Bike couriers are found in most metropolitan cities. They serve as a fundamental backchannel for businesses to relay messages, reports, legal documents, and project proposals between each other. Vancouver is no exception. With couriers using their knowledge of back alleyways, shortcuts, and judgements towards traffic patterns you can spot them on a daily basis in the downtown core.
AlleyCat races which started up as a challenge to test couriers skills and expertise in a fun environment quickly gained outside interest in the last 2 decades. Petr, an avid AlleyCat organizer explains, “The St Valentine’s Day Massacre (an AlleyCat race crudely named for the time of year it represents) has been going on for a long long time. Usually, we have 40 to 50 people attending and the winner is charged with organizing next years race. This way the tradition goes on.”
Still, it retains a secretive and underground culture that only few have really been a part of and witnessed. FixedVancouver.ca, an online forum dedicated to cycle culture in Vancouver boasts over 6,000 members. It serves as a platform for the community to attain race details, give and receive advise on parts and accessories, and finally advertise upcoming events and the sale of bikes. “Not many people make it into bike shops these days” stated, Scott Schneider, founder of HMPL Quality Goods, a major sponsor in a handful of AlleyCat races. “It’s great that this online community can get together and be connected through cycling. These races are parties essentially, where we are all there to have a good time.”
So, how do these back alley races work? You’ve got a bike and you are ready to show off your honed skills of maneuvering through the city’s maze.
The first item you’ll receive upon showing up on race day is The Manifesto. This will ultimately act as your divine guide to the race ahead, it is a list of checkpoint locations paired usually with tasks or challenges that need completing at the various checkpoints. What sort of tasks will you be undertaking? Past manifestos have included a quick dip in the fresh waters at Jericho Beach, winning a thumb war against an eager checkpoint guardian, and transporting a weighty bag of ocean sand from one beach to another. Echoes Petr points out, “there’s themes involved too. One year, we hosted a Halloween style AlleyCat. At a certain checkpoint, we had filled carved pumpkins with tabasco. The racers had to take a mouthful of the pumpkin gut and tabasco cocktail and bring it with them to the next checkpoint before spitting it out.”
Finally when all checkpoints are complete and the last racer has crossed the finish line and received their prestigious prize ( the DFL award, more commonly known as Dead___Last) the party vibes begin. Prizes are dispersed among the victorious and beers from sponsoring companies are cracked.
The AlleyCats put on in Vancouver run year-round. They support the local interests of the ever-growing cycling community based here in the city and serve as ultimately a fun gathering of like minded people.
To explore more of this alternative and underground culture cycle your way over to a local bike shop, or check out FixedVancouver.ca for postings on future events and Alleycats.