A Day In The Life Of A Motorcycle Courier

This is way off-topic for a tech blog, but since my customers can’t bring their computers to me for repair, I’ve had to branch out into other trades because, like millions of other people, my income has gone down to a big fat zero. If you read on, you will find some related tech information because navigating around Greater Buenos Aires with its 13 million population and over 1300 square miles requires frequent use of modern technology.

Word Of Mouth

Lockdown in Argentina started on March 20th but at that time, it was unclear exactly who was allowed to move around in their vehicles apart from essential goods and services. I started a motorcycle courier service last year and while it ticked along with two or three deliveries a week, I clearly needed to be doing much more. Then, about 10 days ago the rules were clarified somewhat, so I acquired an exemption certificate and since then have been inundated with enquiries. Using WhatsApp, we sent out details of Speedy Moto and within hours I was jumping on my bike and heading off into the freedom of a deserted city, champing at the bit.

By the second day, I received three or four enquiries and up until Monday of this week was completing at least four deliveries a day in and around the city of Buenos Aires. The range of goods that I’ve been delivering and collecting has been diverse, to say the least, from an elaborate continental breakfast, numerous brown envelopes, to packs of surgical masks and gloves. Every enquiry comes to me through WhatsApp, mainly by recommendation from other customers, and, as everyone who uses this must-have messaging service will know, it’s become the default app for instant communication.

Clearly, word of mouth is the preferred option in times of uncertainty, particularly when customers are sending items of value, so a certain amount of discretion is required, to say the least.

My most important tool of the trade is a Garmin Nuvi 40 GPS which has proven invaluable time and time again since I bought it five years ago. I have it mounted on the handlebars directly in front of me and it takes me exactly where I want to go every single time. There is, of course, an argument for strapping my mobile phone to the bike instead and using Google Maps or Waze, since both of those apps give traffic information in real-time. However, my Galaxy Note 8 is worth considerably more to me in so many respects that exposing it to potential theft in a city like BA is not a good idea. The fact is, I probably couldn’t do my job without a mobile phone in this day and age.

The only drawback with the Garmin is that it tends to send me literally in the direction of ‘as the crow flies‘ and always defaults to motorways (freeways in American), although that setting can be changed. I also rely on local knowledge and a quick glance at Google maps if the Garmin throws a wobbler and wants to send me to hell and back. Clearly, Google Maps has distinct advantages, especially since locations can be sent through WhatsApp, but for security reasons, I’ll stay with the Garmin which would be relatively cheap to replace in the event of breakdown or theft.

Riding Through The Apocalypse

Okay, that’s a tad over-dramatic, but since I’m a big fan of post-apocalyptic films and series such as The Walking Dead, I’ve always wondered what it might be like to wake up in a similar scenario, but I never imagined that it would happen under such circumstances. Generally speaking, riding around BA at the moment is a luxury compared to what it’s normally like, now that there’s only about 10% of the usual traffic.

Oddly enough, I find myself reducing speed, not only because it’s a weird sensation riding in such deserted streets, but with no congestion to deal with, those devil horns simply don’t appear as they usually did. However, it’s not all plain sailing because most of the motorway junctions are closed off to traffic to reduce movement for health reasons, so wherever possible I have to work those closures into the route. I learned that from experience the other day, where a 20-minute journey ended up taking me over an hour because I simply couldn’t leave the motorway at all and ended up in some kind of Groundhog Day moment, which will be all too familiar to most of us in these crazy days.

Added to which, there are police checkpoints placed at regular intervals throughout the city that verify your credentials. If you are not authorised to be out and about, they impound your car, detain you, or both. I really don’t have a problem with this kind of enforcement because breaking quarantine is self-defeating for everyone. In a way, that begs the question of why I am out and about, which is only fair and it would be lying to say that I’m not doing it for the money. On the other hand, online shopping is being encouraged, for obvious reasons and somehow or other the goods need to reach the customers, a service which I’m providing. The security services (police, military police, paramilitary police, and others) are taking the measures very seriously indeed and it’s true to say that, even though I’ve lived in BA for fifteen years, yet come from a country where the police aren’t armed, the sight of heavily armed men dressed in black can be a tad daunting. Quite why some of them have to carry such huge weapons under the current health crisis is a mystery to me and I have no idea what the gun pictured below actually is, but it’s big and it looks pretty scary.

Health And Safety

Clearly, being authorised to ride around doesn’t make me immune to anything, so I take the necessary precautions, including the use of a surgical mask, I carry alcohol gel, wear gloves and a helmet and always insist that the customers keep a safe distance from me at all times. In fact, I always insist that they place the goods on the ground and step back from me as if we were dealing with an unexploded bomb. It’s weird and decidedly abnormal in human social terms, but entirely necessary both for me and the customer. Most understand this, some don’t, but that’s another story.

The Best-laid Plans Of Mice And Men

My bike, a 350cc twin carburetor machine has done about 27,000 miles in its eight years, which isn’t a huge amount, but despite my careful maintenance, it has developed a very noisy engine that has been getting worse over the last few weeks. Coincidentally, I was delivering a parcel very close to the main Jawa dealer in Lugano, Buenos Aires on Monday, so I popped in and asked the head mechanic to listen to the engine. After no more than five seconds he diagnosed piston arms and/or crankshaft problems, which is not the news I needed right now. However, the bike is now in the workshop, so Speedy Moto will be out of action until next Monday at the very least. I did make a short recording of the engine noise in the video below and I’m looking forward to writing part two of this short series when I can saddle up and hit the streets of BA once again.

3 thoughts on “A Day In The Life Of A Motorcycle Courier”

  1. My hat is off to you Marc for finding a way to supplement your income. Must commend you for this unique way to solve a problem in the least expensive way. Do have a question, since you are using your bike for business, do you have to declare this fact for insurance purposes and get a commercial plate, Mindblower!

  2. Hey Marc, commend you as well for doing what you’re doing. I’m afraid your trusty “iron horse” sounds like it isn’t going to be making many more deliveries. Hopefully your mechanic can get it sorted out for you. If he can get it done by next Monday, you should take him a bottle of fine wine or whiskey, along with a tip when the bill is paid. Most bike services here in the states take months from what I hear. Best to you and keep writing.

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