Checking in on alleycats, Portland’s underground racing events


Posted by on April 3rd, 2012 at 3:55 pm

Riders await the start of the Friday the 13th Alleycat in northwest Portland back in January.
(Photo: Brenton Salo)


Portland is well-known for its support of all aspects of bicycling, including the underground races known as alleycats.  Originating in bike messenger culture, particularly on the East Coast, these races are fast, fun, and usually take place in urban areas. If you haven’t participated in one yet, consider this a primer with some suggested events to check out this coming spring and summer. If you don’t think alleycats are for you, remember that despite the fact they’re typically associated with stereotypical “fixie kid” scene, they are accessible to anyone and usually draw a mixed crowd.

Before I go on, the issue of following traffic laws should be addressed. Lawbreaking is not condoned in the races, but some people do run traffic lights, stop signs, and so on. It’s a personal decision. Personally, in races, I follow laws, but I know people who do and others who choose not to.

Here’s how alleycats work: Racers meet at a given location, sign up, and are given a list of checkpoints known as a manifest (the same name given to a bike messenger’s list of stops). Racers must reach each location (sometimes complete a task) get “signed off” and then race to the end point. Prizes usually consist of a portion of the entry fees and there is often a gag prize for last place as well.

In Portland, alleycats have proven popular. There are already several events on the calendar, with even more to come as the weather warms up.

Typically, races are organized by one or two people and made possible with the help of volunteers and sponsors. Joshua Diep-Anderson is one of those organizers who has multiple events under his belt, including several “Friday the 13th” street races. His next event, the Friday the 13th Out and Back Rally Cat, is slated for Friday, April 13th.

Josh has held his informal race every Friday the 13th since August of 2010. In the past, the events have been two-block, one-on-one single-elimination sprint races. However, during a recent chat, Josh told me his event next Friday will be “an unconventional alleycat”.

What’s so “unconventional” this time around? Unlike a typical race, racers will return to a central “hub” between each of four stops, creating a more lap-like feel. In true alleycat form, the race will be held in a small area, with each checkpoint within one-mile radius of each other.

The Friday the 13th Ralley Cat begins at 9:00 pm at the Burnside Plaza (east side of the bridge). Race entry is $4, and the winner gets 50 percent of the entry cash, and their choice of a Chris King headset or bottom bracket. Helmets and lights are encouraged but not required.

Another upcoming event:

Smarty Cat – Alleycat Race and Trivia, April date and location TBA with a $5 entry fee. In this event’s first installment, racers were required to reach and take a photo at 10-15 different landmarks or signs within a two-hour period of time, each one with a set theme. Following the actual race, everyone will be required to participate in trivia, with each question corresponding to a theme in the race’s checkpoints. Points from both parts of the event will be totaled, and the team with the most wins. Prizes will include a portion of the entry cash, and whatever else the host is able to find.

Manifests fly as racers begin an alleycat in Waterfront Park. In this race, competitors lined up with one shoe off and then had to put the other one, grab a flying manifest, and run to grab their bike before riding off.
(Photo: Kevin Talley)

If you’re still curious about alleycats… Just show up and see what they’re like for yourself. They give anyone the opportunity to experience a totally different aspect of our local bike scene whether or not you’re the competitive type. So come check one out and remember that even last place gets a prize!

NOTE: Thanks for sharing and reading our comments. To ensure this is a welcoming and productive space, all comments are manually approved by staff. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for meanness, discrimination or harassment. Comments with expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia will be deleted and authors will be banned.

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sw resident
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sw resident

“despite the fact they’re typically associated with stereotypical “fixie kid” scene…”
I was always under the impression that they were associated with, and invented by, messengers ever since Johnny Englar held the first “alleycat scramble” in Toronto in ’89. There were after-work races since at least ’85, too.
And yet, not a single mention of messengers in this whole article.

Adams Carroll (News Intern)
Guest

No one said this was meant as a historical piece. 😉

joel
Guest

but you *did* tell us to “consider this a primer” – and any primer on alleycats that omits any mention of their roots in the bike messenger subculture is, well, inaccurate.

and theres no such thing as an “unconventional” alleycat, as they dont have a fixed format. also, when did having checkpoints within 1 mile of the start become “true alleycat form”? 🙂 additionally, id be pissed if i raced and knew that only 50% of the entry fees were being given back out as prizes… 🙂

hold on, those kids are on my lawn again…

Adams Carroll (News Intern)
Guest

Thanks joel.

