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Bike Blogger of the week: Dan Pugatch-Boston

Here is my bike blogger profile of the week.

Today we go to Boston, which will be hosting the North American Cycle Courier Championships also known as the NACCC.

Dan Pugatch is not your typical bike messenger in Beantown. Find out why in this Q and A.

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Name, Age, where you live?

Dan Pugatch, 28 and I reside in Scummerville Massachusetts which is one city over from Cambridge (although MapQuest misspells it as Somerville). For you New Yorkers out there think of it like a Borough of Boston, not part of the city Proper, but we still get subway and bus service and I can be downtown in ten minutes on two wheels.

What bikes do you own?

My race bike is a 1988 Paramount custom built b Waterford Precision cycles in Wisconsin (back then they only had two frame builders and both were ladies.) The original owner had it built as a triathlon bike, it’s obnoxious, 58cm frame with 650c wheels in the front and rear. All Ultegra components except DuraAce brake levers and headset. I paid $400 after shipping for it on eBay from Bob’s Kayak shop in Ohio and made off like a bandit (it’s worth over $1000 in its used state) did I mention it’s paint job? Highlighter yellow, oh I so love the 80s!

My commuter bike is a 3 Speed Conversion, I got my hands on a 1985 Bridgestone R450 frame in like new condition glitter blue paint job and built it up to be an urban warrior. I laced a 3 Speed Sturmey Archer hub to an Open Pro Rim, a Shimano Generator Dynmo Hub to an Open Pro rim, so I’ll never need batteries again for my lights. Rocking the mustache handlebars which are home to my Cetma front frack, Bee Brand bell which sounds like an old phone ringing, and Brass Moby Dick “hood ornament” a coworker made for me last Christmas that I put on the stem. I mixed my past of urban fixed gear culture with this build and have a Nitto Stem, All City Track Crankset, and MKS track pedals and toe clips. The rear of the bike has a Jannd Expedition rack which turns this beast into the Cadillac of bicycles and my Ortilieb panniers gets me home from the grocery store, to work, out into the suburbs to visit family, and around town.

Until this winter I was riding only my track bike, but an accident in October followed by a winter of physical therapy 3x a week after an 6-8 hour day of working as a bike messenger, my knee is better but it hurts too much to ride fixed so I sold off all the parts and frame cheap to my fellow riders in Boston. Sometimes I miss that bike, but I love riding my 3 Speed and can’t imagine riding anything else.

Whats the biking scene like in Boston? Alleycats? Events? Critical Mass?

The biking scene in Boston is interesting, it seems to come and go, it always peaks in the summer when people want to go out and ride every night. There’s the Boston Fixed Forum which is how I got into our scene after moving up here. I remember back in the summer of 2006 I was looking for a shop that has track parts to upgrade some components n my bike and I was told to go to Cambridge Bicycle (they have a team, sponsor alleycats, and the largest track selection this side of the internet) and it was the employees there who got me into Alleycat racing. At the alleycats I met up with different people who pointed me to the forum and it just kinda exploded from there. We definitely have a bunch of alleycats, most of them are organized by Jacobs, a local messenger living in China Town and the president of the Boston Bicycle Messenger Association. My first race was one of his, the ScumBag cup. I got initiated into this city pretty fast that weekend whether it was being hit by a minivan in front of Forest Hills station, two flat tires at the same time infront of South Station, or the heat exhaustion afterward that had me sleep 16 hours straight missing both the after party and Sam Black Church/Mad Ball show. My grandparents came out to support me that day, photographing everyone in the race, I think they got more scene points than me that day hah!

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We also do a series of indoor racing called BoldSprints, its from Fall to Spring and at after parties of alleycats. Our motto? Drink, Race, Don’t Puke. It can be tougher than one thinks, I remember my first sprint was very hard, and I felt I was in great shape and a fast rider. The magnetic resistance got harder the faster you pedaled, those 50 something seconds felt like hours. I came in 12th for the
entire evening that night. Months later I tried it again, only drank one beer instead of half a dozen before the race, and kept my greasy
Chinese food intake minimal as well. I was able to beat a friend whose been trash talking me for a year about how much faster he is being a
messenger (my defense is you ride slower when with ladies, they won’t want to ride with you if you leave them blocks behind), I came in
fourth for the evening!

This year I am leading the MassBike Spin Series the last Saturday of every month, I wanted to create a slow pace family friendly ride around Boston nothing too crazy, so I created one! Our first ride will be the last Saturday in May and about 8 miles. We are riding to a parkfor picnic lunch, then to JP Licks for ice cream, and back to the bike shop where I work (where the ride starts.) June’s ride will be longer
and go into Jamaica Plain to visit Bikes Not Bombs and check them out. In July I want to take them out to a local farm, in August to the
famous Walden Pond where Thoreau did his writing, and September’s ride is location to be determined.

