Couriers Of The Future Are Us

Back in the days, bike couriers were necessary for shipping priority letters in under an hour. They could weave through traffic in no time. The carried letters that couldn't be faxed, along with blueprints, and notarized documents.
09/16/2016 06:43 pm ET Updated Sep 16, 2017

I fell in love with a bike courier 20 years ago. Legs like a colt, a passion for speed. Endurance to ride his bike for 200 miles in a casual ride between cities. Bike messengers in the '90s were radical and underground. They held the best parties. They, like the scrawny rock-climbing guys with long hair I met at the climb gyms, were underdogs. They were athletic geeks, not jocks. They kicked in the sides of cars if someone attempted to sideswipe them. They were smart, with a strong flavor of activism. They ate fresh food and drank good coffee.

That love affair with my Berlin-based courier started in Toronto. We met at an Alleycat event. It was pre-email times, but we had almost real-time communication. He'd write me a letter at night and have it couriered the next morning. Overnight delivery of love letters was romantic. Email has changed that, and it's also radicalized the way we ship stuff.

Back in the days, bike couriers were necessary for shipping priority letters in under an hour. They could weave through traffic in no time. The carried letters that couldn't be faxed, along with blueprints, and notarized documents. Online services and file sharing has changed the way we move important files and our own signatures.

As we start to move more around this world for work or as global nomads there is a great need to shift stuff. Some of us do it because we move around, others because we love to keep stuff out of a landfill. We sell it on eBay or Craig's List. And on goes the cycle.

Recently, I was faced with the task of shipping an item from China to Canada and then back again to the Middle East. I pulled together a range of options that included my parents, an impending strike of Canada's Postal Service, and after several hundreds of dollars am still tired from the operation. Are there better options in this day and age?

If you are in the same boat as me and still dumbfounded over how we talk through the Internet but still not have found a way to ship goods efficiently, take note. There are a few solutions available to consumers that I want to try:

Shiply is a UK-based service that works as a reseller. It connects your single package (no matter the size) to a massive network of local and international shipping companies of all stripes and they bid on getting your business. You enjoy a low-cost hassle free experience of getting item from Point A to Point B. The system is feedback-rated, so like AirBNB you can see who is happy, who is not. Helpful!

Shyp is the hipster alternative but you kind of have to live in a hipster American city to qualify. But with Shyp, you can be sure some attractive bespectacled updated courier from the future will come to your house, package, pickup, and rescue you from package hell. Works well with eBay, they say.

Roadie is a peer-to-peer network that enlists everyday folks to pick up and move your stuff, because according to them, "someone is always leaving everywhere." Much like Shiply does, Roadie connects people who have stuff with drivers who'd already be going there.

Because of my international needs I'd probably stick with Shiply, but the other new and upcoming shipping companies (see TechCrunch) could make for a great experiment to document.

Seems like couriers of the future are us. But I still remember the good old days fondly.