Israel's Only Bike Messenger Firm Overwhelmed With Orders

It has no secretary, needs no office and its fuel expenses are non-existent. Cicleta Sprint, Israel's only bicycle courier service, says it is in the business not only for environmental, but also cultural reasons. "Being a bike messenger is part of a cultural outlook, much more than an environmental one. It's like, 'We ride on bikes and have to struggle to get from place to place, but we also do it better than you," said company founder Barak Majar, 33, apparently in reference to the motorcycle messengers so common in the streets of Tel Aviv and other cities.

Majar is already well known in the cycling community for having brought the Spinning phenomenon to Israel, and continues to teach the stationary bike exercise at the Wingate Institute near Netanya.

Having seen bicycle couriers in cities as varied as New York, Berlin and Budapest, Majar became convinced the idea could also work in Israel. He got in touch with business tycoon Shari Arison, who immediately took to the idea and signed him and three other cyclists to launch a pilot program for the Arison Group, an investment firm which emphasizes "sustainability" - environmental, economic and social - as a central feature of its agenda.

Today, three years after the pilot was launched, the company's 10 messengers deliver to some 250 offices in the Tel Aviv area. "We also have two messengers in Haifa, two in Jerusalem and one in Be'er Sheva," said a staff member. "To this day we've never advertised ourselves. Everything is by word of mouth."

That word of mouth has brought a steady stream of cyclists to Majar's door looking for work. But he said most of them cannot maintain the grueling pace of work, either physically and emotionally, and quit after just a few days. Each rider carries out 25 deliveries daily, logging 100-140 kilometers on average.

"Do you know what it's like to get home at the end of the day, when you feel like your legs can't hurt any more, and to get a call saying, 'Listen, there's an urgent delivery, can you leave now?'" asked one messenger.

According to Majar, "The idea is that the company has to be small, 10 to 15 riders, like fighters in an army unit who look out for one another and receive constant encouragement, and of course, the pay has to be in proportion with the effort invested," said Majar. He said one of the female messengers underwent chemotherapy after being diagnosed with cancer, but demanded that she be allowed to continue making deliveries every day as before.

Majar said he has recently been in contact with several large firms interested in his company's services, but he currently has no plans for expanding his operation to compete with Israel's larger delivery companies. "To expand would mean opening an office, keeping a secretary, dealing with lots of documents - it would mean losing our uniqueness," he said. "But I'm convinced that bikers will hold a much larger place in the field of delivery in Israel. There's no reason this shouldn't happen in Israel, like it's happening in the rest of the world. In Chicago and Detroit I saw messengers riding in the snow in sub-zero temperatures, so it can definitely work in Israel -and work very well."

"Today we're in a recession, and that can be taken advantage of. I believe even the larger companies will be happy to join on to something that is environmentally friendly."