Columbus Alive, March 20, 2008
by John Ross
Minutes before 3 p.m., in a damp Grandview parking lot, scores of
colorful fixed-gear bike frames are laid carefully on their sides, and
their adventurous owners stand alert at 50 yards — messenger bags
cinched, gloves and hats donned, chain-link locks slung by the shoulder.
What looks like a hipster marathon on this cold afternoon near
Junctionview Studios is actually the start of Lucky Stride, the city's
latest "alleycat" bike race. At the top of the hour, the 39 gathered at
the starting line sprint to their stylized rides, where organizers Adam
Maynard and Tim Murray have placed a manifest of random Columbus
locations that participants must visit before returning to the finish.
"Once you get your manifest, choose what you think is the shortest
route and go as fast as you can," Maynard explains while taking
last-minute $5 registrations. "This is just go out, have fun and drink
a few beers after the race."
Biking has caught on worldwide as a cadre of young city dwellers
challenges the gas-guzzling infrastructure and opts for a cheaper means
of navigating the streets. The popularity of these daring races has
followed suit, capturing the thrill of eating up asphalt and
discovering a city network firsthand.
Alleycat races are generally underground, non-sanctioned contests
organized by locals and formatted like a condensed version of a bike
messenger's daily itinerary. Once given a map, competitors must visit a
series of urban locales, pick up materials, drop off packages or
perform random tasks like drinking a shot.
Columbus, Cincinnati and Dayton have hosted alleycat races during the
past year, as have Philadelphia, New York and Chicago, where a
competitor died in February. The Cycle Messenger World Championships,
an international race run on a closed course, will be held in Toronto
"A lot of people compare it to skateboarding, because it's just
catching on as an activity," says Maynard, noting that his race drew
bikers from across the state. "At first, it was messengers and more
dedicated riders, but a lot of people are coming out who aren't as
experienced. With Columbus, it's a little more laid-back."
Upon takeoff, Lucky Striders travel to eight spots throughout Downtown
and core neighborhoods such as Campus and Franklinton, which can be hit
in any order. There's no point scale and no required tasks — except
kissing a blarney stone near Mirror Lake — so speed is king.
"You just try to look where the hills are," says Levi Klau, who raced
locally in December in an alleycat called the Bum Shuffle. "Some people
like to do hills first and then cruise through the rest. Other people
like to hit the easy stuff first and then pump through everything."
The race is a test of endurance (about 15 miles total) and mettle
(weekend traffic in Columbus). Racers must return to Junctionview by 5
p.m., and groups of volunteers at each checkpoint mark riders' sheets
with a special pen to ensure fair play.
Strategies are as unique as the riders, but Zach Henkel, an avid biker
and veteran of local races, insists that practice makes perfect.
"I think your cycling frequency and your knowledge of the streets are
important," he says. "Street cred also helps."
Lucky Stride, the city's most recent alleycat race, took bikers from
Junctionview Studios through Downtown, Franklinton, Grandview and
Campus. Here's where they had to go.
Mirror Lake: Neil and 12th avenues
Milo Arts Building: 617 E. Third Ave.
Polo Court: Lane Avenue and High Street
Main Library: 96 S. Grant Ave.
Dodge Park: Broad and McDowell streets
The Spaghetti Warehouse: 397 W. Broad St.
McKinley Park: McKinley and Central avenues
Lucky's Carryout: Summit Street and Maynard Avenue