Even among the rough-and-tumble breed of bike messengers, Austin Horse stands out. The New York City rider excels in courier-style street races, where pedal-pushers employ speed, endurance and brains to hit numerous checkpoints on the way to the finish line.
The biggest comp on this continent is the North American Cycle Courier Championship, which Austin won in both 2006 and 2008. What’s his secret? His day job. “I just work, I don’t really train,” he explains. “Between messengering and food delivery, I’m on the bike seven to 13 hours a day.”
Still, it’s been a winding road to the top for Austin, who grew up in California and Houston. Originally a mountain bike fiend, Austin got exposed to the road scene while working at a Houston bike shop in his teens. A couple years of college in Oregon took that interest up a notch and soon Austin was biking through Alaska and Canada with a friend.
After stints fighting fires, working on a fishing boat, and campaigning for Ralph Nader, he headed to New York and found his true calling as a messenger, which came with its share of adventure. “These races are the realization of all that’s enjoyable about messenger work,” he says. “Sometimes they’re scavenger hunts, sometimes it’s about speed, sometimes it’s routing. A good course maximizes the decisions you have to make.”
Austin fills out his busy schedule by remaining politically active. He serves on the board of Times Up!, an environmental non-profit on Manhattan’s Lower East Side that aims to promote a more sustainable, less toxic city. No matter what happens Austin knows that wherever he’s headed, he’ll be pedaling. “I love the freedom of cycling,” he says. “Navigating the city, you get endorphins and adrenaline, a nice combination. It’s really empowering, and it’s just good fun.”