Since I mentioned MassBike I should probably talk about them quickly, they are our state’s bicycle advocacy group and sponsor many events,
fight for bike lanes and bike trails, and are in charge of the upcoming Bike Week. Bike Week is great, more people learn its safe
and easy to ride to work every year. There’s free breakfast for bike commuters every morning for a week, at every bridge going into Boston
there’s people giving away Cliff Bars, water bottles, reflective ankle bands, coupons for free coffee, raffles for t-shirts, etc etc. This year Bike Week starts on the 11th, the day after Mother’s Day, so go buy your mom a bike this year! For more information check out
Massbike.org

Another great group is Liveable Streets which fights for more bike
lanes and wins, along with working with engineers with development and planning, they have open to the public group
discussions with guest speakers once a month and free beer!

There is Critical Mass in Boston, I’ve never been. From what I’ve been told its chaos, not as good as Critical Mass in other states, and that
too many people who attend give bikers a bad name whether from their riding style, what they yell to people, and general behavior.
Critical Mass is not for drunken cyclists to threaten to u lock drivers, it’s supposed to be a celebration not an ugly disaster. I
therefore, avoid Critical Mass.

There are also many groups of road riders who do many miles in spandex on the weekends leaving from various bike shops across the area. Since
I work in a bike shop my days off are almost never on a weekend and I do my spandex clad long rides at 5am on weekdays usually solo before
going to work.

Boston is trying really hard to go from one of the worst cities to bike in, into one of the best. We have pedicabs now, and more bike
lanes, and more places to lock up, and fun events. We even close Memorial Drive on Sundays (in Cambridge) so people can bike, walk,
jog, and skate along the river. Hopefully more people will get involved and make this a better biking city. Boston is small, there’s
no need to own a car, and you can always take the train/bus out to the suburbs to visit family if need be.

What is this NACCC people keep talking about?

The NACCC is the North American Cycling Courier Championships, the Olympics if have you for bike messengers. We compete in sprints, long races, trick contests, drinking contests, and races which simulate work, where we are constantly zig zagging all over the city making deliveries. This year it will be in Boston, and I am very excited for this. Registration is open on the website: http://naccc09boston.com and let it be known I plan on taking home the Gold in the Tetris Competition! I plan to ride in the sprints and the main race but that’s it. Most messengers only ride track bikes for work and most of the events are track bike (no brakes) specific. I plan on helping out as much as possible whether it be judging, setting up, cleaning up, being an urban pack mule pedaling beer from event to event. I wish there were more cargo messengers out there like me so we could have a cargo event. Everyone would get their butts kicked, I can sprint up BunkerHill on a 250lb cargo trike with 600lbs of farm food and not take my butt off the saddle, that’s Vegan Power baby!

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Why are you “Not Your Average Bicycle Messenger?”

I am Not Your Average Bicycle Messenger because I stop at red lights and wear a helmet. The previous sentence is true, but what sets me aside from others is that I ride this crazy cargo trike from England, whereas most messengers ride fixed gear or single speed bikes which have great acceleration rates but max out in top speed quicker. Their deliveries tend to be documents, whereas mine are boxes of food bigger than recycling bins. Most messengers just work downtown, my work takes me all over Boston, Cambridge, Somerville. I deliver to offices, businesses, restaurants, and people’s homes. I don’t know of any other messenger companies that have keys to make deliveries right to your kitchen! My current gig since I’m back full time in the bike shop for the season, is getting up at 5am to deliver baked goods to cafes all over the city, I have to be done by 7am no exceptions, and my goal is not to have any broken scones or muffins. I watch the city arise in the morning, people waiting for the first bus of the day, parents taking children to school, and I’m done for the day before most messengers even wake up. Over the winter I was working all day, many saw me trucking along slow and steady at 9mph through the wind and snow. That might sound like a nice leisurely pace, but it’s not, it feels like you are always going up hill, can you pedal 1000 lbs for 6-8 hours in a snowstorm? Oh yeah, I also stop at red lights and wear a helmet. I also try to keep active in the other parts of bike culture, I write for Urban Velo magazine every now and again, I ride for OrganicAthlete’s Boston Chapter Vegan Cycling team, and I really want to build a chopper and ride with SCUL this year. Over the winter this college student followed me around for the day to do a photo essay, and my quote for the day was, “This is what you do with a degree in Journalism.” I may have spent years in college thinking I’d be the next music critic, but I make my paychecks by pedaling. We are all a big family, and there’s a lot of respect for each other, I’m just the awkward one of the bunch.

