in my brief stint I managed to stuff 3 bikes, a H100, the CX and a GT750 pretty spectacularly!
I crashed one just like this! The GT750 was superbly suited to the world parcel delivery
Riding courier style also tended not to go down terribly well with the plod and one particularly memorable occasion I was storming out of Tamworth on the A453 aboard one of the GTs clocking about 80-90mph when I spotted a plod pointing a hairdryer at me. Remember hand held speed guns before the days of unmarked vans and fixed cameras behind road signs!? Anyway I lamped on the brakes as hard as I could, the single piston double disc set up testing the Avon Roadrunner on the front to the max (God has brake and tyre technology moved on since 1985!), and buried the headlight in the front mudguard. I came to a squealing halt with back end going light. The copper strode over to me in that ‘I could have been in the SAS you know’ manner they all have and uttered the immortal quote;
“Well done sir, only 48” and promptly wrote me a ticket. I kind of miss the personal approach!
The job took me all over the country and the miles racked up quickly and after only a few weeks you feel like a veteran. The staff turnover was phenomenal, and one guy only did one morning aboard his Honda CB750F before packing it in because he got wet! What the hell did he expect!?
All the runs blur in to one another, but one day I was sent to the Premier League of the courier world: London. I was taking photographic proofs from Rover (RIP) to the offices of CAR magazine in the Smoke, but I got hopelessly lost in the swirl of vicious dog eat dog traffic down there. Getting late and desperate I spied a another courier at the side of the rode taking a fag break along side his Suzuki GS650GT Katana. He was middle-aged and wearing a battered Belstaff jacket, I pulled up alongside and explained my plight and pleaded for help.
Cool as a cucumber he said “follow me”, stubbed out his tab on the pavement, slowly put on his lid, climbed aboard the Suzzi, thumbed the starter button and then proceeded to take off like the USS Enterprise going into warp! I gunned the CX in an effort to keep up and the next few minutes saw us slicing through traffic at breakneck speed. Every rule of the road was not merely broken, but absolutely pulverised, mirrors were clipped, roundabouts ridden over, it was like some wild ride on the back of an unbroken Mustang. Then with a flicker of brake light he pulled up, pointed and then roared off again. Weird. Cheers mate whoever you were!
Well after 2 months and 8,000-10,000 miles I packed it in too, the lousy money, crazy hours, crashing and tickets all got too much for me. I would never do it again, I would never recommend that you do it either, but it was one hell of an experience.
My six best crashes, featuring my ‘off’ on the GTMarch 12, 2006 at 6:28 pm #45919ScouserParticipant
Can couriers make a good Balti?March 13, 2006 at 10:10 pm #45920
I can’t LOL. How about a forum Balti night?March 13, 2006 at 10:14 pm #45921samstrokerParticipant
Yuck curry! Cant beat good old chips and gravy!March 13, 2006 at 10:25 pm #45922
You can have chips, as a Brummie, Balti is mandatory for me!March 13, 2006 at 10:48 pm #45923DiggerParticipant
Great write-up radar,did`nt know you were a dispatch rider,you probably learnt alot from them days.March 13, 2006 at 10:50 pm #45924GixParticipant
Originally posted by Digger
Great write-up radar,did`nt know you were a dispatch rider,you probably learnt alot from them days.
Yeah but forgotten in old age…..[:o)]
Sorry Radar couldnt resist!March 13, 2006 at 10:53 pm #45925
No worries Gix, cheers Digger. Yeap I have clocked up thousands of miles in all sorts of conditions over the years. Now I just like to get out in the warm. Still want to ride more, circumstances always seem to want to contrive against me!!March 15, 2006 at 5:03 pm #45926LexParticipant
Just get out there you wuss!June 18, 2013 at 9:44 pm #45927
Worth reading if you have had a crap day at work and dream of riding for a living…June 19, 2013 at 10:13 am #45928imperialdataKeymaster
Enjoyed reading this again Radar. Do you think couriers have ‘eased off’ a bit on the riding style and hours in the saddle since then?June 19, 2013 at 12:37 pm #45929ses310Moderator
Good read, don’t really fancy having a go myself!June 19, 2013 at 11:41 pm #45930
Enjoyed reading this again Radar. Do you think couriers have ‘eased off’ a bit on the riding style and hours in the saddle since then?
Not sure, the advent of modern communications and ever more economical deisel vans has marginalised the traditional courier. I rarely see one these days.
Still about in London and widely used for legal docs that have to be originalsJune 19, 2013 at 11:43 pm #45931
Good read, don’t really fancy having a go myself!
You have the panniers for it…September 24, 2014 at 10:55 pm #45932
Watched a bit on telly this week about being a courier in London now…it is all twist and go Maxi scooters, Sat Navs and trackers now. Oh for the days of a beaten up CX and a pager!
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