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Manifest destiny

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 in June.

"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




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