Helmets On! Ride Along With One Of Pittsburgh's Few Bike Messengers

Nov 21, 2016

In the lobby of the Federal Building on Grant Street Downtown, Nic Woods emptied his pockets into a white plastic basket. It took him a while, as he was covered with clips and locks and wearing a large messenger bag.

He entered through the metal detector and two security guards pointed him to the elevators.

“We’re going into a courtroom, so they’re a little bit more…I’d say they’re in ‘hot water,” Woods said, with a laugh.

Woods walks through a hallway in the Federal Building where he'll pick up a package and ride it to a law office several blocks away.
Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

This wasn't Woods’ first time navigating legal offices. Attorneys, he said, send and receive the majority of the documents and packages he delivers.

Woods is a bike courier for Jet Messenger, which is based on the North Side. For nearly three years he’s delivered for the company and said most of his clients work in law, where situations often require an immediate signature or response.

“There’s still a novelty of same day delivery,” he said. “That’s probably the main thing — we can get it there quickly and get it there fast within the same day and reasonable price range.”

Jet Messenger is one of the few bike courier services in the city. Wood estimates only about 10 riders work in the city, not counting those who deliver food on their bike. Many freelance, while others, like Woods, choose to sign with a company.

For Woods, cars are the most difficult part of his job. He said he’s not noticed by drivers and has to anticipate every move by those on the road.

“You’re kind of having to watch everything that’s going on ‘cause things can happen really quick,” he said.
 

Woods says he's had to carry up to three full-sized copy boxes, but most of his packages are files or envelopes.
Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

To truly become bike-friendly, Woods said residents need to think about our infrastructure differently.

“It’s going to take some time for people to understand there are actually other people who prefer other ways of transportation besides a vehicle,” he said.

He said bike lanes have made his job a little easier, but that Pittsburgh still has a way to go. He’s been hit by a car running a red light and was nearly rear-ended by a city bus.

Still, Woods said he has fun at his job every day, especially getting to know all the alleyways and corners of Downtown. His favorite deliveries, however, are when he gets to leave the Golden Triangle and travel to Oakland or Uptown.

“It’s not something you do quite often. You don’t spend a lot of time up there,” he explained. “So those are...times to figure out easier, little tricks of the trade.”

Wood has met bicyclists who work as couriers in other cities like Seattle and New York City. He said while the job may be more common there, the messengers are always impressed that the riders here can navigate and “stick it through” Pittsburgh’s hills.