Whats that like in the Boston area? What is the Average Bicycle Messenger vibe like?

People like to treat us like a lower class of citizen. “Don’t go in those doors, use the loading dock. Don’t go in that elevator, walk up to the 40th floor in the stairwell.” I find that doormen, concierges, and security are generally on power trips and very rude! They have even threatened to get my trike towed away because they didn’t like where I locked it up (on a public sidewalk.) I have found though, like in any aspect of life, people treat you based on how you treat them. When I started asking which door or elevator they want me to use, saying “have a good day” as I left, smiled often, all of a sudden everyone was super nice to me and those doors and elevators I wasn’t allowed to use a month ago I’m being told to use. I have found this works well with law enforcement as well. One state trooper told me when we were side by side at a red light in a snow storm, that I am the definition of perseverance.

As a messenger in Boston, and even a cyclist in general you have to watch out for the three main dangers: 1) Pedestrians (90% college
students 10% tourists) who can’t walk unless a cell phone is glued to their face and only cross when the orange hand says don’t cross. 2)
Drivers who forgot what a turn signal is, even when taking a left hand turn. 3) Potholes, there were days when I got more than one flat a
day, it was just brutal.

Unfortunately with this failing economy, the need for bike messengers is going down, just about everyone I know is making at least 100 if
not more less a week, companies that had work cant’ take on new people. Hopefully more people and companies will realize that delivery
by bike is faster, cheaper, and better for the environment. I read an article in the paper written by Taza Chocolate about why they have us deliver for them, and it was because UPS shipped everything from Boston to Providence just so it can come back to Boston a few days later to be delivered. We can deliver same day! So support your local bike messenger, tip him on those bad weather days so he can get a coffee or sandwich, be nice to him, he probably just bounced off a car’s hood on the way to get your delivery on time, and he’s only
doing this job because of a love for bikes and the environment, not for the pay, I’m pretty sure McDonald’s pays better.

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What’s Metro Pedal Power all about?

Metro Pedal Power is the courier company I work for, run by this awesome lady Wenzday Jane. We used to be called New Amsterdam Project until she bought the company back in the Fall. We have a fleet of five electric assist trikes and working on getting Pedi Cabs and who knows what else in the future. Why electric assist? Well because these cargo trikes which are the size of a Smart Car if not bigger, weigh 250 empty, can hold 600-800 lbs (including rider), and are slow but steady. Before people say, “Hey electric assist is cheating!” Let me fill you in on how it works, you HAVE to pedal while using the assist. Without using it average speed it 9mph, with using electric assist its 3mph. It’s one of those things you only want to use when you have to. It makes going up hills really easy, just spinning like on a road bike in the easiest gear, and helped a lot when getting stuck in the slush and snow this winter. Also, the battery doesn’t always last an entire days work, and often I’ve had to ride 5+ miles at 3mph in the easiest gear to get home in bad weather this winter.

So what do we deliver? Anything! Currently we are working with local farms and their CSA programs delivering farm shares to people. We are also working with Harvard University Book Store, Taza Chocolates, The COOP Grocery Store, Greenward (Eco-Friendly) Retail Store, and Petsi Pies. In the past we have worked with Staples, Boston Organics, and other businesses. People have even hired us to help them move, and that’s how I plan to move at the end of the summer. We also share space with Open Bicycle, whom is making quite the name for themselves as an independent shop/artists.

Whats up with the Organic Athlete’s Boston Chapter Go Vegan, Road Cycling team?

OrganicAthlete (one word) is a nonprofit I found out about at the Boston Vegetarian Food Festival last October. I met up with Matt Miller who had a table, and basically you join this group which promotes healthy lifestyles (eating organic, eating raw, being vegan) and if you want to compete that is even better. The Boston Chapter has more runners than cyclists actually. Matt does cyclecross and is going to do road racing, I will be doing road racing this year for the first time in my life, and another guy does mountain biking. We enter events as individuals (until we have enough members to have a solid core team) and rock the Go Vegan! kit while competing. Matt made the news when he made it in 3rd place at Batten Kill a few weeks ago. We also get together once a month for a dinner on a Sunday night to talk about upcoming events, trade recipes, and geek out on bike stuff.

Why is there so much independent bicycle manufacturing in the Boston area?

