Last year, the League celebrated Bike Month with our daily Why I Ride web series. This year, in our “Where the Ride Takes Us” series, we’re spotlighting how bicycles are tools for personal empowerment, social justice and community development. Today’s post comes from Mario Giampieri, a delivery cyclist in New York City and a co-founder of the Biking Public Project.

mario_g_ybs_2012I started riding a bike in the suburbs of Denver when I was seven years old, but, as I grew up and my world expanded, distances made riding an impossible means of transportation (even my school was 20 miles away). That same mentality persisted throughout high school, especially after I turned 16 and got a car.

But, when I moved to New York two years later, I noticed that everyone that rode around on a bike just seemed so… happy. I saw people riding and they looked free and in control of how they got around, and they were always smiling.

Needless to say, I wanted in on that action.

The first bike I bought in New York was dumpy to say the least — it literally fell apart over the course of two years. One day, as I was riding, a pedal just… fell off in the middle of the street. But I guess that’s what you get when you pay $20 for a rusty road bike at a stoop sale. After that, I decided to invest some more money in my ride! Soon after, I was looking for a job and a friend of mine delivered cookies. I realized that getting paid to ride a bike was about as good a gig as I could ever hope for, and started delivering for this bakery. After about a year-and-a-half, and several vicious struggles between fellow delivery workers and management, most of us quit. They cut our hourly rate (which was $5/hr, plus tips) and were generally very nasty to us.

Over the course of the next year, I started delivering for another four restaurants at various levels of frequency, and was generally happy doing it. The money was usually decent, although it fluctuated quite a bit (as it goes, when you depend on tips). I’ve been doored on several occasions on the job, and have been in a number of other accidents in the line of work, which of course went on no matter what the weather was like. Sadly, tips didn’t often reflect conditions, and were often stingy even in snow storms or downpours.

From Bicycle Utopia's "Am I Invisible? A Portrait of New York City Bicyclists" Andrew Shiue

From Bicycle Utopia’s “Am I Invisible? A Portrait of New York City Bicyclists” Credit Andrew Shiue

After about a year and a half into this line of work, it really began to strike me as to just how much I stood out as a delivery guy — the vast majority of other delivery workers I saw out on the streets were Latino or Asian, and I became curious as to why that was. It didn’t take long to find out that there was very little being done to represent this huge, ever-present (but often ignored or scorned) workforce that provided such a widely used service to a lot of New Yorkers.

There was some existing support systems in place for traditional bike messengers, and others still for restaurant workers, but very little work has been done at this intersection of the two. It was about at this time in 2012 that Helen [Ho, now development director for Recycle-A-Bicycle] and I went to the Youth Bike Summit and realized that little work had also been done to reach out and connect with and engage female and minority riders more broadly. It was after that conversation that the two of us, along with our friends Shelma Jun and Jessame Hannus started the Biking Public Project to try and change that.

The goal of BPP: Expand local cycling advocacy discussions by reaching out to underrepresented bicyclists around New York City including women, people of color, and delivery cyclists.

From left: Mario, Helen Ho, Shelma Jun and Jessame Hannus

From left: Mario, Helen Ho, Shelma Jun and Jessame Hannus

These days, I ride mostly for fun or to commute around — the bicycle still represents freedom and a sense of agency to me, just as it did when I first saw people riding around New York five years ago. It makes it easy to travel in between places that public transportation forgot, and transforms any sort of mundane trip into a healthy endorphin rush. I recently started delivering pizzas again on the side, partially as a favor to friends at a restaurant I always very much enjoyed working for, and partially because any excuse to ride a bike for seven hours is reason enough.

I still think that being a food delivery worker is a largely thankless job, but I have high hopes that through our work at the BPP we can celebrate the diversity of the cycling community — including, and highlighting, the thriving economic system that depends on bicycles and workers — and get more delivery cyclists involved in ensuring that they can do their jobs safely (and have fun, too!).

I wouldn’t trade my years of experience as a delivery worker for anything, nor would I ever trade in the freedom my bike offers for the confines of a car.

If you’re in NYC, help BPP celebrate its first birthday on May 8!


My Signature

Carolyn Szczepanski
Communications Director

Carolyn joined the League in March 2012, after two years at the Alliance for Biking & Walking. In addition to managing the League’s blog, magazine and other communications, Carolyn organized the first National Women’s Bicycling Summit and launched the League’s newest program: Women Bike. Before she crossed over to advocacy, she was a professional journalist for nearly 10 years.

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