A master of city traffic and mountain trails

Bicycle messenger, racer David Duvall gets a rush from a good, hard ride

Health & Fitness

Fitness Profile

August 08, 2004|By Tom Dunkel | Tom Dunkel,Sun Staff

Every day brings the relentless drumbeat of pressure. To move faster. To pull off another miracle. "I feel like I have no control over my life," says David Duvall. "Sometimes I feel like it's so intense I can't stand it."

He must be a world-famous brain surgeon.

No.

Gotta be the commander of some counterterrorism SWAT team.

Not quite.

David Duvall is a professional bicycle messenger, and perhaps the best Baltimore has seen.

"He's like a Greek god," says Gary Boukis, owner of Magic Messenger, the company where Duvall -- 6-foot-5, 205 pounds, with the physique of an Olympic decathlon champion -- has spent 16 years delivering rush packages.

What's the fastest way to get from downtown Baltimore to Towson? It's not light rail, says Doug Shanahan, a dispatcher at Magic Messenger. It's not by car, he adds. Nothing beats Duvall pedaling his bike. He can make it from the Inner Harbor to the center of Towson in 25 minutes flat. With headwinds.

"I've sort of gotten a reputation for being the hard rider and the distance guy," says Duvall, who knows every alley shortcut to take and every potholed street to avoid. "I probably don't live up to my reputation."

Oh, by the way, he's also perhaps the most modest professional bicycle messenger Baltimore has ever seen.

A 36-year-old man is supposed to be settled into a respectable career. He should have a wife and 401k retirement plan. He should own a nice home, a nice car and a nifty snow blower. He should be established.

Duvall lives rent-free in the basement apartment of a friend's house in Hampden. He drives a Buick station wagon with 185,000 miles on the odometer. The love of his life is his Belgian sheepdog, Ahri. He doesn't lose sleep over his investments because bicycle messengers have no pension and no benefits, and must crank like crazy to make $500 a week.

Roger Bird met Duvall 15 years ago, back when Bird was a mechanic at Mt. Washington Bike Shop. He now lives in Wisconsin and has a wife and house and a respectable job as Eastern regional sales manager for Trek Bicycle Co., which co-sponsors the semipro mountain bike team Duvall races with in his spare time. Last weekend alone, Duvall won a pair of races: On Friday, a 30-mile National Off-Road Bicycle Association cross-country event in Sandpoint, Idaho; on Sunday, the 18-mile Iron Hill Challenge in Newark, Del.

"David just seems to be one of those people who doesn't care about the money, the success and what other people think about him," says Bird. "As long as I've known him, he's never had a girlfriend or any job other than bike messenger."

"I wouldn't call him a slacker," says John Posner, who currently serves Duvall's mechanical needs at Mt. Washington Bike Shop. "I'd call him happy where he is."

If you have to ask what makes David Duvall tick, you probably live your life by a conventional clock. Cycling, like a fringe-party presidential campaign, attracts more than its share of iconoclasts and free spirits. For Duvall, bicycle messengering is a lifestyle. It's fitness trumping materialism.

It's, well, fun.

He claims to have never had a bad ride. No matter how rotten the weather or how rough the roads, two spinning wheels always grind his cares away: "Once you're on your bike, it's just you, your bike and the wind."

Rich in bicycles

Duvall didn't cycle much in his youth. He grew up in Rodgers Forge and attended St. Mary's School, where he ran track and played tennis without particular distinction. His twin brother, Lindsay, was a stellar distance runner who earned a track scholarship to the University of Maryland, College Park. David became an English major at Towson University.

College life didn't appeal to either Duvall, and they dropped out after their sophomore year. There was no Plan B. One day, Lindsay spotted a Magic Messenger ad in the paper and both walked in and applied.

"I didn't even have a good sense of the city," David recalls. "I was a sheltered, suburbanite kid."

Lindsay worked at Magic Messenger a few years, then moved to Seattle, married and settled into the construction business. David kept on pedaling, eventually taking the plunge into mountain-bike racing.

He doesn't make much money on or off the job, but he's bicycle-rich. There are five parked in his apartment, all freebies from Trek. The carbon-fiber racers are worth about $3,500 apiece, but Duvall's workhorse model is nothing special.

He hammers around town on an aluminum-framed Trek 8000 mountain bike equipped with plastic fenders and rear rack. Reliable transportation. The only custom touch is an extra-large chain ring that has 56 teeth as opposed to the standard 53.

"I've never heard of anybody riding close to that size of chain ring," says bike mechanic Posner. "He's a diesel. Once he gets up to speed, good luck catching up to him."

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