Race Report: All-City Alleycat 2011

Downtown Minneapolis, on a perfectly pleasant summer evening, bicyclists of every stripe gathered to participate in the annual All-City Championship Alleycat — an urban race sponsored by All-City Cycles. Fixies, full-suspension mountain bikes, and everything in between were leaned against a wall or lying on the ground, waiting for the Le Mans-style start. At the “GO” a stampede of backpack and messenger-bag-wearing riders bolted for their machines.

Alleycat racing is among the more informal styles of bike racing. Patterned after a bike messenger’s daily routine, the course is a crisscross blitz around a city involving making “pick-ups” and “drops” at specified checkpoints.

Racers get a “manifest” sheet with clues. It is stamped at each checkpoint by volunteers with the race. Get your manifest stamped and get to the finish location first and you win — that’s the simple premise. But the race, involving map reading and navigation skill, as well as riding in traffic for miles through the evening and night, is by no means easy. Good knowledge of the city or quick work with a map, are requisite to be competitive in this racing genre.

GearJunkie’s John Peacock does some last-minute route checking with a smartphone (above); box of manifest documents contain clues and checkpoint descriptions for the race

This year four members of the GearJunkie staff turned out to roll the streets and test their mettle against professional bike messengers, amateur racers and non-lycra-wearing bike enthusiasts. Any good bike kharma I had built up was all burned this past weekend as I rolled intersections, split through lanes of stand-still traffic, and hopped sidewalks when the need arose. Forgive me, but a race through a bustling city on a Saturday night is full of guerrilla riding tactics, there is no other way.

And they’re off! Le Mans-style start to the race

With an imperfect route and a few minor mistakes, I was not in contention for a win, but I still had a total blast. At one point, in a bind with a flat tire and no replacement tube, I had to be resourceful and use a freebie graphic sticker for a patch. It held for over an hour, just long enough to finish the race!

After almost three hours of riding, my small group made it to the finish point and after-party location for the race, a local custom bicycle frame building shop, Peacock Groove Cycles. Kegs of beer, swag, and high-fives were waiting for each rider as they completed the course and rolled to the finish. Winner Randall Dietel completed the course with a total distance of about 30 miles. With a few route mistakes, I figure my crew put in more like 35 miles during the race.

Peacock Groove Cycles shop filling up with partygoers

As darkness fell, the after-party gathered steam. Blinky lights flooded in from all directions in the darkness. For 100+ tired-legged, endorphin-charged cyclists, this was the only place to be on a perfect Minneapolis summer night.

—Story by T.C. Worley; photos courtesy of Jeff Frane/BikeJerks.com.