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The Immortal Class: Bike Messengers and the Cult of Human Power

3.67  ·  Rating Details ·  328 Ratings  ·  60 Reviews
Travis Hugh Culley went to Chicago to make his name in its thriving theater scene, yet found in his day job a sense of community and fulfillment—and a brotherhood of like-minded individualists—that he encountered nowhere else.

In The Immortal Class, Culley takes us inside the heart and soul of an American urban icon: the bicycle messenger. In describing his own history and
Paperback, 352 pages
Published August 13th 2002 by Random House Trade Paperbacks (first published 2001)
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(showing 1-30 of 501)
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Sep 17, 2007 Gil rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: bicyclists, the overworked/underpaid, the eco-conscious, the history of Chicago
There is a funny personal story behind this book for me. I met the author- twice. I purchased my copy from a small new/used bookstore on Broadway in Chicago called Afterwords. It's still my favorite bookstore. My copy happened to be autographed- apparently Travis would come in every so often and autograph some books for them. They would up the price slightly and he'd let them keep the difference. For a store like Afterwords every little bit helps if you're to keep a Barnes & Noble or Borders ...more
This is a book that has never been written before about a subcultural part of a larger revolution. I love reading books about things that have never been written about before.

Every asshole driver who won't share the road should be strapped down and forced to read this. Having said this, bike couriers, like most bikers, obey their own laws--selectively citing the rules of the road when it is to their favor and flouting them similarly--yet all based on a defensive survivalism steeped in the realit
Jun 11, 2010 Elaine rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone with an ounce of curiosity
This is an amazing read. Culley doesn't just tell us what it's like being a bike messenger and its attendant dangers and pain, although he does do that. But, he writes lyrically and passionately about his Umwelt, the personal space surrounding him: art, architecture, justice, city planning, the politics of creating a culture, the psychology, sociology, and anthropology of the clashing cultures of car vs. bike riders. It opened a whole new world for me, a way of looking at street I had never done ...more
Jan 13, 2016 Jtomassetti rated it really liked it

The immortal class is the bicycle messengers who must have immortal confidence to rationalize the danger they face every time they venture out on the traffic pack street of major cities. I enjoyed this book. While reading I could easily imagine being the messenger floating through the Chicago traffic and skitching rides off the bumpers of taxis. In addition to the gritty cycling story is thought provoking comm
Here is what i learned from this book: that no matter how shallow, no matter how hideous the hours, how pandering to The Man it is, i will do whatever it takes to have a job with health insurance because Travis tells you xactly what it is like to NOT have it and need to have stitches. Yes, you install them on yourself. As long as i have a bike to ride, i iwll sell my soul for health care if this is the alternative.

A fun read, no too macho and decent, if not good at times, writing.
David Dunnem
Feb 29, 2008 David Dunnem rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
I'm sad I didn't make it into this book, as probably the worst messenger ever for Service First I met the author several times throughout the late 90's. My girlfriend at the time (an amazing messenger) worked for Velo (Velocity) and was just an awesome tech messenger. Brings back memories for me, some good , some not so clear. Long live Tuman's and the Fireside crew (Scott Anna you really do know everybody in the world!)
Chris Termaat
Dec 07, 2015 Chris Termaat rated it really liked it
A fascinating insider view of the bicycle messenger subculture. Bicycle messengers are like musicians and gypsies. They occupy a unique social niche outside the normal class hierarchy.

The author was a bicycle messenger in Chicago in the 1990s, delivering packages to high-rise business suites in the Loop. To deliver packages, he routinely boarded elevators in his spandex, surrounded by "suits." I was one of those suits. We might have felt smug, looking at the spandex man and his package, but we w
Rogue Reader
Aug 17, 2013 Rogue Reader rated it really liked it
The author, Travis Culley, is obsessive, ecstatic, compulsive - in general just nuts. He's in Chicago, writing through the night, broke and just about to be evicted so takes a job as a bike messenger. The Immortal Class is Culley's narrative of his weeks? months? in the job, riding so hard and so often that he blows out his knee.