Boston has a long history of bicycle culture, don’t forget Major Taylor lived in the suburbs not too far away! Back in the 80s Merlin Cycles was a big hand built Mountain Bike company, Metro Pedal Power is actually in their old warehouse space! When Merlin split up, Independent Fabrications and Seven Cycles were formed both which make great bikes. Independent is located in Somerville (North of Boston by two cities and Seven Cycles is located in Watertown (West of Boston by two cities,) These big name companies make some pretty sweet bikes, some set you back as much as a new car. Up North, but still in Massachusetts is ANT Bicycles, which has the old school feel of 3 Speeds, Cargo Bikes, and British Touring, I hope to one day own an ANT Bike, and newest to the trade my buddy Marty is behind Geekhouse Bikes which started out with BMX then moved to Mountain Bikes, and is now the choice of local track and cyclecross bike riders. I think it’s something in our tap water, it just makes everyone good at welding. Probably, the real reason is MIT has many welding talented students and faculty who will show you the ropes if you ask nicely.

What muppet best represents you? (a question which came up from Steve Kenivil at How to Avoid the Bummer Life)

I would have to be Fozzie the Bear, because I’m a hairy mofo and I always tell jokes no one else gets, yet I think they are hilarious.

Whats up with this Boston Bike Blogger? Does every Boston Biker have a blog?

Boston Biker is run by Shane from Mass Bike, he started his own blog about Boston cycling, and as it got bigger more and more people wanted blogs and he started hosting them LiveJournal or BlogSpot style. Its free, its fun. I have one, why don’t you? I subscribe to his blog to keep up to date on everything bike related going on in the city.

What was it like being a bicycle Mechanic in Cambridge?

Was like? I still am a mechanic! It’s just seasonal in Boston, so my days wrenching are April-Thanksgiving then I work as a messenger full time in the winter (part time the rest of the year.) It really depends on what shop you work for, I work for the tree hugging hippie shop that is run by a collective, we are probably the smallest shop in the area and cater to commuters. We don’t sell road bikes or children’s bikes, or mountain bikes. Just hybrids, a few single speeds, and the Surly Cross Check. What also sets us apart from other shops in the area is we offer mechanics classes and rent out a stand and our tools so you can work on your own bike while we are open. Plus we are a fun bunch of people. What other bike shop has moustache contests? Carrot Cake Bake Offs, Art Gallery Openings, Pride Day, and free treats for dogs? I have to say, it doesn’t feel like work, more like going to summer camp.

Any funny stories about delivering organic food with MPP?

Since I get a lot of stares, comments and questions riding this crazy trike, I’d have to say the best comment I ever got from someone was in ChinaTown when this old man asked me, “Are you Chinese?” I replied “No” and then he said, “You are now, you are one of us!” This one time I was hauling butt through Cambridge trying to find this office building, going in circles and I passed a roadie who got a blow to their ego, it was on a downhill, not a drastic one but with all my weight I got my trike up to 26mph and they tried to pass me but couldn’t, it made my day.

Are there other ways the bicycle is evolving the “Greening” of the Boston area?

Definitely more people are realizing how easy it is to get around by bike, more and more people keep telling me they use their car less or sell their cars. That’s when I tell them how I saved over 6000 last year between insurance and gas by selling my car. Since the Mayor is on a bicycle kick the past few years there has been more newspaper articles and tv broadcasts about the benefits to our environment by people commuting by bike. I feel the failing economy is helping, unfortunately people don’t bike to save the Earth, they do it to save money. But hey, at least they are riding! In a less general sense, my fiance bikes to work everyday, and her boss saw her greeness which led to recycling at work, and soon to be installed solar panels to power the entire bakery!

What are your future Cycling goals for work? for play?

I hope to get together with people and resurrect the defunct Boston Cycling Zine, Boston Reflector. I also want to be more active volunteering my time with Mass Bike and Bikes Not Bombs. I had an idea over the winter after spending lunch with an officer of the Boston Police Bike Patrol, they need to learn bike mechanics, they don’t have the training and definitely don’t have the proper tools. I want to create a basic class and teach it to them. I want to ride across country in the next few years, a lot of friends and customers have done it in the past year or are going to this summer. I just have to do it, its been on my to do list since elementary school.

Anything else I didn’t mention?

Heather (my fiance) and I just won the Boston Green Wedding Give Away for being so green! We are getting married in November and getting the hookup with a vegan cake, recycle metal rings, recycled paper invitations, local flowers that get donated to nursing homes, hybrid limo, organic dress, etc. I can’t help it, I’ve been OCD about recycling since before those bins existed on trash day, haven’t worn deodorant in years, and been bicycle obsessed since I could pedal.

Further expliots of Dan can be found on his blog:
notyouraveragebicyclemessenger.bostonbiker.org

7 comments to Bike Blogger of the week: Dan Pugatch-Boston