Alley Cat Racing, Events

Throwing an alley cat race. A primer.

I’ve been told by many people that they are interested in throwing a race, but they don’t know how to go about it. It seems a little intimidating, much more so than it should. Here I will try and break it down for you in simple terms, getting you on your way to putting on a successful race. Once you get the concept down, a whole new world of race planning will open up to you only limited by your imagination.

What is an alleycat race?


First thing you should know is that due to the inherent danger of racing bicycles on streets open to traffic; the legality of street, or alleycat races is suspect. An organizer should never encourage participants to make poor decisions. Running lights, traveling down the wrong side of traffic, or skitching on the freeway (Hello Mr. Kittilson) are illegal and considered unsafe. The reality is that dead guys don’t finish and if you get a ticket, it’s unlikely that you’ll win. Not to mention the expenses involved in tickets or injury. Getting drunk before a race is also not something that increases one’s chance of winning. Though you may THINK you are riding faster, you are not. If the race is organized well, there will be ample time post race to imbibe in whatever libations you prefer. Helmets should ALWAYS be recommended and some organizers require them to race. FACT: Vegetables don’t ride bikes.

If you are reading this then you probably have some concept of what an alleycat is. When looked up on Wikipedia we find that the first “alleycat” took place in Toronto, Ontario on October 30, 1989. The first Cycle Messenger World Championship (CMWC) was held in Toronto in 1993.

Depending on the city, alleycats are thrown by either folks that are or have been messengers or by the ever growing number of young urban riders that don’t fit into the traditional “commuter” slot. Here in Seattle, 2008 was full of races, with 2009 still running strong. I have faith that 2010 will be chock full of races and events as well.

I’ll break down the way that I go about throwing a race. Other people might do it differently. After you do one, you’ll find your own groove, but this will get the wheel rolling for you:

1. GET A THEME. It gives you an idea- an overall view of what you want to do with the race. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Valentines Day, Friday the 13th- (all very popular times for races) Maybe Boxing Day? Talk like a Pirate Day? It’s up to you. Birthday Races, Fourth of July… Heck even a “Hey it’s Wednesday” race.

2. START FINDING SPONSORS. Sponsors don’t ensure a good race. They mean more to some than others. Maybe you don’t want sponsors. That’s fine. Many good races have happened with no more than the first place person walking away knowing that they are fast. Be creative. Maybe the entry fee will go straight to the participants in cash form 1st=50% 2nd=35% 3rd=15%. I like to give prizes to those farther down the line. Talk to local shops and companies that support bikes. Remember that not all companies are all that hot on unsanctioned races- don’t be a dick about it, just talk to them.

Possible prizes include, but are by no means limited to:

  • Tattoo Certificates
  • Gift Certifcates for labor at local bike shops
  • Tee shirts
  • Cash
  • Anything that bike people use (not necessarily all bike related, we are people too): coffee cards, books, clothing, haircuts, massage all work well
  • Of course the sky is the limit- go on and get a frame donated
  • A 40oz. of malt liquor works well for the DFL prize (DFL is Dead Fucking Last, if you were unaware)

3. GET A FLIER AND PROMOTE THE HELL OUT OF IT. Sound simple?  It’s way more work than one would think. Make a flier that is legible and has all the important info on it. Have a couple sets of eyes go over your flier. Many things have been overlooked before in flier design. It’s ok if you forget something, but if you have a really sweet flier, with no date on it, you’re going to be awfully lonely waiting for people to show up.  Some guidelines:

  1. Name of the Race
  2. Where it starts. List your city too. If it starts at “City Square” you will confuse people if your flier ends up finding it’s way on the internet. City Squares everywhere may be filled with bikes looking for a place to race.
  3. When it starts. It’s helpful to include when registration is, as well as when the race starts. Also put a year down. I once showed up to a Halloween race in a town I was visiting. I found the flier online. Unfortunately the flier was a year old, and there was no race planned for the year I attended. That is poor communication. Remember once again, that once on the internet, your flier will forever circulate, and without a date, people may be confused.
  4. Cost. $5? Free? Can of Dinty Moore stew? If you don’t tell people that your race costs $10- don’t be shocked that people will complain when they show up.
  5. Sponsors. If you have sponsors- it’s important to show them some love. Make sure that at least your web flier (if you have one) shows the sponsors. They sponsor races to not only support the scene, but to promote their company. Respect that.
  6. What to bring. Many races require a bag, lock and pen. Your race may be different.
  7. Any other info pertinent to the race. Costumes required? Camera? Fixed Gear only? If you have a web address- list it.