The Immortal Class is a series of essays that span Culley's time as a bike messenger. The essays are wide ranging, thoughtful and beautifully written and they shine with
Daniel Namie
Sep 03, 2012 Daniel Namie rated it really liked it
“Just because I don’t have an automobile doesn’t mean I have to suffer the arrogant disregard of every four-wheeled prick who thinks he owns the road! Just because I am poor doesn’t mean I am without my rights! Does it?”

--Immortal Class: Bike Messengers and The Cult of Human Power by Travis Hugh Culley

The quote by an ex-bike messenger from Chicago drives the point that automobile drivers don’t have the rights to abuse their privilege to use the roads. Furthermore, bicyclist have the same rights
Nov 29, 2012 Paul rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Culley uses his time working as a bike messenger in Chicago to weave together several narratives: the worklife of a messenger, the dysfunction of an automobile-based urban architecture, the people and ideas behind bicycle activism, his own growing up, and even a bit about Chicago’s architectural history.

The book’s vibrant center is the tale of his adventures working as a bike messenger. In Culley’s impressionistic telling, it’s frantic work from morning to night: dodging cars, attempting to stay
A.K. Klemm
Oct 27, 2013 A.K. Klemm rated it it was amazing
My bike club went camping this weekend. I love bikes and I love camping, so it was excruciating knowing I had a pre-Halloween event at my store, bills to pay, and a general inability to leave my husband and child to go on a frivolous trip that would inevitably involve a lot of drinking and riding.

I love books more than anything, and I adore Chris Rogers (the author we had in the store Saturday), but my mind was off in the distance with my new friends – family really – their tents, their bikes, a
Mar 29, 2012 Jenifer rated it did not like it
I was looking to enter a world totally foreign to me. I was looking for likable characters with great stories and unique personalities. I found this author to be a arrogant and one-sided. I know, I know. He's been fighting the fight against conventionality and conformity all his life and gets nothing but grief for it. He's all alone out there with only his talent and anger (and his U-lock) to protect him against everyone who wants to hurt him and rob him of his disdainful way of life. He's an an ...more
Jul 07, 2010 Marisa rated it it was ok
Teton Co Library Call No: must be ILLed
Marisa's rating: 2 stars

This book came recommended and I can see why - the topic is very interesting (the bike messenger life in Chitown), the author comes from a theatrical background, and the book seemed to be divided interestingly. However, I couldn't help but not really like the aithor and since the book was all about him... it was tough. When Travis was actually talking about the bike messenger world, the book was great - so fast paced, it became a lov
Feb 21, 2011 Chris rated it really liked it
What an incredible view into a world that I see every day, but have no idea about!

The narrative was fantastic with an amazingly descriptive prose style. One of the cover quotes summed it up well, equating this to "zen & the art of motorcycle maintenance" but the author's relation of a zen feeling to bicycle messengering, bicycles impact on society, and society's treatment of bicycles was incredibly insightful and sad.

This is a great read that makes you want to get out and pedal for your rig
Jun 21, 2013 Matt rated it liked it
A quick but inspiring read that has provoked a lot of thought during bike commutes to work. Also an enjoyable study of the subculture of bike messengers. Culley comes off more as an anthropologist than a true insider, but he clearly spent enough time as a messenger to capture the authentic experience and lifestyle. His take on car vs. bicycle ranges from interesting and informative to bombastic and one-dimensional. At a distance, he seems to the reader as adamant about doing away with cars as he ...more
Dann Zinke
Interesting memoir if a bike messenger in Chicago in the late 90s. The latter chapters that extol bringing the bike into the spotlight as the savior of modern, urban America are tedious and not very well thought-through.
Taylor S.
Dec 09, 2015 Taylor S. rated it it was amazing
Very accurate description of urban cycling - witty, sarcastic, insightful not just on bikes, but on life.
Jan 03, 2015 Mark rated it really liked it
Fun and well captured spirit of city cycling, though leave out some drama Travis.
May 08, 2011 Michael rated it did not like it
Shelves: i-give-up, cycling
What was the publisher thinking? A 320+ memoir from a bike messenger in his 20s? I got about 80 or so page through it but then put it aside and after I realized that I had read three other books while it sat on the bedside table, I took it back to the library.

