According to "Urban Flow: Bike Messengers and the City" by Jeffrey L. Kidder, if you are a regular person that rides a bike and does not own a shred of spandex, alley cat bike races are your kind of sports championship.
A fact that cyclists are fully aware of is that there are two types of bike riders. There are the athletes warming up for biking events like the Olympics and the Tour de France -- and then there is everyone else. This reality quickly falls into focus when you try to get your bike fixed at a bike shop. Either you can get your bike fixed anywhere in the city, or, your bike is too expensive to be fixed anywhere.
Although there is some rivalry between weekend cyclists with bikes that cost thousands of dollars and the worker that uses their $100 beater for economic reasons, alley cat bike races are only for the informal riders. For bike commuters who know they are king of the bike lane, there are over 10 cities in 2012 that designate a reigning alley cat bike racing champion annually.
Alley cat bike races begin with couriers
In 2005, I was a messenger in Louisville, Kentucky at the Bike Depot. It was there that I learned from other bike messengers, like Joe Barlund and Thalon Hubbell, about the proud tradition of courier based races. While there may be many "firsts" for bike courier alley cat races, there is no primary originator on record. The Toronto based MessArchives.com explains the history of messenger racing by referencing bikers involved in the early telegraph delivery era.
What to expect from alley cat bike races
In addition to historic confusion, alley cat races are also difficult to describe to newcomers. For instance, "Subcultural Theory: Traditions and Concepts" by J. Patrick Williams says, "Unlike other forms of bicycle racing, alleycats do not have set routes for the competitors to travel. ... As soon as an alleycat starts, chaos ensues (just search YouTube for any number of DIY alleycat race videos to see what I mean)."
If you are curious about what to expect, consult Digave.com. There, Lucas Brunelle has uploaded personal video footage of alley cat bike races worldwide. You can also check online for videos of last year's race in your city.
Where to find local alley cat races
You can spend time online feeling frustrated while looking for alley cat bike races in your city or town. The main point to remember is that this is an informal event and that social media may fail you in this case. Instead, you can stay updated on any alley cat bike race news in your bike community through locally owned bike shops.
2012 alley cat championshipsUnfortunately, many alley cat bike races have already taken place this year. However, a pattern emerges that enthusiasts should note. After searching online, it is clear that most bike races of this nature do not happen during the hottest months of the year. As it appears; spring, fall, and winter dominate as the best times for alley cat races. This makes perfect sense to me since I quit working as a bike courier due to the sweltering July heat.
While Minneapolis' frostbite-inducing Stupor Bowl Race has passed, you can still expect annual alley cat races this spring from Philadelphia to Greensboro. Regardless, some cities, like Seattle, seem to have an alley cat bike race once a month.
Do not become fixated on the fixed gear
When you see some of the alley cat bike races, like San Jose's, focused on a fixed gear bike, it is easy to feel that this is another clique-oriented spandex situation. In fact, as long as you are an informal bike rider, it is worth it to show up to most fixed gear races and ask to ride anyway. After all, most of these alley cat bike races are fundraisers.
Finally, do not be nervous because you are a slow rider or your $60 mountain bike looks shabby and unfashionable. Feel assured that you will be welcomed and encouraged since the alley cat traditions favor the jury-rigger -- and there is always a DFL award for last place.
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Maryam Louise is life-long participant of summer sports and recreation through her experiences living next to Lake Barkley on Land Between the Lakes in Western Kentucky. In her lifetime, she has also traveled to many of the world's nature reserves and parks in Iran, Switzerland, Yemen, Mexico, France, Germany, Canada, and the United States.
- Sports & Recreation