The tattooed, soft-spoken, Olympia beer drinking cyclist Patrick Sweeney rode bikes on the mean streets of Minneapolis, San Francisco and the Treasure Valley long before the fixed-gear craze took off. He rode cross-country from California to upstate New York. He helps organize "alley cat races" for bike enthusiasts in town, rides a bike to, from and for work, and his hobby was born of his travels. After moving from California to Boise six years ago his family now epitomizes the car-free lifestyle. Sweeney only put 200 miles on his car last year, and the almost 40-year-old father is nursing a healthy love of biking in his young son.
As the owner and operator of Northstar Courier Inc., a bike messenger service, Sweeney delivers legal filings, documents and papers--including Boise Weekly--to all areas of Boise. And he always has his camera on him, ready to capture the perfect Boise street scene.
What's the "alley cat" race scene like here?
They usually vary between 10 and 20 miles ... the format is pretty loose. They're referred to as "outlaw bike races" because there aren't a whole lot of rules. It's essentially checkpoints you need to get to. You specify the order you think is the fastest, and you just have to do certain tasks at each checkpoint.
A friend of mine, Chris Scuglia, who I founded Northstar with [he's in France now], we hosted what we believe was probably the first formal alley cat in town, which was five years ago this month. That was kind of a promotion to get our business noticed because we were just starting to get out there. We didn't start North Star until August of 2005, so in May, we tried to get out there and generate some interest in the biking community as far as fixed gears and stuff like that ... I don't even think we had a name for that. We started out at Lucky 13 in Hyde Park.
How'd that turn into starting a bike courier business?
I started messengering in San Francisco, I think in '93. Then I moved back to Minneapolis, where I'm from, in '97, and I worked for two and a half years there. I had been here for a little while, and I ran into Chris Scuglia. I knew him from San Francisco; we worked on the streets out there. We just started talking about how it just seemed like it was ripe for the opportunity. Nobody was doing it that we were aware of. I think there had been some guys in the past but it wasn't anything organized. We just jumped in. Fortunately, we had really supportive wives who allowed us to pursue this dream, if you will.
Do you still ride for the company?
It's just myself and my business partner [Warren O'Dell]. We don't have an office; we just operate on cell phones. We do everything, top to bottom. It keeps the overhead low. We try to stay in the center of the downtown quarter so you're available to everyone as fast as you can. We go out by the airport periodically. People have sent us to Nampa before. We ride as far as we need to. So if you were to call in a delivery, I might be sitting downtown at a coffee shop, get the call, hop on the bike and go.
Where does the photography come in?
I've always drawn, done cartoons, sketches and stuff, since I was a little kid. I wanted to be involved in fine arts in some capacity. I just got a digital camera a few years ago and started carrying it around with me when I was riding around. I love taking photographs. I shoot my son a lot--he's 1-1/2--so I have the camera around constantly. I just got a pinhole camera, just trying to learn it. I just shoot with whatever, you know. Most of the photography I like online is iPhone stuff that people have shot. That's the most amazing thing to me is the technology has caught up to it. Anybody can do anything, you know. It's cool. It's really opened doors for me.
Have you always had an interest in cycling?
I've always ridden bikes. I rode BMX bikes when I was a little kid and skateboards and stuff growing up. I remember my first couple bikes were all little banana seats, probably rainbow-colored or something. It was back in the '70s you know ...
Why is biking important?
In the business community there's this emphasis toward being green. We have some cargo trailers that we haul the Weekly papers with. Businesses can haul their stuff around, cut some corners and still be a little more environment friendly. I'm all for alternative means of transportation. I can't imagine living in Meridian and having to commute to Boise or vice versa every day. Even if I have to go farther, and it'll take me longer on the bicycle, I'm on my bike, so I'm out in the air, I'm breathing and just lovin' it. Much better than being stuck in traffic. I think Homer Simpson has this scene where he freaks out, and he says "gas, brake, honk, gas, brake, honk, honk, honk, honk!" That shit just kills me. You see that especially out here with people going back and forth to Eagle every day. People are stressed out.