“Bin Laden” played polo at CMWC

“Bike messengers are a world culture,” he enthused, “I can go anywhere in the world, find friends and start working within a week. There was once a ‘life swap’ from Toronto to Boston where the guy said: ‘Here’s the key to my apartment, here’s what to feed the dog, this is my girlfriend’s number and this is my client list. I haven’t told her, yet. Good luck.’”

Cycle Messenger’s World Championships – 2011 – Three Parts
A Generous Subculture of Bike Messengers – Part 1
Panajachel Bike Messengers Race – Part 2

Today only a few of the CMWC participants are tooling through Panajachel. They are easily identified by their bike bags with slogans about how “skin grows back” and some because they are wearing their well earned t-shirts as they wheel through town. They are also distinguished because they actually fit on their bikes.

“Most of the kids, here, ride bikes that are either too big or too small for them.” said Navid Taslimi, a bike messenger from Toronto. He thought that the kids could be “contenders” if only their bikes were a better fit. And, Scott Free, the founder of the CMWC Art Project, also observed that the “Bike is part of Mayan Culture — because they can balance the whole family on one.”

Mr. Taslimi is the man who brought bike polo to Canada in the late 1990’s. In this sport there are no formal leagues. Polo is played with “pick up” teams – usually three to a side. The bikers protect their wheels with colorful, solid covers to keep the mallets from piercing their spokes and because they can, also, get a bit of English on the ball by purposefully ricocheting it off a wheel. Their mallets are handmade and funky – just a sawed-off piece of 3” pvc piping with half-inch holes drilled to keep the head as light as possible.

Mr. Taslimi told of a game where he had surely hit the ball and, then, it was nowhere in sight. The players looked for a long time before discovering it smashed into Mr. Taslimi’s mallet. He showed us a picture of this on his cell-phone and patiently explained that the image was NOT a graphic from some video game – but, the actual photo taken during that match. When Mr. Taslimi played in the CMWC games in Guatemala, the locals cheered him on as “Bin Laden” because the tall Iranian had been introduced by that name by one of his teammates. And, as we spoke, many who came up to shake his hand used this moniker.

Like many of the CMWC participants, he was active in Critical Mass when they took to the streets to remind Toronto that bikes belong on the road and, “We are not blocking traffic, we are traffic.”

Because he is from Canada and outspoken about CMWC “Bin Laden” was often mistaken for Nadir Olivet, the race organizer.

“Bike messengers are a world culture,” he enthused, “I can go anywhere in the world, find friends and start working within a week. There was once a ‘life swap’ from Toronto to Boston where the guy said: ‘Here’s the key to my apartment, here’s what to feed the dog, this is my girlfriend’s number and this is my client list. I haven’t told her, yet. Good luck.’”

Bike messengers are at once athletic and festive. Mr. Taslimi keeps in shape by riding daily. Sometimes his training run is “Gold Sprints” in a local bar. Clocking the maximum of 500 meters in 30 seconds on this bike (on rollers) is a rough-tough version of the coin operated bucking bull so popular in Texas.

Here, on the two main streets the chicken buses spew their nasty plumes, the tuk-tuks scour for tourists and things are as was, but the lively sense of fun and real contributions of these exceptionally good sports remains.

Panajachel Bike Messengers Race Part 2

Cycle Messenger’s World Championships – 2011 – Three parts
A Generous Subculture of Bike Messengers Part 1
“Bin Laden” played polo at CMWC – Part 3

Nadir Olivet is the owner of Toronto’s la Carrera Cycles http://www.lacarrera-cycles.com/ and the main organizer and sponsor of this year’s Cycle Messenger’s World Championships (CMWC).

“I’ve been fortunate; that’s why I am here,” Olivet says simply. Nadir Olivet

“Twelve years ago my nephew and I were bike messengers in Washington, D.C. and we decided to bring the race home to Guatemala. But, for several years, the organizers turned us down because it was ‘not logical’ to run the race in country that had no bike messengers.” So, in the intervening years, Mr. Olivet opened a shop serving messengers in Toronto; selling them everything they needed from chains and gears to a line of clothing that he had designed.

In 2008, after the Toronto CMWC, he decided to treat the riders, who had gathered at his shop between heats to a Guatemalan style breakfast. This went so well that on the last day of the events, Andy Zalin was moved to suggest that the race be hosted in Guatemala! This was remarkable because Mr. Olivet had submitted his proposals for over a decade and had actually abandoned this dream.

He is proud of having been a messenger and considers himself and most of this two wheeled community to be “positive and interested in cultural exchange.” As a competitive cyclist and avid supporter of his country, Olivet had taken to riding in smaller, illegal (read: not permitted) races including Guatemala’s Grand Primio. And, of course, he was delighted when the Cycle Messengers finally gave Panajachel the go ahead for 2010. Why by Lake Atitlan instead of Guatemala City? “Because this place needs the help and I wanted to keep my promise to the ‘friends of the mountain.’”

