It Happened to Me Toronto (a.k.a. Accordion City)


Photo: My bike, the Scorpion King (a Trek Cruiser).

Pictured above is my primary means of getting about Accordion City, the

Scorpion King. For getting to and from work as well as travel within

the core of Accordion City that doesn’t require me to carry large

parcels, a bicycle is by far the most cost- and time-efficient means of

getting around. It’s also non-polluting and a good way to burn off some

excess calories.

I suppose I could ride one of those “city bikes” or “urban hybrids”

that everyone seems to go for these days. They’re essentially

mountain-bike-ish designs tweaked for city use, and were I the sort of

person trying to shave seconds off my trips, I’d probably get one.

However, there’s a certain charm to the old 1950’s style “cruisers”

that other bikes lack, and having fenders and a chain guard allows me

to dress nicely and bike at the same time. I’m not a stickler for

authencity; I prefer cruisers with hand brakes and gears over the

no-gear versions with coaster brakes that serious cruiser aficionados

go for.

While my bike is my means of transporting myself to and from my

workplace, for some, it is their workplace. Frank Duff is one person

who works on his bike. In September 2003 — roughly around the time I

left independent contract work to accept a full-time job at Tucows —

Duff left the world of programming to become a full-time bike courier:

There are a

number of reasons why the courier life was particularly attractive to

this budding young programmer. Part of it was of course standard Office

Space fantasy. But there was more. Gibson and Stephenson had taught me

that the messenger, the mailman, was a vital romantic figure. The

soldier of the information age.

And I won’t

pretend that I was blind to the fact that, in this urban world, the

devil-may-care deliverator is something of a sex symbol.

And besides, I liked to ride. I loved it.

In A Coder in Courierland,

Duff writes about why he chose to leave the “in the mind” world of

computer programming and go into the “in the body” world of the bike


My street musician hobby has given me insights into Accordion City and

the people on its streets that otherwise would’ve escaped my notice. Duff seems to have had the same experience as a courier:


couriering will teach you to know your city in ways you never imagined.

I have always loved Toronto, but if you will forgive the metaphor, I

feel that my relationship has transitioned from that of a secret

admirer to that of a lover. I can call up at will the most intimate

details of the financial core and of various tendrils extending


You will

develop a camaraderie with the other peoples of the street. You will

find yourself exchanging knowing nods with hot dog vendors and buskers.

Even mailmen and FedEx drivers (with whom couriers share a mutual

conviction that each’s job is superior to the other’s) become your

brothers and sisters of sorts.

He’s also discovered the power of street cred:

And yes, if you have even the slightest bit of charm, you will have plenty of opportunity to pick up hot receptionists.

Being a bike courier isn’t a job for everyone. It’s

hazardous work; there are a lot of car drivers out there who think that

bikes don’t belong on the road and many more who just have no idea how

to share the road with cyclists. It can be unpleasant biking all day

when it’s 20 degrees below freezing. It also doesn’t pay terribly well.

He says that it worked out to CAD$7.00 an hour when he started out; I

made more than that selling sno-cones in high school, and that was in

1985 dollars. This must’ve been a drastic change from the paycheque he

was collecting as a programmer.

In spite of all the drawbacks, I must credit Duff with taking a chance

and seeing if he was really doing what he wanted to do. I’ve always

said that if you’re going to spend half your waking life doing

something, it shouldn’t be something you hate or dread.

2 replies on “Bike”

My dad has a “City Bike”. He only bikes in the suburbs and long straight roads of farmland (to get “out of town” a bit)

But his job let him trade in his unused vacation days for a bike or money, and he “was going to get a new bike anyway”, or so he says…

I can’t make fun of him, because I have a mountain bike in downtown Accordion City. ALL THOSE MOUNTAINS! But my excuse is that when I bought it, it was September and all the second hand bikes in my size were gone, and the cheapest new bike was a mountain bike. I am all for the cheap.

I can totally understand that Duff guy. I dropped a 20-year long carreer in computer programming to be a horseshoer.

Now, instead of spending my days in a small, climate-controlled cubicle looking at a screen, I instead travel the countryside, play with dogs, cats, goats and such and get kicked by horses (just once so far, by a 40-inch high pony).

Oh, and don’t forget the exercise. It’s a really really really tough job. I’ve been doing this for about a year and lost 20 pounds so far. 🙂

— Mauro

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