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Spokes of Destiny 12 

The true and tragic tale of SF Weekly's Bike Messenger Dream Team

Wednesday, Aug 28 1996
You may look upon the bare, muscular, attractive, and sexy bodies of the SF Weekly Bike Messenger Dream Team and think that, because they're buff and trim and happy and greased down and naked, this elite group of supramessengers has had it easy. Well, friends, think again. It hasn't been easy for these two-wheeled road warriors, not as individuals -- Phil, Jason, Manal, Daniel, Tommy, Nick, Cosmo, Michka -- and not as a team.

If you've been reading this paper's ongoing, in-depth coverage of the upcoming Cycle Messenger World Championships (CMWC) and our probing profiles of each team member, you have surely been touched by their highly individual, often heart-wrenching, and occasionally lurid personal stories.

Who could forget Phil Roberts' poignant tale of a childhood's bliss robbed when thrown into the alienated world of lactose intolerance?

Who could deny the tragedy in Cosmo's plight, who despite overcoming a year-and-a-half stay in a South African prison, to this day cannot come to grips with "the squishy sound" that his wet sneakers make after it rains?

And there is Nick, poor Nick, who suffered a San Diego adolescence of sensitive, tolerant parental support with complete material comfort.

Well, don't count them out, friends, because these kids are fighters. They're winners. What's more, at least half of them are members of 12-step groups.

Damning their past and forging ahead, the Dream Team has immortality on its collective mind, spokes in its collective brain. Make no mistake, brother, these are no ordinary spokes. These are none other than the Spokes of Destiny. Tough but tender, courageous yet caring, you can bet on one thing this Saturday: When they square off against the world's best messenger teams, they'll be carrying more than the delivery packages required for competition. They'll be carrying serious baggage.

The quest began in 1993. The place: Berlin, site of the first championships.
For S.F., it was a day of agony and infamy. The hometown German teams swept every event. Chagrined but not deterred, the S.F. teams vowed to try harder.

Year 2. London. Again, the Germans swept the day. Again, our Bay Area ambassadors of grit shrugged off the loss -- as Atlas would a meteor.

Next, Toronto. But the third time was not the charm for our bespoked brigade. The German teams swept once more.

This was getting a little old. Nothing against the German people -- theirs is a culture that has offered the world great beer, solid cars, rocket technology, and a little thing called Bayer aspirin -- but S.F.'s messengers felt the need for a shift in topography. They lobbied hard for the competition to be held in their town. After all, in this shimmering Mediterranean oasis of civilization, our cyclists regularly navigate the torturous hills, enduring rains, and bitter cold Pacific winds, dodging tourists from all corners of the globe, including, yes, Germany.

Will the pavement ribbons of our checkerboard hamlet prove the decisive factor of this year's competition?

The Dream Team thinks so. Why? Maybe because the SF Weekly team has been so carefully chosen, with each member required to exhibit a rare combination of traits. They had to be fast. They had to be strong. They had to have pretty heavy personal problems. And they had to be willing -- given enough Weinhard's on an empty stomach on a Friday night -- to pose nude in some studio, surrounded by a bunch of bikes and the blare of AC/DC's "Back in Black."

But they stepped up to the challenge, knowing that these days, you're not a true athlete if you don't pose nude.

When they finally assembled, some seven months ago, this shining 16-wheeled rolling monster of doom, an intense training period began. Using a specially built facility in the Sierra Nevada mountains, the Dream Team trained 12 hours a day, six days a week, stopping only for twice-daily meditation and the occasional fresh-water colonic. Though personalities conflicted like so many thunderheads, they did their best to get along. They reached out to Manal, who can be downright surly; they even tried, as best as possible, to include the one guy from Canada.

But their journey was not without tragedy. It was during a flight back from the Sierra facility that the accident occurred, the accident that you probably have heard about, the accident that almost tore the Dream Team asunder.

The snow had fallen heavily. Temperatures had plummeted. And the team's single-engine plane crashed in a remote marijuana field forgotten even by its owner. Stranded with no food or water, not even a black box recorder, the team pondered their immediate future.

