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All-girl alleycat racing could be the sexiest sport on the planet

A sport full of ridiculous forfeits, outrageous outfits and sweaty, heavily tattooed pedal-divas is exactly my cup of tea

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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 ensues.

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.

See also:

They've Got Spunk - Philadelphia Weekly,  July 23, 2008