Hideousewhitenoise, Summer 1996
by Mr Forehed
Four people walk into a Queen St, East restaurant named Betty’s. At the back of the bar is a gate that leads to the back alley. Slipping through the opening, The to set up shop large blue recycling container is pulled into the middle of the passageway, stamps are given out and then they wait. Several patrons inquire, what is going on. An explanation is given and the diners wait expectantly for the evening’s entertainment to commence.
A few minutes later a scream cuts the night’s silence. Several cyclists skid to a stop in front of the blue bin. Pieces of paper are thrown forward, demands as to where the next check-point is are made. The four quickly comply with all requests and the first of the racers disappear back into the night.
For the next fifteen minutes there is a flurry of activity as biker after biker fly into the alleyway. As quickly as it began, it’s over. The four people walk through the bar and follow the cyclists into the night.
The few diners who sat near the back are abuzz with excitement. They have just witnessed part of a Solstice Alley Cat Race. A Toronto racing event that takes place three times a year. The next will be held on the 16th of August and then it will be quiet until Halloween. On that day in October, when the ghost and goblins rise from the dead, will mark the ninth anniversary of Alley Cat races.
The world famous races had their start in Toronto and now many races being held this summer have followed the format. The St. Stephen’s Courier Classic, The Temperance Dash, The European Courier Championships and the grandmother of them all, the Cycle Messenger World Championships have all copied the style, but have never captured the same excitement.
Although the Alley Cat name was born in 87, the style of racing originated in 1985 by Ronny Munroe and Marshall Sukoluk, two Toronto Couriers. Run out of Marshall’s backyard, this first race was full out rush hour traffic racing. Only six couriers competed in that original race. The winner was Gary Rothenberg who is still a courier.
But that first race was the genesis of what was soon to be known as the Alley Cat style of racing. The most exciting style of urban bike racing in the world,
Alley Cat Races are illegal bike races run through the streets of Toronto. Using different parts of town as checkpoints, the racers pinball around the town, collecting marks on their sheets, cutting through traffic, running from police cars. The races are hardly ever held at the same venue, but they are always anticipated by the street level cycling crowd.
The event ends usually in a deserted building, where contestants receive their prizes and everyone parties into the night. first official Alley Cat Race was held Halloween ‘87 and was by Dave Fix My Bike who was dressed as Batman. The event has become a fixture in Toronto night life with participants coming from as far away as London, England.
The St. Stephen's Courier Classic was a relay, loosely based on Alley Cat concept. A member of each team was picked to race in the first round. These first racers had to do the course and then return to tag the next racer in their team who would then complete the circuit and so on until the winner came down the finish line.
The race pitted the best the police and fire department could put up against a rag tag group of couriers. It didn't have any check-points, but it did try to imitate urban riding with the use of parking turtles, stairs and running the race through underground parking.
By the first two laps, the St. Stephen's race was comparable to many an Alley Cat race, with the Police trying to catch the Courier and the Fire department. Much money was raised through generous donations from the courier companies. But it was the couriers who raised the most money, by inhaling $1800.00 worth of beer in two and a half hours.
And that also is where there is a comparison to an Alley Cat race, much drinking.
By all counts the course was wicked, but too short and with the cops racing, it didn't exactly have the outlaw mystique, or road conditions to have the outlaw mystique of an Alley Cat race.
The Temperance Dash was held June 8th in conjunction with the 200th anniversary of Yonge Street. The event gave race organizer Tara Skakie an excellent chance to have a road race in the city core that didn't cost a bundle to put on.
The longest street in the world was blocked to traffic from the lake right up to Eglington. The entire block North from Adelaide to Richmond and east along Temperance was locked down by couriers. The T-shaped course made for tight corners and wild sprints with some very exciting track racing put on by Richie Ditta a courier visiting from New York.
Couriers raced in packs of five to seven a heat. Morning rain turned the streets slick and treacherous. Best comeback of the day was Kevin Leeman. He wiped out on a corner, got up and with blood pouring down his face won his heat. The event culminated in the exciting finale, with Kevin X, edging out Leeman in a spectacular finish
The 1st European Messenger Championship was another race in a cordoned area away from traffic. Structured loosely in the Alley Cat tradition with racers doing picks and drops and the winner being the one who could do the most in an allotted time.
Sketchy reports from Hideousewhitenoise’s European correspondent, Albert De Ciccio saying the race was intense and the 600 participants at that event made the competition tight. By all accounts it appears 250 European riders will be attending this year’s Cycle Messenger World Championships being held in San Francisco.
SF will pay host to the big kahuna of all Alley Copy Cat races. First held in Berlin in 1993, the competition has a short but rich history of racing in the outlaw style of racing.
Messengers from around the world have attended C.M.W.C. the London docks and the following year in the Toronto warehouse district in 1995.
The San Francisco race will be held labour day week-end in September. The organizers plan to hold the event in the financial district of San Francisco, including its famous hills.
Buffalo Bill, one of the race co-ordinators of the London race reportedly shat his pants when he saw the hill the competitors were going to have to go up and down.
Joel Metz, communication guru for the competition says the course will take the racers through the streets of San Francisco, condensing a courier’s day into a gruelling thirty minute competition. If a messenger is going to race she/he has to have the legs and brains to pull off the small miracles of messengering that make us heroes to office workers, and the bane of traffic cops around the globe.
Interlinking events will be a world welcome party and Critical Mass, a convergence of random cyclists who gather to back up traffic. A reminder to the automobiles that cyclists also belong on the road. An expected 3000 riders will turn out, making it one of San Francisco’s largest.
Next years event will be held in Barcelona Spain where the event has been in the planning stage for the last two years. But like the Temperance Dash and the European race, the San Francisco World Championships will be played on a cyclist friendly course with no realism of riding on the mean streets an urban center.
And that is why none of these races can ever match the pure excitement of an actual Alley Cat Race. What the originator delivers and all the others lack is full contact traffic.
Racers who participate in Alley Cat races face the danger of an opening door, an over zealous cop, or the thousands of other factors one would have to worry about tearing up a street on a dark Toronto night.
For more Alleycats and info see: Alleycat Races
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