Alleycat races

alleycat

alleycat

An Alleycat race is an informal bicycle race. Alleycats almost always take place in cities, and are often organized by bicycle messengers. The informality of the organization is matched by the emphasis on taking part, rather than simple competition. Many Alleycats present prizes for the last competitor to finish (sometimes known as Dead Friggin’ Last or DFL).

The first race to be called ‘Alleycat’ was held in Toronto in 1989. Regularly organized Alleycats can be found in cities across North America, Europe and Asia. Many smaller cities with no cycle messenger population are also home to alleycats run by the burgeoning urban cyclist subculture.

Alleycats reflect the personality, contemporary environment and level of competition based on the organizer(s). Races may be less competitive and designed to be enjoyed by the local messenger community around set holidays, such as NYC’s July 4 Alleycat, or they may be extremely grueling and designed to eliminate all but the fastest and best overall messenger.

Rules vary, but include:

Checkpoints – The first checkpoint is given at the start of the race, and on arrival the next checkpoint is revealed to the racer. These work in much the same way a messenger would be assigned deliveries over the course of a day. The route to a checkpoint is left up to the rider and showcases a messenger’s knowledge of the area.

Task Checkpoints – In some races upon arriving at a checkpoint the rider may have to perform a task or trick before being given the next location. This allows organizers to be as creative as they desire. Task checkpoints can involve physical tasks, such as climbing stairs, taking a shot of alcohol or hot sauce, performing a skillful trick, or can test the racer’s mind, such as reciting trivia or messenger related knowledge. Often there is not a task at all of the checkpoints in a race and tasks/checkpoints can sometimes be skipped (potentially at a loss of points) if a rider feels that time to complete a task is not worth the points they would earn.

Checkpoints Up Front – A common format is for organizers to give the checkpoints/manifest 5–30 minutes before the start of the race. This allows the rider to choose the best route between stops.

Point Collection – Some races use a scavenger hunt style race where each stop is worth a certain number of points. These are often races of the Checkpoints Up Front variety and a rider may decide to not stop at some checkpoints valuing an earlier completion time over the points a particular stop may earn them.

Riders do not wear conventional race numbers; instead, ‘spoke cards,’ originally Tarot cards but now often specially printed for the event, have the rider’s race number added with a marker pen and are then wedged between the spokes of the rear wheel. Spoke cards are often kept on the wheel by riders as a souvenir, leading to an accumulation of them over time.

In the last 2 to 5 years there has been an increase in the popularity of certain characteristics stereotypically associated with some cycle messengers in some areas, exemplified in some cases by riding fixed gear bicycles and wearing messenger bags.

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