What is an Alleycat Race? Unraveling the Urban Cycling Phenomenon

Unearth the thrill of urban cycling with alleycat races. Learn about this underground sport, from checkpoints to gear, and join the adventure.

Ever found yourself in a swarm of bikes, stacked haphazardly against dumpsters and brick walls, caught in a swelling crowd of high-fives and nervous laughter? Imagine then, someone bellowing, “Manifests are ready, come get ’em!” You just stumbled upon an alleycat race. If you’re unfamiliar with this underground phenomenon, buckle up and get ready to explore the untamed spirit of alleycat racing, where cats roam free and the streets become their playground!

What is an alleycat race? It’s an unsanctioned street race, originally created by bike messengers to emulate a typical delivery day’s route. It’s a thrilling and nerve-wracking adventure, blending navigation skills with raw speed across a metropolitan area.

What makes an alleycat race unique?

An alleycat race isn’t just any race. It’s a whole different beast, and I’ll tell you why. Picture this: you’re not just racing against others; you’re up against city traffic, stoplights, potholes, pedestrians, and even car exhaust. Sounds a bit like the Tour de France meets Fast and Furious, doesn’t it?

Man riding a bike on the street. Source: unsplash
Man riding a bike on the street. Source: unsplash

What makes these races so unique and, honestly, quite exciting are the checkpoints scattered across the city. These checkpoints mimic the routine a bike messenger might face in a day. Alleycat riders have to find their way to these various spots before crossing the finish line.

How many checkpoints are there in a race?

Most alleycats have over ten checkpoint stops. Think city landmarks, plaques, or even a person sitting inside a bar with a stamp. The checkpoints are integral to the race. They represent the challenge of finding locations in a bustling city, not just speed.

Remember when Frodo had to find his way to Mordor in The Lord of the Rings? Well, the challenge isn’t as daunting, but it does require some strategy!

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State Bicycle Co. Black Label 6061

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My favorite bike (at the moment):

State Bicycle Co. Black Label 6061

This is my daily ride, my trusty Black Label It’s lightweight and beautifully crafted. It looks like a beast and rides like one too. I upgraded the saddle, but everything else is pretty much as it was out of the box. I highly recommend it.

Who participates in these races?

Alleycat races are truly for everyone. They’ve long attracted working couriers and fixed-gear nuts but also a surge of new riders. We’re talking serious roadies looking to win to casual cyclists who just come for the good vibes.

In Minneapolis, underground races are held every few weeks. The energy is always electric, with hundreds of bikes stacked against dumpsters and brick walls, a palpable sense of excitement in the air.

One series, called No Name, hosts races on the first Sunday night of each month. Here’s my recommendation: get involved! You put $5 in a pot to race; the winner takes the cash but usually buys beers at the end for the pack (and must organize the next month’s race).

Are there big alleycat events?

Yes, and they’re a blast! Despite a few large races each year in the U.S., there is no sanctioning body for this “sport.” Each race is unique, and the rules and event formats can vary. That’s the charm of alleycats: no two races are alike. Plus, the thrill and the challenge of an alleycat race is akin to the thrill of riding a fixie. It’s raw and simple, and it’s about the rider and the machine against the world.

What’s the lingo like in alleycat racing?

Every culture has its own language, and alleycat racing is no exception. You’ll need to talk the talk if you want to roll with the best of ’em. For instance, do you know what a “manifest” is in an alleycat race? Well, it’s your treasure map, your guide. It’s a paper clue sheet with addresses or directions to the race’s mandatory checkpoints.

And speaking of checkpoints, here are a few more terms you should know:

  • Stamp: An inked stamp or signed initials on your race manifest from an event volunteer at a checkpoint.
  • Spoke Card: This is your race number. Often a laminated index-size card with a race logo and “bib” number.
  • Checkpoint/Stop: These are often city landmarks, signs, plaques, or a person sitting inside a restaurant or bar with a stamp.
  • Skitching: This is when you grab a moving vehicle while riding for a tow. It’s like Marty McFly grabbing a ride from a car on his skateboard in Back to the Future! But beware, it’s illegal and not recommended.

What should you bring to an alleycat race?

Don’t just show up to an alleycat race empty-handed. Be prepared, because being prepared means being ready to win! Here are some essentials that you need for a race:

  • Map: Your phone can work, but a physical map could come in handy.
  • Marker or Pen: To write down clues and draw routes.
  • Cash: Entry fees are nominal, but keep some extra for emergencies.
  • Map Bag: A waterproof bag for your maps and manifests.
  • Water and Food: Stay hydrated and energized!

Here are some dos and don’ts that you can take note of when joining an alleycat race:

Do get to know the local bike communityDon’t skimp on hydration
Do come prepared with a map and penDon’t forget to respect the traffic laws
Do join the race for the fun of itDon’t take unnecessary risks like ‘skitching’
Dos and don’ts of joining an alleycat race

What are the major alleycat events?

Now that we’ve got the basics covered, let’s dive into some of the big-ticket alleycat races out there. These are the Super Bowl, the Olympics, the WrestleMania of alleycat racing, and you definitely don’t want to miss out on them!

1. Monster Track

Held annually in New York City since 2000, Monster Track is one of the oldest and most renowned alleycat races. It is known for its challenging fixed-gear criterium-style course and attracts participants from around the world.

2. Red Hook Criterium

Although not a traditional alleycat race, the Red Hook Criterium is an urban fixed-gear bike race held in various cities worldwide. It features a closed-circuit course, attracting professional and amateur cyclists alike.

3. North American Cycle Courier Championships (NACCC)

The NACCC is an annual event that brings together cycle couriers from across North America. While it includes various competitions and events, the alleycat race is a prominent feature of the championship.

Alleycat racing is a perfect place to show off your one-gear wonders, navigating the city streets with skill and speed.