While starvation loomed and vultures circled, stunt cyclist Johnny "Half-Pipe" Babcock offered a proposal. The team already had Tommy Lau as a trick rider. They didn't need two. Babcock made the supreme sacrifice. He would donate his entire foot to feed the rest of the hungry team until they were found. The team was aghast -- especially the Canadian, a vegetarian -- but after four days of living on bugs and fresh marijuana plants, their hunger had reached critical mass. They cut off his foot and ate it.

Two days later, a Sacramento news helicopter received a weak cell-phone signal. The team was airlifted to safety. Tragically, Babcock died en route to a hospital.

Heroism exists in all strata of our society, but none has touched the heart of the bike messenger community like the tale of Half-Pipe Babcock. His cries of pain during open-field amputation have become an anthem of unity among the world's messenger community, and this year's competition is dedicated to his courage, his foresight. His foot.

It is not lost on the SF Weekly Dream Team that even had Babcock survived his amputation, his messenger days were over. As the CMWC competition begins this Saturday, San Francisco's men and women of this messenger Olympiad will reach deep inside themselves to represent the few, the proud, the overlooked and underappreciated pony express pillars who support this city. They are tanned, rested, and ready -- and willing to be photographed naked to prove it.

Let the Games begin.


Friday, Aug. 30
5:30 p.m. -- Critical Mass bike ride, meet at Justin Herman Plaza
6:30 p.m. -- World Welcome Party, Maritime Hall, First St. & Harrison, 14 bands and vendor booths, $10 at the door

Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 31-Sept 1
8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. -- Preliminary Heats (Beginning at Front & Union, winding through Telegraph Hill). Also Additional Exhibit Races such as Fixed Gear, Cargo Bikes, Basket-Bike/One-Speeds.

2 p.m.-2 a.m. -- Messenger Art Exhibits, SOMAR Gallery, 934 Brannan, includes sculpture, artwork, classic cars, trapeze artist, $5 at the door

Monday, Sept. 2
All Day -- Bicycle Fair, Justin Herman Plaza
8:30-10:30 a.m. -- Finals (Two-hour race on an expanded course)

11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. -- Additional Exhibit Races, including stunts and hand trucks

3 p.m. -- Awards Ceremony, 30-plus awards presented
4 p.m. -- Live music
5 p.m. -- Memorial Ride (South Park to Mission Rock, and back to SOMAR for farewell party)

Tuesday, Sept. 3
7:15 & 9:15 p.m. -- Bike messenger movie night at the Red Vic
For any other information, call the CMWC office at 626-2692.

Dictionary of Bike Messenger Terms

By the San Francisco Bike Messenger Association
Excerpted from Messenger's Guidebook to San Francisco

Basket Case n. someone who rides a bike with a basket

Bunny Hop v. to gracefully jump up with one's bike while in transit

Check, Checkay, O Checko 1. Yes, I understand that; 2. (a colorful remark that doesn't mean anything)

Copsicle n. a policeman on a bicycle

The Dance n. back and forwards movement of pedestrians

Door v. to open one's car door on an oncoming cyclist

The Dub, C-Dubs, C&W's, the Chuckwagon n. The Covered Wagon Saloon

Full Metal Basket n. the large steel wire basket on the front of a bike

Gravy n. high-paying deliveries

Gristle n. low-paying deliveries

The Hall of Injustice n. the police station at 850 Bryant St.

The HANX n. a messenger gang named after Hank Remus, who was known for not bathing, drinking 40-ouncers on Shipley Alley, and OD'ing on heroin

Huffbo n. marijuana

Huffbo Chente n. 1. strong marijuana; 2. a defunct messenger zine

Milk n. beer

Panties n. nylon helmet covering

Punkrock! = (an enthusiastic interjection)

Spun adj. suffering from the adverse effects of long-term methamphetamine use

Tag n. 1. a delivery; 2. a graffiti pseudonym; v. 3. to write one's graffiti pseudonym

The Tag Catalyst v. opening a beer (as soon as you do, your dispatcher will call you)

Techno Weenie n. one whose obsession with buying bike parts eclipses his or her enjoyment of actually riding a bike

That's Raw = That is not enjoyable!

Urban Food Log n. burrito

The Wall n. the sitting wall at Sansome & Market streets

About The Authors

Jack Boulware


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