These days Patrick takes a little longer getting dressed in the morning. The 27-year-old bike messenger spends about ten hours outside in Berlin's icy temperatures, making long underwear, several pairs of socks and a ski mask essential at the moment. He says he can handle the cold relatively well.
"I'm in motion most of the time, so it passes,” says Patrick. Unfortunately, his hands and feet are perpetually frozen. "For them, I've yet to find a remedy."
Such is the case for many bike couriers in Germany, who work in some 57 cities throughout the country and not just larger metropolitan areas like Hamburg or Berlin.
Patrick says he has not fallen ill once since he became a bike messenger some two years ago. "The job strengthens the immune system,” he explains with a grin. Even though he's not worried about catching a cold, he rides at a slower pace to avoid sweating. “If you're drenched with sweat, you immediately begin to freeze, so you have to go home and change clothes right away.”
The icy streets are also forcing bike messengers to reduce speeds and delay their deliveries, though.
“The slipperiness is a real problem for us,” said Dirk Brauer, who is both a supervisor and bike courier. “The side streets have not been cleared and are barely passable by bike. The couriers are forced to use the main roads and are stuck in traffic along with the cars,” says the 46-year old. With such delays, the competitive advantage of bike messengers is melting away. Patrick estimates that he needs about 20 to 30 percent more time for a delivery.
The mirror-slick roads have already caused some casualties. Two of Brauer's 50 cyclists have had accidents in the last few days. For most freelance bike couriers, the risk of injury is a serious problem and they often pay high premiums for health insurance.
Brauer's fleet of cyclists is already smaller than usual. “Messengers, who are new to the city or inexperienced, are taking fewer trips or not travelling at all,” said Brauer. Some of the messengers have switched to mountain bikes as they are somewhat safer on slippery roads. In order to endure the winter, couriers must be in good physical condition, but also have “snow experience.”
Even though Patrick is a fit, experienced biker, the weather conditions are taking a toll. “It's incredibly stressful,” he said. “I really enjoy my job, but at the moment it's just no fun at all.”