Bike messenger's work fuels passion for racing

If its raining and cold, go to your closet and put on everything you own, says bicycle messenger James Adamson, describing a standard winter day in Seattle. Then go to your friends house, who is probably going to bail on your training ride, and put on everything he owns. That about describes my life.

Seattles unkind climate has created some rider-starved messenger companies who wouldnt mind having the likes of Adamson on their staff. To take on such a challenging and dangerous occupation, you almost have to have an ulterior motive.

Adamson, 24 is a five-year messenger veteran and aspiring racer, and an expert at surviving the terminally sodden Seattle winters on a bike. As he sits down for home fries and cinnamon rolls at the Globe Cafe in Seattle, he goes through an elaborate process of de-layering clothes and gear.

Adamson credits professional racer Frankie Andreu with his description of pulling clothes wholesale from closets, but he says the line applies equally well for messengers.

My first winter, being new downtown, it didnt occur to me to spend money on winter clothing," he said. "I had a fuzzy caveman wig that a theater company had thrown out. I wore it all winter long. Now I know better.

On good days, its tough to find a cyclist who can think of a better job than plying downtown streets as a bicycle messenger. But when the rain is sleeting sideways and your feet leave squishy footprints in building lobbies before lunchtime, its tough to find a less appealing occupation.

Call him crazy, but Adamson, a scruffy, self-deprecating, good-natured guy, can think of nothing hed rather be doing any day of the year.

On the elevator," he says, "people say to me, This time of year I wouldnt have your job for anything. I just look back at them and think the same thing.

Its a good job for now, while Im in school," says Adamson, who is an economics major at the University of Washington. "Its flexible and I get some (cycling) training in. Id be pretty miserable behind a desk as a cube dweller."

The job as a messenger led Adamson to racing; he's in his fifth year of competitive cycling. As a USCF Category 2 racer (amateurs are ranked 1 to 5, with 1 being the highest below professional), he races for the Recycled Cycles team, made up of former or current messengers. Working on a bike helped build fitness, he says, but honing the skills necessary to compete came slowly.

Id been a messenger for a year before I started racing, he recalls. At that time, a lot of messengers raced, and I started by going on a few training rides on the weekends, before entering my first race, the Volunteer Park Criterium."

It was pretty disorganized; you could hardly consider it riding in a pack," he says. "The strongest guys, of which I was one, were always leading at the front. They made a specific announcement at the start of the race not to overlap wheels. Coming into the last turn before the finish, I overlapped a wheel and went down my first race and I crashed out.

Adamson has had his share of pavement encounters while working, too. One of the most painful for his ego happened on a rush delivery.

I had a super rush from a hospital and I was rushing downhill with the job when I hit a bump in the road," he recalls. "Suddenly, I was standing but moving very fast. And then I was sliding, as it happened, right past the Taco del Mar restaurant where I eat lunch every day. Everyone was sitting outside and saw me slide by. When I stopped, they asked if I was all right, but I was so concerned about the job, I just rushed off to deliver it, oozing blood from my arm."

The first couple of years I did stupid things on the bike, got in some accidents. now I dont ride that fast anymore. In fact, there are some people who I work with that would be surprised I race bikes. But a crash at 60 mph in a race is just as bad.

Training to race creates a balancing act for a hungry bike messenger, and Adamson works up a big appetite.

Next: How to eat enough food to ride for 12 hours

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