Photos: Monte Isom/Red Bull Content Pool
Two-time North American Cycle Courier Champion Austin Horse is a 26-year-old bike messenger based in New York City, with a unique background that includes fire fighting, working on a fishing boat and exploring Alaska and Canada by bike with a friend. We caught up with Horse just as he returned from delivering bicycles to an Azraq Syrian refugee camp in Jordan.
>I grew up in Houston, Texas. Had the usual mix of team sports and outdoors sports until we got mountain bikes one summer at my grandparents’ house in Windham. After that I stole my sister’s, broke it a bunch (mostly the rear wheel), and convinced my parents to get me one. I rode all over the city, at all hours. It was great. I had night lights and went night mountain biking all the time.
>I worked a few different jobs before I settled into NYC and riding bikes for money. If not a messenger, I would probably have an evolution of my high school job working in a bike shop. Or possibly have gone back to my favorite non-bike job, which was fighting forest fires.
>Right now I’m very settled into a courier company that is ideal for me. We pile the responsibility on during the day so our margins are higher and I don’t have to kill myself working five days a week. There’s enough random jobs and times where we get spread thin that I don’t go through the day on autopilot, so it’s nice in that there’s no typical day.
That said, after ten years, I can pretty much read what all the other road users are gonna do before they think it. Avoiding the situations where car doors open or pedestrians pop out in front of me is basically second nature at this point. Otherwise a typical day is spent moving various projects forward (my mobile bike co-op #bikeyard or my refugee camp bike library project) or preparing myself and my bikes for races.
>I’ve never broken a bone or lost a tooth. I’m pretty lucky, pretty resilient, and have pretty good reflexes. I don’t like to talk about horror stories; it bums me out when people I talk to believe they can’t ride in the city because of the danger. In my experience, the chaos of a busy street with varied users is far safer than an empty wide boulevard where a driver can zone out right before plowing into you.
>I’ve supported and worked for independent candidates for my entire adult life. People’s awareness and political will is slowly coming around but the world we have been shaping since I’ve been a kid is like a slow-speed train wreck. And it all comes down to a global plutocracy exploiting natural and human resources. We’ve gotta try and stop it.
>I had serious reservations when I was first approached by Red Bull to become one of its athletes. A local bike shop sponsorship—where you know the owner personally—is pretty cool, but a multinational? Eesh. That said, it’s been a really good fit for both of us. It’s one of the reasons I haven’t followed a typical extreme sports athlete path, branding a bunch of stuff, getting in bed with lots of companies. I like to keep my identity for me and Red Bull has been really cool about supporting me but not owning me. I think this is part of their bigger model of helping to amplify the really cool and unique stuff that’s going on in the world.
>I always race in a helmet; there’s no two ways about that. You’re putting yourself in a position of pushing the limits voluntarily, to not take a precaution is inexcusable. But for regular life? I think it’s a problem for the advancement of cycling that wearing a helmet may still be perceived as necessary for a trip to the store or that attention to violence on the road can be misdirected by whether the victim was wearing a helmet or not. So I’m trying to normalize not wearing a helmet when I’m just going about my day. As far as safety goes, I’m a huge advocate of brakes on bikes. To me that’s of greater concern in my scene than helmet use.
>At the bike courier we don’t work all five days anymore. It’s great! Also, we don’t take any jobs after 6pm and charge a hefty night rate from 5-6 so I can be home most days before 6. It helps a lot. But otherwise I just try to eat enough and sleep enough. It’s hard though!
>I travel a lot, and I feel like I’m seeking that place that’s like no other on earth, but then when I go back in my memory all the feeling runs together and I’m just grateful to be on my bike anywhere. But if I had to pick one place it would be Rio Sucio in Colombia where I was this past March. It’s basically an entire squatter town on stilts. Dirt roads and planked walkways. In the ‘80s there was an armed revolutionary conflict with the Colombian government so there’s a military/police outpost to keep a lid on things, but the sense is beyond their walls the community takes care of itself.
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