Please keep in mind I did not write this article. Jennifer is a participant in, and closer to this scene than I am. That being said, writing about this type of thing always brings out the fact-checkers. I love it. Thanks for sharing your feedback.

Geoff
Guest
Geoff

“Lawbreaking is… a personal decision.”

I doubt a judge would agree.

One of the great things about living in Portland is that there are hundreds of OBRA-sanctioned amateur bike races every year that are legal and have safe courses.

Uncle Muscles
Guest
Uncle Muscles

You don’t think a judge would agree that lawbreaking is a personal decision? Did you read that after you wrote it or did you just hit post compulsively? I’m an OBRA racer and I have absolutely no problem with some kids getting together and “racing” fixies through the streets at night. This ain’t exactly the Fast and Furioso amigo. If there were a rash of deaths from illegal alleycats the Oregonian would have a ten-part series running on the front page in 9/11 font.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

It is a personal decision, yes, but it can also be a crime to organize illegal activities.

Case
Guest
Case

Alleycats aren’t now, and have never been illegal.

Alan 1.0
Guest
Alan 1.0

If that were true, wouldn’t it kill half the fun?

(psst… http://www.leg.state.or.us/ors/811.html ORS 811.125, 811.127)

Case
Guest
Case

Exactly, alleycats were never about being the fastest bike rider, they’re about being the smartest router and knowing the city the best. Totally legal. 🙂 Also, in my day, if anyone participating in an alleycat were pulled over by the fuzz we certainly would use “but I’m racing in an alleycat” as an excuse for lack of judgement (read: breaking the law in front of a cop).

Alan 1.0
Guest
Alan 1.0

Yes, seems a better option to not talk about the fight club than to try and convince a judge that it’s not “(f) A race. …an attempt…to arrive at a given destination ahead of another vehicle…”

(ITYM ‘would not use’)

Spiffy
Guest

sounds like a nice casual way to get into racing… I like the Smarty Cat one, sounds fun…

eric
Guest
eric

FYI: alleycat races and obra races have very little in common besides they both happen on bikes and the first person to the finish is usually the winner.

Mumbledymumble
Guest
Mumbledymumble

sw resident
Some would even say that if you are not a messenger or exenger you have no business participating in an alleycat or calling such an event an alleycat in the first place.
Recommended 1

Yes, and we call these people “killjoys.”

Scott
Guest
Scott

Naw dog. We had all the fun before your parents even met.

Mumbledymumble
Guest
Mumbledymumble

Thankfully, fun is a renewable resource.

Evan Manvel
Guest
Evan Manvel

Thanks for the interesting piece, Jennifer! And welcome to the opinionated diverse world of the bike community…

oskarbaanks
Guest
oskarbaanks

Wow,20 some odd comments on alleycat, while a local guy gets accepted to the oldest classic on the planet, only drawing a third of the interest! First off, this “subculture” is east coast anyway. and is over 30 years old. Cant we all just get along? No lifestyle is owned by anyone. In two more years, you will be able to “messengerize” your wardrobe at Hot Topic.

Mike
Guest
Mike

Actually, I do own stock in “fakenger” – a few hundred shares of Apple.

Scott
Guest
Scott

We made fun of Jacob the first time he came to an alleycat and he was a good kid who took it in stride. I got $$ riding on him to whip Boonen’s a$$ on Sunday! Go Jacob!!

are
Guest

i can’t believe you didn’t mention freaking hermes

craig harlow
Guest
craig harlow

The “Easy Coast”. I like it. Poetic typos.

Scott Larsen
Guest

Is the Dude Bro Alleycat on May 30th? April 30th? It seems odd that it would be 5 days before the article was published or 360 days before next year’s. Thanks.

Josh
Guest
Josh

Just so everyone knows, I am donating the Chris King prize for the race on 4/13/2012. The company has no affiliation with the F13 events.

Dabby
Guest
Dabby

I may try me one of these “alleycats” one day……

Case
Guest
Case

Oh boy, now the Mayor’s in on it. See you in Tarpytown.

Joshua
Guest
Joshua

Is there a website or more information on the Friday the 13th race? I’m definitely interested in going, but wanted to verify the location and check if there’s a need to pre-register. I searched “Burnside Plaza” and it keeps coming up with a strip mall past 60th… I’m hoping that’s not the same Burnside Plaza.

Josh
Guest
Josh

Hey Joshua, here’s a facebook event page for the Rally Cat:

https://www.facebook.com/events/105980076199567/?ref=ts

Joshua
Guest
Joshua

Thank you!