Bike messengers as fashion icons? Not a new phenomenon, of course, but what happens to the ideals within a community when their symbols (of identity and authenticity and insider status) appeal to a larger group?
The bicycle messenger's identity begins, unsurprisingly, with the bike. And no bicycle is more emblematic of the devil-may-care lifestyle of couriers than the brakeless, fixed-gear track bike. ...Taken purely as a fashion accessory, the track bike must rank somewhere between cigarettes and high heels as a health hazard to its operator.
"They're dangerous," says Larry Morris of nonmessenger -- or "fakengers," as he calls them -- track bikes.
If Rainey made bike messengers look bad to a mainstream audience, courier bag designers are making them look good. Timbuk2 may be the trendiest bag maker among the noncourier public, but messengers say they prefer side slings made by designers who have been messengers themselves.
"You hardly see anybody with Timbuk2," says John "Ducky" Williams, 20, a messenger for King Courier. "They're not the most durable bags out there. And I want to support bag companies owned by former messengers."
Williams carries a messenger bag by R.E.Load, a company started in 1998 by a pair of Philadelphia bike couriers. Morris sports a side sling by Travis Poh's Freight Baggage. Poh, who still works as a messenger in San Francisco, sells off-the-rack and custom-made bags at the Freewheel Bike Shop, with one location on Valencia street and another on Hayes Street.
"It's the best bag I've ever had," says Morris.
Messenger bags, built to be durable and waterproof, are a hit with the nonmessengering public as well.
"We probably sell more to nonmessengers than messengers," says Poh of Freight Baggage.
Hinds admits that when it comes to bags, for her at least, fashion has trumped functionality.
"I don't like having stuff everybody else has, but I finally break down and get it," she says, nodding to her Freight bag. "I actually prefer a backpack to a side sling, because of better weight distribution, but ..."
Williams, a student at the Academy of Art, says his look is a mix of form and function. The scrunchy key chain he keeps on his arm, his fingerless gloves, stiff sneakers and hip pouch are necessary for the job. But his earring and the patches on his courier bag -- bearing the logo of Mouthpiece, a straightedge band from New Jersey -- tell a more specific story about who he is.