Drop your fliers off at bike shops, cafes, anyplace frequented by the type of people that you want to attend. The yacht club may not be perfectly suited. But your local bike shop, and the bar that offers $1 whiskey and $.50 PBR might be a good place to start. Also pass them out to people. Give them to your friends. I think that the internet is great for promoting races. Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, blogs…. You may view social networking sites as a waste of time, but when it really comes down to it, what you post will be seen and hopefully shared by all your friends-  friends you have and friends you haven’t met. Printed fliers are really nice, but web promotion will save you lots on printing costs. Oh- and you save trees.

4. GET YOUR ROUTE PLANNING ON. So you’ve got a theme, people are presumably going to show up, so now you should figure out where they are going. This is where your theme comes in. As an example, a couple friends and I put together the “Race of Shame” the day after Valentines this year. It’s important to consider where the race checkpoints and end will be. If you have people at the checkpoints, remember that they will just be sitting there for a couple hours. Make sure they have shelter if the weather is foul. The people at the checkpoints are another reason that the race should run on time, that way they aren’t stuck there for 5 hours. You can also have unmanned checkpoints, which can be done by asking a question about a certain address, or applying a sticker to the building. Ending a race in an open field in the middle of winter in Seattle, not so good. Ending in a bar that you have worked with to let them know you are coming, better. If you have minors coming, be considerate and think about an all ages venue. Or don’t, but realize that if somebody pays to race, and can’t get to where prizes will be distributed, it kinda sucks. Danny V is arguably one of the fastest in Seattle, wins races, and is 20 years old. I guess was punk once, so I still do what I can to make an event all ages. Sometimes it doesn’t work, but usually it does. Stops at the Race of Shame included:

  1. “Coyote Ugly” A photo was taken in a motel room bed with a half naked man in a Luchador mask
  2. “If the shirt fits” grab an article of clothing from a pile, and wear it to the finish.
  3. “So about last night…” send an awkward txt message to a given phone number
  4. “Well, maybe just one more” have your manifest signed at the Twilight Exit (a bar)
  5. “Ode to Bubba” write a love poem to Bubba, who’s birthday it was
  6. “Walk of Shame” carry your bike up a set of stairs to cross the highway

This race we wanted to be big, and a little wilder than previous races. We rented a crappy motel room for a couple hours for the photos taken, and thankfully, no one got crabs. It went well and everybody had a great time. The finish was at the Boxcar Alehouse, where we enjoyed some Four Loko provided by one of our sponsors. We also screened the Seattle premiere of Council of Doom and some short films from NYC.

Most races that people throw have spoke cards with (or without) the riders race number on them. They are laminated paper (often cardstock) I like to have the race flier or a modified version of it on one side, and the sponsors on the other, then give a spokecard to the sponsors as a thank you. They can put it in their shop, use it as a Christmas ornament, or put in on their bike. It’s just a good way to say thanks. Everybody loves spoke cards. Lamination is a little expensive, so be creative. Friends that have access to color copiers and lamination machines are good to have.

5. RACE DAY. Don’t be late to your own event. I feel that one of the things that has made GO MEANS GO and “Emerald City Bike Bloc” events successful is the fact that we start on time. Bike events are notorious for starting late. I will never understand this. If a time is posted, that is when it starts. If you have promoted properly, people should have had plenty of notice. If the flier says “Register at 2:30, Race at 3pm SHARP) that’s when it starts. Starting late punishes those are punctual. If someone shows up late, they can start, everyone else just got a jump on them. MAKE SURE THAT RACERS UNDERSTAND THAT THEY HAVE NOT FINISHED UNTIL THEIR MANIFEST IS IN YOUR HAND AT THE END. This isn’t the Olympics- this is the street. You aren’t done till your manifest WITH YOUR NAME/NUMBER is submitted.

Manifest distribution: Done differently for different races. The safest way is to give people 5+ min. to review it before the race starts. If you don’t, and you give them out as the gun goes off, you will inevitably have people reading while riding. I prefer the latter method, but mainly because I tend to forget to pass them out before, and I get a little nervous about people leaving early. Do what ya like.