4. Cycle Messenger World Championships (CMWC)

The CMWC is an international event that gathers bicycle messengers from around the world. The event features a range of competitions, including alleycat races, to determine the world’s fastest messengers.

5. Rad Race Last Man Standing

Organized by Rad Race, Last Man Standing is a unique alleycat race held in different European cities. The format involves elimination rounds where the slowest riders are removed until the last participant remains.

6. Bicycle Film Festival (BFF) Street Sprints

The BFF is an annual celebration of cycling culture that takes place in numerous cities worldwide. Alongside film screenings, it often includes street sprints, which are short-distance sprint races designed to showcase speed and agility.

The beauty of these races and the alleycat community is that they’re open to everyone, including our fixed-gear fanatics. Alleycat racing is a perfect place to show off your one-gear wonders, navigating the city streets with skill and speed.

Man on a bike in the streets of new york. Source: unsplash
Man on a bike in the streets of new york. Source: unsplash

Advantages and disadvantages of alleycat racing

Alleycat races, popular in urban settings, bring together cyclists for thrilling and competitive events. Like any activity, these races have their own set of advantages and disadvantages worth considering. Let’s explore both sides to help you gain a better understanding.

Advantages of alleycat racing

Alleycat races offer several advantages that contribute to their appeal:

  • Thrilling Experience: Alleycat races provide an exhilarating experience for participants, blending the excitement of cycling with the challenge of navigating through city streets.
  • Community Building: These races foster a sense of community among cyclists, allowing them to connect, share their passion, and build lasting relationships with like-minded individuals.
  • Fitness and Health: Engaging in alleycat races promotes physical fitness, as it involves cycling over varying terrains and distances, which can contribute to improved cardiovascular health, endurance, and overall well-being.
  • Skill Development: Participating in alleycat races hones cycling skills, such as handling the bike in urban environments, quick decision-making, and adapting to changing road conditions.
  • Exploration: Riders get the opportunity to explore their city or neighborhood in a unique way, discovering new routes and experiencing familiar surroundings from a fresh perspective.
  • Accessible: Alleycat races are often open to cyclists of different skill levels, making them inclusive and accessible to a wide range of individuals interested in participating.

Disadvantages of alleycat racing

While alleycat races have their merits, it’s essential to consider the potential downsides:

  • Safety Risks: Racing through busy city streets increases the risk of accidents as participants navigate traffic, pedestrians, and various obstacles, potentially leading to injuries for both riders and others in the vicinity.
  • Traffic Law Concerns: Alleycat races often involve disregarding traffic laws, such as running red lights or riding against traffic, which can create hazardous situations and pose legal consequences.
  • Inexperienced Participants: Novice cyclists may lack the necessary skills and experience to handle the challenges of alleycat races, potentially putting themselves and others at risk.
  • Limited Organization: Compared to organized races, alleycat events may have less structured planning, resulting in potential logistical issues or unclear rules that could impact the overall race experience.
  • Exclusivity: In some cases, alleycat races may have a more exclusive atmosphere, focusing on a particular cycling subculture, which might not appeal to everyone or make newcomers feel welcome.
  • Public Perception: Some people may view alleycat races negatively, perceiving them as disruptive or dangerous, potentially affecting the reputation of both the event and the cycling community as a whole.

By weighing the advantages and disadvantages of alleycat races, you can make an informed decision about whether to participate and ensure you are well-prepared for the challenges they entail. Remember, safety should always be a top priority, both for yourself and those around you.

Now, if you want even more great tips and information, check out the video.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

Do you still have questions about what an alleycat race is? Below are some of the most commonly asked questions.

Can I participate in an alleycat race if I’m new to cycling?

Absolutely! Alleycat races are friendly events that welcome anyone on two wheels. Remember, the point isn’t just to win but to experience the thrill and camaraderie of urban biking. If you’re new, just make sure you know what you’re getting into and always prioritize safety.

Are there any special rules in an alleycat race?

The fun part about alleycat races is that rules and event formats can vary from race to race. However, there’s always a “manifest” with addresses or directions to the race’s mandatory checkpoints. You’ll need to obtain stamps or write in clues at these stops to prove you were there.

Do I need a specific type of bike for an alleycat race?

While some alleycat races require racers to ride fixed-gear bikes, most are open to anything with two wheels and a chain. This includes mountain bikes and even clunky commuters. It’s best to check the race rules or ask around the local bike community.


Well, folks, we’ve pedaled our way to the end of this ride! I hope this post didn’t “tire” you out too much. (Okay, I promise no more bike puns.)

Did I cover everything you wanted to know? Let me know in the comments section below. I read and reply to every comment. If you found this article helpful, share it with a friend, and check out my full blog for more tips and tricks on alleycat races and fixed-gear biking. Thanks for reading, and keep those wheels spinning!

Key takeaways

This article covered what an alleycat race is. Here are some key takeaways:

  • Alleycat races are unsanctioned street races that originated with bike messengers.
  • These races involve navigating a city to a series of checkpoint stops.
  • Fixed-gear bikes are common in these races due to their simplicity and control.
  • You can participate regardless of your biking experience level, but safety should always be a priority.
  • The community aspect and thrill of the race are often more important than winning.
  • Rules can vary from race to race, so be sure to check the rules or ask around.

Helpful resources

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Written by Bradley Knight, Staff Writer

Hey there! My name is Bradley, and I've been riding fixed for years. I love all the joy and pain that comes with this unique style of cycling and the passionate community that drives it. If you love fixed-gear bikes, this is the place for you.

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Edited by Nick Eggert, Staff Editor

Nick is our staff editor and co-founder. He has a passion for writing, editing, and website development. His expertise lies in shaping content with precision and managing digital spaces with a keen eye for detail.

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