An Alley Cat race
is an informal bicycle race
Bicycle racing is a competition sport in which various types of bicycles are used. There are several categories of bicycle racing including road bicycle racing, cyclo-cross, mountain bike racing, track cycling, BMX, bike trials, and cycle speedway. Bicycle racing is recognised as an Olympic sport...
. Alley Cats almost always take place in cities, and are often organized by bicycle messenger
Bicycle messengers are people who work for courier companies carrying and delivering items by bicycle. Bicycle messengers are most often found in the central business districts of metropolitan areas...
s. 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 "Alley Cat" was held in Toronto on October 30, 1989 and continued, in its original form, around Halloween and Valentine's Day for the following five years. In 1993, when Toronto messengers shared Alleycat stories at the first international messenger race (C.M.W.C Berlin), the name and the concept spread far and wide. 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.
Alley Cats 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, wearing messenger bags, utility based fashion and a youth oriented DIY culture. Many non-couriers have taken to organizing races and calling them Alleycats. Organizers in large urban areas are usually former messengers or part of a larger community while Alleycats in smaller cities and even suburban areas are organized and run by people who may never have worked as a bike messenger or developed the associated street and traffic handling skills. While there is no official definition of an Alleycat, some messengers feel that Alleycats are a part of a culture that they would like to retain as being uniquely theirs. The races are highly creative and often themed with issues important to messengers or messenger communities such as NYC's 4/20:Hip to be Square, the Global Warming Alleycat held on the same day in Toronto, San Francisco, Mexico City, Berlin, and NYC and Baltimore's GhettoBlaster.
Alleycats have occurred regularly in major cities all over the world and have expanded to smaller cities and towns over the last few years. As a result of the potentially dangerous nature of the sport as well as widely varying local laws an alleycat is almost never a fully legal endeavor.
In the United Kingdom, organised cycle racing on public roads cannot take place without the authority of the police and the relevant sporting organisation. However treasure hunts and time trials are legal.
Otherwise, organizers attempt to put issues of legality in the hands of racers. The decision to break any laws is left to the individual.
On February 24, 2008, while participating in the 'Tour Da Chicago', a winter alleycat series, Matt Manger-Lynch was killed by a collision with a car. Eyewitnesses reported that Mr. Manger-Lynch had failed to stop for a red light. His death prompted a considerable amount of indistinct chatter on Fox, and led to at least one feature on alleycats on the local news.