6. THE CHECKPOINTS AND FINISH LINE. I think it’s best to have all manned checkpoints staffed BY START TIME. Racers will get to the checkpoints faster than you think they will. There isn’t much worse than racers being at a checkpoint, and not able to find it because the people that were supposed to be there decided that they had time for a quick beer. Yeah, working a checkpoint is a volunteer gig, but you should have AT LEAST ONE dependable person at each checkpoint. Keep in touch with the people at your checkpoints via txt or phone. Checkpoints can be as simple as the signing of a manifest, or more activity based. Write a poem, change a tire, spin around in circles for 1 minute… Once again, creativity is king. I ask that the people that work checkpoints txt me when they get to their spot. This is also key at the finish line. When it comes to the finish line- I make sure that people see me as they come in. They aren’t done till their manifest is in my hand. As they come in- if their name/number isn’t on it- they aren’t done. I stack them one on top of the other, ensuring to keep them in order. That way you know that the bottom manifest is 1st place, and going up from there.

7. PRIZES. Depending on the prizes that you have collected, you should have given thought to the distribution of these prizes. Will there be 1st, 2nd, 3rd, First Female, First Fixed, DFL, Best Costume? If you only have 3 prizes, then you aren’t giving that many out. You can distribute prizes a couple ways. You can predetermine who gets what, or you can offer what we call (and I prefer) the “Choose your own adventure” method. This allows the name that you call to come up and pick anything from the table. This makes it more important that you order the names you call fairly. If “First Fixed” is 20th place, and they pick 2nd, meanwhile 2nd place came in an hour before, it may be met with some scowls. It’s a judgment call, and up to you, but just make sure that you don’t play favorites, and that your choices have to be fair, and consistent.

8. AFTERPARTY. For me, throwing races is something that is about a good time, building a community, and getting a little friendly competition going. The afterparty is pretty important. In the summer, we often end at a park, the beach, something like that. In the winter it gets more difficult. A bar, cafe, something like that seems to work well. Talk to venues, If you can bring in 50 people that will spend some money, you have something going for you. Make it a party. Get a band. A piñata. Play footdown. Have a trick competition. Roller Sprints.

9. THE AFTERMATH. Maybe you are burnt out now. Maybe it’s the last race you want to do. Either way. Make sure that you thank you sponsors, and send links to pics if any were taken. Make sure that the venue where your afterparty was hosted is taken care of, the bartenders tipped, the place not trashed… you know the drill.  R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

This is by no means the end all/be all of race planning. But is should be enough to get you started. If you have a race flier that you want posted- email me and I’ll get it up here. If it’s in the Pacific Northwest, I’ll put it up on the calendar too. Remember that these races are supposed to be fun. Be creative. And if you have a fast person that consistently wins- let them know that they have to plan a race before they can race in another. Everybody has an idea for a race. Just make it happen. DIY or die. Something like that.

Live fast, ride faster.


  • GHXC

    November 10, 2009

    If “enjoyed” and “Four Loko” are in the same sentence, you’re doing it wrong.

    PS, this is great. People ask me about this stuff all the time. Hopefully it’ll inspire some folks!

  • zlog

    November 10, 2009

    Zlog’s 3 step method:
    Get sponsors
    Tell people to race
    Give prizes.

  • rschuetze

    November 10, 2009

    Zach- step 6 very important. It’s the one that ensures that people are at their stops as the racers come through… To be fair- it’s easier said than done.

  • DJStroky

    November 10, 2009

    This is a great article. I’ll chip in some two cents and suggest that potential organizers should communicate with others so as to not schedule overlapping races. Make sure you check the Go Means Go calendar or whatever local calendar there is in your area. As for the Seattle area, avoid the following days because they already have annual, long running races: sometime in late February on the day of CBC’s Chilly Hilly (FHR), First Friday of August (DBDH), and Halloween (Messman’s Mesquerade).

  • fomenter

    November 11, 2009

    Halloween, check. Valentines Day, check. Birthday Race, check. You forgot Theodore Donald Karabotsos Memorial.

  • Monica

    November 14, 2009

    likes this.

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  • Dan

    November 6, 2013

    This was extremely helpful…. Thank you!

  • Ryan

    November 9, 2013

    You bet Dan, glad it was helpful. If you get something going, please be sure to send us a copy of the flier!

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