By Mary Swanson, guest columnist
Austin Horse is the third of the Red Bull athletes present at Lockn’ this year that I had the pleasure of meeting. Between being a bike messenger in New York City, taking home medals in Cycle Messenger World Championships, and running a nonprofit, you have to wonder how he does it all. On Sunday I got a preview.
INK: When did you first get into cycling?
Austin Horse: Well, I had a bike as a kid for a while, like everybody I guess—and that was cool, but then I really fell in love with it and started to spend a lot of time doing it when I was about 14.
I: When did you realize that you wanted to continue riding in your adult life?
AH: I worked in a shop in high school, so it always seemed like those guys knew what was up and were having a good old time with life, riding their bikes around the city and getting paid to do it.
I: What has been your biggest turning point in your career?
AH: I don’t have a career! I’ve won races, so doing alleycats and doing really well in them… And, I remember in 2006 I was like, “I’m gonna win the NACCC this year!” and this was only my second year being a messenger, so it was a little bit early to think I could do that—but I just did it, so maybe that. Being like “I’m gonna do this,” and I did it.
I: How has being sponsored by Red Bull changed your experience?
AH: The bike messenger industry isn’t the most robust, high paying industry. So the sponsorship is a nice supplement that gives me the freedom and the flexibility to participate in nearly any event that I want to; and we have a global community and I have the power to really experience that to the fullest and see friends and comrades all around the world.
I: Can you describe a typical day as a bike messenger in New York City?
AH: Well, I’m kind of a lazy bike messenger, so my shift starts at 9 am usually; but I live really close to the place where our jobs come in, where most of the work happens—so I’ll stay home and drink coffee until I actually have to leave. And then I’ll go in and go to work. We have a collective; we’re basically open call, so we have to pick jobs based on what makes sense for us and what we feel like doing. And there’s a little bit of, you know, you want to do jobs that make you money so you want to select jobs that are gonna be worth it, but there’s also, you know, we’re a collective—we can’t just neglect the clients that have unappealing jobs. So there’s also the times where you’ve just gotta kind of sack up and take the long ride with one job, and come back empty and know that you’re not going to make the most money doing that.
I: How are races usually set up for bike messengers?
AH: There’s two types of racing: there’s sort of a fun type, that’s a little bit—it’s not really that official, they’re usually held on the street, there’s checkpoints, a lot of times there’s the opportunity for organizers to be extremely creative and aspects of it—you’ll see aspects of those events that you would never see in any other bike race or bike event. One of the things, if I throw a race, that I like to make people do at a checkpoint is thread a needle or tell a joke, because I feel like those are things that test your brain in a way that you don’t really experience always in a bike race.
And then there are the championship events, and those are more official and more organized—the stakes are higher, as it should be, and they’re intended to be a work simulation, so there are checkpoints along a course. The course itself is a pretty unconventional course; it has junctions, so you have to make decisions about where you’re going to go and stuff like that. You pick up from company A and drop it off at company B—but there’s a bunch of jobs like that and you want to figure out the most efficient way to either do them all, or do as many as possible—the format will also vary. We don’t really have any rules set in stone, hardly, so if somebody wants to do something a little bit different they can go for it. Hopefully it’ll be better! Sometimes it’s not.
I: What’s the most rewarding thing about being a cyclist?
AH: By far the most rewarding thing is the thrill of riding a bike well and feeling everything click; and having it be smooth and just feeling proud of your performance, that in itself is extremely rewarding. I’m extremely grateful for everybody who’s told me how much they appreciate my riding and what I do in the scene and stuff like that. People come up to me and tell me that and it always just blows me away because it’s unexpected and it’s really, really kind of them.
I: How do you prepare for a competition that you’re nervous for?
AH: It depends, but one of the ways that I like to get in the zone is— it’s not even like this is a ritual or anything, but if it happens to be happening or anything I’m stoked— I like to watch NASCAR before I go to a bike race. Because that’s like really, really pure racing, you know? That’s cool to watch. That can kind of get me in a good mindset. I also drink Red Bull before every race.
I: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
AH: Keep it positive.
I: Is there anything else you want to let people know about?
AH: I have a nonprofit called Bike Yard. The website is bikeyard.org and it’s a mobile pop-up bike repair. It’s actually trailer-based, so we use a Surly chassis and we fabricated a box to go on top of it—and then we have a tool roll from Chrome; they sewed up a tool roll that we’ve got a bunch of tools in. And we’ve got some of the lightweight stands from Feedback Sports; and it’s the real deal, it’s great. We’re looking into selling the kits for other co-ops and organizations that want to be able to provide mobile bike repair, and it’ll probably be priced at around $5000 for the complete shop.