A sport full of
ridiculous forfeits, outrageous outfits and sweaty, heavily tattooed
pedal-divas is exactly my cup of tea
By Steven Wells
The Guardian Sport Blog, July 28, 2008
When we arrive there are no groovy bike chicks getting cum-shots in the
back room of the Khyber pub. But there is a pretty young man with neck
tattoos who has spent most of the afternoon knocking back the beers
he's been bought by a parade of lithesome young biker women. His job
today has been to squirt those women who refuse to pay the beer tax in
the face with a mock ejaculate (made out of egg whites) spurting out of
a turkey baster. He is drunk enough that he agrees to let his friend
"money shot" him in the face by way of illustration. General hilarity
This is one of the six stops on the Homewreckers Ball - an all-female
alleycat bike race, organised by a female Tank Girl fanatic, in which
the 40 racers (including five men in drag) whizz all over Philadelphia
in "real-time traffic". At each stop they are required to do stuff like
sweep up screws (or eat a "spunk" sandwich as a forfeit), wash dishes
or drink a shot of tequila off a bike boy's stomach.
This pisses off some racers, including one lass, a stripper, who says
it reminds her of work. But Rachel Fletcher, 28-year-old race organiser
and self-described feminist, claims it's all good, dirty,
transgressive, satirical fun. Sort of Tank Girl meets Doris Day. And
then there's the stop where we find sweat-drizzled women, their
shoulders covered in sun blisters, their long arms swathed in tattoos,
pinging beer cans off a wall with a slingshot. Beryl the Peril is all
grown up and she wants to punch your lights out.
"I am looking forward to having someone kiss my fist," says one very
handsome woman. "Whoever asks me to make out with them is going to get
a fist to the face." Whoa, back up. There are some sports - like
professional wrestling - that are profoundly unsexy, no matter how much
they try. And then there's baseball - a sport so erotic that its
professional exponents have to grow pornstar 'tashes, mullets and beer
guts to scare the groupies off - seriously, American women treat
rounders players like rock stars.
And then there's all-female alleycat bike racing. I recently made a
short film about these aggressive, sweaty, short-haired, crazily
spectacled, heavily tattooed and superbly muscled pedal-divas for the
Philadelphia Weekly. The responses from those friends of mine whose
sexualities were hammered into shape in the mosh pits of punk rock (and
that's most of the people I know) were strangely similar. Wow, they
said. Awesome, they said. They woofed. They panted. They drooled.
Female alleycat bike racing could well be the punkiest and therefore
the sexiest sport on the planet.
The much more common male races? Not so much. Male alleycatters are
uncommonly ugly. Most of them look like utterly unshaggable, crusty,
drunken crap. No offence. Bike women are androgynous, pixyish, cute.
The men look like goateed grebos. But it's in the still mostly male
bike courier culture that alleycat racing has its roots.
Bike messengers are a thriving subculture in every city in the
industrialised world. The couriers themselves, with their functional
proletarian clothing, are a constant affront to the aesthetics of a
business community forced into the sterile, sexless, drab uniforms of
bourgeois conformity. Have you ever walked into an office foyer and
been mistaken for a bike messenger? I have. More than once. And every
time I was treated like shit. The Man loathes the messenger for the
same reason the medieval farmer loathed the pony-riding crazies from
the steppes. They represent chaos, mobility and freedom - not qualities
much prized in Cubicleland. Bike messengers are the new Huns - Ghengis
Khan and his Mongol hordes in sweat-bleached spandex - and just about
the last folk devils we've got left.
But at the same time messenger culture has become ever hipper in the
eyes of those youngsters whose jobs don't involve whizzing through
traffic while dressed like an urban pirate. Kids who work in shops and
offices (and might not even own a bike) ape courier fashion. Indeed
much if not all of the modern hipster look (including the incredibly
irritating fashion for having one trouser leg rolled up above the
ankle) can be traced back to what is possibly the last surviving
20th-century youth culture. And the courier culture has generated
sports - bike polo and alleycat racing. What did the skins, punks and
goths give us, sportswise? Nothing.
Apparently invented by Johnny "JetFuel" Englar of Toronto in 1986,
alleycat races started as strictly all-courier affairs and quickly
spread to other North American cities (and London, Berlin and
Australia). Originally the unsanctioned races involved the delivery of
mock packages. But anarchy arrived in the shape of increasingly daft
tasks to be completed at the checkpoints. This daftness is reflected in
the titles: StuporBowl, Feel My Legs - I'm a Racer, The Dude Abides,
Mange Madness, Rumble Thru The Bronx ...
One day soon, alleycatting will be sponsored by fizzy drink companies
and dominated by lookalike genetic freaks bloated with painkillers,
growth hormone and steroids. Just like the Tour de France. But right
now alleycatting has all the qualifications for a Swells Approved
Proper Punk Rock Sport. Illegal? Check. Insanely dangerous? Check. Not
sponsored by a fizzy drink company? Check. Contestants dressed like
gender pirates? Check. Free? Check. Challenging heteronormative gender
roles? Check. Usually ending in a huge disco where people wearing their
daft prizes prance around to the Rancid and the Ramones? Check.
Featuring long-limbed tomboys who look like Tank Girl meets Peter Pan
and who smile at the camera and then turn to their friend and say stuff
like "and then I vommed a whole load"? Oh yeah baby.
It can't last. I suggest we enjoy it while we can. Ah, too late. What
was that Joe Strummer said about "those who fuck with nuns"? Looks like
alleycat founder Johnny "JetFuel" Englar is now the general manager of
the Jet Fuel coffee company. Well good for you, vicar, good for you. I
bet he has to wear a tie sometimes too.
They've Got Spunk - Philadelphia Weekly, July 23, 2008