Karel Rowies presents PedalBXL, the fastest courier messengers in Brussels.
Kring : First and foremost, the inevitable question: what is PedalBXL, and how was it born?
Karel Rowies : PedalBXL is a courier company that is mainly focusing on Express Deliveries. Going as fast as possible from point A to point B in Brussels. Pedal started in Barcelona were my colleague Kardama also worked. 15 years ago he moved to Brussels and saw there was no such thing going on here. In 2009, he had the idea to launch it here. At that time I was busy with fixed gear bicycles and my friend Guy from Dealer Bicycles got to know that there was somebody who was planning on launching a courier company here. I did not hesitate, quit my job as a screenprinter and, before I knew it, I was sitting next to my current associate on a curb on Mont des Arts. We really jumped in the unknown, it was a bit crazy period but we had calls from day one.
Kring : Why would someone, or a company, ask for your services? Quickness? Reliability?
Karel Rowies : Well we often use the adjectives: fast, clean and reliable. But these really are the keywords to describe Pedal. We can exactly tell how long it takes to go from A to B. We don’t have traffic jams or the necessity to look for a place to park. And that strengthens the reliability of course. If we say we take the job, we do the job!
Kring : Bike messengers are quickly becoming part of the urban landscape, especially in Brussels. How do you see yourself and Pedal riders in the middle of this jungle? Are there different types of bike messengers?
Karel Rowies :Yeah! Since the boom of food delivery companies, you see all kinds of riders with those cubes on their back. I have tremendous respect for what they do, as they also contribute to the growth of cycling in Brussels.
We really go for the classic bike messenger look, and give it a professional touch, both on presence as on client service; I remember a client once told us we are like that man of that Coca Cola Light advertisement that walks in their office…
We also recently teamed up with Katusha Sports for our new outfits. Really looking forward to that result. I think then the ice cubes on the coke will melt immediately then…
Kring : How did you become a bike messenger? Is it a way to combine work with passion?
Karel Rowies : Well what I said on the first question explains much, but of course this is a job you cannot do without a passion for cycling. Being all day out in any weather conditions is something special, it’s not just another day at the office. People often think it’s just cycling around in the city but it’s way more than that. You are, as a messenger, the direct contact with the client and recipient. I would say being a bike messenger is 60% client service and 40% cycling and endurance. Let’s say if somebody writes in his CV that he is a pro cyclist, it’s a good point but not the most convincing. We get all kinds of emails every day and we don’t even have the time to answer them all.
Kring : A lot of documentaries have been made about bike messengers riding like crazy people in cool cities, such as NYC, or San Francisco, among others. Is the bike messenger life that glamourous? How do you cope with traffic and the surrounding danger?
Karel Rowies : Indeed, you often see those reckless riders in those videos. They have crazy skills but if I ever see one of our couriers riding like that, he is fired the same day. If you keep on doing these things, one day, you end up under a car. In this job you have to be able to work under stress and you always race against time but keep in mind that the day after you need to ride again. If you lose it then it’s better to stop, take a pen and think, rather than burning 5 red lights and almost running over a few kids that cross the street without watching. If you love what you do, then you think about others too. We share the road with others and, yes, there are assholes but if you are the asshole yourself, you don’t help anybody.
Kring : What do you think could be done by public powers in Brussels to make the city safer for you and other bike messengers? What would your ideal bike-friendly city look like?
Karel Rowies : Honestly for me this is good how it is. The only problem is one street: Rue de la Loi! It’s a pretty important and busy connection but it’s crazy to ride a bike there. Pedestrians don’t pay attention because it’s so badly made. There is no separation of sidewalk and bike road. Just go to Copenhagen and do a copy paste and it will work. I would never send my girlfriend to Brussels on a bike because it’s simply too dangerous. There are too many ‘so called’ bike lanes that you, as a cyclist, are too often mixed with the cars. And just like that, you never get people to commute to work. It’s already way better than before but there is still a lot more work to do.
Kring : A majority of Pedal riders ride on Ritchey bikes, the Logic or the Swiss Cross. Why is that? Steel is better for urban riding? Furthermore, what is your personal favorite: Logic or Swiss Cross? With what mounting?
Karel Rowies : The Swiss cross is amazing to work. First day you feel embarrassed that you rode other bikes. You can really abuse them. The discs of course make them weather proof. A life changer compared with rim brakes. Steel is, to my mind, way better than all the rest. It’s also durable and it comes with all the classic standards, so you can go to basically almost any bike shop to get spares. We don’t even speak about pressfit or BB30 with Ritchey bikes.
My favorite stays the Road Logic. It’s also the most classic-looking bike. At home, I have 2 because I need a spare for racing. One is setup with Chris King and Mavic Open pro rims 32 spokes. And also CNC’d brakes and Rotor cranks. For me, that bike is a race machine. I once won a race on that one after a 40km solo. People were looking to the bike like it was something they had never seen before. I had to tell them that 20 years ago everybody raced with a bike like that.
Kring : How do you see Pedal in 5 years? A fleet of 150 couriers, or still the human-scale company that it is today?
Karel Rowies : We want to stay a company like we are now. We love what we do and we will continue that. We made a few mistakes in the past to collaborate with the big boys, but in the end we were sitting in front of the computer. Of course you need to go with the flow and anticipate on opportunities but if you stop doing what you like, it’s game over.
Kring : A quick bonus question: you are also racing in Belgian elite level in both road races and cyclo cross. And your nickname there is Klokke. Why?
Karel Rowies : Hahaha that’s a good one. It has zero connection with cycling. I think this was made up 15 year ago in Scouts Camp. I had the fabulous idea to build a bell out of cans from “choucroute” and put it high up in the tower. Then each time when we had to regroup for an activity or something, I would ring that clock. But it did not work at all. From then on they call me “De Klokkenluider” and over time it became just Klokke.
Photos : Antton Miettinen