Culture  Speaking of spokes

Bike messenger co-op founder shares his tricks of the two-wheeled trade

Minor Cordero is the founder of the bicycle cooperative Co-op La Shoppe, located at 2111 Bleury. Though still a work-in-progress, Mr. Cordero explains that its mural-adorned walls hold more than gears and grease.

The McGill Daily: For the unacquainted, can you give me a description of what the job of a bicycle messenger is?
Minor Cordero: Well, first of all, it’s not rocket science. It mainly consists [of] picking up a package at point A and delivering at point B. For most people that work for courier companies [like FedEx, DHL], they get these calls through the company they work for, and that’s basically it. Or, like in my case, you go and look for your own clients, and you work autonomously. You offer your services and people call you. You have rates, depending on distance and time, and the weight and size of the package.

MD: What sort of businesses would contract to bicycle couriers?

MC: The financial districts, the banks, the lawyers, use bike messengers for things that have to go from point A to point B in a short amount of time. Within downtown, it’s faster than a car, especially in the wintertime. So that’s why, and that’s how, most companies work. Now, in my case, I work with a place – for example – a boutique in which I did their tailor runs: bringing clothes from point A to point B for the tailor and then back and sometimes to the customer. It’s all in how you want to work and how you work.

MD: Could you tell me a little bit about how the Co-op works? What exactly do you guys do, aside from the message carrying?

MC: Actually, this is one of the main things that we would like to explain, and at some point we’ll have it written on a wall [motions to murals]. Because a lot of people ask, “What is a co-op? Is this my co-op? Can I join in?” Basically, yes, La Shoppe Coop comes out of the necessity of having a space of our own. This is a workers co-op, meaning we work in a cooperative manner, and we work and go through a process in which our business is registered as such. The main point of the co-op is having a bike store, so that us, the workers, can be able to administrate the bike store, and at the same time, offer our services [as messengers] from within. Sara, for example, does sewing. She has her sewing workshop in the back. Sam is a bike mechanic, but he also works carbon fiber, so he offers carbon fiber repairs from the store. Now everybody has their own input, everybody’s bringing something in. And, without one of the workers, this place doesn’t work. That’s the main thing, you know, and there’s no boss. Everybody comes and goes. We obviously have set schedules, but we all make decisions together.

MD: A Danish consulting firm has recently named Montreal the most bicycle-friendly city in North America, what advantages might the city hold for those in your profession?

MC: I’m not originally from Montreal. I live about three kilometers from here; it takes me about 10 minutes to bike here and back. Even in the winter time, maybe fifteen, seventeen. But, I’m still in biking distance from everything, and use my bike to go everywhere. So, I would say it’s great that Montreal has this new rating of being the most bicycle-friendly city in North America. I’m happy. I just hope that more cities join, and that less cars come, and that they promote the use of more bicycles.

MD: Do you think that the hardships of working for a job that doesn’t necessarily have opportunities for advancement at a place that’s non-hierarchical, and looking at subsistence as opposed to profit, is indicative of a larger trend in society?

MC: I truly believe that taking a political stand and more action towards what you think is right, it will put things the way they should be. And that’s personally the only way. I’m not here to set examples; I’m not here to tell people what to do. I’m just here to keep doing what I enjoy doing. For example, one of our newest members is nineteen years old. We call him Sunshine (his name’s Taylor). But seeing him come up to me and ask, ‘Hey bro, I want to start working one day a week, do you think that’s possible?’ And I answer, ‘Bro, here are the keys. Welcome aboard, man.’ That’s the whole point. That’s my pay, right there. Why? Because I know this kid is coming here, and he’s rock solid. It was him asking me and not me asking him for anything. So, I mean, I can’t aspire for more. I do truly think that the more you put out there in terms of good in general, the more you get back in terms of everything you need.

MD: As a non-polluting alternative to gasoline [powered vehicles], what do bicycle courier services have to do with more widespread efforts for environmental sustainability?

MC: We’re not competing against these companies, because we’re not even going and addressing their clientele. Their clientele is used to paying low prices or going, as a business, for the lowest cost. Personally, I don’t want to do calls that are worth a dollar. But these companies, because of the high volume, they offer to lower their cost. And these people [the bike messengers] are underpaid because of the fact that these calls were lowered as much as they could for them [the courier company] to offer the service. Now in terms of what we’re doing from the store here, we’ll offer a messenger service – a personalized messenger service – within an area that we can cover no-problem, first of all. And, it’s always in bikes. We’re actually about to get two cargo bikes from Denmark, and, with those, you can transport from two hundred fifty to four hundred pounds with one single person. Internal seven-speed gears, with a rack in the front. They’re called Bullets, and that’s how we’re going to say, “We don’t need cars.” We don’t want cars, we live by that, and we are going to just stay on it when it comes to not using cars at all.

MD: Despite all the challenges and complexities that you have to face with this sort of business model, why do you keep doing it? Why don’t you find something where you could kick your feet back and be more comfortable?

MC: Because I have no time. I have absolutely no time to waste. I have no time to ride shitty bikes, for example. Therefore, I want to have my bikes as comfortable as they can be. So by me having a place where I can work on my bike, for example, it’s kind of stupid, you know? But it’s just responding to what I enjoy doing. Therefore coming here every day at nine with my girlfriend and my dog, to open a register and call some distributors over bike parts. It’s a job…but it’s not a business. I’m just thinking in terms of, if I’m putting all this time and effort towards this place in which we all have an equal share of the pie, then when it’s running and when it’s good, I will be able to choose when I work. Therefore, I need nothing else. I can’t see myself getting tired of doing what I do.