Need a package rushed across car-clogged Manhattan? Hand it to Alfred Bobe Jr., a 31-year-old bike messenger from Brooklyn.
He lays claim to the title of America's fastest messenger on a track bike, the type of high-speed vehicle preferred by some messengers, who favor its single fixed gear and lack of brakes.
Bobe is a member of Team Puma, a cycling team consisting of city bike messengers that, since forming last July, has been dominating many of the messenger races held across the US.
"We're taking urban street biking to the track to represent New York and show we have the fastest messengers," said Bobe, who finished first among all track bikers participating in last month's North American Cycle Courier Championships in Portland, Oregon.
According to Bobe, working as a city messenger is the best training for track races, where bikers ride in tight packs.
"Messengers have better instincts and reflexes, and a lot sharper peripheral vision," he said. "If you're not conscious and in the moment at all times, you can die on someone's car door. That's what separates us from regular racers. We have a different inner core and strength because our messenger work is our training.
"We ride wearing a 20-pound lock and a 40-pound bag," he added. "When you finally get to the track and take all that off, you feel explosive, like you have wings or you just took a shot of Red Bull or something."
After work on a recent Thursday, Bobe gathered with five other team members in front of Trackstar, an East First Street bicycle shop that sponsors its own messenger team. The messenger-racers unloaded their heavy chains and large messenger bags. They checked their route sheets from the day's deliveries and traded work stories.
The team was formed by Puma after it sponsored weekly races last year at the refurbished Kissena Park Velodrome, a 400m cycling track in Flushing, Queens, said Kevin Bolger, the team captain and a veteran racer.
Puma officials selected nine cyclists for the team and provided them with expensive racing bikes, uniforms and other apparel.
Puma, the athletic footwear and apparel company, also provides its team members with emergency medical insurance for the track and the street, and picks up the tab for them to race around the country.
Puma's involvement reflects a recent rise in the popularity of track racing, which team members envision becoming as prevalent as skateboarding, in-line skating and snowboarding.
Along with Bobe and Bolger, other team members include Felipe Robayo; Eddie Ortega; Hugo Giron, a master of bike tricks; and Carlos Ramirez, 30, from Brooklyn, who organizes Monster Track, popular races held on bustling Manhattan streets that emphasize messenger skills and only allow track bikes.
Then there is Todd Marszalek, 29, a Polish immigrant who is also a well-known graffiti artist, and Massamba Niang, of Harlem, 22, a handsome Senegalese immigrant with a flashy smile. Charlotte Blythe, 17, is the only woman on the team
Bolger, 33, has worked full time as a courier since 1992 and is known by his nickname, Squid.
He lives in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, with his wife, Amy, a former bike messenger. He works for several courier services and delivers takeout food in Williamsburg for extra money.
"We want people to think more of us than just that guy who ran over their foot," he said. "We also want to improve work conditions, since most messengers are underpaid and get no medical insurance."