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Alleycat races as we know them today have been running since the mid-1980’s, when bike messengers in Toronto were organising after-work races that mimicked the working day, picking up and dropping off packages at various locations around the city. In 1989, the annual Toronto Halloween race was called the ‘Alleycat Scramble’ which led to the coining of the word 'alleycat' to describe these races.
At the first ever cycle Messenger World Championships in Berlin in 1993, Toronto messengers brought footage and tales of these races, and the idea caught on like wildfire; soon messengers in cities across the globe were organising alleycat races and before long the idea spread beyond the messenger community, with riders from all walks of life competing in similar races.
While there are no set rules to alleycat racing, there are a few defining features that set them apart from other bike races. The races are unsanctioned and take place in live traffic, no permits, no regulation. The races involve checkpoints and usually a manifest of some sort. You may or may not know all the checkpoints in advance, and it’s up to you to decide the quickest route between checkpoints. All types of bike race together; despite the ubiquity of track bikes all bikes are welcome (there is one notable exception which we’ll mention later on) and race on an even playing field; track bikes, road bikes, mtb’s, choose your weapon.
Here’s a list of some of our all-time favourite alleycat races, including a local favourite.
This was one of the first alleycat videos I ever saw. Shot in NYC in 2004 it features some insane riding and great filming from the now-legendary Lucas Brunelle (who will be featured more than once in this post). This video set the standard for a lot of alleycats to follow.
The Global Gutz alleycat is an attempt to bring the global messenger community together as they race simultaneously in their home-towns. The organisers in each participating city must design the fastest course that is exactly 21km long, including 5 checkpoints. There are generally 2 allowed start times to accommodate the massively differing time zones of all the different cities involved. The top male and female time globally win tickets and entry to that year’s Cycle Messenger World Championships.
You can also check if your local city is registered for this year’s race.
Cranksgiving began in New York in 1999 and now running annually in around 50 locations in the USA. Cranksgiving is part alleycat, part charity ride that takes place on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. Riders must complete a manifest as in other alleycat races, but the checkpoints are grocery stores and they must buy various food items which are then donated to local homeless charities.
The event has raised thousands of dollars and fed hundreds of people in need over the years and shows a more positive side to messenger racing than is more often portrayed. Check out the Cranksgiving website and see if your local town is hosting a race this year. If not, why not host one yourself!
MonsterTrack is the big daddy of modern alleycat racing and the most infamous to boot. A hardcore 3 hour + race through the boroughs of New York City that can only be raced on brakeless fixed gear bikes. Running annually for 16 years, Monster Track has created many messenger legends and inspired some of the most recognisable artwork by NYC messenger Greg Ugalde
The Warriors ‘Fun Ride’ took place in NYC in 2002. Based around the seminal 1979 movie the race encouraged teams of racers to gather into gangs, with proper gang names and outfits. Beginning at sundown in The Bronx, the race ran through the night to finish at Coney Island the next morning. Along the way the gangs had to complete tasks, take subway rides and outwit rival gang ‘The Rogues’ who were stalking racers, eliminating riders and recruiting them to their gang. Just under 600 people competed in the race which has it firmly placed as the most legendary alleycat race to date.
Here's a documentary tracking the race through the night:
You can also still visit the original Warriors website.
London's Calling is an annual event to help raise money for the London Courier Emergency Fund. Known for great parties and savage racing, Lucas Brunelle captured a seriously hardcore race in 2006. Not the greatest quality, but one of the best videos out there.
The St. Patrick's Day Massacre is an annual invitational held over the St. Patrick's weekend here in Dublin, with the first event taking place in 2002. While the event takes place over the weekend, there is one stand-out race, the out-of-towners race, also known as The Mel Gibson Logistical Challenge Cup (for reasons I can't quite fathom). This is a race that can only be won by a visitor to the city; locals can race, but can't win.
It's one of the most dangerous routes in Dublin, a straight run up the South quay, and straight back down the North quay, fairly straightforward as nobody can get lost, but crossing some of the busiest junctions in the city.
There's no footage existing of this race, but you can get a bit of the flavour with this video of another infamous Dublin alleycat, Shiver Me Sprockets, that took in parts of the course.
H/T to Mess Media for some of the fine detail.
Featured image borrowed from Lucas Brunelle's awesome Line Of Sight dvd.