Bike Messengers in Manila, Philippines

Here is an article I got off the messengers list from Mr. White of Dublin.

In a very unpopular city for cyclists, one company is having a go at messengering:

Quick, Chic and Earth-Friendly

By Eric S. Caruncho
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Posted date: January 02, 2010

BIKE messengers?
Maybe you’ve seen Kevin Bacon on a track bike in khaki slacks and a beret-racing Laurence Fishburne through the mean streets of Manhattan in “Quicksilver” (1986).

Or, if you’re not that old school, Jessica Alba as Max riding a Cannondale for the “Jam Pony” courier service in television’s “Dark Angel.”

In the West, at least, bike messengers have been pop culture icons since the 1980s, when fashion designers took note of their distinctively idiosyncratic sartorial style. Born of the practical demands of riding a bicycle in the city for a living, messengers combined cycling-specific gear with thrift-shop finds for a look that oozed authentic urban style. Despite the sharp decline in the demand for actual bike couriers with the advent of the fax machine and e-mail, bike courier style has persisted, leading to the current trend of the “fakenger” or the “posenger” – kids trying to pull off the look with the right bike, the right messenger bag, the right clothes – to the amusement or derision of real messengers.

In Metro Manila – surely one of the least bike-friendly cities in the world – things couldn’t be more different. The mere idea of riding a bike in the scorching summer sun or through torrential rain, not to mention having to dodge jeepneys, buses and road-raging motorists bent on vehicular homicide, is enough to deter all but the most hardcore riders.

Survival, not style, is usually uppermost in the minds of the city’s riders.

And yet, despite these difficulties, a small start-up company is thriving by offering same-day delivery services – by bicycle.

“When gas prices started rising in 2008, I started cycling,” says Candy Reyes, a member of the UP Mountaineers, a club of outdoor enthusiasts based in the University of the Philippines. “I bought a bike and stopped using my car as often. My sister had a business, Messy Bessy, making organic household cleaning products and she needed someone to deliver them to her customers.”

Being keen on the whole clean and green thing, Reyes thought the delivery service should be environment-friendly as well, so she hit upon the idea of Pedala Bike Messengers Inc., a bicycle courier service. As a UP Mountaineer, she was steeped in the advocacy of bicycles as a pollution-free alternative transport. The organization has ties to the Firefly Brigade, a group of cycling advocates, and runs Padyak, a bicycle rental service for UP students.

“We really based the idea of Pedala on the Manhattan and London bike messengers,” she says.

The two cities have the largest number of working bike messengers in the world for several reasons: they have a dense population, busy business districts, and high traffic congestion that makes the bicycle the fastest vehicle from point to point.

Metro Manila has a similar profile: high population density, numerous commercial districts in different locations, terrible traffic. The one difference is that in Metro Manila, the motorcycle is the fastest vehicle from point to point. But Reyes was determined not to add to the city’s already toxic emissions level, so it had to be bicycles.

“Our competition was not other bicycle couriers but other delivery services like Air21. But the fastest they can deliver is the next day,” says Reyes. “We offer same-day delivery service which no one else offers.”

Pedala’s motto? “Delivery without the fumes.” With world attention focused on global warming, thanks to the Copenhagen summit on climate change, more and more countries are exploring ways of cutting their emissions. The bicycle is undergoing a serious reexamination as an alternative form of transportation. (During the Copenhagen summit, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology even unveiled a bike that conserves the rider’s energy.)

Pedala’s business model is right in line with this kind of thinking. Cycling is all about the carbon footprint, not the carbon fiber.
“We’re offering an alternative to existing delivery services,” say Reyes. “We’re a little more expensive, but we’re faster, and by choosing Pedala you’re also making a choice for the environment.”

It’s a relatively simple operation. Reyes fields calls from her Quezon City home, which also serves as the hub for Pedala’s pool of riders. Communicating by mobile phone and text, they are able to cover most of Metro Manila, with occasional forays beyond for bulk deliveries. Messengers ride their own bikes, and get 60 per cent of the delivery charge, plus whatever tips customers give.

In the little over a year that Pedala has been in existence, it has found its own niche within Metro Manila. Despite the prevalence of fax and e-mail, there are still a myriad items that need to be delivered by hand: legal documents, invitations, merchandise, perishable and fragile items, gifts. There is a surprising amount of personal deliveries, including requests from people who’ve left cellphones or wallets at home. Some corporate clients use Pedala to supplement their own messengerial services.

Part of Pedala’s appeal is the human touch: customers often meet face-to-face with the person making the delivery, so special requests can be made, which the riders try to accommodate as best they can. In a few short months, the service has begun to receive favorable word-of-mouth from satisfied customers.

Reyes see’s Pedala as “social entrepreneurship”: “I wouldn’t have gone into the bike messenger business if it didn’t support my advocacy.” In return, many members of the environmental community, such as Greenpeace, the Firefly Brigade, the Center for Clean Air and Bantay Kalikasan use Pedala for their messengerial needs.

At present, Pedala maintains a pool of 15 riders.
“We have full-time riders and part-time riders who work only on weekends. They work their day jobs Monday to Friday and want to do something on the weekends that will provide some exercise and allow them to earn at the same time.”

And some, like Eric Sajorda, are in it for the mileage.

A chemist by profession and mountain bike racer by inclination, Sajorda found his working hours cut drastically in the aftermath of the recession. Pedala offered the perfect solution, allowing him to log an average of 80 training kilometers a day, 400 a week, in the course of making deliveries. His current record is 18 deliveries in one day.

Sajorda’s work bike is a cheap department store mountain bike, set up with a rear rack and panniers for holding his parcels. He saves his good bike and his weekends for offroad rides with his buddies and the occasional cross country race events.

Of course, riding for Pedala is no Sunday stroll. Couriers still need to deal every day with the same hassles that face normal bike riders: hostile motorists, air pollution, the lack of bike parking facilities, and the occasional theft. One of Pedala’s couriers recently had a P40,000 bike stolen while making a delivery, in spite of the fact that it was locked in a guarded area.

As for style, no one would mistake one of Pedala’s riders as a fashion icon. Sajorda, for instance, rides in a bright fluorescent yellow Pedala jersey, the better to be seen by motorists. Yellow arm warmers ward off sunburn, and baggy shorts of his own design provide comfort on the bike and off.

“The city isn’t bike friendly, but slowly people are becoming more conscious of cycling as alternative transport,” says Reyes. “Some cities have built bike lanes, some malls are now offering bike parking, and recently the LRT announced that it is allowing folding bikes on its trains.”

In its own way, Pedala is contributing to that awareness. Recently, a similar venture patterned after Pedala has reportedly begun offering bicycle delivery services in Cebu City. •

Contact Pedala by text (+639206987777) or e-mail (

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