From Staff Reports
SAN MARCOS – Any given day (or night) there is always something unique and entertaining happening in San Marcos. Around 8:30 p.m. Saturday, in the alley near The Hub, the new bike store on Hopkins Street, and the local t-shirt shop owned by Jody Wood, a group started to gather for the alley cat races.
Wood said,” I had never seen or participated in this but the event had been happening for over two years. The riders were local but several came in from the Austin area. There were over 30 plus in attendance and the races were won by local rider Justin Taylor.”
The Hub Co-Owner, Alex Lincoln added,”I have been in the cycling industry for over 10 years and this event will continue to grow and be a good outlet for the community.” The Hub is holding their open house and party on February 29th from 6-10 p.m. The store handles a specialized line of bicycles but the major brands carried will be Diety, Diamondback, and Raliegh.
The riders rode without tires and on rims only and the winner was selected on different points awarded as they rode to different spots and tested their skills.
After consulting everyone’s encyclopedia, Wikipedia, here is a crash course in the sport of 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.
The first race to be called “Alleycat” was held in Toronto on October 30, 1989 and continued, in its original form, around Halloween and Valentines Day for the following five years. In 1993, when Toronto messenger’s 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.
With the opening of The Hub, it looks like the riders will have a permanent home and with events like this popping up on any given week, the San Marcos downtown area will continue to be one of the areas trendier destinations.
Also from Wikipedia:
There are no exact rules regarding how an Alleycat must operate but there are general race structures you may or may not find in a race. This is by no means a complete list.
Checkpoints – The first checkpoint is given at the start of the race, and on arrival the next checkpoint is revealed to the racer. This 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 or 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.
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 Drug War Alleycat, the Global Warming Alleycat held simultaneously 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.
Organizers attempt to put issues of legality in the hands of racers. The decision to break any laws is left to the individual, although the very act of conducting a race on public streets means that most racers do. This group of riders on Friday night was peaceful and organized but that did not keep the San Marcos police from shutting down the event early. Wood commented,” The police showed up and shut it down early stating we were blocking the alley.”
Whether permits will be obtained in the future or the Bobcat Alleycatters will continue to race in defiance of local ordinances, it seems likely the Bobcat Alleycat races may be here to stay in San Marcos.
collage Chris Doelle from photos by Jason Howell