Pedal Power: The History of San Francisco Bike Messengers

"Hey guys, your old pal Brett here. I was sure (dead sure) I knew what I would be doing for the rest of my life at the age of 25. Spoiler alert: I was wrong. I spent 12 years after graduating high school working as a cook, and eventually a chef.  Eventually I ended up in Sonoma county to help open a restaurant, subsequently suffering an ulcer, and losing my @#$&^%$ mind. I moved to San Francisco, started riding my bike for work, and never looked back…here are some reasons why Ugly Juice opted for bike delivery in San Francisco."

Why Do We Deliver By Bike?

Maybe you’ve seen our couriers moving 0.2 mph, hauling a ridiculously heavy load and thought to yourself “why would anyone do that to themselves”? Aside from thinking it’s pretty dang cool, opting for bike delivery greatly reduces our environmental impact (keeping over 19.7 metric tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere), and gets fresh juice to your mouth faster.  

San Francisco’s bicycle messenger community has a rich history and we’re stoked to be a part of it. In a world where more and more companies are using delivery conglomerates to get their goods to you, we’ve decided to take a more personal approach. We take pride in our awesome couriers and hope you love them too.

A Quick History of Bike Messengers in San Francisco



This is pretty rad. After a rail strike halted mail delivery, a Fresno bicycle shop owner created a bicycle delivery system between Fresno and S.F.. Picture a relay race in track. Now imagine 6 bike riders covering 30-60 miles each. Pretty cool, huh? From there, the S.F. messenger culture was started.



In 1945, the first bicycle messenger company, Sparkies, was founded by Carl Sparks. Check out those bow ties!



The '60s brought exactly what you'd expect in the world of S.F. bike messengers. This new breed of messengers ripped off their bow-ties and caps, opting for the hipper jeans and t-shirts. Bicycle messaging became "the starving artist's way of employment." 



The Punk Rock craze that flooded S.F. in the '70s brought semi-famous messenger bands. Yes you heard that right.

1979: First Bicycle Messenger Olympics is held downtown.
Events tested skills such as pedestrian slalom, the wheelie, and the briefcase pass. Should we bring back messenger olympics? Show us your tricks on Insta!


1990s - 200s

Activism and consolidation. 
Following the late '80's downer, the bike messenger community and activism grows. At the same time, there is a mass-consolidation of courier companies.

2009: TCB Courier Opens as a small co-op. If you’ve had flowers, booze, or food delivered in San Francisco, you’ve met one of their couriers. It quickly became San Francisco’s largest bicycle delivery company, at one point employing over 85 couriers making about 1,000 deliveries each day.


S.F. bike messengers are at an interesting cross-roads. In 2018, TCB Courier closed it's doors and left many couriers without jobs.

At Ugly Juice, we're working to maintain the true S.F. bike messenger vibe, providing jobs and community to couriers across the city. Next time you see one of our couriers riding around the city, say "hi!”

The Blue Whale, The Snow Leopard, and the bike courier…

Here in San Francisco, we talk a lot about disruption, usually meaning an incredible innovation that so changes an industry that it will never be the same. The delivery industry has certainly been disrupted, and with such a drastic shift, sometimes there is a loss. On demand delivery has become an incredible, and expected part of life. Is there anything you can’t get delivered to your couch in less than 30 minutes? Getting a burrito and clean laundry delivered before you get to the end of your insta stories is amazing, but that convenience comes with a cost.

San Francisco has a bicycle messenger history unlike any other city. But lately, it has been in jeopardy with the closing of some of the largest courier companies. Many couriers still hang on to something they love, and something that is an important part of San Francisco culture.  

Next time you pop out of Bart at Montgomery station, take a look at the steps at One Post. There are probably about a dozen couriers waiting for their first jobs of the day to come in. Imagine a time when it was almost 100, waiting to start making so many things move around the city. I wonder if those delivery robots will kick it at the steps at One Post…

For more info on SF Bike Messengers check out these links: SFBMA History and Mission Local