Motorcycle courier

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A popular type of courier motorbike in London, UK. Honda CB500
A small courier motorbike used to transport medical supplies.
Another Honda courier motorbike again in London, UK.

A motorcycle courier, also known as despatch riders, or motorcycle messengers are couriers using a motorcycle or motor scooter. Motorcycle couriers are common in the major urban centres of Europe, South America (especially Brazil), Asia and North America.


At the end of the First World War in 1918, many British Army motorcycle despatch riders of the Royal Corps of Signals were demobilized and found employment difficult to come by. As a result, they purchased military surplus motorcycles, and began couriering in central London. Traffic at that time moved at about 8 miles per hour.

Radio controlled messengers became especially popular following the 1971 Royal Mail dispute (strike) when motorcycles were fitted with bulky radios used in mini-cabs. In London businesses were pleased with the results and the courier industry took off from the mid-1970s. Pioneers in London included Yellow Express, GLH, Mercury Despatch, Addison Lee and City of London Courier Company. The advent of bicycle couriers and the fax machine in the mid-1980s, as well as e-mail in the 1990s saw an end to the high-earning boom years for London's motorcycle couriers.

Types of motorcycle couriers[edit]

There are two main types of motorcycle courier: those working for an courier company on the open circuit with a radio or bleeper, rather like minicabs, and 'in-house' riders who may work for news agency or typesetters for a set wage and on set hours, usually staying in the city centre. Earnings can be higher on the open circuit, but so are the stresses on the machine and distances covered. Most motorcycle couriers on the open circuit tend to use machines no bigger than 600cc, which are light and economical in town but good enough for long distance work.

Honda ST1300 Pan European from the UK used by emergency courier Freewheelers EVS to carry blood

See also[edit]