Growing up in the early ’80s, most boys swore by their favorite comic book characters like Superman or the group of mutant superheroes named the X-Men. But any BMXer worth their Oakley 3 grips were devoted to Radical Rick, a helmeted, BMX racing, badass protagonist in an eponymous comic that ran in BMX Plus! magazine. Sadly, unlike mainstream superheroes, who regularly appeared at comic book conventions, Radical Rick fans never had a chance to meet the man himself (or, someone dressed in his likeness, at least). But fast-forward to the early ’90s and you could do even better and witness a real-life crew of bike messengers in New York City who dressed like Radical Rick, rode like Evel Knievel and seemed to be an urban version of the rough and tumble characters of SE Hinton.
Dubbed the “X-Men” — and wearing hockey helmets, full pads and a mix of motorcross gear and BMX gear — this crew of couriers rode like no one else in Manhattan. Pedaling was fine, but more often than not bikes were just a way to catch up to cars and trucks. “We’re also known as the Klingons, because that’s what we do: cling on to fast-moving vehicles,” says one member in a short documentary on the crew. View it here:
As you can see, the crew wasn’t opposed to riding on the Henry Hudson Parkway, a freeway. As if going 50mph+ hanging on to a moving vehicle wasn’t crazy enough, this was in the pre-Giuliani years where New York was littered with deep potholes and mountain bike technology was still in a pre-suspension, pre-linear brake.
Behind all their gear and their mystique, they also shared tips with fellow riders. One member told my buddy to lower his seat a bit so as to make skitching off cab wheel wells easier. Of course, this is a move you should probably stay away from. But if you have any interest in bike-messenger history or courier culture the video above is a must-watch and proof that not all superheroes wear lycra. Sorry peloton.
—Stephen Krcmar worked for Breakaway Courier Systems in New York City in the early ’90s.