There were a few amusing bike messenger anecdotes buried in it, but there was far more about the author's various problems, which aren't that compelling as a story line. And his writing style seemed over the top, attempting to make it absol
John Bloom
Mar 17, 2014 John Bloom rated it really liked it
Great writing and vision of the city.
Jan 31, 2012 JDK1962 rated it liked it
I was sort of hot and cold on this book. There were some very nice, well-written bits where he was describing the bike messenger life. I was less enthralled by the bike/anti-car activism material, but on the other hand, I live in a fairly small town and telecommute, so maybe I'm just not relating. There's moments in the book where he's totally got me, but then he's off on some flight of rhetorical fancy, and after a bit I found myself losing interest and skimming to get back to the narrative mom ...more
Jun 17, 2015 Steve rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As a cyclist (though not a messenger), this book really struck a chord with me.
Jan 25, 2008 Stephanie rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: cycling aficiados, people who love chicago, anyone who wants to understand bicycle fanatics
I loved this book. Part memoir, part rant, part love-story to a city and to the bicycle. Culley's style is engaging and gives readers an inside glimpse into the unique subculture of bicycle messengers. I've read that his account of his time as a messenger may have been, errr, embellished, but I don't care. He's a good writer and his passion for his subject matter is compelling. There are different kinds of truth and Culley captures the essence of a subculture to share with a larger audience.
Stephanie Golisch
Aug 21, 2007 Stephanie Golisch rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: concerned about sustainable living and urban alternatives to the suburbs?
This blew me away. I saw it while lounging around in the the Portland Coffee House on Belmont, one of my favorite haunts. I thought it sounded intriguing, but it turned out to be so much more than just a tribute to the profession. It's a moving and deep examination of how cars are eroding our communities. As far as the job goes, I can relate on so many levels, it will speak to you too if you have a stressful, time-sensitive job (measure that in minutes, not hours!).
Nov 18, 2009 Larry rated it liked it
Great insight into the world of the Bicycle Messenger. As a cyclist I have always envied these free spirits with the amazing bike skills and ability to make a living putting themselves in constant danger from the motorized vehicle. The musings on the answers to the challenge of riding a bike in the modern city isn't that successful but it does raise some excellent points of view. Well written!
Jun 27, 2008 Angie rated it it was ok
Recommended to Angie by: Marty
Shelves: lost-interest
Oh, injustice!

When I read those words, I went "Oh, please!" and decided I wasn't gonna be able to get thru this drival by someone who takes himself way, way, to seriously. That being said, I think the bike messanger subculture is a great insight into the inner-workings of the American city so I hope someone will write about it much better than this kid.
Joe Ganley
Sep 04, 2012 Joe Ganley rated it it was amazing
I just finished reading this for the third time, the first being many years ago when it was new. Yes, it's one-sided, and more than a little pretentious in places, but I still love it. I'm a pretty serious cyclist and lifelong messenger wannabe, so take my opinion with that in mind.
Jul 18, 2007 Carlyn rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Bikers! or those who would live vicariosly through them
Shelves: non-fiction
"The Immortal Class is a powerful and inspiring tale of resistance and survival. It might become the guidebook on how to survive with dignity and grace in a mechanized monoculture by embracing the in-your-face vulnerability of the bike messenger."

(c) Copyright 2001 by KNS Mare'
Sep 13, 2007 Mary rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I liked the appreciative details about Chicago
and liked learning how the bike-messenger network
works. The interweaving (to me, awkward) of past
personal experiences was a possibly good idea gone
wrong, I thought. Tightened up, it could have been
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He came from a town whose two major industries were hospitals and car racing. His father, a marketing guy for Texaco before the oil scare of the 1970s, had two boys. Travis was the loud one.

Author of A Comedy & A Tragedy: A Memoir of Learning to Read & Write, Ballantine Books, 2015.

Booklist calls it "A starkly unusual and unusually compelling story."
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