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.
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.
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.”
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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