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Bike couriers earn about $20,000 to $30,000 a year in commissions. But that’s before expenses such as buying their own bikes, tires and other maintenance. (FRED LUM/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
Bike couriers earn about $20,000 to $30,000 a year in commissions. But that’s before expenses such as buying their own bikes, tires and other maintenance. (FRED LUM/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

SALARIES SERIES

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Job: Bicycle courier

The role: Bike couriers pick up and deliver packages on their bicycles in many of Canada’s largest cities. They are typically self-employed and work as contractors with courier companies. They receive calls from a central dispatcher, who tells them where to pick up or drop off packages. Joel Dalton, a bike courier in downtown Toronto, says a lot of the packages are documents from law firms and other corporate office that can’t be faxed or e-mailed, as well as videos for film and TV companies.

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Salary: Forget a steady paycheque. Bike couriers receive a commission on each pickup and/or delivery, which Mr. Dalton says is often about 60 per cent. He says couriers earn about $20,000 to $30,000 a year in commissions. That’s before expenses such as buying their own bikes, tire replacements and other maintenance, as well as clothing.

Education: There are no educational requirements to be a bike courier. Being fit is a requirement though, if you want to be successful in the role.

By the numbers: These couriers can cycle between 50 and 100 kilometres a day, according to Mr. Dalton.

Job prospects: There are no promotions or raises to aspire to, Mr. Dalton says. “It’s just the one job.” There are a lot of openings, however, owing to high turnover. Some people only want to do the job in the summer, while others may find they’re not suited to the role. Fax machines and e-mail have put a big dent in demand. Still, “there will always be a need for hard copies of documents,” Mr. Dalton says.

Challenges: Bike couriers are required to work in all types of weather, and some do it year-round, including in the snow and freezing rain. Riding around in city traffic can also be dangerous. “It’s a pretty high-risk job and there are a lot of injuries,” Mr. Dalton says. There is no base pay or benefits, since most bike couriers are self-employed. The industry is organizing with the Canadian Union of Postal Workers to try to improve working conditions, and has formed the CUPW Toronto Courier Local 104. Mr. Dalton is vice-president of that organization.

Why they do it: “If you are a serious cyclist and want to get paid for cycling, this is the only way to do it,” Mr. Dalton says. “It keeps you in good shape.” Bike couriers typically like to be outdoors and dislike desk jobs.

Misconceptions: Bike couriers are not a bunch of unruly, uneducated people, Mr. Dalton says. “There are a lot of bike couriers out there with university degrees.”

Give us the scoop: Are you a bicycle courier? Write a note in the comments area of this story or e-mail your comment to careerquestion@globeandmail.com and let us know what you would tell others who are interested in the profession.

Want to read more stories from our Salaries Series? Find more here.

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