A Bike Race With a Mission, Plus Cigarettes
New York Times, August 20, 2007
By Manny Fernandez
So how do a bunch of bike messengers and their friends unwind on a
weekend afternoon? With a bike man’s holiday — a grueling race that
substituted the claustrophobic corridors of Manhattan with the wide,
steep boulevards of Staten Island.
Shortly before 3:30 p.m. Saturday, about 40 men and women on bicycles
pedaled through the parking lot of the Staten Island Ferry terminal,
having just received the day’s orders from two long-haired men drinking
from tall cans of Budweiser.
The competitors had a deadline and a mission: Get their manifests
signed or stamped at various spots around the island. “Real bike racing
is a rich man’s sport,” said Mike Dee, a messenger and an organizer of
the race, called the Staten Island Invasion. “This is like the bike
race for the rest of us — people who like to drink a beer in the
It was the kind of race for which Pete Lang, a 25-year-old messenger,
warmed up by smoking a cigarette. There was no set course, just a
starting place, a finish line and about 20 checkpoints in between.
The race was designed to replicate the daily work of a messenger, with
each racer using his or her speed, reflexes and instincts to find the
fastest route from one checkpoint to the other, get the manifest signed
and do it all as quickly as possible. This was a high-thrills,
low-reward affair: a two-and-a-half-hour scramble, with the winner
pedaling home not with tons of cash but with a few hard-earned points
and a bag of goodies.
The Staten Island Invasion was a type of race known as an “alleycat,” a
high-speed scavenger hunt that has become popular among messengers and
bike enthusiasts around the country. Alleycats are like marathons for
the anti-marathon set, for those who prefer showing off their tattoos
instead of their spandex.
Saturday’s race was the third installment of a citywide alleycat series
called 5 Boro Generals. Nearly 100 cyclists competed in the Bronx in
June, and about 70 took part in the Manhattan race in July. The winner
of the series — the one with the most overall points — will be awarded
a custom-built bike and other prizes provided by race sponsors.
On Saturday, racers were instructed to show up at the Whitehall ferry
terminal in Lower Manhattan at 1300 hours (1 p.m.). The series has a
military theme — the poster art for the Staten Island race featured a
Navy Seals-style commando on a bicycle holding a machine gun, and Mr.
Dee was dressed in camouflage in the role of drill sergeant.
The competitors were former and current bike messengers and avid
cyclists, most of them New Yorkers but a few from out of town. They
paid the $10 registration fee, were handed their manifests and sat
outside the terminal in groups, plotting their routes as they waited
for the ferry.
Many of the riders had never been to Staten Island, and the manifest
was filled with hard-to-find places.
Nick Katehis, 29, a former bike messenger and a race organizer, said
the Staten Island competition posed numerous challenges, including
hilly streets and less-than-friendly motorists. “Manhattan is basically
as bike-friendly as you can get,” he said. “You come up to Staten
Island, and it’s basically hostile.”
The winner was Mr. Lang. He might have had an advantage — he’s from