ALLEY CAT RACES
The popularity of urban cycling has inspired a new breed of rogue bike racing known as alleycats. These informal races were originally organized and inspired by bike couriers, who spend their days dodging traffic and forging routes through major metropolitan areas. The original alleycats were a way to determine the “best of the best” in the messenger ranks.
Traditionally the domain of working messengers and fixed-gear junkies, today you are likely to find casual cruiser bike riders and competitive road racers among the ranks, too. The reasons for racing are as varied as the riders.
Alleycat races combine navigation skills with speed. The races are designed to mimic the daily routine of bike messengers, so participants find themselves contending with traffic, pedestrians, stoplights and potholes throughout the race.
To compete in an alleycat, riders show up at a predetermined time and receive a copy of the race route, usually called a “manifest.” Sometimes the course is specific, other times it can be a simple start and stop point, with racers free to decide how best to get to the finish line. Formats vary, but many alleycats include checkpoints along the way. Sometimes there are challenges to complete at each checkpoint. The winner is the first one to complete the course.
These events are non-sanctioned and the rules vary from event to event. Not quite a free-for-all, alleycats are appreciated as much for their independent nature as for the festive atmosphere both during and after the event. Most alleycats focus on fun and camaraderie among riders, with a healthy dose of competitive spirit thrown in for good measure. There is invariably a good party held afterwards.
While alleycats can be a good time, there are some risks involved. Since you’re riding on city streets among cars and people, it can be easy to forget the rules of the road in your quest to finish the race. Always remember that is dangerous to ride in traffic. In 2008, a rider was killed in a Chicago alleycat when he ran a red light and was struck by a car.
If you want to give an alleycat race a shot, it is best to get to know your local bike community. Since alleycats are a bit rogue in nature, you’re not likely to find a schedule of races anyplace online. To get involved, talk to the guys at your local bike shop and get ready to join the fun. Alleycats can be a great time, just remember to balance your quest for victory with a healthy dose of rider safety when you’re on the road.