“We changed lives, here” he continued. “Luis Danielo Marroquin had raced so well against the field, that after he won two races our group got together and sent him to Europe to compete. Now, the brick layer’s helper is one of the top pros in Central America.”

Mr. Olivet was dismayed by the ignorance about the messenger’s athleticism.
“People around the lake were prejudged about the participants; calling them “Banditos, drunks and drug addicts.”

Yet, these contestants came to the race stowing toys and gifts for the local children in their bike crates. And, when it became necessary after the rains and mudslides left people homeless, they donated money to help those flood victims temporarily housed in the gym right next to their ad hoc bike polo field.

“These are not rich people and this is a hard earned vacation for most of them. They cannot spend money if they need to fix their bikes or pay their rent,” he said of the cyclists.

“Yet, this group bought diapers and food to share with the refugees. Many of the cyclists were moved to tears at the surprising gratitude of the people. Then a shoe drive began and Scott Free, now a repertory therapist the Los Angeles, promoted a kid’s art show to raise money selling the children’s pictures of their dream bikes.” Mr. Free was quite pleased that the drawings, many of which had volcanoes in the background, included the word “Awch’alal.” easy rider

“This is the Tz’utujil word for ‘family’ because there is no Maya word for ‘bike.’ And, once they learn to ride, they become part of this family” said Mr. Free, as he showed the drawings at the closing celebration. Meanwhile, he shepherded people to sign a giant 4’x8’ photo of Nadir triumphantly holding his racing bike overhead while standing atop a chicken bus. This giant tribute was a memento of one of the 2002 races in Guatemala that Mr. Olivet had ridden.

Mr. Olivet was, also, very proud that two top pro teams sponsored by Coca Cola and Café Quitzal had come to qualify and prouder still that the messengers had, for the most part, bested the pros. His only regret was a small one: that his Mom was not able to come, but, the good news was she was attending his niece’s graduation from medical school.

Before the party broke up and the cyclists headed back to their headquarters, Mr. Free summoned a crowd to watch the poster presentation. They joked as Mr. Olivet approached “Look the poster is supersized like you, Nadir.” “Look how thin you were before you got pregnant,” another hooted. At that moment, Mr. Olivet looked not only fortunate but extremely pleased.

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A Generous Subculture of Bike Messengers

Cycle Messenger’s World Championships – 2011 – Three Parts
Panajachel Bike Messengers Race – Part 2
Part 1 – “Bin Laden” played polo at CMWC – Part 3

Chero's Midtown
Again, knots of cyclists were enjoying themselves at Chero’s Pupeseria; so, I inquired how they happened to make the large food donation to the 90 refugees sheltered at the gym.
Domonique Fortner and Eric Lonowski
Domonique Fortner and Eric Lonowski told me that the cyclists were here to race in the Cycle Messengers World Championship (CMWCGuatemala.com) and that this year’s organizer was from Panajachel. About 150 messengers have arrived despite the road to Solola being impassable. Some were trickling in from Antigua and Guatemala City via the long way –through las Cruces. Clearly these cyclists had traveled great distances; the most remarkable journey being a German man, who had taken two months and biked down from New York City.

Yesterday, fifty of them took a launch across the lake for a practice ride. Domonique said that keeping her balance on the cobblestones was challenging but that the ride over the sheer roads was magical. “The (indigenous) people seemed surprised to see so many white people on bikes.” Part of this pre-race event included a visit to the shrine of a popular Mayan God, who had been revised by the conquistadores into the patron saint of “things on hold.” The ferocious statue was swathed in scarves and the riders were encouraged to make a 2Q donation for good luck in the race.

The object of the race is to mimic a day-in-the-life of a bike messenger. And, that the “race packet,” tucked into a traditional Guatemalan bag, included t-shirt and an activated phone from a local carrier. In this two wheeled scavenger hunt, a call will dispatch each rider to somewhere to pick up a package to be delivered to another destination. Originally, the race was to start at the field near Rio San Francisco but since that was washed into the river over the weekend the starting line will have to be determined by Saturday.

Last Friday, I had wondered what kind training table allowed beer consumption at such a staggering rate. The fabulously tattooed Domonique explained that they were a hard working and hard playing global subculture. Eric observed that, aside from the benefits of constant exercise, there were few benefits to being a messenger and added that the IWW was trying to organize them. The Oakland, CA couple had not been present when the cyclists made the delivery but noted that everybody continues to contribute by donating their bar tips to the cause. For his generosity the organizer had been awarded the key to the city.

the smooth part of the course