Freiburg through the eyes of a bike courier

Someone pointed out the other day that there’s nothing on this blog to show which “one of us loves bikes”. Well, the secret’s out now. That “one of us” is in fact me, and this post will shed a little light on my passion for the two-wheeled, muscle-powered machine.

It was actually a mountain biking trip to Nepal that made me start thinking differently about my life as a lawyer and the direction in which I was headed. I wasn’t sure at the time what exactly it was that I wanted, but I knew it should somehow involve the outdoors and biking.

Mountain BIking River Crossing Nepal

I have never owned a car, but have owned and ridden as many as seven bikes at one time – it started to get a little perverse to be honest. I don’t know many people who sleep with 3 bikes in their bedroom…

When I moved to Freiburg I unfortunately had to cut down on the number of bikes – there just isn’t enough room for them. I still manage to ride three though and am in the process of making a fourth! Since October I’ve been volunteering twice a week in a local bike workshop (more on that in a separate post) and I also work as a part-time bike courier.

Now, being a courier has a reputation as being a rather hip profession. Films like this one:

have contributed a lot to that image, and yes, it is rather cool to speed around Manhatten in great weather – dodging taxis and pedestrians at break-neck speed on your steel-framed fixie before riding off into the sunset with a beautiful girl. In reality, being a courier is rather different.

A typical shift lasts between 5 and 6 hours, although I’ve ridden for over 7hrs on occasion. I’m not entirely sure how many km I ride in that time, but it’s something in the region of between 60 – 100km depending on the amount of deliveries and where I have to ride. Bike couriers generally receive a percentage of the delivery costs they make. The more you deliver, the more money you make. Simple. Except the hundreds of pedestrians, cars, trams, cyclists, dogs, and whatever happens to be in your way make the whole task rather challenging. And when I’m riding the company bike with a heavy load it makes dodging rather difficult (I’ve had quite a few near misses):

Bike courier heavy load

The amount of work means that you have to ride as fast as possible all the time. 5-10 minutes at full speed, off the bike, up some stairs,

Staircase Freiburg Bike Courier

make the delivery whilst trying not to sweat all over it, back on the bike and repeat. Imagine doing interval training for 5 hrs and you’ll get an idea about how you feel at the end of a ride.

And don’t forget that you have to ride no matter what mother nature throws at you, and believe me – she can be mean sometimes. I started working in November and rode 1 – 2 times a week throughout the whole winter. I’ve ridden in snow, sleet, sub -10 temperatures, hail, heavy winds and any combination of the above. Here’s a shot I took in a snowstorm back in February:

Freiburg Bike Courier Snow

And a few weeks later my gears became so covered in ice that my chain wouldn’t turn on them any more:

Freiburg Bike Courier Ice Gears

Which of course was a major problem because the customers expect their deliveries to be made on time. In the end I had to stop and pour boiling water on the cogs just so that I could ride the thing!

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Even when I rode in terrible conditions I still enjoyed the rush of it all. And when the weather is good it really is fun to ride around the different neighbourhoods.

From the centre of town, with the Rathaus (not the house where rats live – it means town hall!):

Freiburg Rathaus

the opera house;

Freiburg Opera House

and the university;

University of Freiburg

to the climbers’ hangout;

Rock climber in Freiburg

and the aptly named “blue bridge”;

Blaue Bruecke in Freiburg

and then on to the suburbs;

Freiburg Bike Courier Block Flats Tram

Vauban - Freiburg's model sustainable district

before reaching the outskirts, with vineyards;

Vineyards in Freiburg


Forest Freiburg

and a mini-airport;

Freiburg airport

And when you’ve finished you can ride the bike path along the river which takes you back to the centre of town:

Freiburg Dreisam Bike Path

Working as a bike courier is definitely one of the most exhausting, but enjoyable jobs I’ve ever had. I stay fit whilst doing something I love and get to wear this rather fetching outfit:

Freiburg bike courier

I’ll be sad when I have to give it up when we move to Greece!

Tell us what you think!