James Moore, the 2-Wheeling Trendsetter
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because sometimes the commitment to a career can become a lifestyle movement.
By Jan Frankowski
James Moore is a man who cycles through life — and numbers. Just before we meet him, the 57-year-old is finishing off nearly 25 miles to help prep him for an upcoming race. Nothing special, right? Tack that on the some 300,000 miles he’s ridden — with one gear and no brakes on his wheels — uphill, downhill and in the midst of swerving traffic. But the figures he’s most proud of are 15 and 0: “I have been a messenger in New York and Berlin for 15 years and had no major injuries, ever.”
Uh-huh. Believe him or not, Moore’s not just any messenger — he’s one of the most famous in the world, renowned within this tight-knit yet global community of cyclists for being among the fastest to ever ride the streets, back when he worked in Manhattan in the ’80s before conceiving the Cycling Messenger World Championship. That race, which takes place in a different country each year and was held this year in Melbourne, Australia, has since grown to include nearly 300 participants and thousands of spectators along the track. More important, it became a sort of general assembly for riders to discuss issues plaguing their industry, and showed how fast, efficient and clever riders needed to be, helping make bike messaging logistically more important, says Gunnar Fehlau, a journalist and book author who specializes in bikes.
With his lean body and sinewy calves, Moore puts most of his contemporaries to shame, even though he’s no longer riding for work these days (thanks to a knee issue, he’s an ambassador’s security guard in Berlin). And he can still hold his own against riders who are 20 to 30 years younger — which makes sense, given how much practice he’s had. His wheels first got spinning when he was 13 and he learned to ride a “fixie,” aka a bike with no brakes. On fixed-gears, the rider has to keep pedaling at all times — even to slow down, which requires pedaling backward. For a quick stop, since there are no brakes, Moore and his fellow cyclists turn the bike 180 degrees. That’s called a skid. Oh, and did we mention these bikes are considered dangerous for novices and are illegal to ride on public streets in most countries?
I had fights with cab drivers every now and then. Once I smashed all the windows of a car because it cut me off.
After leaving New York and moving to Berlin in 1996, Moore helped start a whole new trend over here in Germany by being one of the first to ride a fixie and attending industry shows to promote his beloved bike category. (He also worked at a company aptly called Messenger.) Calm and cool when he’s on his feet, Moore transforms into a competitive, restless and sometimes impulsive racer on wheels. Through that energy he’s helped popularize the single-speed bike — which looks like a fixie but features brakes, is allowed on public streets and is far more common. “Today they are more or less part of the mainstream,” says Fehlau.
Sure, as Fehlau notes, both of these kinds of bikes still make up a small portion of the overall bicycle industry. But Siegfried Neuberger, a business executive with the German bicycle industry association Zweirad–Industrie–Verband, says riders like Moore brought the trend to Germany and served as role models for many others, helping these kinds of bikes appeal to younger riders in particular. Indeed, while sales of mountain bikes have fallen 9 percent since 2000, those of urban bikes — which include fixies and single-speeds — have grown 5 percent, according to a 2014 report from the German National Bicycle Dealers Association.
Many competitors know Moore well since he’s an iconic figure in Germany’s urban bike community and influenced the lifestyle of many messengers as well as “fakengers” — what Moore calls people who dress and act like bike messengers even though they’re not. He’s also fought for his fellow bikers — not by digging into politics or lobbying, but by pushing for their rights among reckless car drivers. “I had fights with cab drivers every now and then,” he says. “Once I smashed all the windows of a car because it cut me off.”
Born in South Carolina before moving to New York as a child, Moore — now a 6-foot-4-inch-tall guy with a friendly face — is best-known for coming up with the idea for the CMWC, which was first held in 1993 in Berlin. “I thought it would be great to compete against the best messengers from all over the world,” says Moore. “But at that time there was no chance to do so.” That changed when he shared his vision with Achim Beier, a friend from Germany who owned a bike messenger company. Well aware of what the community was looking for, they organized the first race and then handed off operations to local teams who put it together each year.
Subsequent races never seemed to gain as much attention as their debut, which attracted more than 350 participants and upward of 100,000 spectators. Yet Moore says he’s now keen to bring the race back to Germany’s capital on its 25th anniversary in 2018. “I think this city liked the idea that stood behind the competition,” says Moore. “It’s about you, your bike and the street.”
- Jan Frankowski, OZY AuthorContact Jan Frankowski