Alleycat Bike Racing

By STEPHEN REGENOLD

Wind cools the sweat on my face. Car lights blur in my peripheral vision — a stream of color coursing by. “Clear!” shouts my race partner, an intersection approaching, cars braking to our right. It is 10p.m., a Saturday in August, and I am pedaling eastbound on Franklin Avenue, a busy street in Minneapolis. My legs are spinning. My left hand grips a map, our lone guide through the night.

It’s hour two of the All City Championship Alleycat race, an event that started behind a bike shop in downtown. Alleycat competitions, a form of urban bike racing, demand athleticism alongside street savvy and navigational skill. “You’ve got to be fast, have a good head, and know the city inside and out,” said Jeff Frane, an organizer of the All City event.


Alleycat racers lined up and waiting for the “Go!”; photo by Shawn Jeppesen, www.generationoutdoors.com
(Click for ALLEYCAT BIKE RACING GALLERY)

A general theme in an alleycat race — which are often low-key, underground events — is to mimic the route a commercial bike messenger might take through the city over a single day. Each competitor must find their way to a dozen or more addresses around an urban area.

In most races, competitors get a list of street addresses and landmarks. You create a route ad hoc and set off to ride to each point in any order, filling in clues and getting stamps at manned checkpoints before looping back to the finish.


Riders stream off from the start at the All City race; photo by Shawn Jeppesen, www.generationoutdoors.com
(Click for ALLEYCAT BIKE RACING GALLERY)

A tough alleycat can take hours to complete, with riders zooming through neighborhoods and industrial areas while reading a map. You bike in traffic. You look for clues.

Routes during the All City race, a night event in August, snaked more than 30 miles through Minneapolis and St. Paul. “This race is designed to see who’s the best in the city,” Frane said of the event, which has been held annually for four years.

Around the country, a couple hundred alleycat races are organized each year, according to Brad Quartuccio, editor of Urban Velo, a Pittsburgh-based magazine that covers city biking. He said alleycat racing started as a “messenger-only thing” but now the number of messengers or couriers in each event is dwarfed by “commuters, bike nerds, racers, ex-couriers, and people just looking for a good time.”


Waiting to ride with manifest clue sheet in hand; photo by Shawn Jeppesen, www.generationoutdoors.com
(Click for ALLEYCAT BIKE RACING GALLERY)

New York, Toronto, Seattle, Chicago, LA, and San Francisco are alleycat hotspots. But Quartuccio said that Minneapolis, with its strong cycling community, is a top city for the activity as well. Indeed, the Stupor Bowl, a winter race in Minneapolis, attracts hundreds of riders. It is in the running as the biggest alleycat in the world.

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Posted by Dan - 10/14/2009 02:40 PM

It is this type of riding that give cyclists a bad name. It is also incredibly unsafe. Just ask the family of Matt Manger-Lynch.

Posted by Victor - 10/14/2009 09:45 PM

Awesome, I have seen a couple of these on youtube and managed to catch a glimpse of one during my visit to NY. Wonder when they will, if they haven’t already, have one in DC.

Posted by irie_i_1 - 10/15/2009 06:03 AM

Dan, It’s not the event that gives cyclist’s a bad name, but unskilled individuals. Roadies can equally piss people off out in the country too. That's why the organizer in the story above said “I urge you to obey all traffic laws and ride responsibly. Your actions are your own.” If drivers can’t handle sharing the road then that’s not the cyclist’s fault. Bicycles have a right to be wherever they want no matter what their objective is, as long as they follow the law. All cycling can be dangerous.

Posted by What? - 11/01/2009 07:33 PM

Laws are for motors. my risk is my own. Fuck worried bitches who break too much.

Posted by Stephen Bullard - 12/01/2009 09:06 AM

Based on this article, I decided to give Alleycat racing a try….saw a posting on http://www.mplsbikelove.com and off I go… pulled up to Gold Medal Park and the guy that gave me the instructions was smoking a cigarette…..the rest of the group was a scrubby bunch but it didn’t come as a surprise…this is an alternative subset of the bike scene. single speeders with a punk sensibility where riding in your jeans and sweater and scarf is the norm…..hey, I am game…and despite the fact I am obviously old enough to father some of them what they don’t know is that I was special guest of the Sex Pistols in their US debut in Atlanta in 1978 and saw The Clash, Ramones and Talking Heads live in the late 70’s but I digress…..

The event is 4 checkpoints…and all you get is the addresses…..no map,….gee we are just suppose to know the city and where things are and how to get there….we are suppose to go to the Seward co-op, A place called United Noodles, The Wedge Coop, and the Whole Foods on Excelsior, buy something and return the receipts for proof and return… you go to Seward first and then any order.

We get the go signal and I learn something very quickly… the guys in the hoodies and camo pants with tube socks can ride! Sure they are likely on a more road oriented bike than my mt bike but apparently biking around as your main source of transport gets you in pretty good shape despite pre hydrating with Pabst. I watch a group of 6 including a girl in a fairy type dress pull away but I keep them in sight enough to follow to Seward Coop that I thought I knew where it was but was not absolutely sure.

The 2nd stop I overshoot but double back after a 8 minute mistake only to find a group casually biking down an alley to United Noodles, which is not actually on the street its address lists, has a pitiful sign, and doesn’t look like a food store….apparently the girl in the skinny jeans and leather boots knew better.

Off I go to the Wedge co-op realizing I should have just taken the Greenway instead of cross streets because I got kicked out to it anyway. Biking hard I end up at the Wedge to make my purchase only to see the group I left for dead at the last place ahead of me at line… nice.

OK, its off to the Whole Foods via the Greenway and then home by the Cedar Lake Trail…biking hard I am sure I have left the crowd behind…I pull up to Gold Medal park so see 12 – 14 bikes….really?….how did that happen?…….and to be honest, I still don’t know…

But I did get a great workout….got in some hard and edgy biking whipping through the city…and learned that I found another group of people that, despite their looks, can hand my ass to me….good times.

Posted by Tyler Chard - 01/14/2011 02:43 AM

This totally looks like somthing i could get into but i have a question. Now i really love to do Tech DH long boarding but i tend to get alot of static from the cops and residents of the town i live in although technically nothing i am doing is illigal. I would be willing to bet money that if i did the same stuff on a bike i wouldnt get nearly as much static. Dose any one have any idea why this might be. apart from the whole stereo typeing thing of corse

Posted by MESSY - 08/21/2012 10:20 AM

Dearest Dan,

(**ORIGINALLY) Alleycats were events thrown for messengers, by messengers.

Participants are likely to ride like messengers.

And yeah, I’m a messenger.

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